Life in my Brain

When I was in first grade, I had an evil teacher. Her name was Ms. Madden. I don’t remember very much about her except that she was old. I don’t mean old to a little kid old, just old. I recently found my first-grade picture and she looked just as old as I thought she was back then.

I don’t know why she didn’t like me. I struggled a lot with school. I had trouble learning to write letters. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with my dad, practicing my letter-writing every night, and when I made a good letter, he would circle it in red pen. I also struggled a lot with basic math facts. But here’s the thing, I was an extremely gifted reader. I had learned to read at three and was reading 6th to 8th-grade level books in first grade. In the state assessments, I would score in the 99th percentile for reading and comprehension. But for some reason, Ms. Madden decided that since I couldn’t write my name and I couldn’t do math, I couldn’t read either. So she stuck me in the lowest level reading group and made me read sight words for the entire year. I remember being so bored in first grade.

Ms. Madden decided I was retarded. Those were her words, not mine. I came home from school and she had written a letter on a typewriter telling my parents that she thought I was retarded and did not belong in a gen ed classroom. I read the letter and asked my dad why she had called me retarded, even at 6, I knew that was a very offensive thing.

When second grade started, my dad recently told me that I was in a self-contained special education class for about the first month of the year. He said as soon as he saw that I got put into this class he complained until they put me in gen ed class.  I remember none of this. All I remember from second grade was my teacher, Mrs. Carpenter, hating middle zero subtraction, and our Halloween party where we dyed vanilla frosting orange with red and yellow food coloring.

In third grade, it was a little bit better. I loved my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Grisbach, but the problem was that we had this ELA curriculum that was supposed to last the entire month. They were these colored booklets, each color was a different topic [main idea, topic sentence, etc] and each topic had several booklets within their color. I finished the entire curriculum in one month. My teacher didn’t really know what to do with me, so she just started to let me bring in my own books to use during ELA time. I’m sure every third-grader was reading The Chronicles of Narnia at the age of 8, right?

But even though I excelled at reading, I sucked at math. It was in third grade that I officially got diagnosed with dyscalculia, which is a learning disability.. Starting in third grade, the resource teacher would come to take me out of class every single day for 45 minutes to try to teach me basic math. So here I was, probably reading between a 7th and 8th grade level in third grade, but I couldn’t do math. The term you would use now to describe circumstances like is “twice-exceptional.” Even though I was brilliant at reading and comprehension and writing, I wasn’t treated like the gifted child I was. I wasn’t chosen to go to the special GT class in 4th and 5th grade because of my issues with math. I was bored, underestimated, and hated school. Teachers refused to challenge me because I couldn’t do math.

This continued throughout middle school and high school. My grades in math were dismal throughout most of elementary school. My self-esteem also plummeted because I was bored. Yes, okay, math was pretty hard for me, but Reading/ELA was so easy for me, but nobody seemed to care.

I was also severely unorganized. I tried really hard but I couldn’t keep my desk or anything organized. I remember being in fourth grade, and my teacher Mrs. Krumer refused to let me go out to recess because my desk was a mess. To prove this point, she dumped my entire desk out in front of the entire class and yelled at me that I wasn’t going anywhere until my desk was organized. Sure, I organized it, but pretty much within a day or two, it was the mess it was before. I also struggled to learn to jump rope and tie shoes.

In middle school and high school, several things happened. We moved to a different town and I had to start over in a brand-new school in 6th grade. I was horribly bullied and this continued until probably about 11th grade. I struggled to make friends. I just had so much trouble talking to people and even initiating conversations. I was also hyper-sensitive and short-tempered, which is an award-winning combo. It didn’t take much to tick me off, and I had stupid fights with the few friends I had mainly because they said I didn’t care or listen to anything that they were saying and they called me selfish.

I was also put on the “lower track” of academics. I was still amazing at reading, but since I sucked at math, there was no way I could be good at anything else. My school refused to put me in the AP or Pre-AP English classes and I was stuck in regular English. On-level English was so boring. I remember we spent two months reading Huckleberry Finn but I had finished it all in a day. I was so bored in class because my classmates couldn’t get through the book as quickly as me, so I moved onto my own reading interests [I was into the Xanth novels a lot in high school, and also Stephen King], but by the time the class had caught up with me reading-wise, I had moved on and didn’t perform well on exams because they had taken too long to get to them and I was bored.

I got a lot of the same comments on my report cards, “Jamie needs to work harder”, “Jamie doesn’t work up to her full potential” or “Jamie needs better organization skills.”

College wasn’t much better, to be honest. I struggled to wake up for classes even with alarms. When I went to class, I had trouble paying attention and spent a lot of time doodling in my notebook unless I found the material interesting. I had trouble making friends and fought with the few friends I had over stupid issues. They mainly thought I didn’t care and that I was selfish. But that wasn’t how my brain worked. They’d tell me a story, my brain would fixate on something they said and I’d make an outburst about what it had fixated on and interrupt them, but it was never intended. I partied too much. I barely graduated with my psychology degree.

This brings me to the present.

I’ve always struggled with anxiety. I remember being in abnormal psychology and learning about social and generalized anxiety and being like “That’s me.”  As I got older, it didn’t get much better. Even when I moved to Texas and started teaching, I had trouble making friends because I was too busy worrying that everyone was judging me and talking about me behing my back. I’m also short-tempered and impatient.

I’ve always had insomnia. I remember being little and not being able to fall asleep because I was hyper-obsessing over what would happen in 4.5 million years when the sun dies and swallows up the Earth.  I struggled with sleeping as an adult because my brain would just turn on as soon as I hit the pillow and start telling me all of this useless shit instead of letting me sleep.

I’ve always had trouble focusing. The only thing I’ve ever really been able to focus on is writing and reading. I went from hobby to hobby. Some lasted several weeks to months, others lasted days until I got bored with them. I can’t really sit still. During meetings, I had to doodle, and I had to get up and walk around. Even at work, I find myself wandering to other places, usually, my fellow sped teachers’ rooms because I can’t concentrate in my room or get anything accomplished.

This summer, I decided I wanted help. I’ve always had an interest in therapy and thought it was a good idea, but then there’s my anxiety. I get horrible anxiety driving to weird places like downtown Houston because I’m petrified of getting lost or not finding buildings or not knowing where to park so that just wasn’t going to happen. But this time when I looked for a therapist within my insurance, I found one local, and I knew exactly where the office was, and it was time to get help.

I was pretty sure I would get diagnosed with anxiety. Anxiety was overwhelming me. I felt anxious about everything. Maybe if I could turn off the jabbering within my brain, I’d finally be able to feel normal.

The first week of in-person school, before the students arrived, I was talking to the lifeskills teacher, who works next door to me because I couldn’t focus or get anything done in my room. The counselor at my school walked into the room and jokingly said she was on her ADHD walk, and I was like “what’s that?” She started telling me how she had ADHD and had had it since high school and she had trouble sitting still, so she needed to wander. We started to talk a little more and I asked her about more of what she experienced, and it was like she was talking about me.

I went home and immediately googled ADHD in Females and started reading about it. It was like something clicked in my head. Maybe I had ADHD?

ADHD in females tends to be more internalized compared to their male counterparts. The symptoms can include having a limited attention span, forgetfulness, distractibility, daydreaming, difficulty following directions, disorganization, a strange concept of time, impatience, difficulty sitting still, hyper-talkative (always has lots to say, but is not good at listening), Verbally impulsive; blurts out and interrupts others, sensitive and ADHD goes hand in hand with anxiety.

I had my evaluation with the psychiatrist and sure enough, it was ADHD. She said that with girls, a lot of the symptoms tend to be ignored. She wasn’t surprised that I had never been diagnosed with it when I was younger because a lot of girls don’t have the “hyperactive” component/symptoms of ADHD that boys tend to show, so they think the girl’s ADHD symptoms/behaviors are something completely different instead and tend to be internal. And the majority of girls do not get diagnosed until they’re older because they’re mature/independent enough to realize that something isn’t quite right. She also said that GT students are also often overlooked and their symptoms are just proclaimed as laziness. I also had anxiety, but she said she thought it was my ADHD that was exacerbating my anxiety.

She put me on medication, and I’ve been on it for about a week. I finally feel normal. My anxiety has been nonexistent. I’ve been able to get a lot of work done. I wander around less. My brain is quieter. I even have a somewhat normal concept of time now. I’m chattier. I’m not afraid of talking to people anymore, I’ve even been more social. I don’t get feelings of panic when I walk through the hallway at school or walk into the classroom of first graders I teach. I can look people in the eye now [which was something I wasn’t aware that I did not do] and I don’t constantly tap my foot or fingers. I even see messes that I was unaware of before.

I feel like me and it’s a wonderful feeling.

I can’t help but wonder what my life would’ve been like had I been diagnosed when I was younger.

But at least I feel like I can live my life now without the anxiety drowning me and I know it wasn’t me.

My life is completely different now than it was a week ago, I just wish I had gotten help sooner. But better late than never right?

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