Accepting that I had attention issues was a breakthrough for me. I had spent my entire academic career struggling with shame and stigma. I hated being labeled ADHD; it made me feel as if people would think I was hyper, lazy, unmotivated and unfocused, which simply wasn’t the case. I remember finding it hard to resist chatting with my classmates when we were supposed to be doing assignments, and I was always doing my homework at the very last minute, but I also remember my teachers telling me I was a “bright” little girl. I was creative, I liked to work hard and I got good grades. Yet even when people told me I was bright, it felt as if they were saying, “You’re bright . . . for someone who has an attention problem.” I truly hated having my teachers and my parents think I was abnormal or flawed.
During my senior year of high school, however, I learned that a family friend with whom I was close had ADHD and wasn’t ashamed of it at all. She was beautiful, popular and smart, and she freely broadcast the fact that she was living with ADHD and taking stimulant medications to treat it. Somehow, her open attitude relieved me. I began to think, “Hey, if she has ADHD and people still think she’s cool, no one’s opinion of me will change if I ‘come out’ with the fact that I have it, too.”
I was right. I was finally able to tell my friends and my lacrosse teammates that I had ADHD, and no one’s opinion or attitude toward me changed at all. In fact, in many ways, it made people understand me better.
Around the same time, my father (who happens to be an ADHD researcher) was contacted by the organizer of a National Institutes of Health forum who was looking for speakers for an upcoming ADHD lecture series. The organizer needed a specialist as well as a person living with the disorder to speak at the forum. My dad agreed to speak and suggested that I offer my personal perspective.
Several weeks later, I found myself in front of a large audience at NIH recounting my struggles and triumphs living with ADHD. Not long after the NIH forum, I was asked to publish the lecture in a scholarly journal, and I was contacted by a reporter from The Post to discuss what it was like being a young woman with ADHD. Until that point, ADHD had been more frequently diagnosed in young men, but interest was finally shifting toward women.
Suddenly, I was the poster child for female ADHD. My picture was on the front page of The Post’s Health section, and I was even invited to be a speaker at the Canadian Children and Adults With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder conference in Toronto. “Cool!” I thought, “I’m famous!”