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A personal hackathon

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FEBRUARY 23, 2018

It’s midterm season, which means that once again, I’m in Moffitt Library at 3 a.m., working on an essay that I just remembered was due today. Didn’t I just turn in the big essay for this class? School is just a Sisyphean effort that reminds me that time’s progression is relentless and pretty soon I’ll be working on the next essay, and then the next one, and then I’ll be dead.

Unfortunately, in between now and my inescapable death, I have a lot of deadlines and responsibilities. And I’m poorly equipped to deal with these things. As I’m typing this sentence, I just realized that I forgot to go one of my classes today. I have this class every week, and I just forgot to go.

These mistakes happen more than I’d like to admit because there’s something weird about my brain. It’s called attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, and it makes it hard for me to remember things, stay on task or control impulses.

Luckily, I’ve developed a few tricks that I use to fool my brain into doing what I want it to. I call them my Brain Hackz, and they work a solid 65 percent of the time.

The most important Brain Hack is drugs. This one doesn’t really require that much skill, other than managing to swallow a pill every morning without choking to death, but it is definitely the most fundamental to the rest of the hacks.

Everyone is more or less at the mercy of the amount of chemicals in their brain, but I’m a little more so than your average Bear. Because Adderall only works for so many hours before I inevitably crash, I have a literal chemical timer for productivity in my brain.

I’ve basically mastered the art of classical conditioning. With a combination of associating certain libraries with productivity and drinking boba while studying, I’ve managed to trick my brain into thinking that studying is the fun part, rather than the sugary drink. I call this Brain Hack “Pavlov’s Doggy Style.”

I came up with these hacks mostly on my own, but not after years of trying to study like the other kids in class.

The problem with ADHD is that it exists in this weird space between a learning disability and a mental disorder, so it doesn’t really get the same level of accommodations as other conditions. There are a few accommodations someone with ADHD can get — such as extra test-taking time in school. And while these can be helpful to some people, they definitely aren’t the only or best solutions.

On the whole, my experience with ADHD has been a doctor giving me some medication and letting me figure out the rest on my own. But sometimes, just some actual human support is what makes a difference.

Back when I was in high school, and newly diagnosed, trying to get accommodations from my teachers was a marathon of awkward and overly personal conversations. I didn’t have any of my Brain Hackz to help me yet, so I was failing most of my classes.

While none of my teachers were outright dismissive or mean, it was clear they all had about as much idea how to react to this as I did. It wasn’t until I had a talk with my English teacher, Mr. Smith, that it felt like anything changed.

Mr. Smith was unusually casual about the whole ADHD thing. Despite the obvious waves of anxiety that I must have been emanating (I’ll admit, I was a little nervous interacting with the “cool” English teacher), he was conversational. It quickly put me at ease.

He assured me I wasn’t going to fail the class, before asking me what specifically I was struggling with in school. He even shared his own experiences, telling me that when he was in college, he often wrote essays in the dining hall because the noise drowned out his thoughts and helped him focus.

Looking back, it was obvious he was talking from a place of familiarity with the subject. Maybe Mr. Smith also had ADHD, or maybe he didn’t. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that he showed me that he too struggled with some of the same things that I did.

Not to be all gross and have feelings or whatever, but that conversation was one of the most important ones I had in high school. He didn’t officially offer me more accommodations, but the fact that someone else — a teacher, no less — understood my issues made me feel for the first time that I could make it.

If you are somehow reading this and remember me, I’d like to thank you, Mr. Smith, for stopping me from giving up. It took a long process of all-nighters to figure out my patented Brain Hackz to manipulate the gelatinous sack of water and chemicals floating around in my skull into doing what I wanted it to, but I think I’ve got a decent handle on it now.

And I finished that essay.

KD Mireles writes the Friday column on the ambiguity of categories. Contact them at [email protected] and follow them on Twitter at @kdillonm.

MARCH 01, 2018