Coping Methods: ADD and Uni

So, in my first post I mentioned that I would probably end up speaking about how my own personal ‘mental health’ has affected my time at uni, and so I thought I would explain a little bit more about exactly what I ‘have’, or rather one of things which I ‘have.’

I have no way to word it other than ‘have,’ but really I wish I did, as it’s not so much something I have, but a part of me.  If anything, it’s something that I own, that each and everyday I think I might have paid a little bit too much for, but still couldn’t imagine living without, as its so intrinsically a part of me. I love it and hate it at the same time. It’s always been there, and although it apparently makes my life harder than the ‘neurotypical person’ I honestly wouldn’t wish to be ‘normal.’ I mean, what does normal even mean?? This is me we’re talking about, so why would I wish to change the person I know and love the most in the world.

Btw, sorry for the repetition of ‘have’ in that last section. It’s ridiculously early and my brain just isn’t working yet!

I’ve just realised that I’m yet to mention exactly what I’m talking about, so here we go. I have (and have had for the whole of my life) Attention Deficit Disorder. If you’re not quite sure what it is imagine ADHD but a little bit calmer. I know that most people associate it with ‘naughty’ children, but really it’s way more than that. I’m not a scientist so I can’t explain exactly why it happens but my brain just can’t seem to concentrate on many things as much as other people can.

It’s like a switch just turns off in my brain. It could be 15 minutes into a lecture, or even a minute into a conversation, but after that switch has gone I just can’t pay attention – no matter how much I try. It can be so frustrating, and it only seems to have gotten marginally better since growing up. My brain literally seems to just have the attention levels of a young child.

It can be so frustrating, but since my formal diagnosis last year I’ve found it so much easier. The uni is aware and I have been provided with a dictaphone, which records all lectures, so that if I zone out I can listen back at a later date.

Even better is that it has helped me fully understand why I acted in certain ways, as before I just thought that I was ‘stupid’ or ‘lazy’ or just plain annoying. If you have ADD or ADHD you might recognize the kind of things I’m saying, so for me my formal diagnosis didn’t mean that I was being labelled, it just meant that I had the explanations for certain behaviours in my earlier years. By that I mean I was that child that you just wouldn’t be friends with. When explaining what I was like at school my housemates have actually told me that in so many words 😉 But anyway, I suddenly understood why I had been so disruptive – put simply I couldn’t concentrate. This would lead to me getting bored and ‘playing up.’ I’ve also been told extra things about ‘high intelligence’ and the work being to easy for me, but I’m not going to blow my own trumpet 😉 haha. That’s just not the type of person I am.

I said at the beginning of this post that I had come up with coping methods for uni, so I thought that I might share them, in a hope that it might help somebody else. Be aware though that everybody works differently, so although they work for me, they might not work for you. That’s one of the great things about life: our minds all work in different ways. (Sorry for the cliche!)

Coping Methods:

  1. Dictaphone

I mentioned it earlier, but I was given a dictaphone by my uni to help, and this has been a wonderful tool. I mean, another way that my ADD effects me is that I’m totally disorganised, and I keep on forgetting it, but for the lectures I have recorded this has helped me soooo much. I mean, I might not have actually listened back to them, but the fact that my lectures are recorded if I feel the need to go back over them really helps.

2. Detailed Essay Plans

My brain gets distracted easily, so although I understand what I need to write I always find this so hard to do. When I got to uni it became clear to me that my essays would always start off okay, but then end up going off on tangents (much  like my brain.) I found that the easiest way to deal with this was to write the most detailed essay plans ever. Like, they start out by me just bullet pointing 3 things that I want to include, and then I add the sources which I want to use.

It means that when I actually go to write the real essay that I have a clear and quite rigid structure which I need to stay within, so means that I don’t just go off on a tangent that has nothing to do with the essay question. My grades at uni went up from a 3rd in first year to a 2:1 in my second year when I started doing this.

3. Explaining to Friends and Course Mates

Now, I’m at a point in my life where I feel comfortable with telling people that I have ADD, but if you are not at that point thats okay. It’s not so much of a warning, but I kind of put it across as one (apparently…) but anyway, I’ve found that explaining my ‘condition’ to my friends has really helped them understand why I can’t concentrate on a whole lecture. It has meant that they don’t get offended when I suddenly switch topics in conversation, because they understand why I do it. It also means that they are more likely to let me borrow their notes, as they know I am not just being lazy. Being able to borrow notes for lessons I’ve zoned out in helps a lot.

4. Timetable of Work Hand-Ins and Reading

So I mentioned my lack of organisation earlier, so last year I found that writing up a massive weekly timetable of all work set for the semester help me immensely. I have these really brightly coloured pieces of paper, which list all the books and sources I need to read from Week One – Week Ten, so that I can double check on this when I feel like I’ve finished my reading for the week ahead. It also has deadlines on it, so I know when everything is due in. Again this has really helped me, as I often ended up forgetting what I was supposed to read, and then spend ages trying to work out exactly what it was that I was supposed to be doing, and then giving up and going on BuzzFeed or something…

5. Doing the Work I Feel Like Doing When I Feel Like It

So this is kind of a really important thing for me. I don’t know how to explain it really, but there will be times when one piece for uni seems so much more important/interesting for me than other things. I’ll obsess about these things, and can spend hours and hours on that one thing. It’s like that switch I was talking about has been stuck down with sticky tape. When I’m obsessed about a certain task I can’t concentrate on anything other than that task, and I even get annoyed if my boyfriend speaks to me in the middle of it. That is what I am doing right now, and nothing can get in the way. It literally feels like my whole life depends on that one task.

I’ve found that the only way to deal with this is to just get on with it. The task will end at some point, or I will eventually get bored of it, so there’s no point even trying to do something else, as I won’t really do that other thing anyway. I mean, at least I’m doing work, so I don’t think it really matters that I’m obsessing over this one thing way more than I obsessed about that other piece. Of course this is just personal opinion, when explaining this to other people they quite often can be like ‘but why. Can’t you just do something else?’ I’m like no, I honestly can’t.

Anyway, so I know this has been a really long post, which is kind of ironic as I’m talking about my ADD, but right now I am obsessing about this blog post. It’s kind of funny really, because when reading other peoples posts I normally switch off within the first couple of minutes unless it’s really interesting. Anyway, I hope this clears up a little bit about myself, and that it might eve help somebody out there.

Sarah