women with her back turned and open arms looking over to a view of houses with the sun shining
women with her back turned and open arms looking over to a view of houses with the sun shining

Lived experience: My ADHD diagnosis as an adult

I sat in the attic and cried. The more I looked around the more I sobbed. And although the tears came quickly, I still felt a knot in my throat.

I sat in the attic and cried. The more I looked around the more I sobbed. And although the tears came quickly, I still felt a knot in my throat. That knot, I realised later, wouldn’t be gone for weeks.

I was surrounded by yards of different types of fabric, some neatly folded and others haphazardly stuffed in a plastic bag. I collected all the pretty colours and patterns, but I had only made a couple of things with my 11 year old sewing machine. I looked over at the two pieces of ceramics still waiting to be glazed 8 months later. My eyes fell on the tub of yarn and it reminded me of the weaving I started but never finished. My husband’s words kept echoing in my head “Is this going to be another SLR camera type hobby?”. This comment was now a regular friendly jab after I decided, early in our relationship, that I needed all the equipment necessary to take up photography and then used it once. All my hobbies were just a flash in the pan of extreme passion where I went all in for a short time.

A couple of months earlier our son had been diagnosed with ADHD, after years of us trying to understand why he wasn’t like all other kids. My darling boy was pretty close to the perfect specimen for a combined presentation of ADHD. That’s the thing about the diagnostic manual, it’s based on hyperactive little boys.

Although ADHD has a high rate of heritability, it took a few months for the penny to drop. I always thought my terrible memory issues were related to a brain injury as a child. I thought my penchant for procrastinating was just me being lazy. I put down my emotional regulation difficulties to being from a feisty cultural background. I could rationalise anything!

Once I realised that perhaps there was something more to me, I asked my parents about my childhood. According to them there was nothing out of the ordinary to report, I was an energetic tomboy who often lost track of what I was doing and where I was going. Their favourite and constant saying even now in my forties is “if your head wasn’t attached to your body, you’d lose that too. I dug further. “So what was I like at daycare and school?” I almost fell out of my unicorn when they casually mentioned that I was kicked out of daycare for biting, trying to run away and refusing to eat. Wowzers! That would have been good to know. I wasn’t upset with them though. I guess I did reasonably well at school, went to university and got a degree so they didn’t see an issue.

My career does not have major red flags. I was lucky to get many opportunities to change roles, which kept me interested. I function well under pressure so apart from blurting out my thoughts without consideration for office politics, I did well, but not well enough to be promoted up the ranks. For fear of forgetting things, I was annoyingly particular about keeping track of all tasks, even irrelevant ones that most people just remember. Definitely a source of friction with some of the people I had to manage. To them it was micromanaging and to me it was a coping mechanism.

To my close and oldest friends I think I’m seen as slightly ditsy, blunt, very helpful but probably a bit too talkative. A few years ago, after an argument with a university friend, I asked a close friend what she thought of me and she said “I love you because I know you, but to those who don’t know you you can come across rude” The thing is, I really try to hold back on what I say, but sometimes it just comes out of my mouth. Holding it together and keeping the thoughts in my head makes me zone out in conversations.

As I processed all this information I started to uncover all the other weird coping mechanisms I had created. Firstly came the need to control everything so I could ease my anxiety of failing. Super annoying to everyone around me! My perfectionist tendencies were right at home with the need to control. I also worked out that I’m a people pleaser. Awesome! That little trait was a keeper because it also provided the pressure I needed. I’d say yes to everything, even when I was drowning, because it kept my body pumping adrenaline. The pressure was making me perform well in daily life, and subconsciously I knew if I could keep that going, everything would be peachy.

Except Covid and lockdown hit. A delightful combo of lack of structure and constant sensory overwhelm, kindly supplied by a trifecta of two children and a dog. My house of cards started falling down. Soon I was calling my doctor asking for help. I found myself at the bottom of a well that I couldn’t crawl out of. Despite this, I was still riding the undulating waves of hyperfocus and complete exhaustion. One day I was patting myself on the back and the next I was berating myself. The ADHD tax increased because I kept missing details or forgetting important dates. If you don’t know what ADHD tax is let me give you an example. I forgot to complete my car registration process because I got distracted midway, the ADHD tax came months later in the form of a fine when I got pulled over by police for driving a car with an expired registration.

My doctor, who I have known for 11 years, kindly suggested I see a psychiatrist, gave me a referral and put a deadline on it. She knew I needed accountability and pressure to get it done or I’d never follow through. I’m glad I did.

Fast forward a few months of processing my diagnosis, trialling medication and uncovering my sensory triggers, and I’m in a much better place. I give myself some grace as a mother and I’m trying to dismantle some of the unhealthy coping mechanisms. I don’t want to promote toxic positivity, but my diagnosis has been empowering. Knowing how my brain functions has made me more forgiving of my weaknesses and is helping me leverage my strengths.

If you are wondering or questioning whether you have ADHD, I suggest looking into it. You have nothing to lose but a lot to win. Book an appointment with a doctor and get a referral to see a psychiatrist. I know this sounds trite, but you got this.

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