As a student with ADHD, this is what my university experience has been like

Living with ADHD doesn’t have to define you


In October 2021, I was particularly proud of myself for not forgetting to post about ADHD awareness month. A diagnosis later in life meant my school reports often consisted of “potential if she applied herself more”, “daydreamer” and “rarely on time”. All obvious signs of ADHD, but in girls it is severely undiagnosed.

A year after my official diagnosis, I stumbled across a TikTok about ADHD, specifically in girls, and I had a lightbulb moment. Everything suddenly made sense. It’s not my fault I’m super impulsive, have poor time management, am easily overwhelmed, and disorganised. But navigating a new university with minimal structure, limited social opportunities due to Covid, and a neurodivergent brain was certainly not easy, but so far I think I’m doing pretty well.

Harnessing the energy that comes with ADHD did wonders for my social life

It was incredibly overwhelming throwing myself into Freshers’ Week, especially when, during Covid, the only activities were drinks in the Hugh Stewart courtyard or on the downs. Realising nobody knows who I am and what I’m like was daunting and almost felt like a safety blanket had been stripped away. Being in a catered hall was so helpful for additional structure and was one of the only places we were allowed to socialise.

The first term was especially hard trying to see where I fit in, struggling to organise a second-year house whilst finding my feet to walk around a new city. Being overwhelmed is so natural and taking some timeout can be so useful to give full attention when present, kindness towards your social battery is so important.

Clubbing can become particularly overwhelming, especially when you’re not in the mood. If the lights, sounds, and people become too much, I find a quick trip to the smoking area with a friend usually does the trick. Bonding with those on your course can be another way to socialise early on, and course mates are important links for discussing assignments with.

The right friends are understanding when you are late to pres and forget your drinks in a rush. They will stop you from making an impulse purchase of ski boots that you think you really need at the time but in hindsight are only going to use once per year. They will remind you when tickets are released for Ocean and Crisis, or buy two as they know you will forget to purchase one. Continuing to put yourself out there is so important, especially when it’s hard. Harnessing the energy and spontaneity that comes with ADHD can do wonders for your social life.

However, my impulsivity is a blessing and a curse. It’s got me into a few sticky situations with always speaking my mind or kissing people I shouldn’t have. But spontaneity has led me to drive to my friend at University of Birmingham at 4pm on a Tuesday just because I felt like it. I’ve also randomly taken up impulsive hobbies such as horse riding, knitting, painting, learning Spanish, deciding I want to write a book and become a photographer. That’s just the start of the endless list of activities I’ve decided I will dedicate my life to, then inevitably forget about a month later.

I use my ADHD to my advantage when it comes to uni work

Dealing with deadlines with very poor time perception is a constant battle. Leaving everything to the last minute is a curse but one that can be fought. I try, often with little success, to set personal deadlines a week before work is due as spacing out work into chunks can be helpful for me to meet deadlines on time. I try and use ADHD to my advantage by removing distractions and hyper-focusing on what I need to do.

In that zone time flies by and it can feel like I’m not even working. Using apps like Flora help me limit phone usage, letting me give a project my full attention.

For complete silence, my favourite campus locations include study rooms in Monica Partridge, George Green, and places within the Djanogly Learning Resource Centre. However, I often find it more motivating to see others working. A personal favourite study location of mine is the top floor of Monica Partridge. It is quiet, but there is still a background buzz of people walking and whispering and you can see others at work. I also try to work with a friend, especially one from my course, which is incredibly helpful to compare resources and progress.

Implementing a routine has been invaluable for me

I try my best to implement my own daily structure. Each night I write up an hour by hour guide of achievable goals for the next day with meaningful breaks included. I do also acknowledge nights out and reserve lie-ins the next day whilst also leaving space for visits to friends and the gym. Even if I only stick to it for a few days a week, those days are so much more productive and fulfilling. Novelty experiences and items can provide spurts of dopamine and encourage me to continue activities that should be easy to do; such as buying a fun cleaning sponge to encourage me to use it or a novelty cooking ingredient to remind me to eat.

Concerning exercise, I love having a gym partner to push us both along. Working out releases built-up energy and stress as well as giving you a great bum. Combined with walking to campus when I have the time and walking back safely from nights out, exercise really encourages me to keep on top of everything else such as washing or work.

Living with ADHD doesn’t have to define you, I wouldn’t be who I am without it. Women with ADHD are more prone to eating disorders, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and heightened emotional sensitivity and reactivity. For me, going on medication aided to cushion some of these issues, it definitely helped me to concentrate, but, it can also increase anxiety levels and reduce appetite. Seeking medical advice before pursuing medication is essential to see what will work best for your body and mind.

Concerning heightened emotional sensitivity and reactivity, intense mood swings are incredibly common with each mood at the time feeling like the only emotion I’ve ever felt. When in a good mood it seems as though I’ve never been sad. I embody the brightest day and nothing anyone can do or say could ever dampen my spirit. However, the other end of the spectrum makes you feel like you’ve never been happy and anything nice that’s ever happened to you has been fake. When feeling like this, I remind myself my brain is playing tricks on me and list all the things I’m genuinely grateful for, such as my family, my cats, my friends, and the happiest life that I can’t wait to live to the absolute fullest.

Instagram accounts I personally follow that help me understand being neurodivergent is a superpower and one we shouldn’t be afraid to use are: @impayingattention, @doneadhd, @adhd_couple and @female_adhd.

If you have been impacted by this story you can find support for specific learning differences via the university’s disability support website

Related articles recommended by this author:

• Realistic changes you can make as a Notts student to live a healthier lifestyle

• It can be hard at uni to say no to socialising, this is why alone time is so important

• We’ve officially spent over two years of uni alongside Covid, this is what it’s been like