During school, it took me a long while to recognise I had problems. I understood everything in class, but was unable to complete classwork on time. I found it difficult to take instructions or make a note of what homework was due when. Additionally, I also had issues when it came to reading both English and Hindi texts loudly in class.
Throughout my time in Class 3, 4 and 5, I struggled to explain these challenges to the people around me. My teachers told my parents that I was a well-behaved child who couldn’t excel in studies due to reasons unknown even to them.
Somehow, in Class 6, the teachers stopped caring about homework as much. But my grades were still not as high as I wanted them to be. My math tuition teacher who would often tell my mother that I was a sincere student, and that she didn’t know what went wrong with me when I gave an exam.
By the time I was 13, people had concluded that my problem was laziness. I never contested any of this because I thought the same. Thus, I was completely unprepared for the most mentally taxing years of my school life.
Anyone who has grown up in Delhi’s competitive environment would know that things get extremely depressing for students who are not academically brilliant once they enter Class 9. So, quite naturally, things weren’t going well for me during that time and my inability to focus on my studies was an additional stressor. I woke up early, slept late and did everything I could to study, but was still extremely slow when it came to learning and retaining history texts. Of course, I wasn’t a bad student back then, but no matter how much effort I put in, I could never be among the toppers of my class.
Due to how things had been so far in my life, I decided to give up one fine day. I simply stopped studying altogether because I could deal with failing exams and being mentally healthy, but could no longer deal with giving up my sanity just to receive average grades. All of that did led me to fail a class and having to listen to things like hot it had all happened because I was involved with the wrong guys (which was not true in the slightest). However, I finally understood that my issues weren’t a result of not working hard enough. It’s just that I had still not recognised what my problem actually was.
Once I failed literally every exam I took, it became quite clear to everyone around me that the performance pressure I had been facing was not working for me. Something else that seemed to be going wrong was a lack of enough guidance and support in Delhi. Thus, my relatives suggested that I join a boarding school as they believed that being in the constant company of people my age would probably be helpful for me.
I have to admit that things were much easier in boarding school for me than they were home – perhaps because there were genuinely no distractions there. Alongside that, since I had made peace with mediocre academic results, I stopped being hard on myself. I still faced difficulties when it came to memorising economics and math formulas, but I no longer pushed myself the way I used to earlier.
By the time school ended, I had come to the realisation that I had an extremely low attention span and couldn’t pursue any course for my undergraduate degree that would require me to learn answers the way I had to in school. Based on my concerns, my parents and I realised that it would be best for me to pursue liberal arts. While I had my fair share of struggles even with all the literature courses I took in college, I was definitely not as inattentive as I was earlier. Further, I decided that it would be practically impossible for me to thoroughly read every single novel assigned to me for all of my courses. Thus, I began creating lists of books and theories I could focus on instead of feeling pressured about having to cover everything.
After facing innumerable challenges, feeling frustrated over not being able to read and write as much as my peers, I was diagnosed with ADHD and severe anxiety during my last semester in college.
I was told was that I had probably had ADHD throughout my childhood and teenage years.
The diagnosis helped me acknowledge the fact that neither was I lazy as a child nor was I less intelligent than my peers. I simply function differently from the people around me.
Upasana Dandona is an incoming masters student at SOAS, University of London. She recently graduated cum laude from Ashoka University with a BA in English (hons).