University, ADHD and Me
Updated: Oct 16, 2019
After struggling with my mental health for 9 years, aged 22 I finally got a diagnosis that gave me hope. Being diagnosed with ADHD was a big positive because I finally had access to treatments that could help. Hope for the future. I was entering my final year of university at the time, and while medication really helped get me going, I didn’t have the skills I needed to get going on. That’s where coaching came in.
“University isn’t for everyone”
I struggled with university for four years, changing course after 1 year, doing 1st year of the new course, taking a sabbatical year the next, scraped through the second year of that course and decided something needed to change.
Every day I struggled to get up and out of the house unless it was because someone else needed me. I would run late so late for my lectures I would be too embarrassed to go. Then as I was behind, I would miss subsequent lectures with the intent to catch up. Coursework was impossible to hand in on time no matter how hard I tried, and I couldn’t understand why.
The academic side of university not going so well left me with this overwhelming feel of guilt. I knew that being proactive with self-care and my social life did improve my productivity with university work, but I found it hard to justify going out with my friends when I was so far behind on my uni work. This guilt ate away at me all day, every day. It ate away at me so much it took away my light-hearted personality and left an over-anxious wreck in its place. As you can imagine, being around someone who constantly overthinks isn’t all that much fun, and so the friendships that I had only recently formed easily slipped away. I felt like a loser, I had no excuse for why I was failing university and why I was failing to maintain friendships either.
Everybody around me kept telling me “university isn’t for everyone”, my friends, family and the university. I could not wrap my head around why university wouldn’t be for me but would be for almost everyone else I had contact with. Why could these people, who didn’t particularly love learning about their subject, manage what I couldn’t? Must be because I’m weak right? Or lazy? I knew I wasn’t dumb, so it must be that I was weak and lazy.
Nope. The GP said I was depressed. That’s why I had “no motivation” and couldn’t get up in the morning. Never mind that I was determined, motivated to complete my degree, to keep going and not quit. It must be depression, because in the UK a GP is allowed to diagnose and medicate depression without a specialist even being consulted.
CBT, daily anti-depressants and 3.5 years later I wasn’t any better. And I also couldn’t see how I would get any better. So back to ‘if I’m treated for depression and I still can’t achieve what I want to then I must be weak and lazy, right?’
I bumped into an old friend of mine who had been recently diagnosed with ADHD who repeatedly encouraged me to look into getting an assessment. I pushed this to the back of my mind and spent 2 months of summer feeling absolutely hopeless about my future. I convinced myself that I just wanted this diagnosis because I wanted so badly to not have to face the “truth” that I was weak and lazy.
At the end of these 2 months I had definitely become depressed (while still on anti-depressants). For the first time I was definitely depressed. I couldn’t see any way to feel better, to DO better. I couldn’t see how anything would change. And that was not a nice place to be. Something had to change, I couldn’t keep going like this I thought. I went privately to get an assessment for ADHD and was diagnosed with the combined type by a Psychiatrist.
“Pills don’t give skills”
After the relevant health checks, I immediately started on stimulant medication, this made a big difference in my ability to get stuff done and focus on the task at hand. What it didn’t do was give me organisational or prioritisation skills I didn’t have. While neurotypical people developed they acquired these skills, but I had been unable to learn these with my brain lacking in dopamine.
I still struggled with deadlines and essays. Unable to organise my time and when it came to structuring essays, unable to decipher which information was more important – everything seemed equally important to me! I was also struggling with the pressure of university altogether after 4 years of it not going to plan.
My psychiatrist recommended coaching as I had already had a lot of CBT in the past. My first session with Stephanie was hard work, my brain was being exercised to think in a different way to how it had before. But it even my first session I learnt a lot of valuable information about myself.
Coaching taught me to understand my brain, focus on my strengths and from this, learn unique strategies that worked for me. I was able to not be so hard on myself and be the most organised I had ever been. This new insight also allows me to now make informed life decisions, I can choose not to do things I now realise are just that much more difficult for me and my ADHD brain. I can choose to do things that my ADHD brain is motivated by.
Stephanie has been with me on every step of my coaching journey, and it hasn’t stopped yet. So far, I’ve achieved my best university grades and it won’t stop there. Coaching is a powerful tool that I will continue to choose in order to reach goals that for the last decade, I didn’t believe possible.
~ Jenny, University Student