The Never-Ending Playlist of ADHD

Nina Naidu describes her experience of managing and harnessing her ADHD while at Oxford and explores what support is available.

I view my brain as a playlist. Everybody’s got one, whether it’s the breakup one, the ‘80s hits one or the smooth jazz one. Now, imagine having access to the world’s longest playlist, containing every conceivable music genre, but you can only listen to five seconds of each song before it shuffles to the next. This playlist lacks any clear structure or continuity, constantly in motion. This is, in essence, how I perceive Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): a ceaseless interruption of melodies, tantalising me with incredible tunes but never letting me savour the best part before swiftly moving on. Some have described it as riding a bike without brakes or watching a TV full of static. It is a behavioural condition characterised by a combination of inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. Although its challenges frustrate me greatly, I have tried to thrive while navigating the complexities of my often chaotic mind.

For me, ADHD presents a dualistic existence, oscillating between understimulation and hyper-awareness, from superb concentration to feeling as though I’m in another dimension entirely. I’m easily distracted and I frequently interrupt others, yet I’m a massive chatterbox, enthusiastically searching for that next hit of dopamine. I am a prisoner in the jail of my own mind, and I keep forgetting where I put the keys! Even simple appointments become day-long affairs of overthinking. Although I’d benefit from writing important information down, I often forget to do so or dismiss it as being unnecessary. There’s even an embarrassing number of memes about needing to play a Subway Surfers video in the background to stay engaged during conversations, a concept I reluctantly admit might actually help. Although my mind is a perpetual disco, I’ve found solace in recognising that ADHD is not merely a collection of slightly undesirable traits but a condition that can be managed.

My brain engages in a relentless game of ping-pong, swinging between nearly impossible concentration and being overly focused. ADHD thrives on novelty, driving me to hyperfixate on numerous hobbies over the years, from solitaire to crochet, acoustic guitar to reading. Some interests have proven short-lived: for example, my feeble attempt at crochet resulted in something resembling more of a square than a scarf. Others have persisted, such as my passion for reading. Now, three years into my challenge to read 100 books a year, my competitiveness fuels my determination to keep going, if only to ward off my worst enemy: boredom. A current hyperfixation involves the ‘Metro Memory’ game, where players attempt to name every London tube station on a blank map. As trivial as it sounds, I’ve invested countless hours in this endeavour, fully aware that I’ll likely abandon it for a new obsession, just as I have with others.

Regarding my academic workload, the demanding nature of Oxford strangely aligns well with my ADHD. However, being away from this heavily regimented environment during my year abroad has left me feeling isolated and yearning for structure. Who am I if not the four essays a week I have churned out for the past two years? What will I do without the exhilarating stress of essay writing? Deadlines have served as my lifeline, compelling me to finish my work in two-hour bursts and leaving me feeling as if I had hallucinated the entire experience. Looking back, it’s baffling how I managed.

Moreover, getting an ADHD diagnosis through the NHS, with its insufficient infrastructure, remains an arduous process. For me, this involved meeting with the university psychiatrist, then the GP, then the Adult Mental Health Team before finally getting my diagnosis. To add insult to injury, I was informed that if I wanted to receive medication, I needed to return to my GP for a referral to see the ADHD specialists. Currently, it takes two years to get an ADHD diagnosis through the NHS, if you’re lucky. Many, however, have no choice but to seek expensive private diagnoses or suffer in silence because of these flaws in the system, especially while at university.

Thankfully, my diagnosis has led to some adjustments in how I navigate university life. After two months of daily reminders from Student Finance regarding Disabled Students’ Allowance, I was referred to meet with specialist workers, who are now offering me much-needed support and have given me tools to make note-taking, essay planning and daily scheduling more manageable. I am incredibly grateful for the DSA I’ve received so far, and I encourage others with a diagnosis to reach out to them if they haven’t already. While it has been difficult for me to use my diagnosis to access medical care, the academic support is definitely worth it, particularly regarding alternative exam arrangements. An educational diagnosis allows for extra time or use of a laptop during exams, meaning that exams do not have to be a total nightmare to get through.

ADHD doesn’t have to hinder your university experience. It has been a rollercoaster for me, but I’ve harnessed the power of hyperfixation and channelled it into something productive. In my case, that means embracing my superpower of oversharing and writing articles of which I can be proud. Instead of letting the playlist on my brain stay on shuffle, I’ve finally managed to grab the remote and switch to an album full of exciting, varying tunes that won’t leave me zoning out. Staying busy is key to staying sane, and where better to do that than at university?