19 April 2022
“You’re just wired different, Bea!”
Initially a well-meaning joke that my friends used to throw around whenever the topic of my sleep schedule or study habits were concerned, this exact sentence prophesied a turning point in my development. At 21, I was diagnosed with inattentive ADHD, a fact that would lift the weight of my worries off of my chest and give me the catharsis I had needed all along. After years of feeling like an engine running on reserve, I had reached a tipping point where being inside my own head felt like a full-time job. In an already competitive enough course where imposter syndrome and mental health concerns are rampant, I felt enslaved by an indecipherable, unfathomable brain fog. When I wasn’t busy developing the same anxiety-induced arrhythmias mentioned in my lecture slides after hours of unproductive studying, I was drowning in guilt over watching cat videos on YouTube and deep-cleaning my kitchen during Zoom seminars.
My work mantra of “diamonds are made under pressure” suddenly became the bane of my existence. My lack of enthusiasm fuelled my procrastination with the latter only temporarily quelled by a rush of adrenaline when I suddenly had 12 hours left and a pack of Monster Mango Loco to submit my coursework from scratch. I was exhausted and ashamed, blaming my emotional turmoil on “laziness” and a lack of willpower.
What felt even more difficult that living with undiagnosed ADHD was asking for help. Well-meaning but unproductive comments citing my intelligence and academic achievements as reasons to rule out mental health struggles started to feel like gaslighting. It was the first time that I felt discriminated against as a patient; a silly, melodramatic woman who just wasn’t good enough at coping in the eyes of my GP.
Unfortunately not all doctors will be empathetic, which is why you must be empathetic with yourself first. Medical students, in particular those of us who are women, minorities, or part of any marginalized group, are often pushed to our limit and forced to internalize our struggles by institutions like the NHS. Do not let them. Simply being “allowed” in a historically white and male-dominated field is not enough. Be loud. Be dramatic. Be aggressive. You owe it to yourself to learn how to be a taker rather than just a giver.
There are occasionally days when I feel the same familiar guilt slowly creeping inside my mind. The ADHD brain is a fascinating one: brilliant, hyper focused, and resilient, but equally so self-destructive, impulsive, and temperamental. I still struggle at times (though significantly less than before), but with one major exception now: for once, even with all the hardships and confusion, there isn’t a single thing I would change about myself.