Column: A 19-year wait

News Editor Maddie Torres discusses her journey with her learning disabilities.

“Mom, something’s wrong,” I said to my mom on the phone, holding back tears as I walked back to my dorm.

I was a freshman taking an algebra class in which I had already failed the past two tests for.

My best friend and roommate, who happened to be ridiculously good at math, helped me study the night before our exam.

We sat in a study room going over every single problem. Problem after problem. I was understanding the content. I was getting the answers correct and I felt confident.

I was going to pass this exam.

The next day, I sat down in a full auditorium. The exam was passed out, and I was holding my breath as I went to begin the first problem.

I forgot everything. It wasn’t your typical “oh, I forgot how to do one or two problems.”

All those practice problems and the time my roommate put into helping me?

Yeah, they were gone. Poof. Vanished.

I completely forgot everything.

“And so, I shut up.”

I have always been forgetful. I get home and leave my keys in the door. I lose everything. My clothes very often cover my bedroom floor, and it physically hurts me to not talk.

I have also always struggled with anxiety and panic attacks. It got noticeably worse in my junior year of high school; at that point, I was having anxiety attacks almost daily and panic attacks often.

Because of these things, in high school, I felt different from my peers. It seemed like they didn’t struggle like I did.

I knew people thought I was weird. Whenever things got worse with my anxiety, I had become uncomfortably open about my anxiety and struggles. I was naive, and I thought people would sympathize with me.

Quickly I learned, a highschool in middle Tennessee isn’t the best place to find therapeutic advice.

I just became someone who should shut up about her problems because I just wanted attention.

And so, I shut up. That’s how life was from the age of sixteen to nineteen. I was anxious, forgetful and convinced myself that I was just desperate for justification. I knew something was wrong, but no one believed me.

It wasn’t until I began my freshman year of college, put forth all my effort and continued to fail almost all my chemistry and algebra tests after dedicating hours to studying that I considered if I had ADD/ADHD or Attention Deficit Disorder.

I didn’t fit the symptoms though. Hyperactive, impulsive and loud. That wasn’t me. So, I talked myself out of it.

After the third failed algebra test, my mother and I decided maybe I should see a doctor who specialized in learning disorders to maybe see if I had some mild form of one.

“Girls with ADD are simply ignored.”

“These results are consistent with a diagnosis of  Adult ADD that is severe and needs treatment. Additional diagnoses include learning difficulty, math disability and fine motor weakness. Even though she is intelligent, she is not really prepared for college work,” I read out loud as I held a letter in my hand.

I was shocked. The doctor also explained that I had results consistent with General Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder.

How could I just have been diagnosed with these learning disabilities after I had completed elementary school through high school with no indication?

I decided to do my research. Article after article states women’s and girls’ ADD symptoms are different from boys; and men’s symptoms.

For example, when you think about ADD, you tend to think about being hyper and impulsive – external symptoms. Most females, however, tend to show internal symptoms. We are overly sensitive or emotional.

Females with ADD are likely to develop other psychiatric disorders, like anxiety or depression, because of them internalizing their struggles. This often causes misdiagnosis.

Females also have trouble getting a diagnosis because they are simply not referred to seek treatment because they don’t display the same symptoms as a boy who is extremely hyper. The teacher notices the boy who can’t sit still but not the girl who has been daydreaming and not paying attention for the last twenty minutes.

Girls with ADD are simply ignored.

I had trouble focusing in class, I never tried hard in school, I would often daydream, I never felt good enough and I openly struggled with anxiety. I thought that these flaws were my own fault. I was 19 when I finally realized they weren’t.

The unfairness of this situation is in play sight. Boys are three times more likely to receive a diagnosis than girls.

All cases of ADHD/ADD, boys or girls, are challenging and require a lot of personal change. However, it is unacceptable that girls must deal with these things with no help during crucial years of their mental development, while boys have access to solutions and resources early on.

“My diagnosis was life-changing.”

I’ll have to admit, I am stubborn.  Not getting my bachelor’s degree was never an option for me.

Things had to change, however. I had spent almost all my high school career focusing on becoming a nurse.

I was president of the school’s medical club, I interned, worked at a nursing home and got my certified nursing assistant’s license all before I graduated. I thought I had found my calling.

However, after my diagnosis, I realized that wasn’t going to happen. Giving patients precise amounts of medications when numbers looked like gibberish to me? Yeah, no.

I was interested in politics, and I knew I was pretty good at writing. I transferred to UTK and am currently pursuing a major in Journalism and Electronic Media with a minor in Political Science. I work almost 30 hours a week as a server to pay my bills. I am a full-time student and a news editor for a news medium on campus.

I have had my diagnosis for three years and now take medication for my ADD and my anxiety. It would be a lie if I told you my ADD and learning disabilities don’t present themselves constantly. It accompanies every minute of every day, and it is exhausting. I would not wish the bad days on anybody.

However, I am not pitiful, I am pissed. I know I didn’t go into much detail about my life prior to my diagnosis, but it was hell. It was hard, I felt like giving up and I almost did.

If I would have received the same resources that boys with ADD/ADHD are receiving before they leave elementary school, I fully believe I would not struggle with the anxiety and panic attacks I do now, and my teenager years would’ve looked very different.

This is not fair, and this is still happening.

I have learned more about myself in the past three years than the prior 18. My diagnosis was life-changing. I recognized my struggles, and I realized they were not my own fault.

I would love to scream it from the rooftops, ADD and learning disabilities need to be openly discussed more often for the sake of mental health.

If I didn’t get my diagnosis and had not come to understand more about me, I know I would not be where I am today.

Please consider donating to the Attention Deficit Disorder Association and learning more about the signs of ADD in girls.  

Featured Image courtesy of Pixabay, by Pexels

Edited by Ciera Noe and Grace Goodacre