My first visit to a therapist occurred when I was around 10 years old. I was a terrible student in school and nobody knew what to do with me. I never did my homework, I couldn’t sit still, and I drove everybody from my teachers to my parents crazy.
They labeled me “hyperactive” and made some suggestions to my mother. I don’t remember what, if any, actions were taken. They did not medicate me and they did not give me a special sensory-deprivation desk at school. I think they tried to limit distractions at home, but that did little to nothing.
I spent a lot of time in the classroom pretending to find my lost homework, while my teachers and classmates waited. Of course I never found it, because I never actually did it. And for some reason, pretending was better than admitting I just didn’t do the work. I only knew how to lie.
I once tried to lie to my father about my grades. He had called on a Sunday night, like he always did, and I read him my report card, sprinkling in a few C’s to make up for any D’s or F’s. He asked me to repeat them all (turns out he was writing them down) and when I did, I got them wrong. I was ashamed and horrified to be caught, but I didn’t know how to tell him the truth. I don’t remember if I was afraid of getting in trouble, or just didn’t want to disappoint him.
Somehow, miraculously, I never actually flunked a grade – I had gotten really good at squeaking by – and I made it through high school and on to college. But the freedom of this new environment spelled disaster for me. By my second year, I was perilously close to flunking out. One day, my mother found a book and gave it to me. It was about adult ADD. And I was shocked, stunned, to see myself it its pages. I went to see the family doctor, who put me briefly on Ritalin (side note: I was given too high of a dosage and it made me weird and jumpy). But ultimately what changed everything was simply knowing that I had certain challenges and that I could take steps to improve my performance. There was a last-ditch effort to keep me at the university, but it was too late. So I enrolled in a community college and tried again.
What happened next was that I completely turned everything around. I learned how to take notes, I learned how to “apply” myself (ugh, they always said I would do well if I just APPLIED myself), and I did great in all my classes. I even got an A in one class that I signed up for secretly. My father had discouraged me from overloading myself, but I was so determined to succeed that I did it and surprised him. I was admitted to Phi Theta Kappa and graduated with honors.
This is not to say that I didn’t still fall short sometimes. I did. When I went on to another university, I can’t say that I always did the assignments or always got a passing grade. But I did better and I made it. And when I went into the workforce, I learned to be a good employee. To the point that more than one boss called me an “overachiever.” You should have seen my face when I heard that one.
My mother, who had her share of frustrations, always managed to keep a bit of faith with me. She tells me that she would reassure my father that I was a late bloomer and to just wait and see. She was right. Not that it made it any easier on them, watching me flounder for so long. But she could see that I had potential.
The important lesson here is that we recognize our own challenges; that we stop simply being ashamed or blaming ourselves for our shortcomings. The hand we are dealt is ours to play. And it’s not good or bad. It just means we need to continue to believe in ourselves and make the choices we have to make to find our own version of success. Even now, I still struggle. But I know that I am bound for great things, and that keeps me going. I think about the child I was, the young adult I became, and the woman that I am now – and I know I can do it. Anyone can.