Anxiety and ADHD: My Daughter Shares What It’s Like and How to Cope
My oldest daughter, now 27, struggled with ADHD and anxiety. Often these two go hand in hand. Other kids gravitated towards her, she was a voracious writer (she got a perfect ACT score on her english and writing) and teachers were always commenting on how bright she was but she didn’t see it herself. It didn’t matter how much other people valued her, she still felt like she was broken.
It was around 5th grade when we realized something was really wrong.
ADHD was just starting to be talked about, and I can vividly remember a mother at the bus stop talking about her child’s ADHD diagnosis. I wondered if this could be what was going on with my daughter.
My husband and I got her tested and evaluated. We switched her from a private school with limited academic help to a public school with an IEP. We took her to a psychiatrist and began the process of trying out ADHD medications.
Yet, this was only half the battle. It was just the beginning of what was a confusing, difficult, and emotional time.
Anything academic was a fight. When we asked her to do her homework she would scream. She would argue that she had no homework, but her progress reports showed dozens of incomplete assignments.
My husband and I felt exasperated. It was difficult to hide our disappointment and frustration. What were we doing wrong for our child to be so emotional and to seem not to care? We couldn’t understand why she was so resistant to doing her homework when it clearly impacted her so negatively. It was difficult to be patient and remain calm (and much of the time we didn’t).
Teachers and other mom friends would tell me to let her fail, but unless you’ve experienced similar situations as a parent, it’s impossible to understand how conflicted you feel.
How do you allow your child to fail when it results in them feeling more overwhelmed, spiraling into depression and not wanting to go to school?
What made it especially difficult was she didn’t want to talk about it. She didn’t understand what was going on with her enough to put it into words.
Maybe you have a child that’s struggling with ADHD, anxiety or you’re relating in some way. I’ve discovered that over half the battle is understanding how they’re feeling and what they might be going through so we can remain calm, patient with the process, and compassionate towards them and ourselves.
Today, my daughter’s a teacher working in an alternative school for children who struggle with ADHD, autism, academics and behavioral issues (how perfect is that?!).
Here she articulates what she couldn’t over fourteen years ago….
Part One: How I felt as a kid with ADHD.
While I don’t believe that my experience is reflective of all experiences, hopefully what I share will help you better understand what your child might be feeling and experiencing, give you hope, and some useful tools to support your child.
I felt like something was wrong with me.
For as long as I can remember, I had the sense that I didn’t learn the same way as other people. I felt like my brain was slightly broken compared to everyone else’s. Academics felt like a nightmare. The powerlessness and anxiety I felt was overwhelming.
Even with help I felt lost.
The diagnosis of ADHD was given when I entered middle school. I got special academic supports at that time, but learning still didn’t come easy.
Information I learned was easily forgotten. I mixed up formulas for mathematics, my brain couldn’t remember any sequence of numbers in the right order or take in verbal instructions. I was continually losing assignments, forgetting books, and my backpack was a mess.
Note-taking was a nightmare.
Any notes that I took made close to zero sense when I looked back at them. I was also very all-or-nothing so my notes and work were either perfect in appearance or a sloppy, barely legible mess.
I pretended a lot and I was anxious all the time.
The anxiety and how overwhelmed I felt is almost indescribable partly because I was trying so hard to hide it.
During group work I pretended I knew what was going on but internally I panicked about others catching on to the fact that I was completely lost.
I was constantly trying to mask how little of the information I was actually understanding. When it came to group work, I would busy myself with the big blown up bubble letters on the group posters so I didn’t have to come up with any of the actual substance for our presentations.
God forbid anyone knew how clueless I felt or thought I failed to help my group out in any way. I worked twice as hard trying to manage my image and not let on how stupid I felt.
I lashed out at my parents, but really I was frustrated with myself.
I got frustrated that my parents were frustrated. I felt angry and defensive about my missing assignments. I felt misunderstood and at the same time I didn’t understand myself.
My parents appeared to act like it should be easy for me to stay organized or to do my homework. They didn’t understand how hard it was for me and because they were incapable of understanding how I was actually feeling, I was angry and resented them.
I felt guilty all the time.
I constantly felt like I was letting my parents, teachers and myself down. I could see the disappointment on their faces as they told me I wasn’t living up to my potential.
I wasn’t trying to make them mad. I was so busy trying to cover up all the things I wasn’t doing or was doing wrong that I’d often lie, feel guilty and make things worse.
I really did want them to be proud of me and I wanted to be proud of myself.
I struggled to put into words what was happening in my head.
Try as my parents might to support me, it was hard for me to put into words what was going on with me or why I refused to complete my homework. I didn’t want to fail, so somehow it felt better not to try.
It wasn’t until college that I got on the right medication. As a result, I was finally able to make sense of what was going on with me all these years and explain it to my parents.
Part Two: Solutions
I know I got into “the feels” of what having ADHD was like for me, and hopefully it wasn’t too distressing, because there are solutions. It does get better, even if it feels like it never, ever will.
I think it’s important for me to inject into this piece that I do work in an alternative school for children who struggle with anxiety, ADHD, autism, academics and behavioral issues, so here I am infusing some of my personal, as well as professional, suggestions about what you can do.
Find ways to boost their self-esteem.
ADHD, anxiety, and learning disabilities give self-esteem a big hit. Students with ADHD often sculpt a major part of their identities on their performance in school.
Find alternatives to school activities that make them feel better about themselves. Not everyone likes sports, but if that works for your child, go for it. Other students are into technology, music, or service projects. I know I felt like I had zero talents, but I loved to volunteer and help others. Get them involved regularly at an animal shelter or non-profit. The bottom line is that no matter what it is, plug them into something where they feel a part of.
Structure is everything.
When I finally got a grasp on my ADHD, I was in college. I’m hoping it doesn’t take your child that long, but when the miracle of liking academics took hold for me, it was largely the result of structure. I scheduled in time to study and used a planner to record due-dates and timelines. I got binders and organizational tools I liked and kept all of my school supplies spotlessly clean. It might sound like overkill, but organizing things made me feel in control of my work and made me feel more confident. Planning is a must.
Find ways to stop avoidance.
Tutors forced me to put effort into the academic areas I wanted to avoid. Meeting with teachers after hours made asking them questions (both in and out of class) less painful. Regularly checking in with members of my support team and my parents was crucial.
Be a safe haven for your children when they come home from school.
Be a smiling face I see at the end of the day. Get me yummy study snacks I like.
Help me organize my backpack and study/homework space at home. There is no one I want to impress as much as much as I want to impress you. Your approval and support matters to me.
Don’t be scared of medications.
Finding a medication that worked for me made all the difference in the world. I felt less anxious, more focused, and more well-equipped.
Never give up.
I know it may feel hopeless, and your heart may feel bruised and battered watching your child struggle and experiencing the conflict that comes along with having a child struggle with ADHD or anxiety.
Support groups help. Build a team up around you and your child so you don’t feel alone. ADHD is very common now and much less taboo than it used to be. Embrace help when it comes and find others to help as well.
I am hoping that you were able to get something from my experience and my suggestions on how to better cope with your child’s ADHD and anxiety.
ADHD is not a reflection of poor parenting or a bad child. Neither you or your teen or tween is a hopeless case. ADHD just requires some extra academic and social TLC and the ability to keep looking for solutions instead of getting stuck in a rut.