“I Was Lost in a Fog”
Diagnosis, persistence, and, finally, a happy life.
BY E. SUTHERLAND
and today, at 42,
with her husband
and two children.
IHAVE A RECURRING DREAM. I AM SIX years old and the class is laughing at me. The teacher asks me, “What did I
just say?” I have no idea, since I’m lost
in a fog. “Are you retarded or something?” the teacher asks, and the classroom roars with laughter.
The dream is based on my experience
as a child in the 1980s with undiagnosed
ADHD. I have nightmares about being
humiliated all these years later. I wasn’t
a bad child; I was well behaved and
bright, but I could not focus or follow
directions. If someone said to “go right,”
I’d go left. If I were asked to repeat something, I forgot it as quickly as it was said.
Thirty years ago, in our small town, no
one had heard of ADHD. If you had challenges in school, you were just lazy. All
of my report cards pretty much said the
same thing: “E. does not listen or
follow directions.” Spelling and
reading were the only subjects I did
well in. Although I was a good
reader, my comprehension wasn’t
the best. The teachers grew annoyed
with me, and punished me by sending me outside to “watch the grass
grow.” As I got older, I continued to
drift through school with OK
grades—Bs and Cs—and I spent
hours studying to achieve them.
In addition to my problems trying
to focus, I talked so fast that people
had trouble understanding me.
There is a recording of me at nine
years old, talking on my dad’s answering machine at breakneck speed.
When I entered tenth grade, I
finally had enough. In tears, I went
to my mother and told her that
something was wrong with me. I
got everything confused and
overwhelming; I could not sit in a lecture
hall and take notes. My self-esteem was
in the basement when I left college, and
I lost several jobs. Reckless with my
finances, I could not focus or sit still long
enough to balance my checkbook. I
bounced checks. I cringe remembering
backward. There was something wrong
with my brain. My mother tried to
schedule an appointment with the
school psychologist, but she was accus-
tomed to seeing children with severe
intellectual disabilities. The school did
tests on me that showed that, although
I had a normal IQ, I had depth per-
ception problems, got things back-
ward, and did indeed have trouble
following directions. However, I did
not receive a diagnosis. The tests
concluded that I had “some issues.”
No solutions were given because
the school hadn’t heard of ADHD.
They just issued the results and
left things at that.
I went to a university in 1992,
and I flunked out. College was
Next steps after an