I feel attacked.
Is probably the number 1 comment on majority of my face book posts. And rightfully so, in a playful manner the suggestion of “feeling attacked” is the new way of stating they relate to the content, post or meme.
But the other common comment and message I receive is, people relating to the content I post, on a level that they feel validated to the point of thinking about seeking diagnosis. So what is my thoughts on that and what do I reply to that question.
In my own personal experience, before diagnosis, I had no words to articulate my experience. I thought they were personality faults, maybe something everyone did but I just struggle to cope, some things I was too embarrassed to even share with people – things that seemed so simple and silly, surely they are just things I can work on, I just need to try harder?
The biggest issue for people living with undiagnosed ADHD face is stigma, preconceived ideas and opinions and the misrepresentation of ADHD in the media. The general perceived idea about ADHD is that it’s just for kids. But children don’t hit a magical number and suddenly ADHD is gone.
Depending on many factors, environment, culture, society and genetics – a persons symptoms and struggle with ADHD traits is different for everyone. They may have certain issues when they are a child, they will change with adolescence and adulthood. Some symptoms will not even present as an issue until the support networks of parents and teachers are gone, and it is up to us to navigate the world as adults. Especially if you tend to be more hyperactive or more inattentive – just those two aspects alone, in ADHD manifest in an individual in many ways.
What is and isn’t symptomatic to ADHD can’t be outlined in the DSM5 (the diagnostic ‘rule book’ all psychiatrists need to cross check in order to give a diagnosis) – this is merely a guide to diagnostic criteria, the details and specifics not required for diagnosis is not in there. The finer details of the every day struggle relevant to the individuals specific symptoms is not always going to be known to a psychiatrist. It is our peers who can correlate this for us and is up to our psychiatrists to listen and apply their knowledge of the disorder to the issues we express.
However – another problem us ADHDers face is the attitude of “we all do that sometimes” and therefore is just part of life and something you need to “just get on with”. The reality is, there really are some things we all do and even with a diagnosis, there are parts of life we just have to try do no matter how much of a mental obstacle it is (like our washing, we’re going to have to clean our clothes and fold them at some point..) But for people living with ADHD, what people believe is something all humans do, on a scale of 1 to 10. 1 being never and 10 being all the time – people who have ADHD, pretty much do it all the time.
So if you are sitting there looking at a relatable meme, feeling attacked and called out – wondering, “hey, ya know, these ADHD memes are really hitting the nail on the head” – there is no harm in checking to see if you have ADHD or not. Especially if you are truly struggling with these aspects in your life. A person living with ADHD the small things can truly have a serious impact on their general well being. Feeling like a failure just because you ‘cannot seem to get your life together’ no matter your best efforts can lead to serious mental health implications.
Undiagnosed and untreated ADHD often leads to other mental health issues. Depression and anxiety is often symptomatic of living with undiagnosed ADHD and should not be treated lightly.
The other issue we ADHDers face is gate keeping. Unfortunately, not every GP, psychiatrist and psychologist is aware of what ADHD looks like in adults. It is definitely there in the DSM5 – so why do some people think even after inquiring that you don’t need an ADHD diagnosis?
There are generally 2 reasons for this – ignorance about how ADHD presents in an adult and how debilitating that can be. And the stigma attached to ADHD medication. Symptomatically, a lot of people living with undiagnosed mental health disorders often end up self medicating. Over our lives, we develop coping mechanisms, some good, some bad. Because ADHD medication in most countries is considered a restricted substance – there are people out there who really are drug seeking (Addiction is another very valid mental health issue all on it’s own) and therefore professionals are reluctant to diagnose someone with substance abuse history because they think they are ‘faking it’ to get access to ADHD medication, or may ‘abuse’ their medication.
What I have to say about any psychiatrist or medical health professional with this mentality about not diagnosing someone based on this is, you need to learn more about ADHD, and you definitely should not be ruling that out just because of someone’s history of struggling to cope with life.
A professional in my opinion should at least rule it out and then look at all forms of treatment – if you are someone who has struggled with substance abuse because of your struggle with mental health – there are alternatives to stimulant medication available, non-stimulant types. There are quite a few available, but again this will depend where in the world you live. And my advice to anyone who is coming across people like this who generally dismiss your suspicions – get a new GP, psychiatrist etc if they will not even try looking into it then they have no business in looking after your mental health. Seek out your local ADHD advocacy agency for advice, they often can refer you to people who can and are willing to test you for ADHD.
The key requirements for ADHD diagnosis in an adult are the following: Displaying traits of ADHD before the age of 12 (but not always – more on that in a moment), and struggling with any of the traits outlined in the DSM5 criteria for diagnosis. A psychological assessment should follow (as ADHD traits do sit on a spectrum and look like other disorders, namely Bipolar type-2 and borderline personality disorder) and evidence gathering (if possible) like school reports or an interview with a parent/care giver to detail your behaviour as an ADHD child. They also need to look at this evidence gathering for inattentive traits as it is most common, people who are inattentive fly completely under the radar – and develop other personality issues or symptoms relating to being undiagnosed. This can be as severe as PTSD. This also often leads to misdiagnosis.
ADHD people are often very clever at what they are interested or invested in. And do not struggle with certain aspects of their life until their routines are impacted. A person can live an “OK life” without diagnosis and some do, many ADHD adults do not get diagnosed or even suspect they have it until their children are diagnosed, and then they realize “my child behaves just like I did – I didn’t know that is what ADHD can look like in a child” and seek diagnosis. Do not underestimate how undiagnosed ADHD can impact your life – a diagnosis ultimately can be a life changer – even if it’s small things. Something as small as your own self-beliefs. An ADHD diagnosis, will give you an explanation for so many parts of your life that your struggle wasn’t because you didn’t care or didn’t try hard enough – it’s because you have a whole stadium of mental Olympics to combat for every part of your life that other people just do not have to deal with. Those struggles are real, relative and valid.
As a peer, this is my advice, get a second opinion. Try public mental health first if possible, don’t stop until someone listens. If you need to save up and go private, please do it for your own well being. You are worth it. And be patient. This will take time, but the longer you leave it the more you struggle unnecessarily, a whole world of access to the help you deserve is there for you after diagnosis. And in the meantime, keep enjoying relatable content, keep validating your experiences with your peers. You are not alone!