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Learning to Think Inside the Box This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

That could be the title for my life. Usually the phrase is “think outside the box,” right? But that's not a problem for me. Sometimes my mom will say, “Just try to imagine that there is a box and you are somewhere in the vicinity of it.” I'm serious – she says stuff like that. Mostly she says it when I've tried to organize things, or put books on shelves horizontally, or I just told her that I really do think I can go from point A to point K to point B and everybody should be able to follow what I'm saying.

I have ADHD. That's attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which is characterized by a persistent pattern of inattention or hyperactivity; problems with inattentiveness, over-activity, impulsivity, or a combination of all three; and can involve developmentally inappropriate impulsivity. Those with ADHD can also be separated into two groups: primarily hyperactive (which can include impulsivity), and primarily inattentive (which can still include a small amount of impulsivity or hyperactivity). My type is primarily inattentive.

Lots of people think ADHD is a myth and that diagnosing it as a disorder allows lazy or disruptive kids to continue in this behavior. I'm telling you right now, ADHD is real. It's definitely real enough to affect my schoolwork, social life, relationships, maturity, emotional status, and brain function in everyday life.

I'd like to explain just what ADHD does to my brain. Neurobiological is the scientific word that describes the nature of this disorder, which relates to the anatomy and physiology of the nervous system. That's not very clear, though, so I came up with a metaphor.

Imagine that my brain is a pond. In the pond are lots of lily pads that correspond to areas of the brain that command certain functions. Got the picture? The lily pads are like stations all throughout my pond brain. Also in this pond are frogs. My frogs are always green and friendly, like in a cartoon, but you can picture them however you want. Anyway, the frogs are the neurotransmitters. Oh dear, another big word. A neurotransmitter is a fluid in the brain that takes messages from one part to the next. So our frogs are little messengers.

Now, say my ears hear my mom calling my name. The frog in my ear hops from pad to pad to get to the station that recognizes it's my mom who is calling me. Then another frog hops to the station that understands that the next step is to respond to my mom so she knows I've heard her. The next frog has to take that message to the station that controls language, and then to the station that controls my mouth. The brain does this in a matter of seconds or less, normally. But I'm not normal.

Because of ADHD, one of my frogs may get recalled to its home station before it delivers the message to the next station. I might hear my mom calling me, but it might take a minute or more for my brain to receive all the correct messages necessary to make me respond. Delayed response is very common in ADHD, and it's one the most annoying things for my family.

To help my frogs/neurotransmitters take and receive all their messages, I take medication. It's a non-stimulant, so it doesn't boost my energy level. The fancy name is reuptake inhibitor. What does that mean? The medication works to stop the process of recalling my frogs/neurotransmitters so that my brain receives all the pieces of the message. It can't solve the entire problem, but it definitely helps, and I'm glad I have it.

That's basically what goes on in my brain, my scientific gray matter brain. What about how my mind works in day-to-day life? Well, it doesn't. At least, it doesn't work the way I'd like it to. For instance, I'm always thinking outside the box. It doesn't sound like such a bad thing, but it seriously hinders my school life. I'm homeschooled, so that helps. I don't think I would have survived in public school.

I remember when I was learning long division. My mom would sit me down at the dining room table and go over the lesson. I would learn each step of the process, understand it easily, and after a few hours, be able to do a problem on my own. But the next day I wouldn't remember any of it. I would learn the process again and again and forget it all by the next morning. That's not normal.

I didn't forget everything I learned right away. Things I read, especially when I enjoyed the subject, would stick in my brain. More often than not, if I read it, I could remember it. But numbers? Numbers made no sense. They didn't mean anything. So math was always a struggle for me. And then there were reports and essays. I would read them over after I had written them, and they wouldn't make much sense because I had jumped from point to point.

See, on the way from my mind to my fingers, there's a block, a wall that doesn't fade much even with the help of medication. That set me back in history and language arts. I took a unique brain test to see just how high or low my skills are in certain areas. My processing skills, going from brain to fingers, are at the level of a 14-year-old. My logic is also behind, about two years or so. Being an 18-year-old and sounding four years younger in school papers is annoying and embarrassing.

ADHD is real. My malfunctioning brain is real. My ability to overcome the challenges it brings is real also. I strive toward my goals, and if I just keep running, I know I'll get the prize.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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momtomany said...
Sept. 29, 2012 at 3:43 pm
I love your pond analogy!  That's a very good way of describing how neurotransmitters work. I"m glad you plan to keep working toward your goals.  Keep writing - and keep listening to that smart mom!
 
Mr. L said...
Sept. 29, 2012 at 8:05 am
Insightful article.  Great analogy.  Well done!
 
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