It’s a Monday morning and the rain beats down outside, falling from a leaden grey sky in its pursuit to wash away the warmth and usher in the colder, damper part of the year when summer dust is replaced by sticky mud and long balmy nights make way for frozen onyx darkness.
I am alone. Alone in the house and as far as I know, alone in my thoughts. On the table in front of me, spread open like the wings of fearless butterflies, are two large history books and, in front of them, a blank pad of paper. I hear the clock ticking in the lounge and I listen to the pitter patter of rain as it unites with the glass of the window in a noisy, yet unusually calming, union.
I try to focus. My eyes dart across the words, searching for meaning amongst the cluttered page. Images are rare in this stodgy piece of writing and, though imperative for my learning, I struggle to separate the myriad names and dates from the orchestral rain and rhythmic ticking. Pausing at the end of a line, my mind darts to what I will be eating for lunch and then, without warning, back to the battle whose events are immortalised in this fascinating, yet mystifying book. Frustrated, I pull out my highlighter and release the fluorescent ink onto the page, for a moment almost hypnotised by the vibrant colour which paints a stark contrast on the monotone pages. Feeling my focus deepen, I take another highlighter – pink this time – and shade the next date, carefully keeping within the confines of the lines as my brain strives to beautify the sombre tones of black and white monotony.
My mind continues to dart and I continue to paint the pages of the book, as though each line is part of an academic colouring book which should be completed in order to gain thorough understanding of the topic. As I read further, I feel compelled to colour almost every line, my mind uncomfortable with the thought of leaving some parts unshaded.
Every day, as a delve deeper into books, whose black and white honesty is typical for their form, my reliance on colour and movement becomes more ingrained as I seek to ignore the distractions and settle my chaotic mind for a session studying independently. Although the material interests my curious nature, the starkness of text and lack of human connection often encourages me to seek the answer page before fully comprehending the questions.
This is what it is like studying for an Open University degree when you have undiagnosed Combined ADHD. Although I largely enjoyed researching history and studying for this degree, I found it extremely challenging from the onset and struggled intensely with the amount of reading needed for the subject. Even though I did well on my coursework, the three-hour exams were arduous and, as a result, I came out with a 2:2 when most of my friends managed to get at least 2:1s for their chosen degrees. For the first time in my life, I felt less than intelligent and it’s only now, with my diagnosis, that I feel truly able to speak out about this.
Because I never really struggled academically at school, I thought university level work would just be the same for me and I would, therefore, progress naturally as I had throughout my earlier years. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong! I found this degree intensely difficult and often rushed work, skipped to answer pages, or used Google, to avoid extra reading. I struggled without the accountability of a classroom situation and, although everyone thought I was motivated, I only truly found my feet properly when I wrote essays with a strict deadline. Until this point, nobody has ever known how much I struggled with my degree and how many hours I wasted thinking I was stupid. Back then, I didn’t know why my brain wouldn’t focus on the reading like the other people on my course and I lied so many times (both to my parents and friends), so I wouldn’t be classed as lazy or unmotivated.
Now I know I have ADHD, I am aware of how my brain functions and I can make informed decisions about how I study in future. History remains one of my favourite subjects, but I no longer feel the pressure of needing to complete a degree and am comfortable studying FutureLearn courses which have no exams or essays. Although I love learning, I don’t want to force myself to complete a Masters or a PhD, as I know my brain is more comfortable developing my business and working on more practical projects. Most importantly though, I don’t regret completing my degree, as it has helped towards making me a successful tutor and has also taught me numerous skills I use on a day-to-day basis.
From this day forward I won’t blame myself for getting a lower score than many, as I still passed! ADHD has made me the person I am today and, though challenging, it has helped me become a successful tutor and coach.
Would I choose a history degree if I went back to my 20-year old self in the past? Probably not. I would most likely select a vocational career with less reading and more doing.
However, we can’t change the past and, like history, we must always learn from our actions.
Shine brightly, ADHDers, and be proud of your Galaxy Brains!