A letter to my 11-year-old self:
A girl like you should have cripplingly low self-esteem. Your teachers labeled you as having “low ability,” told you that you couldn’t “handle” anything more than remedial classes, and put you in classes with students who didn’t care about learning and who mocked you for your struggles. All of that should have left you feeling utterly worthless.
Funnily enough, though, I don’t remember feeling that way at all. Instead, I remember you being excited, eager to meet the challenge of proving what you were capable of.
Your parents always knew things wouldn’t be easy for you. A diagnosis of ADHD at age five only confirmed what they’d known since you were a baby: something about you was different.
But “different” doesn’t mean bad or broken. Being “different” can be a gift; it can allow you to think in new and creative ways and see the world as no one else can.
But it also means that the world isn’t built for people like you. And since ADHD is an invisible disability, your struggles with organization and slow processing speed are often confused with low intelligence, and your creative daydreaming with a lack of motivation.
In short, people significantly underestimate your abilities. But you knew early on that would happen, didn’t you? That’s why, in second grade, when your mother looked into your eyes and told you that you would have to work twice as hard as everyone else to prove your giftedness, you looked at it as an exciting adventure.
So you put your nose to the grindstone and began to spend long hours studying and obsessing over your grades. (Looking back, you might have gone a little overboard).
But you realized it isn’t just about studying harder, it’s also about studying smarter. One of the most frustrating things about having ADHD is that you struggle to make your performance match your intellect. You knew you needed to find coping skills to make up for your disability. Working with your parents, you started devising techniques to help curb your symptoms. They were still there, but you began learning how to deal with them.
When you slowly began to move up the ability groups, from the remedial classes all the way to the gifted program, you knew all your hard work was finally being rewarded. I’m writing now to tell you it only gets better from there. When you get into honors classes in junior high and high school, you’ll do assignments that actually engage you, and you’ll work with classmates who love to use their intellect and creativity to express themselves just as much as you do. When you go to a summer camp for gifted thinkers and find that almost everyone else there has ADHD too, you will finally feel a sense of validation. And when you graduate salutatorian of your high school with an IB diploma and head off to Northwestern University, you’ll know that it was all worth it.
None of that means you won’t struggle. Some people are lucky enough to grow out of ADHD, but you won’t be one of them. That’s okay, though. Because being different isn’t a bad thing. And having a disability isn’t something to be ashamed of. All it means is that you’ll have to negotiate accommodations and continue to come up with strategies to cope with the challenges you face. And I know you can do it because you’ve always been sure of yourself, even when other people weren’t.
Perhaps the reason you’ve never doubted yourself is that your parents are always there to affirm your abilities, even when no one else believes in you. Your mom was there to teach you how to read when your teachers were useless. She was there to find the projects the higher classes did and make you do them over the summer (no matter how much you complained) so you wouldn’t miss out. And your parents are always there to stand up for you whenever someone treats you unfairly or tries to hold you back. I’m writing to remind you that you have a lot to thank them for. I know it can be difficult to think about anything besides all the work you’re doing, but you need to take a moment every once in a while to be grateful for all the help they’re giving you along the way.
Finally, I’m writing to give you some advice: it’s okay to relax a little. You don’t need to be on the grind all the time. It’s okay to take a load off sometimes and hang out with friends. I know I’ll definitely try to do more of that in college.
Remember to hold your head up high. And give Mom and Dad a hug for me. They really deserve it.