To-do lists fill the black notebook purchased at the start of the semester, the monthly spreads in my bullet journal and the whiteboard that sits on my desk. Everything is planned out perfectly to the hour. But still, assignments are pushed to the last possible second, tasks are left half-finished or unattempted, and ideas or responsibilities never written down are forgotten.
Procrastination is something I have struggled with since starting college in 2018. I had always wondered if my lack of motivation or extreme procrastination was due to bad time management or simple laziness.
A few friends had told me they had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) their freshman year of college. Like me, the change in structure took a toll on their productivity or highlighted pitfalls of their study strategies. However, because I was still completing the work I was given, even if it was turned in a minute before the link closed, I thought nothing of having ADHD until the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Sometimes ADHD can look like anxiety, being restless, fidgety, keyed up; depression, difficulty concentrating, being in another world or staring out the window; Autism, deficits in social skills, impulsive behaviors; or other mental, behavioral, or health concerns,”said Sarah Ochs, an assistant professor in psychology, licensed psychologist and nationally certified school psychologist.
After seeing many things on social media, such as videos or infographics, about the neurological disorder, and googling the symptoms and failing to keep myself motivated for online classes, I decided to go through testing to see if ADHD was the true culprit even though I was unsure if it was too late for a diagnosis. This uncertainty stemmed from being told that it was only possible to see true symptoms through observation in children.
The diagnostic process in adults is very similar to that of children. However, less symptoms are required for adult diagnosis, and the symptoms typically present themselves in different ways, Ochs said. Testing includes interviews, behavioral observations and tests and rating scales, along with input from teachers, parents or significant others, Ochs said.
My first step was reaching out to my primary doctor who then referred me to a counseling center back home. Three therapy sessions were followed by a questionnaire that asked me how many times I had experienced certain behaviors, such as inability to pay attention, fidgeting, etc., within a two week period.
“ADHD has three different presentations or types: predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive and the combined type,” Ochs said.
Unmanaged ADHD in college can lead to many issues for college students, Ochs said. The predominantly inattentive type could manifest in missing assignments, struggling to pay attention and stay on task, or bad time management. In the predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type, students may fidget a lot, blurt out answers to unfinished questions or start working on things before directions are given. And those with the combined type struggle with these challenges across the board, Ochs said.
Without help, my symptoms caused my grades to suffer due to assignments turned in late or forgotten about. Or it caused me to miss important details of instructions because I zoned out during the explanation. It has also caused me to miss out on social events because bad time management left me stuck at home finishing papers last minute. However, I am getting better through personalized treatment.
There are many ways to treat symptoms and cope with ADHD whether that is through medication or counseling, Ochs said. According to Karl Laves, the associate director of the WKU Counseling Center, there are three parts in which to view treatment: medication, coaching and counseling.
“The more symptoms one has, the more likely it is that medication is recommended,” Laves said. “While stimulant medications are still used for children with ADD/ADHD, adults are more likely to be given antidepressant medication instead of stimulant medication.”
Laves attributes prescribing antidepressants to the need for more mood stabilization rather than focus in older brains. Also, it is easier to prescribe those medications instead of stimulants because stimulants are considered controlled substances and can be easy to abuse, he said.
“Part two is coaching to develop new habits and routines that add structure and pace to the student’s life which makes it easier to remember things,” Laves said. “There are a lot of ‘tricks’ that can help people be less forgetful and to stay on task longer.”
Perfecting the use of calendars, whether that be apps or physical planners, using timers to do tasks or work in small intervals, or asking for others’ help when struggling are just a few of these tricks according to Ochs.
The end of the three parts is counseling. Laves said it is important for those with ADHD to not criticize themselves when struggling. Counseling not only helps with the coaching aspect of treatment, but it also helps those with ADHD to be kinder to themselves and address the self-blaming, Laves said.
Both Ochs and Laves said the Counseling Center and WKU Psychology Training Clinic have many resources for students. ADHD assessments cost $75 and counseling is free for students according to the Counseling Center.
“This is hard for many people to accept. They are angry and sometimes they are ashamed,” Laves said. “But it is no different than being born with eyes that will need glasses to see better. You can be bitter, or you can put on the glasses and go have a full life.”