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Getting An ADHD Diagnosis In College: “I Used to Think I Was Stupid”

Growing up, I used to think I was stupid.

I didn’t know why I could never understand what my teachers were teaching in class, why I could never remember anything I was supposed to be doing, or why I was the weird girl who couldn’t hold an appropriate conversation. I spent 18 years of my life in a constant fog of confusion, and no one but me had any clue.

To read more first hand accounts of living with ADHD:

Before I was diagnosed with ADD my freshman year of college, I had terrible anxiety that counter-balanced my ADD symptoms. I knew I would forget everything. So I wrote it all down on post-it notes. I color coded the notes and hung them all over my desk as constant reminders. I knew it took me a long time to grasp concepts or finish a reading, so I set aside multiple hours in the day to teach myself calculus or French.

My anxiety got me through the high school workload.

I still thought I was stupid, but I’d figured out the work around.

But, my first semester of college turned that assurance upside down. I found myself forgetting entire lectures. I knew I went to class, but I couldn’t even remember being in the classroom. My notes looked like brand new material. I spent the semester teaching myself all the material for my class. I worked my butt off to keep up with my course load, but the amount of work I put in didn’t translate into good grades.

With a Diagnosis Came Help

Finally, I sought help. I was diagnosed with ADD my freshman year of college, and life hasn’t been the same since. I began seeing a therapist who helped me understand how differently my brain works and how to manage it.

My ADD medicine lifted the cloud from my brain; I can now see in color. I’ve realized that I’m not stupid at all. I’m actually quite smart. My ambition and confidence has increased ten-fold now that I know my capabilities. The nightmare I used to call college is now a dream come true.

To get expert advice on how to live with ADHD:

In the three years since my diagnosis, I’ve worked with my therapist to understand the world of ADD and my place in it, and that has made all the difference. I could have stopped at the medication, but I wanted to know why and how I was different and how to use that to my advantage. I wanted to learn how to rely on myself, and not just my medicine, to get by. Three years down the road, I can now see the world in color, with or without my medicine, and all because I made an effort to understand instead of simply treat.

Heather Brandenburg

Heather is a senior at the University of Kansas studying exercise science.