Has my ADHD been taken for granted?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, where does it come from? From looking at many research studies, psychologists can only say that it may be passed down genetically and that if a parent were to have it, the child is likely to as well. Is it solely based on our genes, or is it something else entirely; possibly something to do with our environment and its chemical make-up or our environment in the sense of nature versus nurture? As we strive in today’s world to find out these answers, the stigma surrounding ADHD has never wavered. In fact, I believe it has increased, especially when it comes medication.

When looking at how ADHD may affect one’s life, I think many fail to realize that it is not just school that we struggle with. Yes, I said we because I am one of those whose environment and/or genes decided to take on ADHD and run with it. It seems as though many people view ADHD as a “strictly school setting” disorder; it only affects us when we read in school, it only affects us when we take algebra and it only affects us during examinations and writing papers. I do not think I have ever witnessed a disorder be viewed in such a way other than ADHD and here’s where this thought comes from. Adderall, Ritalin and Concerta are the names of some fairly popular ADHD medications; these have more recently been found in the hands of many high school and college students in the last decade. As a person with this specific disorder it may come as a shock to you but I absolutely despise when people who are undiagnosed and “normal” buy these medications because they want an edge when taking a test or the extreme focus that it may bring when studying.

Due to the rising prevalence of this disorder, the ease of access to ADHD medication has become easier than ever before. Where Adderall is meant to help those struggling come to even footing with those who are not, it feels like ADHD has been undermined as a clinical condition and that the stigma surrounding us will forever be paired with this disorder. Adults and adolescents who have been diagnosed at a young age may even self-stigmatize themselves due to the fact that they do not have enough knowledge behind why they are the way they are and no paths that lead to help. I understand this paper was meant to be written about one instance of experienced stigma, but there is a whole population perpetuating the stigma and stereotypes of ADHD that has yet to be confronted. As someone who has been in school for almost all of their life I feel like I have been called every name in the book; slow, unfocused, stupid, troublemaker and my favorite one being about my potential. “She would have so much potential if it weren’t for the disorder thing holding her back” or “Wow, imagine if she didn’t have ADHD, she could be light years ahead in school.” These hurtful sayings and assumptions begin to affect you when there is no support group and someone to relate too.

When it comes to one specific situation that I have had a first-hand experience with, it would be this one time during my freshman year of college. One of my friends knocked on my door one day and asked if he could have some of my Adderall; he knew I had medication for it because we had talked about it a while back. I remember looking at him weirdly because from what I knew, he did not have a psychological disorder that warranted him this type of medication. I asked him what he needed it for and he said it was for his bio exam that was in two days. Stunned, because this was the first time someone had ever asked me for my medication, I asked him again how it would help. Back then I did not know that this type of medication had the same effect on those who did not suffer from ADHD, I figured that since their brain was “normal” that it would not do anything for them. I was clearly wrong. He told me how he took some of his friend’s medication and raved about how his focus was so intense that he wrote a ten page paper in the span of a few hours. Jealous and somewhat outraged that a friend would ask me to help them excel in their academics when I had to take this medication to even be on the same playing field as them had made me react harshly to him.

Looking back at this instance I must reflect on the ignorance of the non-ADHD community. He may not have realized that, one; he was using me and two, that it was extremely insulting. My reaction was an emotional reflex, I had not realized back then how those with ADHD might have been viewed. Maybe my friend did not know how much the medication helped but he definitely did not know about the side effects that come with it (these side effects could be a major factor as to why some do not take their prescribed medication to begin with). This is where the anger comes in, where I had to take the medication to function; he used it as an advantage. Knowing what I know now, perhaps I would have taken the time to educate him and help him understand why this was a tall ask, but in the moment I was shocked he would even ask such a thing. Come to know that this was not an uncommon act in college life, as I had experienced something like this again my junior year; it is a frustrating experience to have to encounter first-hand over and over again.

After some reflection, there are some ways that I believe the stigmas surrounding this psychological disorder can be reduced. If we as studying counselors could begin to educate our peers on why the act of taking this medication when not prescribed is bad while also explaining to them that asking a peer who does suffer from ADHD for medication is unjust; we may make some headway in reducing the ignorance. I believe that by spreading awareness and not perpetuating the stigma could go a long way in reducing the numbers of those who take these medications for fun. I also think by creating special training for teachers to better understand and recognize when a student is suffering, rather than them possibly assuming the child is slow (could be due to their environment/culture) will decrease the amount of stigma at a young age. I have worked in towns where mental health and psychological disorders have been labeled as “needy” and “fake” and I feel very strongly that as a studying counselor it is my job to educate those around me and decrease stigma where I can. After all, if those who have a psychological disorder do not stand up for themselves, who will?

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