I started with therapy
If you’ve been with me for a few days, you’re familiar with the struggles I had at work prior to being diagnosed with ADHD. Years of feeling inadequate for my teaching and principal jobs had come to a head when, two years in a row, I found myself pressed into looking for a new job. This, combined with continued frustrations with my shortcomings at home, finally convinced me that I needed to talk with a therapist.
Early in my third visit, just as we finished my personal and family histories, my therapist asked if anyone had ever talked with me about ADHD. She felt pretty strongly that I had ADHD-Inattentive, based on the types of struggles I’d described at home and at work, as well as the fact that my brother had been diagnosed with ADHD-Inattentive (ADD back then). So we began operating under that assumption.
I immediately learned all I could about ADHD. I took to the internet, connected with the ADHD Twitter community, read several books on ADHD, and began to process all of this information in a journal that I’d bought months before, but (shockingly, I know) which had remained unused. Now the pages came to life with reflections, lists, notes, plans, fixations, symptoms, etc. In short, I filled that journal to process, and remember, all I could about ADHD and my life.
Having learned what I had about the symptoms and having processed the major parts of my life through that lens, I was completely convinced that I did, in fact, have ADHD. The books I read and resources I found online guided me to make some immediate changes in my life for the better. Because simply being aware of things like time blindness and Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD) has helped me understand myself so that I can anticipate some of my struggles and plan for them. But as G.I. Joe was fond of telling us, knowing is only half of the battle.
The other half of the battle
Continued therapy has been crucial to improving my life. I still see my therapist most weeks. We are working on strategies to counter some of the more impactful ADHD symptoms at home and at work. She also helps me understand some of the mental and emotional walls I have built which keep me from initiating certain tasks or conversations. Therapy has been and will continue to be a crucial part of reclaiming my life from ADHD.
But there are things therapy cannot do. And after talking with my therapist, we decided that also seeking medication was an important step to take for my treatment. Specifically my hopes were that medication would help with things that therapy had a hard time reaching, like my ability to accomplish tasks that are more mundane or which I am compelled to do (as opposed to things I find interesting). I also hoped that medication would improve my ability to keep my mind focused, and by so doing it might improve my memory, albeit in a roundabout way.
So I set up the appointment with a psychiatrist. You can also go through your regular doctor who may or may not refer you to a specialist. For me, setting up this appointment was for two reasons. First, I was looking to confirm the suspicions of my therapist as well as my self-diagnosis. A psychiatrist would be able to give me a professional diagnosis. The second reason I went was with the hope of receiving treatment through medication.
I was worried that the psychiatrist might be inflexible. I didn’t want to end up working with someone who was going to give me a “my way or the highway” approach. I wanted to be able to give input, working with someone who was knowledgeable of ADHD and its various sub-types and courses of treatment.
Seeing a psychiatrist
In the end, I got the more important of my two wishes. I did find someone who was very flexible, and who was actually willing to consider all currently available medications as we weighed the various treatment options and side effects together. What he was somewhat lacking in was the depth of knowledge regarding ADHD. But I had also done nothing but study ADHD for about a month at that point, so I felt comfortable enough in working with him.
At that first visit, I brought my journal along. I knew from some of the books I’d read what my psychiatrist would need to know to diagnose me. I had prepared sections in my journal around what you now know as recent posts on this blog: how ADHD had impact home and work, how ADHD had impacted my childhood, and also, reasons why I felt I hadn’t gotten diagnosed earlier. I also brought along a self-reporting scale that I’d found online.
In the end, I was probably over-prepared. I could tell I had perhaps overwhelmed the poor fellow as I was listing off impacts of ADHD on my home life and he cut me off saying he didn’t need to hear any more. He indicated that he’d already heard more than enough to move forward with a diagnosis and, based on my symptoms, he supported exploring treatment through medication, which we would look at on our next visit. He did say that the self-reporting form was the same one he’d have had me fill out if I hadn’t brought it.
Tips for your diagnosis-seeking visit
As you consider taking the step to seek a professional diagnosis and medication, I recommend preparing yourself. You will need to be able to answer questions regarding the impacts of ADHD in the major parts of your life. Home and work or home and school are probably sufficient. If you’re an adult, showing that ADHD impacted your childhood is another important thing that will be considered.
I was afraid that I’d forget what I’d thought to share in these areas, so writing them down and bringing the notes really helped me. If you’re one who is forgetful and gets flustered in somewhat stressful situations, you might consider writing down these things as well. And although it was slightly awkward when he cut me off and said he had enough, I still think it’s a situation where it’s better to have more information that is needed rather than not enough.
The other thing to keep in mind is that even among medical professionals, some symptoms of ADHD are not widely known. I am glad I was prepared to describe things like time blindness and RSD, because with both my therapist and psychiatrist, they heard both terms from me first. This can be somewhat disheartening, but remember, your whole life may currently be wrapped up in ADHD, and it might’ve been a chapter in a text book for them once. You will hopefully find someone with more knowledge than that, but it’s best to go in prepared.
I recognize that this step isn’t for everyone. I fully support self-diagnosis. You know yourself better than anyone. And I knew I had ADHD from the moment my therapist first brought it up. Because it finally made the struggles of my life make sense. But I wanted a professional diagnosis in order to pursue medication and also to make me feel better about potentially requesting workplace accommodations.
Have you gone to a psychiatrist to seek a diagnosis? Are you considering it? If so, please comment below or find me on social media to share what your experience was like or to ask any questions you’re thinking about as you move forward.
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