A Mind in Motion: How Medical School Forced Me to Take on My ADHD
Change is hard for everybody. It is especially hard when you are already moving one-hundred miles per hour.
Imagine having to change your wardrobe while driving a race car, and you only get a quarter of a lap to do it, or you crash and burn. This is how I felt every day.
I was never diagnosed with ADHD growing up, but I had all the obvious symptoms.
Lack of attention? Check.
Despite all of this, my mother never took me in to get tested. Honestly, I don’t blame her. You see, as my symptoms raged on, so did the stigmatization of ADHD treatment.
Many believed that the medications to treat ADHD were being overprescribed, and blamed those meds for turning children into “zombies.” This stigmatization, in my opinion, is what led to my mom just turning a blind eye to my problems. I suffered academically from the 6th grade on, and the consequences of not seeking treatment resulted in countless negative effects on my life.
I had delinquency issues in high school. I couldn’t hold a job, and I barely graduated; and these are just some of the ways my untreated ADHD impacted me growing up. Despite all of these downsides, however, I choose to look at some of the positive effects.
Over time I developed an unbreakable set of coping mechanisms, which I eventually put to use when I was accepted into college. I also harnessed my hyperactivity and turned it toward the power of exercise.
With all of these factors, you can imagine the tough road I had to pass to get to medical school. I came to PNWU with untreated ADHD and, soon, found that even with my coping mechanisms, I needed some help. Medical school can have a lot of interesting effects on people.
I have seen happy people become depressed, confident people become anxious, strong people crushed to a state of weakness and smart people feel inadequate academically. I have even fit into some of those categories myself. My biggest struggle, however? My old arch enemy?
Part of the coping mechanism I had developed during my undergrad years was an ability to cram material fast and easy so I didn’t have to maintain focus. I didn’t have to put in hours and hours of studying; I just learned how to be effective. While this was a helpful quality at that point, I quickly discovered that it did NOT work in medical school.
There was no way to learn the vast amount of information being thrown at me, and retain it permanently, unless I put in the work. This meant hours and hours of studying, which presented a problem for me.
I’d never had to do this in any of my prior academic experiences, and learning how to lock in and study for hours on end felt intimidating and daunting at times. But what choice did I have? Failure?
I had to adjust my study habits.
I started playing around with different study modalities. I took notes as I read. I structured my time. I kept my phone far away.
While these different modalities helped, the thing that worked the most for me was directly interacting with my study material.
I found that by drawing my studies up on a white board, or talking through them with a group of friends, I could maintain my focus much longer. As I continued doing this, the focus became easier and easier. Soon, I could sit on my own and study for hours and hours effortlessly.
Since then, I have gone from a kid who could barely graduate high school to the top of my class in medical school. And it’s all due to this new approach to studying and learning.
Recently, I went to a psychiatrist and was officially diagnosed as having ADHD, which has led me to receive counseling and medication to help further manage my symptoms. While all of this is great for me, and while this potentially sad situation has turned into a positive story, I can’t help but wonder how many people still suffer in silence because of the stigma?
We need to start by recognizing these students; by helping these students develop coping mechanisms and good study habits early, we can make a difference. After this has been accomplished, counseling and medication may be considered if they can benefit further.
I have regrets about not getting my ADHD managed at a younger age, and some resentment toward my mom for that. I’m sure that much of the time I wasted could have been used successfully had I received the right guidance. However, I am also grateful that I could hone my own coping mechanisms before getting treated further. It has made me stronger than I would have been had I jumped straight to medication.
I believe every parent, school teacher and physician should consider this lesson when dealing with ADHD.
Coping mechanisms, good study habits, interacting with your study material and medication can all be used in conjunction to further ones abilities and help them further their education, if desired. In my opinion, letting unfortunate stigmas prevent individuals from seeking help - or just throwing medication at the problem - will not be in any student's best interest regardless of the phase of schooling and, instead, do more harm than good.
Recognize that these problems exist, and discuss them freely and openly among each other. It is paramount to moving forward.
Resolution of these issues will not only help the individuals affected, but also enhance productivity within our societies. The psychosocial and fiscal implications of ending the stigma surrounding this issue is tremendous, and only with open mindedness and open communication can we remedy this situation.
As a future physician, I hope to bring to light my experiences and, one day, help to end the stigma and move forward.
Osteopathic Medical Student - 2nd Year (OMS II)
College of Osteopathic Medicine
Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences