I know the title is pretty blunt but I couldn’t figure out a more dignified way of blurting out, I HAVE ADHD. So there it is, I’m 40 next year and have only recently been diagnosed with ADHD.
The 4 regular readers of this blog are probably thinking, is this new information? Didn’t you know this already? Isn’t it obvious?
And they’re kind of right. I have suspected for the last year that this is the case. One of my 4 followers went to primary school with me and is possibly shouting at the screen, ONLY THE LAST YEAR? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? And my ex teaching colleague who reads my blog is probably thinking, did you not see the state of your desk? Again, they’re right. The signs were all there, they’ve always been there, and yes, I’m in the severe range. In fact, in news that probably also shocks nobody, I’m severe for the severe range.
I have a family history of ADHD and related conditions, I have dyslexia and 40% of dyslexics have ADHD (more people have ADHD than dyslexia so 40% of people with ADHD don’t have dyslexia, a much lower amount of people with ADHD have dyslexia), and I have every single symptom aside from addiction to substances (Find a definition of ADHD and its symptoms at the end of this blog entry). So how did it take so long for me to realise this and for me to get diagnosed?
Firstly, I was born in the late 70s and started schooling in the 80s. I went to a regional primary school that was so small that it had composite classes. Dyslexia and ADHD were not on their radar. My dyslexica didn’t get picked up until university. And I did pretty well academically, always got somewhere in the top 3 for my tests in primary school (except spelling tests). Even in modern education students often get overlooked unless they’re doing poorly academically.
I was bright enough but just kept making errors. Fellow people with dyslexia and or ADHD know what they were called, right? Careless, silly or lazy mistakes. They weren’t enough to have me completely bottom out, I still did okay, but they were enough to get me called careless, lazy or silly on a daily basis, at school and at home. They were enough to get me a five minute detention after any spelling test. They were enough to mean I always stuffed up my left and my right. They weren’t enough to stop me from getting into the top class when I entered high school. It fortunately didn’t have a multiple choice component. Things always get weird when colouring in those dots.
I remember in high school, one class where you had to bring a blue pen, a red pen, your book and a ruler to class. That was all. Each item you forgot, you got 5 minutes worth of detention. I could always remember my book and a pen. That was it. I got detention ever week. The teacher, to their credit, would let me off if nobody else was around to see it, or let me off a few moments after the seconf last kid had done their time. They understood I was a scatter brain and detention wasn’t working but rules were rules.
I came to believe what I was told. My problem was that I was careless and lazy. As I got older the message got slightly more sophisticated, I was a chronic self-sabotager, but deep down I was a crappy, lazy person. Once I had kids it became even worse, you’re just not good enough to be a mum. The constant snippy and judgemental comments only compounded my already bruised self esteem. This combined with exhaustion and lack of support led me into a psychiatric hospital with postnatal depression in 2014. My first blog entry on this can be found here and an expansion on how I had postnatal depression in 2011 can be found here.
So how was it that I got assessed by all these people, even in a psychiatric hospital, with such an obvious history, and nobody picked it up? I honestly have no clue.
However, I do know how I eventually got diagnosed with it after all of this trauma and I can share that with you. The answer is simple, after my stay in the psychiatric hospital I found the greatest psychologist ever. Actually, I didn’t find her, one of my fellow patients recommended her. And we took a long journey together of piecing together my sense of self and restoring my self worth. After a long process of self reflection, I came to realise that all those things I was brushing off as, oh I’m just doing that because I’m a bad person, I’m lazy and I suck, might not be true. Because of therapy I liked myself enough to think, hey, I don’t thoroughly hate myself, I’m not the worst, most lazy person ever, might there be a reason I’m still struggling in these areas that doesn’t involve me being a steaming pile?
And then my husband said a throw away comment to me, “I wonder if your dyslexia is just like extreme ADHD? You can’t even get your brain to focus on the words.” I Googled the link between dyslexia and ADHD, it was there. Because I had already been questioning weather I truly sucked, this meant something and I kept researching. If I was still in the depths of self hatred, this would have meant nothing and I would have shrugged my shoulders and dismissed it. It would just be another thing about me sucking.
After many months of thinking and wondering I went and saw my GP and asked if I could get assessed. She referred me to a psychiatrist who specialises in adult ADHD, we wanted to be sure, and not muck around. Yes it was a long wait but I didn’t want any mistakes made.
Through my diagnosis with depression I have been prescribed a number of different medications. None have been particularly effective. One had some short term benefits, that lasted only three months but the side effects were so much worse than any of the short term benefits, and when they stopped the doctor agreed I could come off it. I didn’t want anymore of that. I wanted someone at the top of their field because I needed to be sure. I only wanted a diagnosis if it was true.
It was true. I have ADHD. I have severe ADHD. The psychiatrist spoke to me about management strategies like schedules and alarms on my phone, all of which I already have but haven’t been working. He congratulated me on remembering my referral, and I smiled so hard because somebody finally got it. He also prescribed me Ritalin. Just a low dose to see if I can tolerate it. I asked him if it was related to Effexor, I’d had such a bad reaction with that drug that I never want to go on anything like it EVER AGAIN. (NOTE: This is a perfectly good drug for other people I know, for me it wasn’t. Please don’t throw out your own Effexor based on it being bad for me) He assured me they were unrelated.
Even though I am on a low dose, I can still notice a tiny difference. I’m less easily frustrated. It is not such a supreme effort to focus that I get angry when people disrupt me. I don’t get so hypo focused that it’s literally painful for me to be pulled from it. I can dip in and out a little easier. I am slightly less frustrated in every interaction, which means that at the end of the day I have only built up to being fairly annoyed and snappy rather than angry and yelling. The 7000 alarms I have set to remind me to do things are now slightly more likely result in an action.
Yesterday morning my husband, who has said he can’t really tell a difference, said that he is feeling more full of love for me of late. He can claim he sees no difference but evidently there is. It’s small, it has a flow on effect. It has been positive. Of course I still get frustrated and will continue to do so even when the dose is increased, but I can see there has been a positive effect. It has helped me with the thing I had hoped antidepressants would help with, me feeling like total shit.
I’m a bit emotional about the negative side effects my body has endured from antidepressants (AGAIN NOTE: that does not mean everyone has negative side effects, don’t go off your own helpful meds because I reacted badly to them) that I possibly never needed. I’m also a bit emotional about the fact I’m not exactly a subtle case and yet so many professionals missed it. I had to essentially diagnose myself first. We go to doctors expecting them to help us and yet so many times we get dismissed as the hysterical women who just needs to calm down a bit. It’s a stereotype that needs to die. But I am also grateful to finally be on the right track with something that looks like it will work for me.
I’m not going to lie, my self esteem is probably still not as great as the average person’s, a lifetime of mismanagement doesn’t just evaporate, but it’s getting up there. It was high enough to make me question and think, and that was enough. And sometimes not despising yourself is all the progress you need to get you to the next level. When people say baby steps, they’re not kidding. All this stuff takes thousands of baby steps. Be proud of each little one you take.
Some websites my psychiatrist recommended I check out:
Wondering what ADHD is? This is what the NSW government has to say:
ADHD is a condition characterised by the symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. While these symptoms are normal characteristics experienced by all people at one time or another, among individuals who are diagnosed with ADHD, there is an overabundance of these characteristics. Their levels of overactivity, inattention and/or impulsivity are severe and persistent and typically result in performance issues in social, educational or work settings.
While many children and adolescents with ADHD improve as they grow up, many will continue to experience symptoms as an adult. In adulthood the symptoms are typically displayed somewhat differently to the way they are displayed in childhood. A child who squirms, fidgets and is constantly ‘on the go’ may become an adult who is less obviously physically overactive but experiences intense feelings of restlessness. He or she may have troubling relaxing and may overwork. An impulsive child who blurts out answers in class, who constantly interrupts others and talks excessively may become an adult who displays impatience when in queues or whilst driving, and who may be impulsive with spending or quitting jobs. Inattentive children who have difficulty listening and forget their homework may become adults who often complain of losing things, such as keys and wallets, and are often late for appointments.
The main symptoms displayed by children with ADHD vary according to age, but generally about one half will predominantly have inattention problems, a quarter will mainly have hyperactive and impulsive symptoms, while the remainder will have a mixture of these symptoms.
It is common for children with ADHD to have co-occurring psychiatric conditions, the most common of which are disruptive behaviour disorders (‘oppositional defiant disorder’ or ODD – which involves a pattern of arguing with multiple adults, losing one’s temper, refusing to follow rules, blaming others, deliberately annoying others, and being angry, resentful, spiteful, and vindictive; and ‘conduct disorder’ or CD – which is associated with efforts to break rules without getting caught, and may include being aggressive to people or animals, destroying property, lying or stealing, running away, and skipping school), and mood disorders (depression, mania/bipolar disorder and anxiety).
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