I'm Not Flaky, Lazy, Or Stupid...

I have ADHD. Not the cool Tom Cruise/Ty Pennington kind, where you can act out and make lots of money, either. I have the kind where people label you as stupid, flaky, and lazy. I wanted people to have an idea of how it feels to never be in control of your own life. To get a glimpse of the nightmare of doing your best, and never, ever being good enough.


I have been pretty vocal in my defense of ADHD sufferers in some threads recently, so it will probably not surprise you that I have it, and a pretty bad case.

Most people that I know don't "believe" in ADHD. They think it is a case of "boys will be boys," whatever meaning that holds for them, or that "she's just a daydreamer."

Some people think back to that one hyperactive kid, the one who got in trouble all the time in the first grade because he couldn't conform to the structure of a classroom, when they picture someone with ADHD.

Some people have a slightly clearer view and know that there are different kinds of ADHD. They know that some sufferers act out and that some seem to be in their own world.

The rare few who understand the condition know that it is a serious mental illness. Statistically, boys tend to get the more outgoing, hyperactive, aggressive types of it. Girls tend to get the inattentive, daydreaming types.

I have the inattentive kind of ADHD. To see me, I look normal. I even act normally, most of the time.

However, the things that go on in my head... {shudder}

My symptoms started showing when I was four. I constantly lost things. I would put on mismatched everything. I would wander off in the mall when things caught my attention. I got left behind a few times because I was enthralled and didn't hear my parents. I had a hard time following directions and would forget what someone had just said to me. My parents thought I must have a hearing problem.

So my first test was a hearing test. I passed that, pretty easily. My hearing was fine. My parents assumed that I needed more discipline and structure, that I was just flaky and a little absent-minded. It helped, a little, although my behind would never be the same.

I started kindergarten and did pretty well. They expect you to be flighty there.

First grade... not so much. I was a smart kid and could do the schoolwork, but I had problems with impulsivity and remembering to turn things in. My name lived on the naughty board. I couldn't stand the disappointment in my parents' faces, so I tried harder.

I had so much anxiety back then that I had severe insomnia. I would lay awake in bed at night and try to figure out why I was so bad. I prayed to God to make me a better girl. I prayed to God to fix me so I could be good like the other little girls and pay attention in class. I prayed to God to make Mama and Daddy not get so mad at me when I got in trouble for daydreaming, or leaving assignments at home, or for leaving my things at school.

My parents and teachers thought that maybe first grade was too easy for me, that I wasn't paying attention because I could already read and write.

My next test was an IQ test. I passed it, too. The powers-that-be decided I was "Gifted-and-Talented" and sent me to a special class. This helped, a little. The class was faster-paced and wasn't as repetitive, so it was easier for me to tune in. My name was still on the naughty board most of the time.

Things continued this way for a while. I was smart enough that I made good grades because I could pass the tests. Even when I didn't do the homework and missed deadlines, I could get by. I skated through each grade with A's and a couple of B's. That wasn't good enough, though. My teachers thought I was lazy, that with a little effort, I could get straight A's. That, if I would just apply myself, I could do my homework and pay attention in class and really be somebody smart.

It took all my effort just to do as well as I was, and everybody wanted more. My parents thought I could do better at home if I just tried a little harder. My teachers thought I could be a superstar, if I would just work a little harder. I cried myself to sleep most nights because I just couldn't figure out what they wanted from me. Nobody could explain it, either.

I heard over and over, "You're so smart. I don't understand why you don't try harder." Nobody ever listened when I said that I was trying as hard as I could. Nobody ever believed me.

I tried my hardest until the seventh grade. Then puberty hit.

I thought my life was stressful before, but once hormones hit... yeesh. My grades fell through through the floor. My life at home was in turmoil. I could barely remember to brush my teeth regularly. Forget showering daily. I was lucky to remember to even eat on a regular basis. My weight fluctuated horrendously as I would forget to eat for a day or two at a time, then gorge on sweets and junk food to make myself feel better emotionally.

Teachers are not equipped to see this. My parents had their own problems, as their marriage was starting to break up, and didn't even notice me most of the time.

Some other events happened and I ended up with an adopted brother and parents who were in a state of wary detente.

My new brother was six years old and wild. He had ADHD and acted out, like a champ. This led to him getting diagnosed very early.

However, my parents didn't "believe" in ADHD. They thought my brother's problems could be fixed with discipline and structure (sounds familiar, doesn't it?).

They worked with him and worked with him, and eventually he was able to keep it together in school.

He started smoking marijuana when he was eight years old. He claims it helped, a lot. It must have. He didn't end up in trouble nearly as much after that.

The result of all of this is that I and my problems were shoved to the background. I felt let down. I was valuable to my family, but no one was interested in my issues. I felt like my family could only see me if I acted like everything was OK. I felt like my problems were invisible to them. I couldn't trust anyone to see me as I was, to believe me when I told them I was having trouble. But I was able to manage and survived puberty fairly intact.

So, fast forward to my high school years. At this point, I had pretty much given up on ever being good enough for my teachers. My parents had divorced and remarried each other, and were in the process of breaking up again. I had also given up on being good enough for them. I was passively suicidal.

I prayed to God every day to let me have a tire blowout when I was alone in the car so I could die an a car accident, or to let me have a quick, deadly disease. I had suicide fantasies. I couldn't follow through, though, because my precious baby brother, the adopted one, was the first one home and I was terrified he would be the one to find me.

I prayed to God to just bring me home to Heaven, because life here was just too hard.

I still functioned, though. I passed my classes, barely, and got into a good university. Life got even tougher. I couldn't function in social situations and developed few relationships. The slight support network I did have at home was gone and I was completely on my own. I had to learn how to pay my own bills and function as an adult without much guidance.

I did okay the first couple of years, as I was excited about this new, shiny experience. Then reality set in. And it was hard and bleak.

I became actively suicidal. I had plans, oh, so many plans. I started practicing cutting my wrists. I researched the right ways to do it so I would bleed out. I decided that was too dramatic and would hurt my family too much, so I came up with several, less flashy, plans. I thought maybe I would just go "missing."

Eventually, I came out of what I later realized was a severe depression. I graduated, although it took me five years, and got a job. I hopped from job to job the first few years, and eventually settled down into a job as a typesetter at a print shop.

It was a low stress job, but it required a lot of attention to detail. A LOT. Which I was terrible at. So, I developed strategies to help me. I would proofread things three times and send them back to the customer to proof read. I don't know why, but no one proof reads their own stuff. This worked for a few years. I was able to focus in the beginning, because it was a new, shiny experience. But that didn't last long.

My job was boring. And repetitive. There wasn't much there to capture my attention. I tried to help out in the front office and in the press room to give me enough variety so I could focus, but my boss wanted me in my cubicle/box at all times.

I got in trouble, time and time again, for typos. For small mistakes here and there. For being late. For not following through on an email. For not being good enough. "You're so smart. I don't understand why you can't try harder and do this!"

I was eventually fired after six years. I had given up trying to be good enough, and my boss had given up trying to deal with me. He didn't care that I was trying my hardest. He didn't care that it took all my effort to be sub-par. He didn't want to accommodate me with a proofreader or give me any slack for mistakes.

I was costing him money, so I had to go.

I had gotten my CNA certification, so I started working full time at a nursing home. It felt good to help people, so I decided to go to nursing school because I couldn't pay back my student loans at minimum wage. My husband was footing most of my bills.

I had thought I was stressed the first time I went to college. Hoo, boy.

I came on to allnurses and complained because I couldn't pass nursing school tests. And one of the commenters suggested I get tested for ADHD.

I passed this test, too. With flying colors. Apparently, I have a bad case of ADHD. My doctor was amazed that I had been able to function as well as I had. He immediately started me on meds.

I started out with Ritalin, which was OK. I felt a little more "normal." I could walk into the kitchen and remember what I went in there for, the first time, for the first time in my life. I still couldn't study.

So I started Vyvanse. Big mistake. I became a raging psychopath in my head and a raging witch on the outside. I hit my dogs, I fought with my husband, I wanted to murder people in WalMart and thought about ways to do it. It was awful.

I gave up meds completely until after I graduated, I just tried harder. And passed with B's and C's until I graduated. And my nursing instructors said: "You're so smart. You do so well on the floor. I don't understand why you aren't doing better in class." I couldn't tell them I had ADHD. It wasn't a real disease, after all, according to every one I knew. I didn't trust nurses to be any different.

After that, I tried Adderall. It worked for a couple of hours. I was super nurse! Then I was starving and couldn't focus for the rest of the day. It didn't matter if I took more or not. Apparently, I used up all my focus in that first burst.

Then I started getting dizzy, my heart would race, and my ankles would swell. I would get angry and have outbursts at work. Apparently, stimulants make me nuts and put me into heart failure.

So, no more meds for me.

At this point, I have given up trying harder. I have given up trying to do better. I muddle through my days at work and take the criticism as it comes. My patients thrive, but my charting... well, it takes me longer than most because I have to check everything three times, and I'm sure there are still holes.

I am working now as a traveler/agency nurse, so that I can leave and start a new place before my ADHD gets bad and I start messing up. Each assignment is new and shiny, so I can do it for a little while.

I still have the daily struggle with forgetting where I put my keys, making sure my clothes match, and remembering my lunch. I have backup deodorant in my car and my nurse bag. I have a realtor-type lockbox on my door so I don't lock myself out anymore.

I am not flaky, lazy, or stupid. But I just can't try any harder. And I am OK with that.

I have been a nurse since 2012. I have worked in four different hospitals in several services and am currently an agency/travel nurse.

3 Articles   2,107 Posts

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I'm sorry you've gone through all of that. It is miserable when you have a legitimate disorder that affects your behavior, & people choose to assume your behavior is due to a lack of will power or a character flaw. These people are misinformed. Also, I know how it feels to hear, "You scored this on such & such standardized test, so your grades should be higher." Hearing stuff like that may have led you to develop unrealistic expectations of yourself. Try thinking of all the things you do right IN SPITE of your illness, & celebrate them. I hope it gets better for you though.

Long Term Care Columnist / Guide

VivaLasViejas, ASN, RN

142 Articles; 9,981 Posts

Specializes in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych. Has 26 years experience.

Wow.....what an incredible story. I am in AWE of your courage and strength in living life with ADHD. I can't even imagine being able to stick with one job for six years. You may not believe this, but you are a success in my eyes. Keep on keepin' on!

Specializes in Pediatrics, Emergency, Trauma. Has 18 years experience.
Wow.....what an incredible story. I am in AWE of your courage and strength in living life with ADHD. I can't even imagine being able to stick with one job for six years. You may not believe this, but you are a success in my eyes. Keep on keepin' on!


No one should dare call you lazy flaky or stupid; if anything you have FAR surpassed to the point of success.

And that's OK. :yes:


3 Articles; 2,107 Posts

Thank you, guys! Your support means a lot to me. Y'all made me cry good tears.

I have worked out routines and strategies, with backups upon backups, that help me navigate life pretty well. I have learned that other people's expectations are not always my problem.

I have learned to accept my limitations, and how to move on gracefully when I have exceeded the limitations of my employer's tolerance.

I hope that someone reads this and it helps them to know that they aren't alone in this struggle. And maybe a few will read this and realize that they aren't lazy, flaky, or stupid, either.

Specializes in Med nurse in med-surg., float, HH, and PDN. Has 43 years experience.

WOW! My heart was breaking as I read your post.

Have you ever considered becoming a writer? No kidding, I was spellbound!


29 Posts

Has 4 years experience.

I must say that you're incredible, even more you are SUPERRR! Life as a nurse is a real struggle, just don't forget to keep holding on and have faith in yourself! Thanks for sharing your experience with us!

jadelpn, LPN, EMT-B

51 Articles; 4,800 Posts

Wow. Just wow. I needed to re-read and digest and think on this for a bit.

You are a remarkable person, and I am completely impressed at a number of things, especially your ability to adapt. That is a gift.

Hits home in a number of ways, so I thank you for sharing this. Any number of parents--this is a must read!

Your content of character shines brightly in this article. You should be proud of yourself and I hope you are!

Just remember to center yourself and breathe.

Best wishes!!


7 Posts

So very sorry for your struggles. You are right in the stigma is unjust and as debilitating as the disease. My oldest son (now 38) was born ADHD and he did not sleep for more than 20 minute increments from birth until the age of 4. As the mother of a child with a severe mental disorder at a time in history, when most didn't even believe in such silly things I can relate to your frustrations and depression. I was the parent in the bed with insomnia and tears as I was concerned for my child. No One should suffer in this way.

There is help beyond medication, diet, seeing an allergist, herbs, essential oils, meditation and a pattern of rituals can truly save your life.

Wow. You just described my entire life. Thank you!

Finished LVN school and hoping to take NCLEX soon so I can continue on to RN.


and thank you.


2 Posts

I'd like to read this to my psychology club, and at the next meeting of a community mental health awareness organization I work with.

Good stuff here.

The problem is that I don't think I could read this without over emoting...

Maybe I'll have the Text-to-Speech app I use to study read it for me... cause, you know, robot voices are great for expressing human emotion. The information is valuable in your experience, and important to share. But this genius under achiever empathizes too much with you to read it without getting teary.