Adapting to university life with ADHD

Marion talks about how many of her ADHD behaviours went unnoticed as a student, and why she sought support when things became more challenging in the pandemic. She discusses the support she received and how this helped her to create structure, find different ways to focus and navigate her diagnosis.

Marion discusses her process of being diagnosed with ADHD, how it affected her studies and the support she was able to receive from her university.

Video transcript

Hi, I'm Marian and I'm going to talk about my experience of being diagnosed with ADHD during the pandemic.

Essentially, during the pandemic, I found that some struggles that I'd had during my undergraduate degrees that I had previously ignored or kind of dismissed as being normal for students, for example, not being able to start essays until the very last minute, not focusing in class, not being able to organise myself at all and just generally feeling always tired, always pulled in lots of different directions, which I just kind of put aside as being the normal student experience were really amplified by staying at home, where I just struggled much more to focus on my studies.

This really disrupted my studies and I found it really, really difficult to finish my final year because I was writing my dissertation when the pandemic struck.

And so this led me to seek help, especially because I was going to start a Master's degree, and I was diagnosed with ADHD during November of 2020 in the first term of my masters.

Since then, I've had to learn to adapt to life in lockdown as a neurodivergent student.

When I look back, I always managed to just about keep up with coping strategies like going to the library, lots of doing different things.

But I struggled more and more throughout my undergraduate degree as it went on.

Then no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't start working on essays until the day before the deadline, and I was constantly stressed.

I lived in catered halls in first year, but the experience of moving to my own flat in second year, and having to keep up cooking and cleaning, all very normal daily routine things, was incredibly overwhelming.

I'd always presented with many ADHD symptoms, but because I did okay in school, I never really thought much of it, nor did my teachers.

But during university I struggled a lot even in conversations with people not being able to focus on what they were saying to me.

Lots of things that suddenly became more apparent, the more responsibilities I was given.

And when we went into lockdown, all of these things, which I'd kind of dismissed as being part of the student experience, just suddenly got so much harder and I wasn't able to do anything anymore, I couldn't bring myself to do anything.

I only had a few lectures left but I found them impossible to sit through without being distracted by everything around me.

I tried to sit and work on essays, I would sit at the table for hours on end trying, trying, trying to force myself to look at what I was having to do and to do it, but would never manage to focus.

And I quickly realised that I wouldn't be able to finish my degree if I didn't take steps to help the situation.

My partner who I live with had suggested that I showed ADHD symptoms for a while, he'd noticed it whilst talking to him or being in new places and because lockdown really emphasised that this might be something to seriously consider. Although I was hesitant at first and didn't know whether it would be worth pursuing a diagnosis, I decided to talk to my GP who referred me to a psychiatrist.

The GP also directed me to the university's disability services.

So at first, I was a bit reluctant to use this disability services because I thought I wouldn't qualify, I thought I'd be taking someone else's place who deserved it more or who was more suited to the service but I would really recommend that anyone who is unsure of their diagnosis or even if they have lots of doubts, to get in touch with similar services at their university, because they were really able to help me through the process, and they were able to help me work out the support I could get and they were able to help me to use it 'Right to Choose', to get a faster diagnosis.

And in the meantime, whilst I was awaiting my diagnosis, they were very helpful with support, to liaise with the university, and for example with their support, I was able to get extensions on my assignments, and some mentoring hours which really helped to navigate my new circumstances in lockdown and the whole studying at home thing.

I also had to consciously that my behaviour so that I could manage to study at home.

In the short term that meant recreating the things that helped me to study outside of lockdown.

I always studied better with other people studying around me, for example, in cafes, in libraries and so I enlisted a friend with a similar due date for her dissertation at the end of my undergraduate degree, and we would Zoom call every single day and both mute ourselves, whilst we vary our respective essays, but keep each other's little video face in the corner just to remind ourselves that there was someone else doing the same thing and also working.

And that really helped to force me into a routine the final weeks, but I was aware that I had heavily relied on her presence and that this kind of help wouldn't always be available.

I also made sure that I moved around my flat, I always preferred moving between various spots on campus so between the library and the cafes, and different study spaces.

So I tried to move rooms. I have a very small flat, but I would alternate studying on my desk in the living room, in the kitchen in my flatmate's room when she went home.

So just to make sure I varied, where I studied.

At home, I really struggled with always being near other things that I knew I needed to do.

So I always felt like I wasn't doing enough and felt paralysed by a kind of endless to-do list around me with lots of daily life tasks.

So one thing that helped was to do things to bookend my day.

So for example, going for a walk in the morning to kind of recreate a commute to symbolise the start of the study day and keeping my shoes on throughout the day in my house until I decided to stop for the night.

And I also tried to stick to the same hours as my partner to make sure that I kept enough time to switch off fully in the evening because I realised that I would get tired even if I tried to study but didn't manage to, that still counted as effort and I still needed the time off.

This made me realise that I needed to be kinder to myself and stop counting the time spent trying to focus as time-off because it was time spent towards my studies regardless of how productive it was.

But ultimately, the most helpful thing was to reach out to someone about my struggles as it was only once I got my diagnosis that I was able to learn much, much more about ADHD, and started to try different ways to focus that worked for me, that I read about online or through different resources given to me by the disability services.

My university's disability services could help me by making sure I was supported with deadlines and immediate challenges, which allowed me to try different ways to recreate things that had helped me in my pre lockdown times.

So they gave me the space to kind of try out things that would work for me in the new circumstances. I still have a long way to go with understanding my diagnosis and finding ways to balance my time but reaching out really helped me to navigate the diagnosis to not feel alone and to keep up with my studies despite the difficulties.

And I feel proud to have made it through such a challenging time and I have learnt so much about myself and how I work during the pandemic and that's already helping me to cope during more normal times too.

So I would really encourage anyone who feels like they are struggling to seek help, even if they are unsure about the reason, like I wasn't sure that it was ADHD for me, because there's no shame in needing a bit of extra help.

And the support might really change your experience for the better and you never know what kind of support you might be able to get by reaching out to different services around you.