By Jess Esmond
Let’s begin with a history for context, albiet a less formal one than I gave in the seemingly endless forms I had to fill out for my ADHD referral. My brain has always moved in 20 directions at once, with thoughts bouncing, racing, scrambling over each other, regardless of whether I’m trying to work, sleep or socialise. Mentally, I am exhausted and physically simultaneously like I’m over stretched and made of tangled elastic and wound so tight with anxiety that I’m going to about to implode.
Surely this was a “normal” way to think and feel, other people didn’t find life so constantly overwhelming. I was just poor at regulating my thoughts and behaviours. I wasn’t even aware women could have ADHD. But like many others, I had a growing awareness of the condition and neurodiversity, and I started to feel like maybe there was a reason I’m, well, me.
When discussing the possibility of my own ADHD with friends, no one seemed surprised, but quite a few were cautious. One friend asked me, “Would diagnosis really change anything for you?’.
Frankly, I had been diagnosed with anxiety and depression over and over again and after 20 years in and out of mental health care and therapy I was resigned to the fact that I would never understand myself. I’d always be a bit of a mess, unorganised, emotional and anxious. Plus it was complicated to get a diagnosis and the waiting lists were long.
But I persisted, and spoke to another friend, who has ADHD and joined the ADHD womens Reddit, where I read hundreds of threads of different peoples experiences and symptoms. It was a revelation, it was like reading my own words, although I told myself I was probably just making it up.
I also read up on the options of private diagnosis, as I was impatient as always to jump ahead and not thinking about what it would mean if I was actually diagnosed, I impulsively booked an appointment in a month’s time.
The run up to the diagnosis was somehow simultaneously stressful and dull. I was horrified to learn you have to do a lot of pre diagnosis paperwork. Forms where you have to write about l your lived experience thus far, your basic details, and a form where someone close to you has to detail how you come across. The last one is hard to find when you find it hard to foster and maintain connections with family and friends due to emotional regulation, which can be a symptom of ADHD.
I thought I had outdone myself by sending the forms a week early, only to have the doctor email me the day before to tell me they hadn’t received any forms and could I please complete them promptly. This was followed by an evening spent in bits, realising I’d written them and hasn’t saved them, a common pattern.
I completed them in a panic, struggling to complete forms I’d already filled out and worried I’d get wrong. I imagined the doctor telling me I was an idiot and that I’d wasted their time, my own low self esteem once again rioting with free reign around my brain kicking up anxiety and fear, another symptom of ADHD.
I zoned out towards the end of the appointment, missing the doctor’s diagnosis and closing comments. Had I been diagnosed? I was feeling fidgety and vulnerable after an hour and a half of discussing my history and the feelings and behaviours which I had become skilled at intensely masking and internalising.
“What comes next?’ I asked them, not wanting to admit my mind had drifted off.
“We’ll be in touch with a report and to discuss medication.”
Medication means a diagnosis of something, right? He’s definitely just going to diagnose you as an idiot, the unhelpful voice in the back of my head shouted.
4 days later the diagnostic report arrived. Mixed type ADHD, a combination of inattentive
and Hyperactive/impulsive. Having to read a 9 page report on yourself is pretty demoralising, but it was reading my own experience, and reading the words “diagnosis: ADHD F90.2 Mixed Type” something somewhere inside me clicked, a small seed of acceptance.
I am different, I am neurodiverse. My brain doesn’t have to function a certain way, there is a reason why my brain often feels like scrambled egg.
No, ADHD isn’t a reason for everything in my life, nor my only personality trait. I’m still me, but I am learning to understand myself, and maybe learn to accept myself. Even better, there are lots of other people like me, whose minds also function in a myriad of different ways and that ADHD is not simply a diagnosis of an illness to be cured. It’s a condition, it’s life long, you’re born with it, I was born with ADHD and I will always have ADHD and I am proud of this diagnosis for myself.
Yes, it does mean that certain things in my life are harder, things that the non ADHD-er might not think about much at all, organisation, memory, impulse control, high rejection sensitivity and reactivity. But that’s not because I’m bad at life, that’s not even a thing. That’s my low self esteem, another common ADHD trait in women. Diagnosis and accepting myself as neurodiverse has given me confidence and clarity in ways I have never felt before.
My diagnosis is relatively fresh, and I’ve kept it to myself, even though part of me thought I’d just run headlong into my new ADHD life (whatever that is) and figure myself out and “get better”. Unsurprisingly, this is a very ADHD thought. But that’s not how minds or neurodiversity works, it’s not a case of fixing or curing, it’s about acceptance and accommodating, and that starts with finally starting to accept and accommodate myself.
David Levy, editor of ‘The Frame’, founder of www.adhdcounselling.uk, and a BACP-registered counsellor, shares his top tips for ADHD-ers:
- Don’t let the criticism or scepticism ruin your day, let alone question your identity. It’s neurodiversity’s turn. For neurodiversity, see: race, religion, sexual identity, gender identity, anxiety, depression… the list goes on. Educate yourself; allow others to be educated by you.
- Allow yourself to fail. One experience and all experiences are not the same thing.
- Learn to use a tool before judging yourself on the success in adopting it. Don’t give up on your to-do list because you didn’t use it yesterday. Practice. Refine. Build the relationship between your mind and an action.
- Define your tasks. What does your to-do list need to contain? What are you struggling with? What’s the purpose of the exercise you’re about to do? What’s an acceptable result?
- Plan the person, not the work. How much can you realistically expect yourself to complete? You may have 8 hours of work, but how many times have you planned to do everything and struggled?
- Change is not the challenge. Maintenance and tolerance of lacking change is. You may have found a habit that works. Resist the urge to modify it, change to a different app, or ‘start again’. Remember you have ADHD. Think like an ADHD person. Maintenance is medicinal.
- Psycho-educate yourself in a way that works for you.. Yes, there are a lot of excellent 200-300 page books out there. Do you usually read 200-300 page books and retain the information? Look to podcasts, YouTube, et al. Find support in the form that works for you. Online support groups can be affirming and validating, and counselling support can be invaluable as you navigate some difficult emotional waters.
Jess Esmond is a trainee counsellor
Jess is on Twitter and Instagram @jezmondy