A Chat About: ADHD
"It is a bit cliche to say you have always known you were different, but for me, that was the case."
Somewhat ironically, I am typing out this article on the day of the deadline, which I am definitely going to miss since I managed to lose my entire bag on the metro this morning. While losing something so monumental is not so common for me, struggling with time management certainly is. All in all, today has been very emblematic of having freshly diagnosed, barely treated ADHD.
I have combined presentation ADHD, which means I live with “both sides” of the disorder: hyperactivity and inattentiveness. Both together can lead to somewhat contradictory statements, such as the fact that I will often either forget about or procrastinate an essay deadline, yet the adrenaline rush of being so close to the wire will lead to being laser-focused on my objectives and completing them quickly.
It is a bit cliché to say you have always known you were different, but for me, that was the case. Notwithstanding my physical disability (Cerebral Palsy), I always found it difficult to connect with my peers. I am a daydreamer and a chatterbox, which was sometimes a little much for my classmates to handle. It felt like I was operating on a different frequency to them, and none of us understood each other particularly well.
Though my wild imagination gave me solace in books, giving me a strong grounding in literacy, which enabled me to achieve a lot despite my lapses in attention. Such gave adults the impression that they did not need to worry too much about me; they believed any time I would glaze over was simply the result of me being “a gifted child” who was just not receiving enough intellectual stimulation.
However, this was not the case, and with the benefit of hindsight, it should have been more obvious. My impulsivity is pretty clear to anyone who’s spoken to me outside of a controlled environment, while my hyperactivity always makes an appearance after sitting for any amount of time longer than an hour.
I think people have this idea that being “high functioning” makes your symptoms essentially invisible, and that any “benefits” of your condition must outweigh any “costs.” Though I wouldn’t change my ADHD, I disagree that it’s some kind of superpower. The hyperfocus that’s pushing me to write this article will come with burnout, as it has done every single time thus far. My imagination can also mutate into anxiety quickly, and it’s just generally exhausting to be on a rollercoaster between two extremes.
So, why was it missed? My being a girl has a lot to answer for that. ADHD presents differently in boys than it does in girls, and the image of ADHD most people have in their heads is its presentation in boys. Inattentiveness is usually the stronger presentation in girls, which is of course less disruptive than hyperactivity. Yet, the hyperactivity itself can be different too: girls tend to be more mentally hyperactive than physically, which is less apparent.
Despite my intuition, it took three national lockdowns for me to pursue a diagnosis. The lack of stimulation was worse than anything I’d dealt with previously, and I could no longer ignore my symptoms. That being said, I still didn't know what to call them. It took a singer in a band discussing a song which he wrote about his experience with ADHD for me to finally connect the dots. The lightbulb moment was intense, both shocking and a relief all at once.
Once I had time to process my revelation, I sought my disability advisor. After explaining my situation to her, she said, “if you had come to me with these symptoms in first year, I would have referred you for an assessment immediately;” though this seemed a little harsh at the time, it was extremely validating.
After a long-winded assessment, my report clearly indicated ADHD, as well as traits of Dyspraxia (which cannot be diagnosed with formally, since it overlaps too much with my CP). Reading it was enlightening, all the “inconsistencies” that had confused my teachers for years were finally explained by my psychology. Every essay having missed the mark due to skipping words, not noticing I had forgotten to implement a grammatical rule despite understanding the concepts, every silly mistake I made in my calculations, everything made sense.
Yet, I still had a few more hurdles to clear. The first of which was a medical assessment. An educational diagnosis will only give you support while you're in education, and, it is also not sufficient for getting prescribed medication. Though I had the educational report, my GP had little interest in referring me to a psychiatrist, so I had to refer myself privately if I ever wanted support outside university or medication.
This cost me a lot of money: I don’t want to give a figure, but I will say it was between a third and a half of my savings. I am not certain how I feel about it being “worth it.” A diagnosis is of course invaluable, but I do feel anger at the fact I had to pay in the first place. My psychiatrist was understanding of my situation, listened to me, and gave me an extremely detailed report (which included a caveat about my probably being autistic as well).
It was what I needed to start living my life in a way that was kinder to myself. Accepting my ADHD has been a huge part of improving my mental health generally. For example, I have begun to allow myself to stim and fidget to try and regulate my emotions a little better. Being more mindful of my lack of emotional regulation means I am less likely to beat myself over getting upset over small things, which of course is counterproductive.
Yet, I am aware of the limits of this. I have not really been given any therapy or medication to manage my condition. Anyone who’s seen me inhale a double espresso to try and form a coherent sentence knows I probably need medication. I am now painfully aware of the fact I need therapy to deal with the trauma of being undiagnosed for years, whereas I am now aware most of the bullying I endured was due to exhibiting symptoms of my neurodivergence unknowingly. Clearly, I have far to go, but I’m certain I’ll get there in time.