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