ADHD Voices: Dan

Photo by Tomas Anunziata on Pexels.com

Hi, I’m Dan, a 44 yr old male from the UK, who was diagnosed with ADHD last year. This is my journey. 

Until recently I was foggy brained and burnt-out. Anxious and frustrated often by the simplest thing. Overthinking, catastrophizing, trapped in my head, either hyperfocusing or distracted. Being smart one minute, then struck dumb the next. As a teenager I self-medicated with cannabis. Academically I did okay (enough to get by), mainly because the courses I did were coursework assessed, with my coursework  usually completed last thing. School reports highlighted I was often ‘failing to meet my potential’ and ‘lacks consistency.’ My handwriting was awful – and still is. Like my brain was half a sentence or further ahead and my hand was rushing to catch up.  

This was MY normal. I’d seen therapists to discuss anxiety and stress – I also have IBS. However, since moving to a new country and having a kid, it became clear I wasn’t handling things as well as I had previously. Post diagnosis, I think family life and working in a dual language environment with a different culture exposed and crippled my  coping mechanisms. The impact of this had a significant impact on my life. My ups and down were trending downwards. Things at work started slipping more than usual and stress increased until a burnout made me look at things differently. 

Getting help and a lot of tests

It took some time, but, encouraged by my partner, I went back into therapy.

During one of these sessions we discussed ADD/ADHD. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. For me that conjures up images of young kids, usually boys, disrupting class. This didn’t feel like me, but after some reading it felt familiar. So I did a quick online test. The results all suggested getting tested. 

I found a place where they specialise in ADHD in Adults. There, they asked me about my life, issues, and medical history. I spoke with a psychiatrist who asked me more specific questions which I now understand are the DSM diagnostic criteria for ADHD. 

Then came the Qb computer test.  With a tracking band on my head I had to look at a screen. If I saw 2 of the same shape and also the same colour after one another, I had to press a button. I thought this would be the test that would show I was wasting everyone’s time. Colours, shapes. Easy. When I left the room 20 minutes later, I was tired out and my head hurt. Man, that was a lot harder than I thought. 

The next step was to take a pill and then go for some fresh air and come back in an hour for the same test. Then we’d compare results. About 20 minutes after taking the pill I felt calmer. Like I’d been on a zen retreat. I could focus more. The almost constant busyness in my head was more distant, quieter. My focus was sharper. 

I went back and took the test again. It wasn’t so hard this time. Following this test I sat down with a doctor and we looked at the results. The differences between the tests were dramatic. On some sections for the first test I was off the charts. Way above or below the average. The second test I was within the ‘normal’ (my words, not theirs) range.

Coupled with all the information from the assessments, I was given a diagnosis of ADHD-combined. This surprised me. I thought maybe, possibly mild inattentiveness.  Hyperactive too, really? Of course, for me it’s normal that my foot is tapping. That my brain runs a hundred miles an hour. Oh wait, I see now. 

Managing my ADHD

That was the diagnosis. The next step was to talk management. The centre I went to use medication and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). The medication helps give you the space to work on the CBT. So we planned the first session. I was pleased to have what seemed like an answer and a path to manage my issues. 

I went home and ordered ‘Delivered from Distraction’ by Edward Hallowell. I read this over the coming weeks and find myself time and time again seeing things which to me were problematic but I figured just normal. I’ve now discovered many of these things are ‘common amongst people with ADHD’. The next few days and weeks were up and down and I was slightly emotional at times.  

I set up my twitter account and started following ADHD folks. I’m grateful to those who are sharing their journeys and offering guidance to others. This helped me process my own diagnosis. Folks like @HowtoADHD,  @blkgirllostkeys, @ADHD_alien, @DaniDonovan, @ADHDSurprise and countless others. 

Reading stories, I realised I had been lucky. For some folks, society’s bias meant they had not gotten the support they needed or they had a non-supportive health care system (yes, l am looking at you America). Looking back now, without realising it, I adapted and developed coping mechanisms to protect myself, which whilst not perfect, had, along with some white male privilege meant I’d got to 44 without major incident. 

Since the diagnosis, I’ve made changes, minor changes and am very much a work in progress. The main change being medication. I take dexamphetamine three times a day. This has helped calm my mind down and I’m less stressed about things. I explain it as the chaos in my mind is still there, but now it’s outside waiting in the car, not banging on the door. Within a week of starting medication my wife commented that my energy was a lot calmer. Who knew stimulants could calm you down. 

The CBT helped too. Understanding why I struggled with some things and what structures I’d need, helped. At present I’m out of work and the coronavirus has meant my schedule has been thrown with the family all being home. Now though, I’m more aware of needing time for myself and self care. My relationship is better because we discuss stuff and have a name for it. My awesome wife has unconsciously had to deal with my undiagnosed ADHD. But at least now, we’re able to communicate better.

I’m still learning about how to manage my ADHD but being aware of it helps. I’ve always been self-deprecating so that helps. I’m utilising technology to support me. I love my Apple Watch. I’m slowly joining the ADHD community online. All this helps. 

Some people say ADHD is a gift – that it makes you special – that’s BS. It’s tough, it’s painful, it’s nasty. The diagnosis is the gift, understanding you can’t use typical solutions on your non-typical brain. That helps. 

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If you’d like to connect with Dan,
he can be found as @RockstarMonk on Twitter

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ADHD Voices is a series dedicated to sharing the stories of folks like you and me who have ADHD. Posts in the series are written by guest authors, sharing windows into their lives and struggles, written by them, for you and me. If you’d like to share your story, please contact me on social media or through my email, ADHDsurprise @ gmail.com

Who to Tell About Your ADHD

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Whenever I’m struggling to come up with a topic to write about I invariably am led to a problem I’m currently dealing with. So first off, thanks for being my sounding board, and in return you’re welcome to any knowledge I find as I continue on this ADHD journey of mine. Today’s topic is about your circle of trust when it comes to your ADHD.

I’m coming up on four months since the day my therapist suggested that I had ADHD and I can confidently say that fewer than 10 people who know me know I have ADHD. About half are family, others are my therapist, doctor, and perhaps one or two folks online.

I’ve actually got a list of 15 more people that I intend to tell, including more family members, current and former employers, and others who are or were close friends. But I haven’t shared this with anyone new since I made a series of calls to a few family members a month or two ago. I seem to be stuck. I don’t know that it’s necessarily a bad thing. My circle is small and I trust it. If it were to expand, I may quickly hit that critical mass of people who have “the knowledge,” at which point I might as well be “out,” though I am not ready for that stage yet.

I ran a Twitter poll a couple of months ago asking who others had told, and the results varied pretty greatly:

What this says to me is that who you tell is entirely up to you and the circumstances you are in. There is no right answer here except what is right for you. So let’s look together at things to consider regarding sharing or not sharing.

Why shouldn’t you increase your circle of trust?

My quick answer to that is it’s not necessarily necessary. No one has a “right” to know you have ADHD. As of this moment I’ve mostly reserved sharing it on a “need to know” basis, and it turns out there are very few people who legitimately need to know. The people I have included so far are the ones I trust implicitly to 1) be supportive, and 2) not share with others.

Work is my other big reason for not sharing. Everyone’s situation is different. And you might think that working in education a lot of folks would understand ADHD and be more accepting of it. But there is plenty of ignorance to go around, even in public education, and I have worked for some employers who might screen you out of the application process because your name came up associated with ADHD on a Google search. It’s not ethical, but I know it happens.

The last reason I can think of is just a lack of preparedness on my own part. This whole thing is so new to me still and I’m working on figuring out so much still. When I do start sharing more broadly, I want to be able to do so with knowledge and confidence.

Why should you increase your circle of trust?

The first and easiest reason to share is if there’s a real need. When I first started taking meds, I was worried about what side effects might start showing up, and more specifically, that I might not notice some changes in myself. So I found one person at work who I trust and shared with them that I have ADHD and was beginning medication for it. They have been a valuable resource to me as I began meds and have had meds adjustments. Also in this group of “others who need to know” I would typically include adults who live with you and medical professionals who treat you.

You may find that you have a real need to disclose that you have ADHD to your employer or to your school or university. This would be if you require workplace or educational accommodations because ADHD significantly impacts your work or academic performance. Though I have clearly seen an impact of ADHD in my work, I am trying to gauge what accommodations might be needed after I have made improvements through therapy and medication. Trying to decide if workplace accommodations are right for you? This article from CHADD is a great place to start.

The last reason to share that you have ADHD with someone is simply so that you can be truly known and hopefully understood by those around you. I don’t like feeling that I have to “hide” part of myself and I honestly look forward to the day when I can call up old friends and even old employers and share what I’ve discovered. I want to shout, “See? I found out there’s a really good reason for everything! I have ADHD!!” When I think about that day, I get goosebumps.

So why don’t I share now?

As I said, my own diagnosis is relatively new and I’m not quite ready. But beyond that, creating ADHDsurprise has given me a powerful gift. I can speak freely, honestly, and candidly about my problems. I can tell you about how my ADHD has hurt me and others in my life. How it has impacted work and home. I can share embarrassing stories and real, unfiltered examples of struggles from my life because they are not tied to me right now.

Ironically, if I put my real name on this blog, it would mean the content would become less real, or at least more guarded. I’d have to be constantly looking over my shoulder and wondering what employer, friend, or family member is reading along and takes offense or has some other problem with what I’ve posted.

So for now, I feel that I’m providing something to the ADHD community that is real and also keeps me safe. I hope one day I can simply “be” and not have to worry about it. But for now, I’m happy to share what I’m learning as I’m learning it, and I hope it helps you too.

What about you? Who have you told? Who would you like to tell? If everyone knows you have ADHD already, how does that feel? I’d love to hear from you in the comments or on Twitter.

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ADHD Voices: Tirnom

Photo courtesy of Tirnom Dangiwa

Before I got diagnosed with ADHD, I never really thought I had a problem, even though my academics and social life suffered greatly. I was always told that I had potential or I was smart but I was unserious or too playful so I always assumed that was the problem.

After I got into university, I began to notice that I had some major challenges. Every time I tried to study or concentrate during lectures, I always found my mind wandering and no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t. I still didn’t think I had a problem but I kept trying.

After my first result came in, I was devastated. I could not understand why I put in so much effort and got so little results. It was not just my academics that suffered, I was (still am) very hyper and I always tried to figure out why but I never really thought it was linked to a mental disorder. I also had a hard time prioritizing, planning, being consistent, sustaining friendships or just being myself around people.

The more I struggled with these challenges, the more I started asking myself, “what is wrong with me?” I did not have the answer and I did not know who to talk to about what I was going through because I was deeply ashamed and no matter how much I prayed or how hard I tried it never seemed to help. I did not quite understand how to explain it to myself to talk less about explaining it to other people. I thought I would sound stupid so I just kept it to myself.

By the time I got to my final year, it became very apparent that I had a major problem. I was struggling. I could not bring myself to meet deadlines for any of my projects no matter how many times the deadlines got extended. This made me extremely anxious and I tried asking for a little direction from people who were handling their projects well, but I did not know how to explain what I was going through so it was very difficult for me to get the help I needed to complete my project at the right time.

It was during this time that I found out about ADHD. I was in the library working on my project when I came across a book that looked very childlike and colorful and I was somehow drawn to it. The book was about ADD/ADHD and before then I had never heard about ADHD. I don’t know why, but I started going through it and I was in deep shock as I read through every page. The book perfectly described every single challenge I was going through and it was like a breath of fresh air.

Right there and there I knew I had ADHD. I felt seen. I was going through a series of emotions. From happy; knowing I was not alone with my challenges to mad because, “why isn’t this talked about more?”, “why don’t people like me get the help we need earlier?”  These were some of the thoughts that ran through my head that day. I was relieved though, I finally had the answer and for the first time in a very long time, I got very optimistic about my future.

I finally got diagnosed with ADHD in 2019 and it has been a crazy journey. I found some helpful videos online, I started therapy and I also found a large community of ADHDers online. This has made my journey a little bearable but it is still very challenging. I am not medicated and had to stop therapy towards the end of last year.

I am still struggling but I am learning every day, I am also very hopeful. I still get comments like “There’s nothing wrong with you” or “Just pray about it”. I don’t get mad, I just really want to educate people about it. It’s extremely hard initiating these conversations, especially online because I always think I’m not smart enough to do it. But I am a work in progress and I will keep learning and figuring out ways to help myself and the people who are just like me.

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If you’d like to connect with Tirnom,
she can be found as @call_me_Tinom on Twitter

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ADHD Voices is a series dedicated to sharing the stories of folks like you and me who have ADHD. Posts in the series are written by guest authors, sharing windows into their lives and struggles, written by them, for you and me. If you’d like to share your story, please contact me on social media or through my email, ADHDsurprise @ gmail.com