It's ADHD Awareness Month and now I have an ADHD diagnosis
October is ADHD (Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder) Awareness month and yes, it’s the end of October and yes, you’d be forgiven for thinking this post is published late because it’s written by a person with ADHD.
But, I am only writing this piece now because I was diagnosed last week; on Wednesday, 19 October at 2:30pm, to be exact.
I’m 45-years-old and I only started suspecting I was living with ADHD about two years ago when a client asked if I had it and was visibly shocked when I said no.
“Are you sure?” she asked. “You seem pretty textbook.”
Now, I grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s when ADHD was a label they stuck on naughty kids – boys, mostly. I was a chatty student, often distracted, disorganised, and wasn’t good at listening to instructions, but I wasn’t naughty (okay, I did smoke on the school oval at lunchtimes, but I wasn’t disruptive in class – just absent).
So when my client said it can present differently in people assigned female at birth, I headed to Doctor Google (specifically chadd.org) and see if I matched the traits and symptoms:
· Fails to give close attention to details, or makes careless mistakes
· Has difficulty sustaining attention, does not appear to listen
· Struggles to follow through with instructions, has difficulty with organisation
· Avoids or dislikes tasks requiring sustained mental effort, loses things easily
· Is easily distracted, is forgetful in daily activities
It took me a couple of times to read it because I was distracted and there are a lot of words there, but yes to all of those things.
But it’s not just the attention deficit, it’s also the hyperactivity, which, when tested, I presented most prominently with:
· Talks excessively
· Fidgets and often needs to get up and walk around
· Acts impulsively or speaks before thinking
· Appears to daydream but says thoughts feel like they are “going a million miles a minute” and has trouble keeping her mind on one topic
· Easily makes friends but has difficulty sustaining friendships
· Self-harming activities, or participates in activities that require extreme and unhealthy self-discipline
· Adopts compensatory strategies, leading to working two to three times as hard as peers in order to be equally successful
· Fears rejection by peers or friends and clings to other people, or remains in unhealthy relationships
I identify with all of these things and I always have, which all came out when I was talking with the assessing psychiatrist during my diagnosis last week.
Although I was always distracted and talkative, and every school report said I would do so much better if I wasn’t so chatty, primary school was quite okay.
I think this is because I was busy being in the orchestra, choir, and drama and dance outside of school, and I had a hectic social life – all of which was organised and directed by teachers and parents.
High school was harder. Much harder.
There were different classrooms to remember, folders, handouts, teachers’ names, assemblies, meetings, activities to get to, changes in timetables, not to mention assignments and homework for every different subject, and hormones.
I tried really hard, but I couldn’t keep the books or folders in order and would usually end up with bits of torn and scrunched paper in the bottom of my bag, and I tried to keep my timetable in my pocket all the time, but then I’d forget it was there and put it through the wash so I was never in the right place and never on time.
Assignments got beyond me because, while I had the capability, I lacked the discipline and focus and would often tune out during the explanation and get stuck when it came time to complete it; but then I’d be too scared to ask in case I got in trouble (because of RSD – Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, another symptom of ADHD, which means you are more sensitive to rejection).
Add to that living in unexplained pain due to undiagnosed endometriosis – and, subsequently, lots of sick days - and it was just easier to drop out of school and go to work.
After a few years of working in hospitality and having some of the best fun of my life, I thought I’d have another crack at study; I sat the Special Tertiary Admissions Test to get into uni and I completed a four year degree in five years and became a teacher.
This time, I put in place a stack of measures to help me to not lose my job: I printed colour-coordinated timetables and stuck them on my laptop, diary, roll book, desk, and every single one of the folders that were colour-coordinated to match the timetable.
I wrote everything down, always, and I had labelled in-trays for everything and would send myself emails and reminders about things so I didn’t forget them. Exhausting, but helpful.
But if I had a bad week, or something interrupted my schedule, or if I put something in the wrong in-tray or folder, it would upend everything and throw me into chaos and spinning me into a downward spiral, which can be difficult to emerge from.
I left teaching after about ten years because of my physical health (endo, pregnancy losses, adenomyosis) but the relief I feel now that I work for myself on my own schedule, and on my own terms, is out of this world.
Now I have an ADHD diagnosis, I realise a big part of the relief I feel is because I function better when I can be a bit all over the place and march to the beat of my own drum.
Now that I have an ADHD diagnosis, I can work on understanding myself better and feel good about the measures I have already put in place to help me function, and build on them to be even better.
Now that I have an ADHD diagnosis, I’m keen to see if medication can help me with the roadblocks my own brain puts up that stops me from doing things I am perfectly capable of doing, but just can’t do sometimes.
Now that I have an ADHD diagnosis, I know a lot of people will say to me, ‘Oh yes, that's just life', or 'Everyone is a little ADHD/ASD/OCD sometimes’ and I know it will hurt because they are dismissing something that has interrupted my life and progress in so many ways, but I will get used to it and forgive them because if they had to deal with any level of neurodivergence they certainly wouldn’t say careless things (also, perhaps they might want to look into their own diagnosis).
Now that I have an ADHD diagnosis, I can stop getting angry with myself for all the frustrating things I do that I can’t help doing. I can forgive myself and spend less time hating myself for not being normal and more time being accepting of me and others, because I get it now.
Now that I have an ADHD diagnosis, I feel free.
Now that I have an ADHD diagnosis, I feel like I can soft-reset my life and do it properly this time.
By Libby Trainor Parker
Photo by That Photography Place