As long as I can remember, I have been ‘differently organized.’ In second grade, I was the kid with books, crumpled paper, and (as much as I hate to admit it) empty snack wrappers bulging out of my desk. I wasted countless hours fumbling through my desk for pencils, fresh pieces of paper, or overdue homework assignments.

As I got older and peer pressure mounted, I learned how to appear slightly more organized on the outside. I kept separate binders and folders for each class and put aside time every night to make sure everything was in its place. This was much harder than it sounds.

Soon, I became “the organized kid” in school, but my life was still far from organized. My room was always overflowing with books, clothes, stuffed animals, and various freebies. I hated living in this mess and did a regular deep cleaning of my room. I would drop everything else and become obsessive about vacuuming and whipping down every corner. For a few days, my room would be immaculate. As the weeks passed, however, my space would, once again, become inundated with junk.

In addition to struggling with organization, I silently fought poor executive functioning skills. On the surface, I was an ‘A’ student, a stressed-out perfectionist who submitted everything on time. Behind the scenes, I was a dumpster fire. I hyper-focused on some assignments while leaving others to the last minute. Panic attacks were an everyday occurrence, and I regularly lost daily essentials like my phone, wallet, ID, etc. These executive functioning challenges haunted me through college. For a long time, I blamed myself for being dumb, lazy, messy, careless, and sloppy.

Then, while seeking help for my Generalized Anxiety Disorder during my senior year of college, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (inattentive type). This diagnosis explained so many of my challenges and helped me start addressing them. I started implementing strict organization standards on myself. I began recognizing when I was hyper-focusing and trying to correct myself.

I was slowly (emphasis on slowly; there is no quick solution) making progress with my organization and executive functioning skills when life decided to throw a new curve ball my way; severe Inflammatory Bowel Disease. I was suddenly inundated with so many doctor’s appointments, procedures, medical bills, and medication schedules that my brain could not keep up.

Despite trying my best to keep my calendar up-to-date, I relied on text message reminders for all of my doctor appointments. There were one or two times that I accidentally scheduled different appointments too close to each other and needed to reschedule. Medication was also a challenge. There was one flare-up and C-Diff infection that required me to take 26 pills a day (at different times). I tried a seven day AM/PM pill container and a timer on my phone, but there were still a few occasions when I messed up the timing. I would get to the end of the day, and realize I had skipped my 2:00 PM dosage.

IBD also impacted my ability to focus in a way I had not experienced since elementary school. For years, I managed my attention issues with caffeine. As long as I had a coffee in my hand, I could sit in front of the computer and focus (to some degree). I sipped coffee from 8:00 AM until 5:00 PM most days, totaling a few cups by evening. Not surprisingly, my days of chugging coffee came to an end when my gut decided to turn against me. When I am flaring, a sip of coffee is enough to send me running to the bathroom like a sprinter (it is amazing how fast an unathletic person can move when the stakes are high).

When I first cut back on coffee, my ability to focus was shot. I would sit in front of the computer to work on a paper for my master’s program and suddenly catch myself staring into space thinking about something completely random.

The work that I once loved suddenly became a stressor, triggering memories of childhood educational trauma. There was no easy solution for my attention issues. When I am not in a pouchitis flare, I nurse about half a cup of coffee a day. I am not sure if it is the caffeine itself that helps me focus or the placebo effect, but I manage to stay on task most of the time. When my pouchitis is flaring, I rely on extra water and hydration drinks like DripDrop. I also keep a fan on my desk at work and home because I find that the breeze keeps me alert.

I still find myself drifting at times, but I have gotten better at pulling myself back into the moment. On days when I am really struggling, I set my timer for twenty minutes. When the timer goes off, I check in with myself to make sure I am staying on task. After checking in, I set the timer for twenty minutes again and repeat the process.

The biggest challenge I am currently facing with my ADHD is keeping track of medical bills. I am on multiple monthly payment plans that I am struggling to juggle. As a disability services professional, I am continually developing strategies and solutions to help students address challenges like this, yet I cannot seem to help myself. Despite all of the planners and calendars and post-it note reminders, I still find myself jumping out of bed at 11:45 to make payments.

I have come a long way in managing my ADHD symptoms, but they still crush me sometimes. I cannot help but feel like a failure when I make a late payment on a medical bill, forget to schedule an important appointment, or cannot find my phone. While I do not think these feelings, rooted deeply in childhood trauma, will ever vanish completely, I am determined to keep moving forward.

• About The Author
Kate Shannon holds an MA in American Studies and a BA in History and American Studies. She is currently working as a high school special education teaching assistant while taking classes towards an MS in Student Disability Services in Higher Education. When she is not working, Kate loves reading, visiting history museums, practicing the clarinet (a new hobby she picked up after her diagnosis), volunteering with children and animals, and doing yoga. Kate was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in 2018 and had her colon removed in 2019. She is a j-pouch patient who is extremely grateful for the new life her surgeries gave her.
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