By researching ADHD and my other diagnoses, I found communities of people who understood me. I had found explanations for things I had always struggled with. I no longer felt like a fraud in my own skin. I wasn't lazy or irresponsible . . . I wasn't a bad person. I had a disability, and that knowledge was liberating.
In high school, I began to work with my brain chemistry, and I matured mentally, emotionally, and spiritually because of it. But I still fell apart upon entering college. I was dismayed as the broader church continued to hurt people by weaponizing scripture. I love my congregation, and I'm proud of them, but even their acceptance of people like me was not enough. Associating myself with Christianity became painful. I stopped going to church. It was a strange time of spiritual limbo. My faith was still strong, and my convictions were solid, but I felt that my passion for advocacy was not mirrored by the church. School became so taxing that the idea of pushing through a church service didn't seem worth it.
Academics were just as much, if not more, of a struggle. The difficult classes I took in high school felt undercut when I sat through lessons that explained things I had learned in middle school. Boredom—the thing my ADHD brain chemistry refuses to allow any focus or motivation for—became a terrifying reality in many of my classes. A lifetime of lectures began to replay in my mind, constantly chiding me for behavior I now know is my disability. Instead of participating in class discussions, I shut down. The easiest classes became the bane of my existence. I beat myself up constantly, despite knowing that my brain just didn't release the chemicals required to focus. I retained nothing from my classes and had panic attacks thinking about doing simple assignments, which took hours to complete. I had constant migraines, lost sleep, and got sick all the time due to my tired and stressed immune system. I missed classes, causing me to become anxious at the idea of showing up again. I thought, "People will think I'm just pretending to struggle." My childhood experiences of being bullied for my mental health issues and undiagnosed ADHD continued to haunt me.
Everything snowballed until I was buried under failing grades. Resurfacing trauma from a past relationship made everything worse as I experienced debilitating flashbacks, not understanding the triggers. I gained a lot of weight in a very short amount of time. I suddenly had body image issues and was afraid of going anywhere or doing anything because I didn't know what would cause another flashback. I felt paralyzed.
Now, a year later, I'm doing better, but still struggling. Therapy has helped me process my trauma. I have fewer flashbacks, but my negative body image creates more triggers that have become different roadblocks. My lack of confidence and negative self-talk are still persistent. Constant sickness still causes me to miss classes, which leads to anxiety at the idea of returning. My grades still don't reflect what I know I'm capable of, and I often feel like I'm letting people down. I've isolated myself and barely have a social life.
But I can also recognize where I'm thriving. Majoring in music composition has allowed me to flourish, and most of my music classes are challenging as well as food for my soul and spirit. I attended church for the first time in a year and a half during Christmas break, and I'm hoping to go semi-regularly during my second semester. I can feel my growth as a person and as a student, despite still struggling in other areas. Surviving in a world that wasn't built for someone like me can create bitterness, but it can also make the successes more sweet. I'm simultaneously terrified and excited for what lies ahead.
Sam Stoltzfus is a second-year student at Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana. She is majoring in music with a concentration in composition, playing viola in an orchestra, and singing in a choir. She enjoys writing fantasy novels and hopes to become a published author one day. Sam's passion for social justice fuels her creativity, and she cares deeply about being an advocate for and ally to everyone.