Nathan Villaseñor / Daily Nexus

I didn’t think a pair of headphones would change how I experienced the world.

The thrumming of sterile lights. The shuffle of customers, making conversation in tiny aisles.  The broken tune of “welcome to ‘here,’ this is our sale” that an employee played every time someone entered the store. The ever-present echoes of transactions: hollow voices and people fidgeting with currency awkwardly. All vanished.

A couple months ago, in a Best Buy Store, I tried noise-canceling headphones for the first time. It was half peer pressure and half necessity. I hopped on a trend I saw across my university campus that summer. Stylish kids sporting shiny, clunky headphones, decorated with stickers and rhinestones. I liked the way they complimented an outfit and exuded a fresh air that the wearer was “gliding through life.” And, I did need to replace a pair of lost headphones. 

The headphones were the Bose QuietComfort 45. The moment I put them on in the store, the world fell into a wave of nothing. I stood in awe — the sounds I had been so conscious of, down to my very breaths, ceased to be. At first, it was eerie, like the calm before an impending disaster. But the lurking anxiety from the time I walked in was engulfed by a strange easiness, and for the first time, in a place where my senses were typically overloaded, I felt like I could choose what I wanted to focus on.    

That day, I had an epiphany about a world I went 19 years without knowing. At 4 years old, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder of childhood that lasts into adulthood. Children with ADHD may have trouble with “paying attention,” “controlling impulse controls” “or being overly active.” They may also have trouble blocking out irrelevant sensory information, such as certain sounds.

From kindergarten to elementary school, I had frequent emotional outbursts, sometimes even grabbing or biting my classmates, and constantly felt overwhelmed. The lines that made up some semblance of an emotional core were loosely stitched together, and a stream of the most intense feelings swelled up until they eventually — always — poured out. 

Throughout the years, I swallowed the overconfident, hyperactive girl who caused problems. She still screamed inside the concaves of my head, but I got better at stopping the sound from leaking. So badly, I wanted a turn-off switch to shut off the noise. And here was a Mousekedoer, the magical tool coming right at the moment of need. 

I didn’t think I needed Mousekedoers anymore. But I realized, as the crash of beeps and buzzes cleared, that I could think without the usual disruptions: sudden shrill noises, the echoes of conversation, skidding tires on the road. And I realized just how much I still struggle.

It’s hard to acknowledge the disorder you grew up trying to erase still affects you. 

From my early primary school days, I had struggled more with the “hyperactive” part of ADHD but was still inattentive. 

In classes, I couldn’t read my “cats” and “dogs” from the storybook like the other kids could. I would become high-strung if the seat I usually sat in, the one I designated my spot, was moved or taken by someone else. My mother sent me to after-school tutoring centers, where I became their problem child for a couple hours. I was put into special education classes, where I was, most of the time, the only kid there, playing board games with an adult to — probably — socialize me. The memory is blurry.

In those first 10 years of my life, I felt biologically flawed. Not in the sense that I understood my condition and body so well as a child or that that statement is true, but that I could not communicate or connect with anyone the way I desired.

My attempts at making quality, lasting relationships with my peers were unsuccessful. I was too jubilant in my excitement. Too quick to speak in conversation. Too easy to upset when something didn’t go my way. So I became an outcast, in some ways, to my peers. There was some physical harassment, but the worst to me was the ousting. When I came to school in the early morning and the girls huddled before the class door and whispered, eyes darting toward me. In middle school, when kids become meaner, a classmate sent me online messages telling me to kill myself. 

I’m not alone in my experiences either. Research has shown that children with ADHD are less well-liked than their neurotypical peers and are more likely to be bullied. I wondered if other people with ADHD also tried to minimize their experiences. 

In those transitional years, I told myself that I was the problem. I firstly deserved to be treated harshly by my teachers, mentors and peers, and secondly, believed I was incapable of doing anything great. I learned that my “isms” and quirks were parts of the disruptive, unproductive problem pie. So I was quieter, more contained and far more nervous. 

The biological constraint, I thought, was like an immovable rock. While no fault to the overachievers, every time I heard someone brag about how they breezed through their early school years, my eye twitched. Because I got stuck on homework problems, 20 minutes for their five.

In all this misunderstanding and confusion, I had no choice but to cope with the outer world. 

Although my ADHD symptoms shifted throughout my young adulthood, putting on noise-canceling headphones for the first time changed how I experienced everything.

Instead of being a victim of my surroundings, I could choose what I wanted to focus on. I could fixate on what I planned to eat for the day instead of the din of motors or distant conversation. 

It wasn’t just the sound that had changed. Streetcars roaring distantly, the scraping of metal chairs against tile, conversations meshing together incomprehensibly whilst terribly audible — catalysts in my internal battle for coveted, unequivocal focus. As an adult, focus, or the lack of it, always costs something.

Walking on campus with my noise-canceling headphones allows me to focus on what I just learned in a lecture. What I want to eat for dinner. Who I need to email back. Moreso, I can key in on what’s in front of me. The words on posters, books, signs — textual elements that can now fall into memory-serving schemas as they should. By being able to turn my hearing on and off, I have bodily autonomy. 

When noise falters my focus, I lose efficiency and, furthermore, my ability to do tasks on time. In my journey to college and advancing myself professionally, I’ve strived to be excellent and begun to accept nothing less than perfection for myself. The result, when I don’t live up to those stupid expectations, is the devaluation of my self-worth. My mind isn’t necessarily built for a society that’s governed by and awards efficiency. 

My experience at Best Buy forced me to reckon that my condition, even today, causes me to struggle compared to my neurotypical peers. I thought of myself as so far removed from symptoms of the past that I failed to really grapple with how it affected me presently. That it could still affect me for years in the near future. While I knew my symptoms were still there, I didn’t think it was so strong to say I am deeply impacted by my childhood disorder. 

I described how I felt about the headphones to my friend. She stared, with a slight gape in her mouth that told me she was trying to understand but didn’t know how to. Maybe this wasn’t so normal.

I don’t want to say I have ADHD because I want to seem excellent. I want to be viewed for my accomplishments and achievements. If there’s a reason for anyone to doubt me, I don’t want it to be for inattentiveness or disorganization when it’s caused by a disorder I cannot entirely control. And I don’t want people to take pity on me for it either. To think, “Wow, you did this — you broke past society’s detrimental reductions.”

So far, I’ve portrayed ADHD as a constraint. It does make my day-to-day life more difficult, yes. But I’ve also come to learn ADHD is crazy, beautiful and strange in the best ways. 

I sit for hours doing a task I love. I create positive energy around me with my impulsivity and playfulness. I tackle any issue creatively, in a way no one else can.

I still don’t fully understand how ADHD affects me now, as ADHD research in adults is underdeveloped. Academia has called the diagnosis of ADHD too frequent, often due to the cases of misdiagnoses. Meanwhile, social media trends have attached the word ADHD to nearly anything, creating confusion about what this disorder means. 

But I know that it is one part that makes me who I am. ADHD is my beast and my angel. It is the clockwork of my brain that runs counter to the norm. It doesn’t necessarily define me, but it plays a great role in forming who I am.

As I wear my noise-canceling headphones, I at least have the headspace to think about what ADHD means to me.

Lizzy Rager grew up watching the “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” and wishes Mousekedoers were real.

A version of this article appeared on p. 14 of the February 22, 2024 print edition of the Daily Nexus. 


Lizzy Rager
Lizzy Rager (she/her) is the Assistant News Editor for the 2024-25 school year. She can be reached at