By Clarissa Pompa |

I used to be pretty smart. My grades were high with minimal effort. I was in all AP classes and part of the MathSci team. That’s not to say I didn’t struggle at all, but those were extenuating circumstances. Regardless, I fulfilled the nerd stereotype fairly well. Then, college hit.

All of a sudden, I couldn’t bring the information I learned from class back to my homework. The professors moved too fast. The classrooms were too different. Everything was too . . . much.

I began calling them “octopus days.” These are days when my body has too much energy for my four limbs, and there is no possible way for me to sit in a class.

I thought it was my anxiety. I thought that I was lazy. I thought that I had gotten dumber.

My grades decreased exponentially. When I went to take one of my finals in spring of 2016, my professor stopped me outside of the classroom and said, very politely, that there was no point in taking the test since I had already failed. I felt the world spin, and my vision went black. I made it back to my study room and knew that there was no hiding this latest failure from my parents. As I was crying over how to break the news, I got an email from a caseworker. My professor gave her my information and I now had an appointment to figure out my life. It was equal parts relieving and humiliating.

Cut to me sitting in an office, describing my difficulties, being sent to my first counselor and then being told almost immediately: “You have ADHD.”

All the negative thoughts I had about my intelligence was just me believing a stereotype that I didn’t even know I fell into. I wasn’t lazy or dumb. My classes just finally tripped up my brain.

When I went home for the summer, I set up an appointment with a therapist there. It was during that first “let’s get to know each other” session and halfway through my talking when she put up her hand and said, “You do realize how fast you’re talking? How you’re jumping from subject to subject? This is textbook ADHD.”

It was a year before I got my medication because I had trouble accepting the fact that I needed help when my whole life I was fine. Except for the fact that my life was not fine, and I very much needed help. The reason I was in this position was because my brain couldn’t stay on track, and my college classes needed my attention more than ever. 

Graphic by Clarissa Pompa

Two years after that horrible final, I’m on medication. I registered with OALA, which was an experience. I saw the word “disability” 22 times while filling out that paperwork, feeling uncomfortable. I know my brain needs help, but defining my ADHD as a disability makes me squirm.

I feel weird claiming this disorder after a life of what I thought was a success, but the truth is, and this is verified by my counselor, that I am a card-carrying ADHD member. I need extra tactics and medication to make sure I can succeed. I’m just as smart as I used to be, no dumbing down here. I just have ADHD and always will.