Your Way

One of the things that I have heard and seen time and time again from many people with ADHD is that there's no point in their trying to meet expectations, because they will always fail. My ADHD husband used to frequently tell me this.  And I understand the feeling.  I've been through that experience myself, even though I don't have ADHD.  I have felt the despair and the sense of just being completely beaten down by what other people do with ease.

But I've learned some important lessons about this over the years, both first-hand and through my ADHD spouse and our ADHD relatives.  And the primary conclusion I've come away with is that the *real* problem in many of these situations isn't that the ADHDer truly can't manage to meet any commitments or objectives because of their ADHD -- the *real* problem is that they just haven't found "their" way to achieve them yet.  Here's how I've come to this realization.

I first began to realize that different people's brains worked differently when I was in college.  I'd been an outstanding student in high school, top 5%, and had my pick of dozens of universities.  But when I got to college, my grades fell apart.  Part of it was undoubtedly due to being away from my family for the first time, and part of it was that I was at a tough school and swimming in a much bigger pond, so to speak.  But even after I got past these issues, my grades only improved a little.  I couldn't understand it.  I knew I was smart enough, and I was studying like crazy -- something I'd never had to spend any time at in high school.  I finally got so discouraged, I just gave up, and the college threw me out after my junior year for failing grades.

This was a crushing blow to my self-esteem.  My parents were upset, my life goals were in ruins.  My friends were sympathetic but had no help to offer.  I tried to get work as an assistant in my field of study, but nobody wanted me without a degree -- the only jobs I could get were clerical temp positions that paid poorly and drove me crazy with boredom and frustration (and horrible commuting, since I couldn't afford to live close to where most of the jobs were).  I felt that trying college again was my only alternative, and applied to numerous schools, including some of the ones that had accepted me back in high school, but those doors were now all shut -- at best I got a sympathetic "sorry", and some of the rejections were frankly cruel.  After several years, I finally found a small obscure college that was willing to admit me on probation, although it would take me two more years to complete a degree.

I vowed I would do better this second time around -- but I was also terrified -- because I *still* didn't know why I'd had such a terrible time with college before, so I had no idea how I was going to make it work.  And to make matters worse, I *had* to take two terms of chemistry -- the one subject that hadn't made *any* sense to me in high school, even though I'd gotten good enough grades.  I was certain it was going to be a disaster. I don't think I could have faced it without the encouragement of my husband.

But instead I got one of the luckiest breaks of my life -- because my chemistry prof allowed us to bring in three 3x5 cards to each exam.  If I could pack enough information on those cards, I might have a chance to get through the class.  A week before the first big exam, I started preparing my cards.  Now, I'd tried using 3x5 cards for studying before (along with using highlighters, and taking notes, and many other classic study techniques -- to no avail), but this was different.  Here I needed to somehow represent the key information I would need to remember but might have trouble recalling completely and correctly during the test.  I didn't need to put *everything* on the 3x5 cards, just certain kinds of things.  And I needed to make the information clear and compact.  In some cases, a small picture served better than a bunch of words.  Having different colored cards for different groups of information also helped me connect the pieces together better.

I got a perfect score on my first exam, and it was *easy*.  When I was taking the exam, I hardly needed to look at the cards at all, because I could "read" them in my mind's eye.  And the light finally dawned:  my memory is predominantly *visual*.  The more visual distinctiveness things have, the more they stand out in my mind.  In order to absorb information, I need to organize information in a way that is visually unforgettable.

I graduated with an A average, and with highest honors -- because I found "my" way.

In the years since, I've seen this general idea in action with many many people.  With my ADHD spouse.  With my ADHD son.  With my non-ADHD daughter.  Each of them has a different set of "wiring" in their brains.  Each of them learns in a different way.  My husband learns best from direct experience -- my son from reading and contemplation -- my daughter is even more visually oriented than I am.  Each of them accomplishes things in a different way, and has learned "their" way to be effective.  This wasn't something they were born knowing, and it hasn't all been easy to find out.  My ADHD husband didn't learn some of his effective ways to achieve objectives until he was in his fifties, and some of it took a fair amount of trial and error and hard work.  My son has also struggled but has slowly uncovered what doesn't work for him and what does. There are other folks with ADHD on this forum that have obviously found "their" way through some combination of good luck and determined endeavor.

So to those who continue to grapple with the frustrations of their ADHD and believe they will always fail, let me offer you my absolute faith, from the sum of my experience, that you *can* succeed in meeting expectations -- maybe not at everything or all the time, but more often than you yourself can see.  Just because your road is off the beaten path doesn't mean that you can't get there from here!  Begin a quest for "your" way -- find someone who is willing to help you see a way to go when the light is dim or the jungle is thick, and be willing to listen to what they observe -- seek out counselors who can suggest different ways forward when you get stuck.  Every person I know, with or without ADHD, who has embarked on such an endeavor has been glad they made the effort, even if they didn't end up exactly where they wanted or envisioned, and all have found some significant degree of understanding that helped them and enriched their lives.