My name is Meera. I am a 20 year old Tamil female living in the GTA. I attend university. I like to watch hockey, dance Bharatanatyam, take care of my pets, and play video games. I also have ADHD.
Well that’s a new one, isn’t it? It isn’t every day you hear a quality of that kind lumped in with the others. I would have not expected it myself had it not been for a series of events that made me take a step back and think about the person I really was.
Early in my childhood, I was praised for being a model student. I had demonstrated the values necessary to be deemed the “perfect” daughter: bright, well-behaved, and capable of excelling at any task I was approached with. These qualities served as the foundation for not who I wanted to be, but rather who I supposedly needed to be. I dedicated my efforts to work towards this image of perfectionism, and I was well ahead of the crowd in that regard.
As I got older, however, I was expected to handle larger and more varied workloads. My time had to be delegated accordingly to a growing number of commitments and tasks now required more focus from me. While this transition seemed to go more smoothly for my peers, I found myself not able to sustain the mental effort to do the same. Reading was a chore as I spent 15 minutes fixated on a single paragraph. My brain refused to remember or process anything, and the effort to get through a single page wore me out. I found myself turning away from school work in favour of easier mental tasks, such as surfing the web. This escape was not available to me during tests and exams, however. Questions would lose meaning to me as I attempted to understand them within the time constraint. Despite the extra studying I was required to do, my efforts were in vain. I would receive yet another C- as a result of not carefully reading the question.
“It is just a phase,” I thought. “I just need to work harder. I am certainly capable of handling this in the future.”
It did not stop there. These struggles continued to spill over to other areas of my life. I was despondent and distracted while having conversations , and often found myself asking people to repeat themselves. The more I drove, the more fearful I was of creating an accident as I ran stop signs and red lights without a second thought. I could not even be bothered with completing housework; promising to take the pizza out of the oven but then immediately getting sidetracked by something else.
My challenges overwhelmed me considerably more when I moved out and attended university. Every bad grade I had received was followed by an effort to work harder, and each one ultimately ended in failure. I was overcome with grief, and the depression shortly followed. I would succumb to severe anxiety when I picked up a pencil; breaking down in fear that I would repeat my mistakes once again. My everyday functioning was impeded by panic attacks and the lack of motivation. I was no longer able to work towards the person I wanted to be.
Upon approaching my parents about the issues I faced, their responses struck me in the same, frustrated manner, but with increasing frequency:
“You make so many careless mistakes! You could have gotten a higher mark if you just paid attention!”
“You forgot your lunch AGAIN? Why do you forget things that you do every day? You always have your head in the clouds!”
“I told you to do the laundry! Instead you sit here on your computer and waste time! You are so lazy!”
The recurring scolding seemed like a regularity growing up, and I was convinced that any explanation for my inability to follow directions was an excuse. Even to this day, it is hard to completely accept that I have a disorder, as I was unknowingly conditioned to adhere to a stigma that was a product of my culture. It was not until I had reached the beginning of my independence and started viewing the world through an unfiltered lens that I came to a stark realization. The difficulties I had in my life were not “typical” of those of my peers, who were more satisfied with their lives. I had a serious problem that prevented me from being as happy and successful as I could possibly be. It was a problem that was previously incomparable because it was repressed by the age-old notion of “You look fine, therefore you are fine.”
I finally acted on my hunches and started to do some research. After weeks of researching websites and articles, my problems were consistent with the symptoms of Attention-Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, or ADHD. I read through various forums, and I found that the personal accounts of those that identified with ADHD resonated with me in a way that was all too familiar. These individuals had also received treatment in some form, and had seen significant improvement over the course of their lives. Never have I so feverishly desired the same improvement, and I knew I had to stop at nothing to achieve it.
Upon recognizing that I needed to seek treatment, I set out on a mission to finally get it. This was a personal and secret mission, as I knew that enlisting the help of my parents would result in a fruitless effort. I was initially held back by the thought of betraying my parents’ trust; something that I valued greatly. Getting an assessment alone would cost a lot of money, not to mention that I needed to be deceptive about my trips to the clinic. Ultimately, I decided that my health issues were only understandable to their full extent by me, and only I could experience what the best treatment would be. I would unfortunately inflict some damage on my relationship with my parents when it came to major decisions involving medication and finances, but the resultant benefits would outweigh the costs. Once I came to terms with all of this, I went ahead and booked an appointment. I had undergone the assessment, and the verdict had me relieved: I was diagnosed with having a textbook case of ADHD.
It is odd that I would be satisfied with an outcome like that, right? Why was I happy that I had just been told that I had a neurological dysfunction, one that hindered my ability to function well within this society? It was because I was finally given a reason for my problems. It wasn’t an attack on my character, or that everything I tried to do was wrong. Rather, another part of me had been finally uncovered after years of struggling and disappointment. I felt as if all of the questions I ever had about myself were finally answered. Now it was time for me to receive treatment, and it was at this point that I had to bring my parents into the picture.
I told them what the psychiatrist had told me, and you can imagine how well that went. I was met with disbelief, criticism, and disappointment. They were opposed to the idea of me taking a pill every day and the side effects that would come about. I had to keep a firm stance, as I had let them be the judges for far too long. I reasoned with them that I was old enough to make my own decisions about my health, and that this was not something that they could comprehend at the time. I reassured them that I had done the research necessary, and while my body would undergo changes during the transition, it would be worth it in the end. They were frustrated with my persistence and thought they were losing control of me but after a good back and forth of conflicting ideals, they eventually relented.
They realized that even as parents, they did not know how everything worked outside of the teachings they grew up with. My mother and father were not necessarily happy with the fact that I would be on medication for a good while, but they still respected that I had to do what was best for me. This was not a victory over my parents; instead it was an acknowledgement that everything that they could impose was not always applicable to my circumstances. I couldn’t have asked for anything more from them. They were finally showing more openness on their part, and it was a step in the right direction.
After months of enduring the effects of my medication and the seemingly endless string of doctor’s appointments, I feel like both my old self and a new person. My concentration and memory have improved significantly. Maintaining focus is now an effortless thing, and I am more attentive to my day-to-day activities. My university transcript is starting to fill up with grades that I had not seen in over 10 years. Aside from reaffirming my capabilities, I have also made improvements that not even I could have foreseen. My anxiety has diminished to a level where I find myself taking more initiative with every goal I want to reach. I am able to vocalize the thoughts and opinions floating around in my head with little fear. I find myself taking control over my own decisions; ones that have determining factors on my happiness. The need to comply with that coveted image of perfection was no longer there. I used to cling onto that ideal so tightly, thinking that I needed it to be successful. I have now come to the realization that success was possible without my parents, and by extension, Tamil society, telling me what is right. Doing what was best for me while disregarding traditional beliefs about mental health is what has gotten me where I am today, and so far, I feel far from regretful.
It can be difficult to decide what is best for yourself while factoring in the well-being of those around you. At the end of the day though, it is your life – only you know what will bring you the utmost happiness. Do not let the expectations of others stop you from seeking out the help you need. Mental health clinics and help groups are located everywhere, and if you doubt or suspect even the slightest aspect of your mental health, don’t be afraid to take matters into your own hands. Challenging the social constructs that have shaped your very being presents steep risks—it’s no wonder that we often fear the unknown. But the potential to live your life on better terms than you have ever known is worth venturing into uncharted territory.
Editor’s note: This story is the personal account of one individual and is not to be taken as professional advice. Please contact a licensed medical professional if you require assistance with regards to your mental health.
-Featured image courtesy of ADHD Windsor