Academically, I am one of the most stress-free people I know. I always get between 8-10 hours of sleep. I rarely spend more than an hour a day on schoolwork. And yet, consistently, I am a good student who manages to turn in all of my work on time, often with high markings.
The most interesting aspect of all of this is that I do have ADHD and learning disabilities, but instead of wrestling with it, I use it to my advantage. I realize what my limits are, and I don’t try to push myself towards objectives that will simply be a waste of time. For example, I am NOT a textbook reader. I never have been, and I never will be. Rather than sit in my room and spend four hours trying to absorb a textbook, I’ll do other work instead that I know can be easily maximized. I can write three papers in four hours, so I might as well knock that out instead.
In all my three years of college, I’ve probably spent thousands of dollars on thirty or so textbooks. Realistically, I think I’ve opened three of them in my life. I’ve never failed (or even come close to failing) a class.
If this is ringing any bells, I have an exercise for you- make a list of all your academic strengths and weaknesses. Can you do anything about your weaknesses? If yes, it might be time to buckle down and work harder. Or, do you have a disability that prevents you from excelling in a certain area? Stop sweating about it. Focus instead on what you do well, and I promise you will flourish.
Like I said, I’m not a textbook reader. I have a really hard time sitting myself down and reading something that’s simply not interesting to me. I don’t enjoy answering questions on worksheets, especially if they’re self-explanatory and sound silly to answer. And, the worst, is taking tests and exams. I do not like working under pressure in those types of environments, and having my objective knowledge tested in a subjective method has never meshed well for me.
That being said, I have my strengths. I love to write essays and find it really easy to punch them out. I can write an A-grade, five page paper in less than two hours. I’m also very comfortable in group discussions that enable me to share my thoughts, and can intuitively figure out subject matter very quickly (without reading the textbook). I am comfortable with admitting what I’m not great at, but I’m also not afraid to admit what I am good at. I believe, in general, we need to give ourselves more credit.
Like I said, because I have figured out my learning style, I am able to excel in the majority of my classes without stressing myself out exponentially. This is one of the biggest ways I keep my stress down- I focus only on doing my best, and if I feel like a task is a waste of time or energy, I find a way around it. That’s not to say “Give up when things get hard,” rather, “When things get hard, try not to stress too much. Carry out your work in the most effective way to your health and learning style.”
I always strive to do well, but I’m not obsessed with being an A+ student. College is a short channel in my life, it doesn’t define it- so I’m not going to work myself into a panic over the small stuff. I am totally and completely happy with soaring through college, and take B’s with gratitude. I am solidly okay with being “just average”, as long as it means my happiness and my health needs are met. I could never justify pulling an all-nighter to get a perfect grade on an assignment that won’t even matter in five years.
I have an article similar in nature to this one, which deals with how I manage my time at college. As a full-time student, I take six classes, post four blog articles a week, write for my school’s lifestyle magazine, and I still have time to take care of myself and get 8 hours of sleep per night. Like I said, it’s all about priorities. If I am assigned a fifty-page textbook reading for something I could just ignore and figure out myself, that’s exactly what I’ll do. Do I feel bad about that? No. That time is now going to be spent on something else, like an essay draft I’m really looking forward to starting early.
I hope this doesn’t come across as “slack off,” because that’s not what I want people to do. I don’t slack off- I maximize my time. Trust me when I say your mental health is more important than turning in every single assignment with flying colors, even if you feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. Take initiative to spend time with yourself and learn who you really are, and from there, everything will become a little bit more manageable. Every once in a while, it’s so important to let yourself relax.
Coming up next: Six Controversial Foods and My Opinions on Them
If you’ve been following my blog for a while now, you know that my cognitive/learning disability testing has played a huge role in 2018. The seed was actually planted for me exactly a year ago, in the January of 2018, when I was discussing with my therapist the problems I’ve faced with my attention span and short-term memory. I’d never thought of myself as a candidate for ADHD before then; after all, ADHD just meant you were hyper, right? It was never something I had originally associated with myself, but the more I spoke to her and began to reflect on my academic/personal experiences, the more I wanted to pursue an answer.
Academically, I’ve always been a well-behaved kid. I completed my work on time, I wasn’t disruptive in class, and I generally got along with others. I have always struggled big-time with math, and even reached points in my life where I almost failed the entire class, but it was never brought to my attention that I might have an impairment in learning mathematics. The explanation I always got was along the lines of, “You’re gifted in English and arts, so of course you struggle with math.” Or, my favorite, “Why don’t you just try harder?”
The funny thing about ADHD is this, you are trying as hard as you can. In fact, you’re probably working twice as hard as everyone around you to retain the same information. The problem isn’t my level of willingness, the problem is neurological.
In school, I differed from other students in that I enjoyed taking notes and listening to lectures. When the information was personable and heavily reliant on verbal skills, I quite enjoyed learning and tended to retain much more information. The biggest issues for me were in mathematics, focusing on textbooks, and memorizing facts upon facts upon facts. When you struggle with these things but don’t show signs of hyperactivity, unfortunately, ADHD is not the first thing that comes to most adults’ minds. If you had experiences like me, you’re more likely to hear responses like, “Oh, just try harder.” Or, “Be more patient.” Or, “Just stop daydreaming and focus!”
Don’t you think if I could work harder, I would?
Generally, the way I got through most of middle/high school was by what I’ve coined “intuitive learning.” If I’m assigned a task that I have virtually no clue how to complete, and I know that no amount of asking the professor will help me understand it better, I simply start mimicking what other students are doing around me. I may not know what I’m doing, but at least I’m getting it done in the meantime, and I can push it out of my mind as soon as class is over. This generally only occurs in classes that involve verbal directions, computers, numbers, math, etc. Essentially, it comes out to play when I have to complete a task that doesn’t involve any artistic creativity.
Anyhow, I was talking about how I decided to get tested. I was thoroughly kicked in the ass with the need to get tested when my college told me they couldn’t secure a medical single for me without two medical diagnoses (I’ve already been diagnosed with GAD, so ADHD would have been the other hopeful diagnosis I needed.) My therapist referred me to a hospital outside Boston that offered cognitive/neurological testing, and told me that all I would have to do is make sure my insurance covered it. This part was a little bit tricky, and set me back/discouraged me in regards to actually getting the testing booked. Not every insurance company will cover learning disability testing, and my insurance plan unfortunately didn’t. After back-and-forthing even more with my therapist about this tiny problem, she explained to me that the hospital itself would have to reach out to my insurance and essentially plead for coverage. Otherwise, well, I simply couldn’t afford it.
The good news is, after sending out a letter to my insurance and phrasing my testing needs as means for “cognitive well-being”, I got the entire testing covered. I can’t guarantee that situation would pan out for everyone, but thankfully, it worked out for me.
The first step for me was to fill out a lengthy packet entailing all of my concerns, behaviours, reasons for seeking testing, etc. After I filled it out, I mailed it to the hospital, and waited 1-2 weeks to hear back. The next step is to set up your first meeting with the hospital via phone, which can be quite a gruelling experience due to the scarce availability. I called to set up an appointment in September, but couldn’t even find a date to work for me until December.
The entire experience consisted of three meetings with a doctor. The first meeting was probably the shortest, around an hour or so, and just consisted of discussing my packet and my reasons for wanting the testing. She asked me about my childhood, my academic habits, my behavior, and generally all things that would help her determine what kind of tests to proctor for me. After that, we set up a longer appointment for me to complete the tests, and she sent out the request to my insurance company for coverage.
The actual testing itself wasn’t very hard, but sections of it were actually kind of stressful. Some of the tests challenged my memory; for example, she would read me a list of random words and then ask me to repeat all the words I remembered. There were tests in which she would show me a very detailed design, and then ask me to re-create it to the best of my ability. One particular test which I found very stressful was a computer test that flashed different letters quickly on the screen. I was supposed to hit the spacebar for every letter except for “X”, and due to my speed and impulsivity, I literally failed that test with flying colors. I also took vocabulary tests, personality tests, mood tests, math tests, word tests, tests with blocks…you name it. The entire testing took four hours for me, which she told me was actually quite fast. I wouldn’t say I felt physically tired after the testing, but my brain was definitely fried. That being said, I’m extremely happy I went through with it, and was more or less entertained for the entire testing. My recommendation for anyone preparing for a similar testing experience is to eat a very large, protein-abundant breakfast so that you can have sustained energy and a focused mind.
It literally only took a week for my results to be ready, which surprised me, due to the busy nature of the hospital. The third and final meeting with my doctor took about an hour and a half, and basically just gave her a chance to go over my results with me and answer any questions I may have. When I got my results back and went over them with my doctor, she answered some questions for me, and then told me she was going to diagnose me with ADHD. I was right on the line of being diagnosed with OCD as well, but I didn’t quite meet all the criteria she would need for a diagnoses. I was actually extremely happy to finally have a diagnoses and an explanation for why I had struggled so much with retaining information and paying attention. She explained to me that I was exceptionally fast at processing information, but my short-term memory skills were lacking in situations where the subject wasn’t interesting to me. For example, I could recall many details from a short story she read to me, but when it came to reciting numbers and random lists, I struggled greatly and showed a level of impairment. She also concluded I had an impairment with math, which I had already assumed, but what I didn’t know was that I only comprehended up to sixth-grade level math. Yikes.
She didn’t only tell me what was “wrong” with me, but also highlighted what cognitive areas I excelled in. For example, I learned that not only was I very smart with quickly processing complex ideas, but I also had an “above average” vocabulary and excellent verbal skills for my age. She agreed that communications was a great degree for me to pursue, and advised me that anything involving numbers and short-term decision making skills would be a challenge for me. There were tons more components that she analyzed, but I think those were essentially the highlights. After the doctor goes over your results, you can expect a formal written diagnoses and (lengthy) copy of your results to come in the mail within a few days. I received mine exactly seven days letter, in the form of a very, very lengthy analysis.
I am so happy to have had the testing done, and regret nothing about it. Albeit, it was super strange to receive a six-page analysis of myself, containing everything from how I was dressed to how often I snacked and took breaks. There were paragraphs upon paragraphs describing all of her impressions of me, how well I performed on the tests, and what advice she had for me to improve my skills and lifestyle. At the end of the paperwork, there was a detailed chart describing my exact score on every test, and the formal diagnosis of ADHD, OCD, Specific Phobia, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. The Specific Phobia, by the way, is for needle/blood/hospital phobia. I may consider writing a separate article for that as well; we shall see!
It’s fantastic to finally have an explanation for why I do the things that I do, and how I can help to better myself physically, emotionally, and even socially. I can’t guarantee that everyone will have the same experience as me, but if you have concerns about your health, I highly recommend considering cognitive testing.