Katherine’s Story

I didn’t figure out that I have ADD until I turned 22. That was a really long time to spend thinking that I was somehow “not quite with it” to put it lightly. I lived my life in a constant state of panic: what was I forgetting? Did I have my keys? Did I lock the car? Where did I park the car? Where was my homework? What was I supposed to get at the store? So many things to remember.and so many things to forget!!

No one realized there was anything wrong when I was very young. My mom was convinced that I simply had a hearing problem. When evaluated by the pediatrician, who found nothing wrong with my hearing, my mom decided that I simply had a severe case of selective deafness because it seemed that when I wanted to hear something, I heard it just fine but when it was something I didnt want to hear (ie a dreaded task like do your homework or clean up after yourself) I appeared to be deaf. This marked the beginning of a terrible relationship between my mother and I as she thought that I was simply lazy and defiant. Quite the contrary! I really had no intention of failing to do what she asked me, when I said the infamous Ill do it in a second I really did think that I would do it in a second, but of course I would get distracted and become intensely wrapped up in whatever I happened to be doing at the moment that I would literally forget that I was supposed to take out the garbage!

School was an interesting experience for me. My parents, convinced that perhaps I was a bit too shy and timid to survive the local public school, started me at a very independent and small school, which turned out to be the worst choice for me as it was very unstructured. I remember that when I didn’t want to learn math they told me to go outside and play. It wasn’t until second grade when my parents found out that I still couldnt add or subtract that something was wrong. They switched me to a more normal private school but I continued to have serious problems academically because I was just so far behind. I remember always feeling incredibly stupid- they would group us according to our abilities and I was ashamed to be in the slow spelling, math, and reading group when all my friends were in the advanced groups. Class discussions in which the teacher would randomly call on people absolutely terrorized me because I usually had no idea what the question was. I really hated school at this point. Homework was like pulling teeth and I began to feel stupider and stupider. I spent much time drawing and making things.

My mom, who is currently a teacher, tells me that I was one of the most creative kids shes ever seen. And indeed I was! I would spend hours and hours making all sorts of things from my own board games, to mini amusement parks, to videos, to books. My parents assumed that I would grow up to be some kind of an artist, and really encouraged me in this sense and at the same time did not support any extra help I might need for academics. At this point they just thought I was slow and spacey. It wasn’t until the start of highschool that I started to work incredibly hard. I was sick and tired of being considered disorganized, lazy, and stupid. I was sick and tired of always being placed in the less challenging classes when my friends were all in the advanced ones.

I just wanted to show everyone that I was capable of succeeding. It was also at this time that I developed and eating disorder. For some reason the act of severely limiting my food intake gave me the drive to focus more on school and gave me a feeling of being in control of my academic situation. I would spend the entire day doing work. I never had fun in highschool. I spent every weekend just trying to catch up, and never ever had time to do fun things with friends. I always felt I was behind but at the same time I would not let myself fail. I probably spent way more time than most of my friends doing work, yet I didn’t necessarily get better grades. I was constantly organizing things. If I wasnt doing schoolwork, I was organizing. It seems ironic that someone with ADD would be so driven to organize, but if I didn’t spend the inordinate amounts of time that I did organizing, my life would have become too chaotic to deal with. I would nearly have a panic attack if people dared change the way things were arranged in my room as this would inevitably lead to me not being able to find them later on. Somehow my hard work and stubbornness to succeed paid off and I ended up with very good grades. Come the SAT however, things got bad. My teachers were very concerned that while I seemed to be such a diligent hard working student, my SAT scores were just completely out of whack! So of course after many expensive prep courses and practice tests, I was able to raise my score somewhat. Of course, for the time and effort that I put into studying for the SAT, the score was nothing to write home about and this continued to bother me. We decided that perhaps I had a learning disability ! so I got tested and they found that I was dyslexic (they did not do an y sort of test for ADD though). I then was able to receive extra time on tests and this helped quite a bit.

After graduating from high school with all sorts of awards and AP credits, I ended up at Wesleyan University, a small liberal arts school in Connecticut. College was actually a bit of a relief from high school. There were not as many classes and as I had worked myself practically to death in highschool, college seemed kind of easy, academically at least. In terms of becoming a responsible adult, college was a nightmare. The key factor here was that I was away from my parents, and anyone that would take care of stuff. Public safety knew me by name because I locked myself out of my room so much. They also knew me because they always had to jumpstart my car because I would forget to turn the lights off and kill the battery. They knew me because of all the parking tickets they gave me and they knew me because I often would lose my ID card. Things like this happened to me ALL the time. This is when I really started to live my life in panic mode. I always thought I was forgetting something.

Luckily for me though, my dad would always come to the rescue. Had I really been on my own, maybe I would have realized there was something wrong because I would have had no money considering all the parking tickets I would have to pay, the fees for room lockouts, lost keys and ID and credit cards, speeding tickets, car insurance, financial aid forms, (and any kind of form for that matter) crazy impulsive shopping sprees just to name a few. My dad always took care of everything for me, and for that reason, it just got worse. I had a terrible habit of just buying whatever whenever because I liked the feeling of buying things. Honestly looking back on it, it probably didnt matter what I bought, I just liked the act of buying. I guess it was an intense need for stimulation.

Academically, I managed, albeit with lots of caffeine and exercise. Exercise definitely helped me concentrate better throughout the day. I remember however, how I would end up staying up all night doing work because I could never get anything done during the evening as there were too many distractions. I also remember having to turn off the light in my room and study by flashlight so that people would think I was asleep and wouldn’t knock on the door causing distractions. The library was awful because I would just end up counting the books on the shelves instead of reading anything useful! I remember having a job in the library because I thought it might force me to do work but it was disastrous because every time someone would walk in I just had to look up, find out what was going on, get distracted, and forget what I was studying.

All the classes I took were science ones because they required the least reading. I was terrible when it came to reading, I would easily lose fo cus on the material and realize that I had been reading the same sentence over and over again for the last god knows how many minutes. I found science classes to be more to the point, and more hands on. I loved working in groups. I did all my homework in groups. It really helped me to maintain focus for an extended period of time as if I tried studying by myself I would inevitably become distracted as there was no one telling me to stay on track!

I ended up at Caltech for graduate school in chemistry. Everyone who knew me as a kid was shocked to learn that I was going to do chemistry, especially my parents. They really didnt think that was who I was, or that I was capable of pursuing a career in a scientific field. They just didnt think I was serious. To them I was probably the same goofy spacey kid that I was when I was in elementary school.

It was at Caltech that things started to get out of control. I think perhaps it was a lack of structure. As we only had to take a few classes, much time was spent doing research. This proved quite challenging for me and I had a very hard time figuring out what to do in the lab. I was all over the place, my desk was a mess, papers were everywhere. I couldnt keep things straight, I couldnt remember where things were and the precise nature of organic synthesis was incredibly frustrating for me. I had to ask people over and over again how to do things because I was too disorganized and scattered to write them down the first time I learned them.

I remember also trying to do to many things at once. If I was waiting for a reaction to heat up, I would become impatient with waiting and start doing something else, and in the process forget about the initial reaction and it would overheat and explode. God knows how many accidents I caused those first few months. Due to the lack of ! set work times, I was always in lab at the most odd hours. I would stay up all night and then be unable to wake up until noon, and it became a cycle so that I would never be there when my boss was there. In addition, financially things were getting worse. My mom convinced my dad that he couldn’t keep paying for me, and this was bad because I continued to shop impulsively and throw all bills and such paper work in a to do pile which I never got around to doing before I realized it was crucial- perhaps my utilities or phone service would be shut off before I would ever think to pay the bill!

Things were so out of control for me and disorganized that I decided to visit the counseling center at school. After hearing about my various problems they suggested I go see a learning disabilities specialist and get tested for ADD. I really didn’t think it was possible for me to have ADD, because I thought that was just reserved for hyperactive little boys, but after taking the tests, answering the questions I began to realize that I identified with most of all the ADD traits. After the official diagnosis I actually felt relieved, oddly enough, to find out that I had ADD. It was the reason for a life filled with struggles and hard work, and a feeling of being defective and not up to speed with everyone else. I was then referred to a psychiatrist who started me on adderall. I cant say how much better that has made my life, and in more than one aspect. For starters I am much more organized at work. I was able to file everything away into binder, clear away my desk, organize my research area so that it was easier to get work done.

I could work longer hours without becoming overly frustrated and I didn’t need to work at night anymore because I didnt get distracted by people during the day. I was able to pay attention throughout our weekly group meetings so that I actually understood what people were talking about for once. I was able to read a scientific paper from beginning to end in one sitting and actually understand it. Those first few weeks on adderall I felt like I was learning so much, it was truly amazing. It was like my previous life was in a constant blur and I had finally gotten glasses so I could see straight. I cant overemphasize how much better things have been.

My counselor also helped me get organized financially. I started doing all my banking online which is a lot easier because I avoid the paper work. I also learned how to use Microsoft outlook instead of a day planner because I am always on the computer so it came quite naturally. Adderall really calmed me down internally. In fact, my relationship with my mom improved dramatically as I was able to better listen to her and was able to remain calm throughout the conversations. Social skills improved somewhat as I didn’t have to keep asking what did you say? or appear totally out of it. In addition I am also proud to say that so far I have not once lost my keys, locked myself out of the car or the house or the lab, forgotten to pay a bill, or gotten a parking ticket since Ive started therapy and medication. I can even go to a grocery store and come out with the intended purchases as opposed to everything but the intended purchases.

The only downside to the medication in my opinion is the insomnia is causes. I have always had a problem sleeping, ever since I was a baby and adderall didn’t help. I hate to be taking sleeping pills as well, but it seems worth it for all the benefits I get from the stimulant medicine.

As of now, Im in my second year of grad school and about to go though candidacy for my PhD. Seems hard to believe that I made it this far, but I guess anything is possible if you try hard enough, and (I should be on a commercial for adderall here) with stimulant medication it becomes even easier!