By definition, I am a disabled student, which is a really weird thing to think about. I have attention deficit disorder (ADD), which is like ADHD but without the hyperactivity symptoms of it. It is good that I am considered under the brackets as a university student with a disability as I am eligible for things that do help me. I do obviously think there is still a stigma - even to me, someone who is very open and very confident with themselves – I do find a little shame in having the knowledge that I am classed as disabled.
Sometimes I don’t like to add it when I apply for jobs and things, it’s just something that I don’t feel comfortable doing. Maybe it’s that I don’t think that I’m in the same category as certain other people. I haven’t known that I’ve had ADD, in the grand scheme of things, for very long: I was diagnosed in my first year of A-Levels. For a long time, I just very much got through – not like scraped by but did well enough without doing that much work at school. Then A-Levels came around and I didn’t do well, and we tried to work out what was going wrong. I just always struggled with keeping focused on stuff, and then someone was like, “has no one told you about this before?” People had made jokes, but we’d never sat down and thought about it. It does make sense, and there are things about an inability to keep details, staying on track with things, really struggling to focus.
I think there are certain things that didn’t happen at school but did happen at university. At school, you’d have an hour lesson and that was it, then at university, you can have two- or three-hour lectures and that just doesn’t work for me. I just can’t focus for that long, then it just becomes more on me feeling like I’m not doing it right. I think that some people are suited to that style of learning and others just aren’t. It really is – for me – a struggle as someone who has to keep saying it to make sure that it works for everyone.
There are also things that I don’t think people like to often think about when it comes to ADD. For me personally, I have a really big issue with relationships and with people. I get really invested in people as my brain is good at jumping. I’ve had moments where a girl has asked me how my day was and I’ll think how nice it was that they said that, then I’ll think that maybe it’s because they like me, and we’ll go out or maybe this is it. I have to stop and tell myself, and it’s really hard to do that on a day-to-day basis. When I have moments where people stop talking to me or just don’t want to be my friend – that kind of stuff – for some people they can brush past it but, for me, it kills me. It really is tough and is a hard thing to deal with at university because if you stop hanging out with someone and you’re not in lectures with them then they stop being your friend, and it’s really hard to get back into that place. The knowledge that I haven’t done something is tough to handle too. That’s why I think that a lot of people like myself continue on that level of procrastination because they’re so terrified of what’s going to happen when someone recognises that it’s not going well. That’s why I portray such strong confidence and personality, it’s because behind it I show just how much I’m worried about things. I’ve put this façade up and I can’t stop it now.
On the other side, if I don’t do anything then that’s also really hard. Having too much time to myself is really damaging because I put myself in positions where I’m not making the right decisions for myself. I will stop eating properly, I’ll stop trying to socialise. It’s trying to find that balance. I get involved with a lot of things – more than what normal university students do – but for me, I need to be doing something. I need to give myself that structure. I do a degree where I do around eight hours a week, but I went to a school where I had eight hours a day. I always had the idea that the degree structure was going to be an issue for me, but I didn’t realise it was going to be this bad.
I think that from diagnosis to where I am now, I am a lot better. But there are a lot of things that I know I can do better. I just don’t think that the way it’s brought across to me means that I’m comfortable saying it – for example, all of the extra stuff in exams comes under the disabled students’ allowance so, to me it, feels like I shouldn’t really be getting this because I’m not really disabled. By definition I am, but there has to be a societal/cultural change in how we perceive disability. On a daily basis, my ADD does affect me. With people that know me, we joke about how I struggle to stay focused, and I’ve been known to just say keywords in a sentence because I fill out the rest of the words in my head. Voices is really good for showing that disability is not just physical, it can be mental. It’s getting better, but we can do more.