Living with ADHD
Introducing Gala's story
ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and it's one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood. There’s often a lot of stigma for people with this diagnosis.
Gala tells her story about her struggles with ADHD and what she does to manage her symptoms.
GALA: Kia ora, ko Gala tōku ingoa. Hi, my name’s Gala, I’m 18 years old and I’m from Wellington. I love all outdoorsy things, skateboarding, karate, I love art, making stuff with my hands and I’m very lucky to have had two parents who have supported me throughout all of my passions through life.
Yeah, my dad has been very closely bonded to me through outdoor activities. He loves fishing and surfing, yeah just being outside. And same with Mum to be honest. Mum is always down at the skatepark watching me skate. I definitely learned a lot from my mum and we have a really special connection. A lot of it we share through our culture and being Māori. She's always made sure that I've had a really close connection to my heritage and culture and that's been really important to me. She's also really creative and she's always encouraged me to be creative. She's always recognized my love for like being physical, so if I was like climbing a tree and dad was like no she’s going to fall, she was like no she can do it. I think it's given me a sense of being able to like take a first step into something and give it a go and not being scared of failing because I've always been able to learn things at my own pace and been encouraged to do that.
I’ve always been pretty energetic. I actually remember I had this little blue stroller thing and it was like a seat with a plate around the front of it for like food and then it had wheels and we've got this big open plan floor with wood and I just remember like scooting around on it, just like you know the ones where you push with your feet, you sort of gallop? And I was just like going around and running around and that would always be me. When I was one, I went to the Coin Save and saw a skateboard and apparently I wouldn't let it go and so my mum convinced my dad to buy it for me for Christmas and that's when I got my first skateboard.
After that, always been at the skatepark on a scooter or skateboard or bike and there's heaps of videos of me just like when I was younger just on my skateboard jumping off ledges and like going down hills on my bike. So always being just like super physical and really enjoyed running around. It definitely gave me a sense of freedom and I feel like I've always been super just like I wanna give that a go, I want to do that, like I wanna try that, like why not.
Mum was put in foster care when she was younger and didn't have a good experience and I think she's carried a lot of that into her adulthood. She's been on her own since she was about 17, 18. She just grew out of the system. It was like you're on your own now with no support. Guess that's why it's good with the transition support because being like my age now and just like being taken out of just like all your support just falling under your feet would be horrible. I couldn’t imagine it. You can see she's really like independent and had to do everything for herself and I guess that's from not really having support.
When I was in primary school I had already established where my challenges were. It was pretty obvious. I'd always be put in classes with the kids who were sort of the struggling sort of end. I think I definitely got put in the naughty kid box and I wouldn't say I'm a naughty person at all. I was loud and had quite a bright personality. I was pretty intense, couldn't focus, I just wanted to do what I wanted to do - skateboard or look out the window and see what that was and I couldn’t sit still and so it was like that kid’s naughty they’re not doing what they told, so put into that box of not a good student. I definitely thought I was dumb for a long time because I wasn't doing well at school and like I'm just not smart, I couldn’t do anything right.
When I was younger I complained a lot about having difficulty with reading and I was like I can't read like I just don't understand. I thought about the possibilities of maybe being a bit dyslexic and I remember my mum kind of talking to me a little bit about it but I kind of always just shrugged it off. I mean I was still getting by for most years so I didn't really get pushed into going to receive a diagnosis. And then once I got into my high school years, that's when I started struggling more and a few of my mates got diagnosed with ADHD and I guess I never fully related to them cos they were all boys and the symptoms are very different. So it went unnoticed for a long time cos I was only diagnosed when I was 17. It wasn't like I particularly cared because I knew that I did have other things that I enjoyed. I mean I did have a lot of fun at school, hung out with friends and I could skate there but when it came down to academic side of things, it was already in my head that that wasn't my thing and that was okay because I had other things I could do, which was karate and skateboarding and so that's what I did and that's what I focused on.
I picked up karate when I was eight. I guess as soon as I did it I just was like this is so cool and just like you're using your whole body and it had my attention. I just had this focus for it. In my year there were a whole bunch of boys who did karate because one of the boys’ dads owned the dojo, so he'd pick everyone up after school in his seven-seater van and would take everyone to the dojo.
So my first grading was when I was eight. I really enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun. We did fighting katas and then it came to getting our belts. What happens is your names are called and you stand up in groups usually and they tell you what belt you got. And so they started from like the higher grades and they told them all the grades. And then it went to my group of friends and so they all stood up. They went to their orange belts, I was like oh my goodness I didn't pass, like I haven't done anything, you know, and then he got me to stand up with a group of kids who were already orange belts and graded me to my blue belt so I skipped a couple belts. And I think that really just made me like oh I can do this. Yeah I just made being super excited about it. I was probably running around everywhere super happy.
Then I just went up the grades as you normally do. When I was about year eight to year nine that's when I trained really really hard. So I became a candidate for my black belt and you take like a good six months to train for that one. So we did things like the hell test, that's what we call it, which is where you go and stay the night at the dojo and you train and then you get woken up at five in the morning and you go for a run and then you do more training. It's like a sort of weekend thing and then it became after school every day for four hours, I’d do all the classes so there were about four classes. At this point I was at high school I was year nine. So I’d walk from school, go to the dojo, train for four hours and then they do this routine that you have to build for your black belt which is a self-defense routine. So they give you a list of a whole bunch of techniques and you have to incorporate it into a routine. It had all of my attention, all my energy and then I did my black belt grading at the end of my year nine and it was going pretty well. We had the news there, that was because I was the youngest female in New Zealand to be getting her black belt.
Towards the end of my grading, we do tameshiwari, which is breaking blocks, so we're breaking wood and I broke my first piece that was elbow and then I came up to the second one. I lined it up and we were punching It, so just knuckles onto the wood and as I was punching it, I leant back a bit and so I ended up punching with my two last – you’re meant to punch with your two front knuckles and I ended up falling back a bit and so I punched with my two last ones and ended up breaking my hand. At that point we still had sparring to go and I just remember looking at it and I was like oh that's not good. And I tapped my shihan on the shoulder, which is like a sensei but above, and I was like oh I think I dislocated my finger and he was like okay we’ll wrap it up. And then as we're wrapping it up I just started crying and it wasn't even cos it really hurt but I was just in shock and I was like I've just screwed up this whole six months of my life, like it's out the door just like that, in an instant, because I punched this board wrong. And he was like oh you can opt out you've done enough; you've got your black belt. And I guess like kyokushin is very - that’s the style of karate I do, kyokushin - and it’s very like full contact and you know the karate way, it’s just like you're not gonna pull out of your grading, you know, I was like I can’t do that. And so I kept on going and did all my fights with one hand, so I was just punching with that one hand and I was tired so I was just doing little kicks. And that was a lot. That was pretty intense.
Finally, at the end of the day, I got my black belt and that was really emotional, just like I was so exhausted and just was so overwhelmed and so excited and just happy that I had gotten it and then it was off to A&E after that. They had to reset my finger and then cast me up and I went back home and we all celebrated.
That was my junior black belt since I was only 13, you have to be 16 to be eligible for an adult one and so after that I did some teaching for a bit. I think having that responsibility at that age was something really good for me. Any kid would kind of benefit off that and being able to work with those little kids definitely allowed me to show my appreciation to the dojo. It just kept me really involved since I was at that period where I had to wait another three years to actually do my senior black belt and it was also something I really enjoyed. I felt like I was achieving something.
When I got to high school there was a lot of concern around my focus. The school thought it was like behavioral problems and all of that cos that year I was just super dooper intense and excited about being at high school and just ran around everywhere and just, you know, had a bit of fun. I remember my teacher letting me go out and go skate around the block and then come back in and do my work and, you know, she was experimenting and trying to find my way of learning which was super cool and she expressed some concern to the school about me struggling with passing my NCEA.
I think a lot of my teachers sort of realized and was like oh this kid needs help. So after that my dad and I had a meeting with the school, put some things in place, and then they said learning services were going to come talk to me. And then after that I kept on struggling a bit with school, always have like needed extra help to get to the line, and I was getting that help from teachers without having any diagnosis, which was good, and then I talked to my dean about it, I was like oh I’m just really struggling.
My main issue was reading I was like I can't read properly like I'm reading the same page over and over again like I can't get through a book and then he was like maybe you should look into like ADHD. So I talked to dad about it and ended up getting an interview at CAMHS. CAMHS is the Child Adolescents Mental Health Services and I'd been there before for some counseling which was really good. I went in there and just like talked about what was happening for me just sort of said everything and then a little while later, an email got sent to my dad saying that I did have ADD or ADHD. They were just saying you can come in and stuff and will talk about like strategies.
Since receiving that diagnosis I've really been able to sort of realize where my struggles are and strategize around that. I guess I've just realized how ADHD I actually am as well. It’s been a really good thing, for ages it was just like the way it is. I was just so lost with what actually was happening and I think I always kind of knew there might be something going on there. Now that I've grown up and matured a lot more, the kind of struggles I was facing are so much more pronounced to me. I couldn't really see how much I was challenged by school probably because my brain can't comprehend that many tasks at the same time, like it all just gets too much, like I cannot prioritize things for my life. I cannot make plans with someone because I’ll try to do them all and I'll just get like too distracted on one thing and I can't like mentally map out the timescape for like when I need do things. I think now since receiving that diagnosis, I've learned so much and I still am about what it actually means to be ADHD and I'm learning like where I struggle.
I don’t know, you can find community in a lot of places. I found mine in skateboarding and karate. The good thing about skateboarding is it is such a sport of low judgment in a lot of ways because people just wanna have a good time, they want to achieve the same goal. There’s such a community and everyone just hypes each other up. It’s wicked. There's a lot more girls now who are competing in skating which is so cool. I always find I progress so fast when I skate with them, having the girls who are sort of at the same level and can relate to each other more and you just go through the roof with like trying new tricks and especially with the whole vibe that's going on. Everyone's just like super pumped up, you progress really fast.
Karate definitely was like a big outlet for me. It's like one of those things when you find something, and you become so obsessed with it, and you just like wanna learn more. It’s that thing with ADHD and hyper-focusing, you can just go there and just like zone in to what you're doing and it was a big contrast I reckon to high school just having that place.
I think having those community groups is really important and my life wouldn’t be the same without them and I'm really grateful. I definitely think my life would be a lot different if I didn't have those and probably not in a good way.
And even friends, I think friends is like a really strong place for me, I have really strong friend group. A lot of them who have struggles similar to mine and that's really great being able to talk to people who kind of get you. But no, it's definitely very much one of the biggest things in my life are definitely my friends, especially being a teenager. Your friends are everything, because yeah you grew up with them, you go through all the same changes, you find yourself alongside them. I think I've built a really strong group of friends and they're really supportive. It’s a really cool thing to just have like a conversation and just talk about the same things and have guidance and similarities and I guess some reassurance.
Me and a lot of my friends will play music together, go skateboarding together, I have a lot of friends I did karate with, surf together, draw together, just mess around and hang out and be kids. All my friends are very passionate about the same things that I am, which is really cool, and makes the bond that we have super strong, which is awesome.
HOST: ADHD - I cannot imagine what it's like but I can relate to her struggling at school. I have dyslexia myself. I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on my work. The example of how Gala used to get out of her classroom when she needed to have some fresh air and then her teacher will let her go out and have a little skate around and stuff, I reckon that is good for the mind for youngins especially because you know we can't sit in the classroom for like two hours straight. Our minds start, you know, just getting distracted thinking you want to do something silly in classroom, so therefore there's always that one person that does something silly in the classroom. So that’s wise cos you can't sit there for like two hours and stuff you know. Some people do need to have some fresh air time and their own mindset time to themselves and stuff.
Gala uses skating as her getaway. It seems like that's what she does in her own free time and her freedom. It must be good for her mindset going out skating and stuff like you know she’ll go out by herself and then go skate on the ramps and stuff, have some fun and take out all her issues or something like that, on the ramps and stuff you know. But it is a genuine rush thing too skating, you know. Talent, I’d say you have to have talent to skate so you know that is pretty cool.
She’s talking lots about karate, how it was her goal to achieve stuff to make her feel good. It is a great outlet to have for young people like that especially.
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How to help someone going through a similar experience
If someone you know is going through what Gala has experienced, you can help.
Reflecting on Gala's story
Gala’s story highlights the importance of parents and guardians encouraging natural passions in young people. Gala’s parents saw at an early age that she was very energetic and adventurous. By giving her outlets for that, like skateboarding and karate, they helped her develop important passions.
When Gala was at school, she found her attention wandered. She felt misunderstood by her teachers, who did not always know how best to help her. Later in her education, she asked her school for extra support so she could pass NCEA as she had received a diagnosis of ADHD. For Gala, this diagnosis helped her better understand herself and what strategies could help her be successful.
Her talent in skateboarding and karate, as well as the supportive communities she found through these passions, helped build her resilience, confidence and sense of belonging.
What have you learned from listening to Gala's story?