As usual, I’m running lateâ€”but with good reason. First, I stopped for sushi. I had to play with my new cell phone. Seeing what Perez Hilton had to say was a must, but only after CNN told me what’s going on in the world. All the while, I had a deadline ticking closer and closer. It may sound like procrastination, but it’s actually a glimpse into Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
Ever since I was little, I knew something was a bit off about me. In high school and college my younger sister had one of the highest GPAs, my brother skipped a grade and was enrolled in an exclusive boarding school, and our baby sister is being cultured through Kumon, the Japanese educational program that focuses on mathematics and language. Having typical super genius South Asian children, my mother was quite aware that I was a little different from the rest of her brood. (While the rest of her children were excelling in school, I was busy memorizing Britney’s dance moves.) After she consulted with a friend, I landed an appointment with the best psychatrist in our town.
I honestly thought I could convince the psychiatrist that I didn’t have ADD or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). “I’m really bad at math and scienceâ€”who isn’t? But I swear I’m really good in my art and English classes!” The doctor smiled and said soothingly, “Salma, those are actually some of the exact signs that you might have ADD. You’re only able to focus on subjects that you find particularly interesting.” Great, I thought to myself. So much for denial. After some testing, I was officially diagnosed with ADD.
ADD is a disorder, which by Merriam-Webster’s definition means “an abnormal physical or mental condition”â€”a state of being that’s uncommon. It’s estimated that around 8 million adults have been diagnosed and treated with ADD/ADHD in America. Having ADD (and more importantly, knowing you have ADD) requires you to change the way you live your life. Renowned ADD/ADHD specialist and psychiatrist Dr. Edward Hallowell told Elle magazine, “Itâ€™s very powerful to understand that your brain is simply wired a certain way. To realize that itâ€™s not about some moral failing. Most adults who discover they have ADHD have lived their whole lives thinking that something was wrong with them. Itâ€™s a huge burden. And itâ€™s not about feeling some of the symptoms some of the time. Itâ€™s about the intensity, duration, and lasting impact of those symptoms as they relate to an entire life.â€
Dreamer. Class clown. Lazy. Nonstop talker. Ditzy. Stupid. Misfit. These are some of the words that are thrown at people who have ADD/ADHD. I was once even told that people with ADD can’t finish their conversations. That’s not trueâ€”it’s just that people with ADD/ADHD might prefer the scenic route as opposed to the highway when getting a point across.
It may seem that ADD/ADHD can be hinderance on life. However, some of society’s most prolific members have struggled with the disorder. Being easily distracted may be the hallmark of ADD/ADHD, but other attributes include original thinking, creativity, and perseverance. Thomas Edison was believed to have ADD and was once told by his teacher that he was “too stupid” to learn anything. Abraham Lincoln, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and 2008 Olympic champion Michael Phelps are all amongst those with ADD.
It would be simple to use my disorder as an excuse not to excel, but that would only help augment the stigma that surrounds ADD/ADHD. It’s becoming easier now to be patient with myself, but the journey isn’t over. Although I was diagnosed late, understanding ADD has helped me understand who I am and who I want to be. It has given me strength. I still don’t feel like I fit in all the time, but now I don’t let get it to me.Â
I’ve finally learned that there’s nothing wrong with being the oddball. â€”Salma Khan
Photography by Katherine Wright.