Trigger/Content warning: Some mention of suicide and nature of article is heavy. Please read with an open heart and open mind. Topics may not be suitable and upsetting to some.
The 20th of September 2021 is my 10 year anniversary for my ADHD diagnosis. I was 26 years old when I was first diagnosed, 36 now. Life was hard at the time, I just had a series of events happen that basically put me in crisis mode and I was pushed forward to get a diagnosis. What a day that was.
I remember walking to my appointment, anxious for what they had to say. I was really struggling with anxiety and feeling completely demotivated and everything in general was hard, especially with things that seemed like it should be easy. I knew it wasn’t depression because even though life had dealt me a hard card, the suicidal ideation that I was experiencing was more about being fed up with how life had been in general. But I was rational about it, it’s nothing I would action. I couldn’t understand why I just didn’t get what everyone else was able to do. I felt lazy and sometimes I was lazy because I didn’t know the answer to stop feeling like this, why was basic stuff so challenging.
The interview was quick, it took about 5 minutes of my non-stop chatter and my psychiatrist had already reviewed my medical files to say “I think you have inattentive type ADHD, but we do need to do some investigation before we give you a formal diagnosis. And I will also be putting through a form to get you access to ADHD medication, I want to trial you on it to see how it works for you”, is more or less what he said that day.
And then I was sent home with the news of a lifetime, or so it felt. It wasn’t until investigation with a psychologist, going over school reports and interviewing my Mum that it hit me. The grief. The lost child hood. All the things that happened to me that felt like an unfair attack on me as a person. That I felt I had been in trouble a lot in my life just for being me. Knowing it wasn’t “me” that was the problem was a relief but also sad to know things could had been different maybe had I known I am ADHD. It was shocking news really. As much as I was prepared that I might be walking away with a diagnosis for something that day, I almost didn’t believe it even though the way it was explained made perfect sense.
I finally got my script and official on file diagnosis. Picking up my medication was a little bit of a hassle because my medication is considered a “restricted substance” so there was a bit of waiting while it was sorted for me, (the stress of paperwork, seriously, it makes me cry it’s that bad) but still distressing because I am feeling pretty low about it at this point.
I was apprehensive about taking Ritalin. Only because I knew it was a stimulant. From my partying background and years of self medicating, I thought also at the time, “What if I am just faking and I just want to get high” thinking that I was somehow going to ‘get high’ from my medication which wasn’t the case at all. Actually the first day was clarity. It was exactly the right dose minus immediate adjustment side effects. The fog cloud was lifted.
I actually spent my first day on Ritalin playing Call of Duty on playstation. I had a level of concentration I don’t think I ever had before. I whopped ass that day, it was kinda funny, to be instantly better at a game because I wasn’t overwhelmed by it. I’ve always been a gamer but did find those kind of games hard without adrenaline or a strict dopamine hitting challenge.
In my memories feed on Facebook, it was telling that I wanted to say what was going on. But talking about this outloud to people, anyone. I felt so much shame some how. “I’m broken” I thought, “people will judge me, they will treat me differently because I have a mental health condition”. And they did, some did. But those people didn’t matter in the end, it was actually a good test of what was a trusting friendship and what were people who weren’t friends but people “I partied with”. It was a time of a lot of self reflection and learning.
Talking with family. They just plainly accepted it, but not much discussion really. Not much learning on their behalf either per say. Which was hard for me, no one was really invested in what I was going through but me. I figured and read also, that maybe parents have a hard time accepting “fault” with their children as they see them as normal, especially if they themselves are probably also undiagnosed (as it’s highly genetic, I’ve read siblings have a 70% chance of also being ADHD) so of course they seem normal as that is normal for them too. This is the thing with ADHD and going undiagnosed for so long, you don’t really know or realize that others generally have it easier, we naturally think everyone thinks this way or has it hard, perhaps they just simply have more tenacity that you – but it isn’t the case. Depending on the person it’s actually very much a disability and very hard to keep up.
I also had some decisions to make, sort-of, I already knew what I wanted it was the logistics of it. Luckily at this time I met my current partner who was very understanding of my situation. Previously I had a career in an industry that was not working well with my ADHD. So I decided I need to follow what I love or I may forever have the same issues with work which was actually mostly boredom as the novelty in that environment always wore off quickly between secondments. So I decided to study again.
Every time I studied before diagnosis was mostly failures and low marks. I just couldn’t get assignments done in time, topics would bore me and I found them impossible to do. But actually with my medication and the right subject to study, it definitely was easier and went well. I now have 2 diplomas in art, and technically all the credits to add to a bachelor degree (I plan to finish one day, but I have other priorities now).
The years went by, I still couldn’t find work though. Studying art can often end up as a freelancing job and that was my ambition, to be my own boss, but it was hard. And work for what I do far between. I was stuck in a rut again. On a benefit, not knowing what to do with my life. I got depressed and ended up with a support worker and doing lots of CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). This ended up leading me to my last job.
At this point 6 years had gone by. I felt like I still didn’t know who I was. I kind of understood how ADHD impacted my life. I knew that ADHD made it hard for me to keep interested in things, that medication helped but it was no silver bullet. Something there needed to change. Was it me though? I felt really defeated by my opportunities. Even though I had a good CV despite my history (I’m a hard worker in the right circumstances!) and definitely qualified. I thought maybe there was some prejudice against my age and gender being of “child raring age”, which I only was asked in one interview “If I had commitments with family” but it still felt like maybe that was it? And I couldn’t get what I needed to accommodate my ADHD, so why bother right?
So I ended up attending a community center, with others like me, not with ADHD but other people living with varying mental health conditions every day. I found my people. It was actually a really validating time, even though I didn’t share the exact struggles and problems, we all were living with something that wasn’t our fault, regarding not our doing while doing our best. I felt understood. I ended up working there volunteer for 3 years. The motivating factor being the environment and people. I could be myself here. That’s when I discovered the world of peer support. I loved it. I felt I as actually making a difference even if it didn’t pay. At least my life had some kind of meaning.
At this time, ADHD online communities finally started to take off more. The first one I joined was “Smart girls with ADHD” (which I am still a member of and recommend btw.) Jessica McCabe from “How to ADHD” also was a member and she just started her Youtube channel. The solidarity that came from chatting with these ladies, really helped normalize a lot of things that ADHD impacted. And I realized that ADHD was more integral to my identity than I ever thought before. It was also the first time I hear the term Neurotypical. What a word and revelation, a way to understand myself in a way of seeing others who weren’t quite like me. It wasn’t quite the nail on the head yet but it was a big start in self understanding in a way I didn’t think of before.
This was quite empowering and to think it took me 6 years of living with a known diagnosis to really see it was also a new type of grief. And I hit a slump again. I continued at the job, which turned into a teaching opportunity. I ended up running Art Journaling classes as a type of CBT for my peers. I loved it, I ended up doing this for almost 2 years.
But alas, reality that I lived in a Neurotypical world hit again and I ended up having to leave that job for my mental health, once more. This time I started taking an SSRI as my anxiety was awful and I was well and truly depressed. I felt so defeated, nothing I attempted at having some kind of life and getting ahead in the world while navigating my mental health worked. Is it me? How can I improve? Why does no one understand ADHD.
The stigma was real, I decided to apply for jobs openly, even in the mental health field, sharing that I have ADHD but I felt that the roles I applied for coulde work, I expressed that it wouldn’t be an issue and under control except I may need some simple accommodations to work to my full potential. No one wanted to know about that. I didn’t get replies to applications. I felt utterly defeated. It was so unfair, so I decided to continue working on myself. That’s when I got the idea to start vlogging.
Although there is plenty of content about it now, even only 3 years ago the peer information about ADHD was minimal, as much as I love “How to ADHD” and a few others who talk about ADHD, I still didn’t feel like it helped. The advice they gave was more or less obvious to me. I felt what I needed wasn’t help being ADHD, I do that very well already. What I needed was for everyone else to understand and see, to end the stigma. To see my worth. To show that utilized the right way, I would be the best worker anyone ever had. All I wanted in life at this point was just to have some kind of life. But how?
So I started vlogging and that was around August/September 2019. This was when I really started to understand myself more as I tried to articulate my experiences for the camera. To show day to day life with ADHD. What I quickly discovered however was that being ADHD was just who I am, there wasn’t a real way to “catch the ADHD” on camera, it felt a little contrived, how to separate the ADHD from myself in ways obvious to others. So I started making memes. I had been actively making them in the past, shared the odd one to support groups and a couple went viral, at the time I didn’t think much of it except how useful it was that people understood it and said ‘me too’.
That’s when I started my Facebook page, I wanted to share this all in one space, not just to the choir, my peers already get it. What I wanted to do was change the stigma, to help people understand ADHD, while still validating others with the same shared experience. So I started posting my vlogs there. After 20 solid days of vlogging every day and posting daily (actually a short amount of time), the novelty wore off some and I was getting more likes and shares for the memes, so I focused on that. There were a couple of ADHD pages on Facebook but none with a peer support narrative and knowing how much that helped me understand my ADHD I knew it needed to be more than a support group. It needed to a public out in the open for all to see.
And definitely one of the biggest learnings about my ADHD came from this. What I thought I knew about ADHD and ways to think of myself very quickly changed as support for my page grew and grew to what it is now. And it’s already been 2 years. I actually understand my ADHD better because of this, reading all the comments. I managed to provide the exact space I needed all those 10 years ago. What a difference it would had made if I had a place like “Jenn has ADHD” to learn about all the lil nuance to ADHD that is integral to myself and my being and my ability to take part in the world. To know my exact struggles were shared by so many, it became more and more normal to be me. I finally had the acceptance of my ADHD which I think is what I needed all along.
10 years shouldn’t be the length of time it takes to accept ones neurodivergency but it was what it was and I am OK with it. In this process however, and learning about what it means to be neurodivergent, a word I only heard the first time last year (the missing piece to this puzzle) was a revelation on it’s own. Solidarity. A knowing that being like me is more common than people realize, normalizing that it is OK to be like this, with all the negative parts too. That living with what I consider for myself in ways a disability is OK, and making it known is OK. Not something to hide or be ashamed of. That the way I think and feel isn’t always something to be pathologized, it’s just simply another way of being and not something that always needs fixing too. A narrative that I had been told previously, most of the help I had been given was asking me to not be me as much as possible. My peers encouraged me to actually be more me. To stop masking.
At 10 years of diagnosis, I still know I have much to learn, to undo and to grow. But I feel much more content with myself. I love that I don’t quite think like others. It taught me to embrace everything even my faults. It helped me understand that when I get overwhelmed or just having a hard time with it in general that this is also OK and helped me understand _why_ but there will always be more to learn. And I am finally OK with that, unmasking and learning who I am under all the “neurotypical conditioning”. I also learned that there is so much more of myself to discover and enjoy. And I can finally take control of the narrative of my life. And I have my peers to thank for this.
So heres to another 10 years. I hope with this project I can help others get to where I am more quickly than I did, to not ever feel alone and that they are not alone. That it’s OK to be ADHD and it’s nothing like the stigma it has, neither is the medication and that there is hope for a world that is more inclusive and understanding of us. That we will be regularly accepted as we are while accommodating aspects that are more challenging. To have that agency we all deserve in life to life well and be happy.