Former ice-hockey player turned runner Tara Campbell continues her personal story of how ADHD manifested itself and took control of her adolescent years interfering with every aspect of life and learning.
In 1998, I was at the height of my ice-hockey career, playing with the Concordia University Stingers in Montreal, Quebec. I was coming off a massive rookie season where our team won the first-ever Canadian collegiate women’s hockey national championship and I also had some personal success on the ice, including leading the team’s rookie goal scorers. I was doing what I loved to do at the level I had dreamed of doing it at.
Back in the classroom my struggle continued. Very little of what the teachers said made sense to me…
Yet, through all of this I was struggling. I couldn’t keep up academically, and I was having difficulty following drills and plays at practice. Hauntingly familiar doubts and confusion were pinging around in my mind: What is wrong with me? Why can’t I keep up? Why am I always the one who doesn’t understand? Am I stupid?
I had been here so many times in my life that the struggle had become the norm. As a child I left teachers frustrated with my messy, scattered ways. My failure to follow what seemed, to them, as simple directions left me feeling inadequate and misunderstood. I tried very hard to do things properly, from answering math questions correctly, to keeping my glue contained to a neat spot in art class, but it was all a monstrous battle. As I looked around at my peers, sailing along, I became very aware I was the odd one out.
Girls who have ADHD often miss out on a diagnoses because the misconception among teachers, coaches, and parents tends to be that children with ADHD are mostly boys…
My mind drifted in class as I sat fidgeting; anxiously awaiting the arrival of recess, and then lunch hour when I could escape the room’s entrapping walls and be free to play. There would be no more worries about what I was doing wrong because when it came to sports I got it right. Whether it was road hockey, soccer, running, baseball, whatever it was, I excelled at it. In those moments of play and competition I found peace within myself. It was fleeting though, as the bell would inevitably always ring.
Back in the classroom my struggle continued. Very little of what the teachers said made sense to me – likely because a lot of what they were saying wasn’t getting through my speeding, easily distracted mind. Still, I kept trying, but the harder I tried the more overwhelmed I became; my self-worth hanging in the balance between recess and after-school sports.
By my second year at Concordia University I was facing academic probation.
I was a quiet, well behaved child, who clung to moments of play and struggled in the classroom – the prototype of a young girl with Attention-deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), but nobody saw it. I spent time with the school’s learning assistant, went through tests to check for learning disabilities and nothing came up. I don’t think ADHD was even on the radar of the adults surrounding me…and this doesn’t seem to be unusual.
Girls who have ADHD often miss out on a diagnoses because the misconception among teachers, coaches, and parents tends to be that children with ADHD are mostly boys, bouncing off the walls, disrupting classes, and continually misbehaving. Meanwhile, the reality is the majority of girls with ADHD do all they can to act in accordance with what’s expected of them. The hyperactivity component of ADHD, in my case, played out chaotically within the confines of my mind, and in more subtle physical musings such as squirming and fidgeting. My personal favourite was chewing the top of my pens until they were crunchy and oozing ink. Nothing in my hands stood much chance of survival as I sought the physical stimulation my mind so desperately craved.
Throughout elementary school and high school I continued to squeak by academically, and excel athletically – sport was my saving grace. It gave my hyper-focused mind something to dig into, and that’s exactly what I did. Just days after my fourteenth birthday I left home in Ladner, B.C. to attend boarding school at the hockey-centric Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Wilcox, Saskatchewan. There I was able to explore and nurture my athletic abilities, and feel the same peace as I did as a young child playing at lunch hour. I tried to brush aside my doubts and fears about my lacking academic performance as best as I could, but the pattern of success in sport and barely getting by in the classroom continued. And, as patterns often do, it followed me right to university where I could no longer escape the reality of my struggle.
By my second year at Concordia University I was facing academic probation. Scared, confused, and sidelined by multiple concussions, I knew it was time to ask for help to fix what I thought was a very broken mind. What unfolded in months following would end up leading me on a 15-year-long chase for that ever-elusive peace within the chaos of my own mind.
to be continued…