What am I doing? Yusef, stop. Control yourself. Don’t do that…Why did I do that?
The following day or so everyone else was asking me the same questions; first my teacher, then the secretary, then the principal, then my mom, and finally, my useless psychiatrist. This cycle repeated every week with the incidents getting more severe each time.
For some reason I could not prevent myself from dropping my backpack down the stairwell onto a classmate, or trying to climb into the ceiling tiles in the bathroom, or walking out of school, or clotheslining Isabella at recess. My answer most of the time was “I dunno, I didn’t know what would happen.” And I was not lying when I said this; I never thought about exactly what I was doing.
I entered third grade under the shadow of these beliefs. It didn’t take long for me to get in trouble. My second class on the first day of school was gym. The gym teacher, an ironically large man, told the class that we were playing kickball. Fun! After the second inning ended, I was running out onto the field to play defense when I got knocked onto the floor. I look up and saw my classmate, Luke, standing over me smiling and offering a hand. He was saying something but I couldn’t hear him. I remember moving my legs fast, then Luke on the floor trying to breathe, then the familiar green wall in the principal’s office. The same question, as always, followed: “Why did you kick Luke in the stomach, Yusef?”
The next day, I flipped over a table in class, but instead of sending me to the office like all my other teachers, Ms. Blake, my third grade teacher, made me pick up my desk and apologize to the class and told me that she had to talk to my mother later. Later that day, Ms. Blake told my mother that she thought that I had ADHD. When I heard this I wasn’t freaked out but rather relieved. There was a reason for my behavior.
My mother made an appointment with my doctor, and it didn’t take long before I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. I was prescribed tiny, magical orange capsules that the doctor called Adderall that were supposed to make me “normal.”
The results were immediate. I was finally able to control myself enough to sit down and work. I remember running to my mother when she went to pick me up saying “Mom, guess what. I didn’t get in trouble today!” My mother started to cry with relief. My grades instantly turned around. I got all A’s and aced my first MCAS test (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System). I was a new Yusef, and my teachers and parents loved him. He didn’t get in trouble, he followed directions, he did not ask too many questions, and he had laser focus. Everyone thought the new me was a better me… except for me.
I didn’t know who was better. I enjoyed life more when I was not on the medication, yet everyone liked me more when I was on it. Adderall gave me constant stomach aches, so for 9 years I didn’t eat lunch at school. Adderall made me so focused that when I didn’t have something given to me to focus on, I just kept quiet and stared into space. Adderall also made me stressed about every imperfection. I would ask my 5th grade teacher about my grade every day because if I missed even one point I would feel like I’d failed. I thought I was too small in the 8th grade, so I stayed in my room and did sit-ups and push-ups until I collapsed. I began to think that I could only be successful when I was drugged into being someone else.
It wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school that something changed. I had lost my medication the day after getting the prescription, which means I had to wait a whole month before getting a refill. Initially I panicked. It meant I had to go a full month in school without meds; something that I hadn’t done since 2nd grade. I was determined to not let it affect me. I worked as hard as I could because I was on a mission, a mission against myself. If I lost, I would have to succumb to the medication again. I knew that I couldn’t depend on it for the rest of my life.
At the end of that hard month, I came out victorious. Without my medication, I had gotten better grades than before. I realized that Adderall was not the reason for my success. It was my effort. I had gotten myself this far, not my medication. I began to see myself for who I really am.
Today, I know who I am. I know what I’m capable of. I know where I’m going. I learned to accept and love every part of myself, and now that I’m not in my own way, nothing else is either.