By: Samuel Smith, Columnist
The date is Jan. 8 – only four days after my 19th birthday. I’m sitting in a psychiatrist’s office which is decorated with Red Sox merchandise. I’m fidgeting with one of my handful of fidget toys and bouncing my leg. It’s not nerves. I’ve always been like this. From jumping out of my seat as a little kid to pacing and fidgeting as an adult, I’ve always needed to tinker, to play more than my peers. I’ve always been hyperactive, forgetful, impulsive and inattentive. Mom always called these my quirks. There was nothing wrong with me, I was just quirky. I understand her good intentions, but as my grades were suffering due to my inattentiveness, and my impulsivity was having an effect on every aspect of my life, it was time to do something about this.
I watched him flip through my school records from high school and middle school, and the survey my mom, myself and my girlfriend all had to fill out about me.
“Yup. Looks like you’re combined type ADHD. “You’re hyperactive and inattentive,” he finally said.
I finally had an answer! I stopped fidgeting for half a second. I then kept fidgeting as I listened to him describe the symptoms and the treatment options, along with what Disability Support Services could do to help me.
Something my psychiatrist mentioned is having a toolbox of sorts, a collection of coping mechanisms. I realized that these things I’ve collected could help just about any student with a neurodiversity or mental illness.
First, ask for subtitles when it comes to video and audio in class. Subtitles are a little way to give your brain more stimulation and having two modes of receiving information means you’re more likely to catch everything. Plus, I find that if I’m focusing on both the subtitles and the audio (or the subtitles, audio and video) then I’m less likely to space out or focus on my surroundings.
Next, keep an agenda and write in it. This can be on your phone, your laptop, or in a physical agenda, but the most important part is that you actually utilize it! I found that a bullet journal helps me most because I can channel my creative energy into it, and the appealing aesthetic makes me more likely to utilize it. If you need, set a reminder in your phone that tells you to write readings or assignments in your agenda and make this reminder go off at the end of class. When you get syllabi at the beginning of the semester, make sure you also write due dates for the big projects and reminders a couple of weeks out.
If you have a smartphone, utilize it! Set up reminders in your phone to do daily tasks, and use the calendar app to remind you of important exams, papers due and doctor’s appointments or meetings. There are even apps like Habitica, which makes daily chores into a video game quest, or Flora, which grows a plant to discourage phone usage during tasks and chores by growing a plant while you’re away. I personally use my reminders to remind me to take my medicine every day and the calendar function to remind me of doctor’s appointments and papers and exams. I started using Habitica for just about everything else. It’s a great supplement to the agenda and one you can carry on you at all times.
I find spreadsheet making kind of fun. Just me? Okay. But seriously, spreadsheets are a lifesaver. I use them to track my finances (am I impulsively buying fancy coffee?), keep track of finals dates and keep track of professor emails and office hours. This is incredibly helpful when I need to send a mass email to all my professors, but don’t feel like flipping through four or five syllabi to find everyone’s emails. I simply go through once, take note of office hours and emails and put them in a nice spreadsheet. That also helps because if I misplace the syllabus, the important contact information is available (and the finals dates are already in my calendar per my last tip).
Revise your notes and make them pretty! I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about investing in pretty highlighters and pens and then making my handwriting nice and making my notes look nice that helps with studying and revising my notes. I think the pleasing aesthetic encourages me to look at them more closely and encourages me to look at them more often.
Finally, and most importantly, get a therapist or counselor!!! If you suspect you may be neurodivergent, you’re dealing with a mental illness, or you’re just not adjusting to college quite as well as you thought, a counselor or therapist can be so helpful. I tried going without a stable therapist beginning of my freshman year thinking that my old doctor had “cured” me, that I was too good for therapy, or that it would ruin the “manly” look I was going for (and have now given up on) and it did not work. No matter who you are, if you suspect you may need help, ask for it! The counseling center is a great place to start. If you’re not sure if you need help or not, you can take an anonymous screening which will help you determine if you may need counseling services. For ongoing care, they also have a database of counselors you can look at without going to the counseling center. You can find more on their page for students. Also, if you think you may be mentally ill or neurodivergent, it’s important to talk to your doctor because a psychiatrist or one who teams with a therapist or counselor may be more up your alley, and many doctors can help initiate that process. They can also provide resources for you to improve in your physical health that can help your mental health.
My toolbox is small, yet it is mighty. Utilizing my tools and resources available, I have managed to pull from almost failing my freshman year of high school to surviving my freshman year of college. There have been bumps along the way, some big and some small, but all in all, it’s been an uphill ride. Hopefully, now that I’m talking to my doctor about it, and I’m on the right combination of medicines, and in therapy, I’ll go from surviving to thriving.