ADHD Voices: Dan

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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

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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

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Looking for more great ADHD content?
Check out all of Jamie’s platforms:

Why I Saw a Psychiatrist About ADHD

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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.

~~~

Looking for more great ADHD content?
Check out all of Jamie’s platforms:

Why I’m Choosing to Treat My ADHD with Medication

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This week I’ll be going to visit my psychiatrist with the intent of choosing a medication to treat my ADHD. I know that medication for ADHD is a controversial subject, perhaps even more so where children are involved. So I feel that it’s important to share why I am making this choice for myself, though I recognize it may not be the right choice for everyone.

What I’ve been learning

Since my therapist first brought up ADHD to me, life has been a blur. I immediately poured incredible amounts of time and effort into learning all I could about ADHD. I joined the ADHD Twitter community, started an ADHD support group on Discord, and started this blog. I’ve read three books on ADHD, I’ve watched webinars, read blogs, and done several self-assessments. I’ve called and talked to most of my family members and I have filled page after page in my journal, trying to wrap my head around what it means to have ADHD as an adult and to try to determine the scope of its impact on my life.

Since then I have also learned an entirely new vocabulary. Words like neurodiverse, neurotypical, hyperfocus, time blindness, and Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria are now all part of my vocabulary, when a short time ago I hadn’t even heard any of them before. Interestingly enough, when my therapist brought up ADHD I was looking for a new hyperfocus. I wonder if you can tell what my new one is?

In my journal I have recorded everything from my initial reactions to discovering I have ADHD to listing all the “signs of ADHD” that I immediately recognized as I looked back. I have a page full of former fixations and others containing descriptions of my struggles at work and at home which I attribute to having lived so long with undiagnosed ADHD.

It’s not a decision I take lightly

I share all of this to say, though it has only been a short time that I have been aware of my own ADHD, the decision to seek medication is not one that I have chosen lightly. It has come through a great deal of personal study as well as working with my therapist and psychiatrist.

A common thread among resources that I’ve read is that the most effective treatments of ADHD include a balance of therapy and medication. I have been able to make a good deal of progress with therapy. I have begun to understand ADHD and its many impacts on my life. I have been able to add many healthy coping mechanisms to my life and break down many mental barriers, all thanks to therapy.

But it is not enough. I still struggle in so many ways day to day at both work and home. Having talked at length with both my therapist and my psychiatrist about these continued struggles, we are all on the same page in deciding to turn to medication as an additional resource to treat my ADHD.

I know that medication isn’t magical. There will still be plenty of work that is required. I understand that for roughly 20% of ADHDers, medication is ineffective. And I know that it can easily take months of work to find the right medication and dosage to effectively treat ADHD.

But I want more. And I owe it to myself and to my family to seek the treatment that I can right now. Those who have been reading along know the struggles that led me to therapy and my hope is that continued therapy with the addition of appropriate medication will help continue my upward trajectory.

Stay tuned…

I will of course use this blog as a means to continue sharing my journey and my struggles. Every day I encounter folks who either just discovered that they have ADHD or who are beginning to wonder if they do. And they need a place to go where they can be understood. Where they can connect with others who are kind and welcoming and who share their stories for the benefit of those who come after.

So whether you support the use of medication to treat ADHD or not, I invite you to follow along this journey of mine and I will share my experience with you. If you disagree with my decision, please be glad that you have every right to your opinion and you may use it to inform decisions regarding your own life.

As for mine, I will do what’s best for me. For now, seeking medication is the course I intend to take. For whatever reason you follow, I hope that hearing my journey will be of some benefit to you as you find yourself making your way on your own ADHD journey.

~~~

Looking for more great ADHD content?
Check out all of Jamie’s platforms:

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