Children are eccentric little nuggets. For me, my eccentricities could best be described as “exceptionally annoying.” People used to call me “Megaphone Mouth” for my well-paired traits of an extremely loud voice and an extreme inability to shut up ever. I was simultaneously a teacher’s dream and their nightmare—I was smart and driven, but would also do things in class like make fake Pokemon cards, convince my partners in group work that doing “blood brother” pacts was probably more important than math and would occasionally leave my seat at random to do “star jumps” in a corner. How else would my teacher know my star potential if I didn’t jump up and down screaming it?
But through a combination of amazing and supportive teachers, my likely-pathologic competitiveness and the fact that the only real graduation requirement at my high school was not to shoot anyone or get pregnant (and even those were subject to exception) I was able to succeed in school—and graduated STD-free, which is perhaps astonishing, what with all the blood pacts.
Yet college was different. It was (and is) a Gothic Wonderland laden with long-term deadlines and 60-page readings, a slew of social and extracurricular distractions and a cafe in its library—which was (and is) enough to stop me from getting anything done. Like many Duke students, I had a rude awakening (also known as organic chemistry) that I could no longer get by through just being smart. I had to do what high school me had deemed utterly un-cool: actually try at things.
Yet trying didn’t change much for me. I was motivated to do well and would set aside time and energy for my work, but I would find myself wasting it, almost against my will. I overcommitted myself, not just because I couldn’t say no to fun new things, but also because I couldn’t work without the pressure of a million deadlines on my plate. Although I’ve done well so far (fingers crossed, knock on wood, still gotta get to graduation in May), as my work got harder and required more long-term planning, procrastinating, disorganization and inattention became more problematic. Finally, last Fall, I had an important meeting with a professor where, despite actively trying, I could not pay attention to more than a few sentences before zoning out. Pro tip: If you come out of a meeting having no idea if your professor was giving you advice or verbally womp-ing Skrillex’s greatest hits, you may have a problem.
Faced with my symptoms, I came to the only logical conclusion: I had a terminal brain disease. Mad cow disease was big when we Millennials were kids, so I feel like everyone in our generation who isn’t already insane should live with a healthy, constant fear of brain-eating prions. So I went to student health and told them that WebMD and I were pretty sure I had syphilis or a brain infection or may have been abducted by aliens. Again, however, I was STD-free (which I still found astonishing, although for different reasons). Suspicious, the doctor sent me to a shrink, and I got a whole new diagnosis—attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
After thinking about my life and being told explicitly so by medical professionals, I’ve realized I’m basically a walking ADHD diagnosis. In fact, anyone who has regularly read my column has probably come to that conclusion themselves. However, I didn’t really accept the diagnosis or seek treatment for months. This was in part because the medical system is not built for people who have difficulty focusing on filling out 15-page questionnaires, and then those people misplace the questionnaires, and then they forget to mail them in entirely—speaking entirely hypothetically, of course. My delay was assuredly in part because our society stigmatizes mental health issues in general, but for me, it was largely specific to ADHD. It was also because I didn’t want to be some kid who is too distracted by sparkly objects to finish a basic assignment. I didn’t want to be one of those college students—whether with ADHD or not—who has to rely on meds to get things done. When it came down to it, it was mostly because I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t do it on my own.
It’s implied and sometimes stated in our culture that seeking and accepting help is weak. Whatever your difficulty is, you’re expected to manage it—and manage it quietly, on your own. This is probably an American cultural construct, but I’ve experienced it chiefly in the ant-ruled libraries, janky dorm rooms and smoky Western-themed nightclubs of Duke. It’s written into the culture—into that overused but always-relevant notion of “effortless perfection.” We are expected to be in a constant state of self-improvement, but without ever really acknowledging that there is any part of our lives that could be improved upon.
In reality, when we’re hiding and internalizing our problems, we’re really just being dishonest. Not admitting that struggle and refusing to seek help can only make matters worse—not just for an individual, but for the culture on this campus, where communal silence about difficulties and insecurities has spawned needless competition, unhealthy comparison and a whole lot of pretending.
We all struggle, at least on occasion, with feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, anxiety or maybe an allegedly tiny basal ganglia. (Although I’ve always heard size doesn’t matter. People who say that are talking about brains, of sorts.) In my recent issues with attention, I’ve realized that seeking help is not admitting defeat. In fact, building the support you need around you for the struggles you’re facing is probably the best way to ensure happiness and success. Campus would be a much healthier place if we could all be open about the help we need. Building an open campus community that doesn’t demand easy perfection, but works to support its community members starts with being open with others, and with ourselves, when we need help—be it from friends, meds or the Self Control app.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I just spotted something shiny in my peripheral vision. See you in three hours when I remember I had something to do.
Lillie Reed is a Trinity senior. Her column is part of the weekly Socialites feature and runs every other Wednesday. Send Lillie a message on Twitter @LillieReed.