There I was, sitting in the giant, quiet room anxiously. I heard the second hand of the clock ticking. Pencils were thumping. All of the sudden the large grumpy woman with an 80’s hairstyle at the front of the classroom yells “10 minutes left.” This made it worse. I couldn’t concentrate on my assignment. I was busy looking at the clock hoping I could finish on time.
“Time’s up,” shouted the instructor. The students got up to hand in their tests. Some moped. I was one of them. I didn’t finish. The reading section impeded me the most. I had to read each story two or three times before it sink in. I cannot focus. When the instructor informed us we had 10 minutes left, it made it worse.
I was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) disorder when I was a preteen. It is a mental disorder that mainly affects one’s ability to focus and concentrate. Although most children are affected, many adults struggle with the disorder.
“Usually in most cases, ADHD disappears in adulthood. A little over half of children with ADHD will keep it when they reach adulthood,” said Dr. Paul S. Catanzaro, my physician at St. Anthony’s Medical Center. Catanzaro has been my personal physician since I was a preteen. When I first became his patient, he was curious when my family and I became aware of my disorder. In virtually all cases, Catanzaro said, individuals with ADHD discover their disorder at some point in their childhood.
My family first noticed I was inattentive during 5th grade. Up until that point, I was consistently at the top of my class. My school used to host these after-school games where I’d compete with another student in answering a teacher’s question. My parents would come and watch me. I would always win. In one of the games, a classmate and I would each have a stapler we would use as a buzzer, and whoever knew the answer first would slam down on the stapler. I’d always get it first. I knew I was showing off. I went to a Christian school, and I memorized the first half of the Bible by second grade. I remember receiving so many positive letters at home from my teachers.
“We used to get so get mail all of the time saying what a good job you did at an academic level,” says my mother, Laura Bland, and she lies on the couch watching Jeopardy drinking a cup of freshly brewed tea. “It’d be anything from your superior academic skills to your good behavior or perfect attendance.” Back then, teachers used to start students at a particular number of points for behavior. Every student would have, say, 100 points by the start of class. And if the student acts up, behavioral points would be deducted. Mine were of course always 100, except for one year when I received a 98 for walking out of class without permission to use the water fountain. My report card was stock full of “E’s.” E stood for excellent. In elementary school, or at least in mine, the grading scale consisted of E for excellent, G for good, S for satisfactory, P for poor, and F, of course, for fail.
In 5th grade, my grades begin to drop. Coincidentally enough, this is about the time when my parents finalized their divorce and I switched schools. Catanzaro assures that tragic incidents in one’s life cannot lead to ADHD. “Well, environmental stress can certainly be associated with not performing in school, lack of energy, and they can lead to anxiety. But it cannot create ADHD. ADHD is a chemical imbalance in the brain. Now, it’s very possible that environmental that environmental factors or tragic incidents in someone’s life can affect how they perform with ADHD,” said Catanzaro. I lost interest in doing my homework. I was constantly daydreaming in class. My mother thought it was time she bring me to see a psychiatrist.
I’ve been to several throughout my childhood, but one psychiatrist sticks out the most. His name was Dr. Donald Manhal. He was a tall, husky, goofy looking man with thinning gray hair and big coke bottle glasses and one of those mustaches that old men have when they are compensating for something else. He always tried to be my buddy. He’d always ask me to go to McDonald’s with him to talk, which became an inside joke with me and my friends for years to come. When he told me I had ADHD, I denied it. I arrogantly told him that I did not think I had it. Even then, I thought I was smarter than a doctor’s analysis.
“There’s nothing wrong with having ADHD,” Manhal said when I told him I didn’t have it. “I know. I didn’t say there was anything wrong with it, I said I didn’t have it,” I said back.
Manhal prescribed me methylphenidate, better known by its major brand name, Ritalin, for the first time. It took away my attentiveness and allowed me to focus on a task or assignment. When Catanzaro first became my physician, he also began to prescribe me Ritalin. It became a staple of my life throughout my high school years and helped me overcome my inattentiveness. It wasn’t until high school when I noticed I was showing symptoms of hyperactivity.
“There are many forms of ADHD. There’s inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity are elements of ADHD. A person doesn’t have to have them all in order to be ADHD, and each element could appear in a diagnosed person at different stages of life. It can appear at any age,” said Catanzaro.
My hyperactivity began to show up rather late in life. I was a teenager, which is about the time most symptoms of ADHD begin the fading away process. First, someone with hyperactivity does not mean he or she is not a generally calm person. As Catanzaro said, someone with hyperactivity simply means he or she may the urge to fidget something, get up to walk around frequently, or talk excessively; and a person with hyperactivity does not have to possess all of these aforementioned attributes.
For me, I can’t stay comfortable in a sitting position for very long. I have to constantly move my legs, whether it be slouching in the chair or sitting with one leg over my other one. Also, I have the constant need to juggle things around. When I’m doing assignments that require brain activity, I take short breaks to throw a bouncy rubber ball against a wall and try to catch it, pretending I’m a goalie. Currently, I have been able to manage without any prescribed medications.
I stopped relying on Ritalin during the summer after my senior year in high school, going into college. I walked into Catanzaro’s office for my annual physical. As he scanned my medical chart, he said “Just so you know, I don’t prescribe Ritalin anymore. So if you’re looking for that, you’re going to have to go to a different doctor.” I was not going to ask him for it anyway. Although it is sometimes difficult to focus without it, I can still manage.
One of my worst memories of inattentiveness in higher learning was in my college composition class, the very first college course I ever took. The instructor surprised the class by assigning us different chapters out of the book to read, during class time. Then we had to put together an impromptu presentation discussing the chapter we just read. She gave the class approximately 20 minutes to read their assigned chapter and then another few minutes to organize a presentation. I was quite anxious as I was reading. I kept thinking to myself, there’s no probable way I can read a long chapter in 20 minutes and sink in enough information to present it. I had seen some students finishing up their reading and closing their texts. I was still scanning the chapter, over and over again. Had the instructor told the class to read their assigned chapter at home, I could have read it on my own time, and all would have been well. But with 20 minutes of class time to read and present, it made it very difficult, especially when I seen other students finish before me. I thought the instructor was rather unorthodox in not only having the students read from the textbook during class time, but requiring us to give a presentation without any prior knowledge of it.
Currently, the only supplement I take is a cup of coffee before an exam. I’m not upset I have this mentality. I cherish it. My only disadvantage is that I have to study and work a little harder and longer than most people to accomplish something. I could have been born with no limbs, no eyesight, or no brain. Next to that, it seems quite trivial. I have accepted that it is something I have to live with and I don’t really spend my time thinking about it anymore. After all, worry doesn’t help tomorrow’s troubles. It only ruins today’s happiness.
Dr. Paul S. Catanzaro, physician specializing in internal medicine, St. Anthony’s Medical Center, 10004 Kennerly Rd Ste 186B
Dr. Donald Manhal, psychiatrist, St. Louis (now deceased)
Laura Bland, my mother, email@example.com