Am I Bad at School or Am I Struggling With My Mental Health?

At 21 years old, I was diagnosed with ADHD. For most of my life, up until that point, I had been flailing about, working extra hard to meet standards that other kids were meeting easily. Middle school and high school were exhausting, and college presented its own issues. For all those years I dealt with anxiety, self-deprecation, feelings of loneliness. But, the moment I was told I have ADHD felt like I was able to take a gargantuan step toward helping myself.

I feel reassured now, being diagnosed, but there is always a part of me that wishes I had learned about this when I was younger. In the back of my mind, I wonder how I would have been different if I had received help at a younger age, when my symptoms first appeared.

In eighth grade my symptoms had become extremely noticeable. Granted, I didn’t know because I was naive to my own symptoms and because there was no proper education regarding mental health conditions. We had health class, but I only remember being taught anatomy and other physical attributes of the body. The mind was seldom discussed in the curriculum of any class.

So, I blindly marched around school nervously, second guessing what others thought about me. These are not uncommon for any middle schooler, which is why it can be difficult to decipher as a condition. Additionally, ADHD’s stigmas play their own role in society. People assume that those with this condition are hyperactive, loud, talkative, but that’s not always the case. We can be quiet, lack attention and focusing skills, be unable to pick up on concepts, and be full of anxiety.

Being trapped in a world that lacked proper mental health education and resources, made it difficult for me to know when it was time to reach out for help.

I struggled constantly with my school work, and most of the time I wanted to give up. I desperately wanted to stop studying because I felt that I would never understand. Forcing myself to try was exhausting because I never saw positive results. There was an immense amount of self-doubt, and I didn’t know how to talk about it.

My peers appeared smarter and more put together. They were acing their tests, consistently understanding the curriculum, and turning homework in on time. They were organized and I was not. I felt like my backpack – a jumbled mess of papers cramped in the bottom where they were forgotten and wrinkled. I felt alone in my thoughts because I felt so much smaller than everyone and everything around me.

My social anxiety was heightened as a result of my self-deprecation, so any type of interaction was daunting. I didn’t know how to speak to others, and my mind drifted a few seconds into a conversation. I felt it best to just be quiet.

This type of behavior and thinking continued throughout high school. I was afraid I wouldn’t change and be lonely forever.

College presented the same types of patterns that I had seen in high school and I was fearful I would never be able to escape myself. Once I graduated college and went to therapy and received medication, I was able to understand that I can get better.

The type of empathy and dedication I received from my therapist made a tremendous difference. She was someone I could trust who wanted me to become better. It reminded me how important it can be when others take the time to help, and I was then reminded of Ms. Saylor.

She was my eighth grade math teacher (I will never forget her name). She was a blonde woman, average height, and a University of Kansas supporter – that last part was a big deal to my Mom. For most of the year, I had been struggling with homework and tests. Out of the kindness of her heart, she decided she would tutor me twice per week after school.

She helped me visualize the problems, spelled them out for me, and taught me to teach myself. It was working somewhat, and I felt more comfortable in class. But, regardless, these methods didn’t seem to help my grades. Eventually, she geniusly found a way to improve my grades immediately by simply getting to know how I work best. During each test, she would cut up my exam question by question, I would finish one problem, bring it to her, and she would give me the next question until I finished the test.

My grades went from Ds to As immediately.

I felt proud and stupefied.

This was so powerful, and I didn’t even realize it until later in life. A teacher, solely because she wanted to help, went out of her way to make me a better student and better thinker. She taught me to compartmentalize with such a simple technique. But, it’s one I carry with me today.

It’s hard to be in grade school. All we want is to feel normal in our confusing and constantly changing bodies. We want to know that we can talk to someone we trust who can actually help. Ms. Saylor was the only teacher that ever helped me in a way that I truly needed. She understood me because she took the time to.

Mental health education is necessary in school because having an understanding of yourself is a powerful tool. It’s hard to walk around the halls feeling like you’re alone. But, truthfully, kids aren’t alone. I never was either. Now I understand, all I needed was for someone to take the time to understand me.


About the Author

Cole Swanson


My name is Cole Swanson, I’m a young creative who loves to follow my passions and aims to make a mark on the world around me. Through my love of writing, I have paved myself a path that allows me to always tell stories. With each blog post, I desire to share a story in hopes that it allows others to find the courage to share their own.

I’ve been actively working on my own mental health for the past three years. During that period, I learned of the struggles of wanting to give up trying to improve myself, as well as of the joy I feel when I know I’m becoming healthier.

At NAMI, I act as a volunteer for their Ending the Silence program where I talk to students about the power of vulnerability, empathy, and self-advocacy, so they can find the power to redefine the stigma of mental health.  



The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of NAMI Eastside. NAMI Eastside will not be held liable for false, inaccurate, inappropriate or incomplete information. The content should be used for general information purposes only.