Despite a rocky childhood, one woman learned to turn her ADHD challenges into ADHD superpowers — and embarked on the nursing career she always dreamed of.
Impulsive. Frustrated. Unmotivated. Sad. Discouraged. Dejected. A failure. This is how I described myself as a child and teen, before I was diagnosed with ADHD, at age 19. To know, finally, that there was a cause for the symptoms I had struggled with for so long was comforting. Knowing the “why” led to treatment, which led to the “how” I would accomplish my goal of being a nurse. Happy, successful, determined, ambitious, goal-oriented, calm, and clear — these words describe me today, as an adult with ADHD.
The Early Challenges
My school years were challenging. I couldn’t fall asleep at night, couldn’t sit still for 20 minutes, and interrupted others. I had a tutor in every subject. My self-confidence declined. People who knew me as a child didn’t know that I disliked myself so much, because of the facade I wore. The demons of a scattered brain emerged at night. I could not sleep because my brain couldn’t settle down. It was a vicious cycle that continued for years.
It was hard to be my friend in school. I was fun, but I could be needy, hyperactive, and moody. I prayed to God — I begged Him — to help me be calm and smart, and to control my impulsivity. My prayers felt unanswered as I struggled academically and socially.
The Turning Point
College started off like a party. The newfound freedom and the lack of structure made a recipe for disaster. I flunked out before the end of my first year. That was a turning point. My parents knew how much I wanted to be a nurse, and how much I wanted to be a success, so they had me evaluated. I was finally diagnosed with ADHD and treated with medication. I started my school career over with a positive attitude. The medication helped me cope and succeed.
I was determined that nothing would stop me. I took classes at the local community college and never missed one. I typed my lecture notes daily. Repetition was the key to helping me remember the information. After transferring to a university, I graduated with honours with my B.S. degree in nursing in 1995. I practiced as a nurse, got married, and worked part time while attending graduate school. I received my master’s degree in science with a 3.9 average.
Still a Struggle
At 44 years old, I still struggle with ADHD symptoms. However, I see ADHD as an asset. The abilities to hyperfocus and multitask are positive uses for my ADHD energy. I still impulsively send emails or make phone calls that I later regret, fail to complete a task on time, and leave my ATM card in the machine. I need reminders, to-do lists, and Post-it notes to get through the day.
On the other hand, I am empathetic, creative, bright, happy, and I have a foolproof memory. I can remember license plate numbers and hundreds of medical facts. I can recite a Shel Silverstein poem, “Sick,” that I learned in the third grade. I attribute all of these gifts to the superpowers of ADHD.
I tapped into those superpowers recently. While getting ready to pull away from the gate on a flight, I saw a man in the first row stand up, pale as a sheet, sweating profusely and in distress. My brain kicked into overdrive, and I told a flight attendant that I was an advance practice cardiology nurse, and that I suspected the man was having a cardiac event. A minute later, after she had walked to the front to investigate, a panicked voice came over the intercom: “The nurse! In 23B! To the front of the plane. Now!”
I shot out of my seat and was at the man’s side in an instant. I assessed the patient, asked him questions, and helped calm his frantic wife. The plane returned to the gate, and by the time the paramedics had arrived, I had him stabilized. I later found out the man had a serious heart condition, and I had helped save his life. I believe I couldn’t have done this without the gifts my ADHD gave me.