For as long as I can remember, there has been something off about the way I do things.
I don’t mean this in a self-deprecating way. It’s always been there, reflected in the comments on my school reports, and the fact that starting – let alone finishing – a simple task can sometimes be impossible.
The diagnosis, according to the many different doctors I kept being sent to, was depression. And on paper, I can’t totally blame them; I was exhibiting all the symptoms, complete with low mood and close to no will to get out of bed at all.
For a decade, I accepted that this was it and that I would just be like this forever, a sentiment that was only reinforced by how little antidepressants helped me. I floated through life, trying to do my best when doing anything at all felt impossible, until I saw a post online that changed my life.
I can’t recall what the exact words were, but the gist of it was this: when Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder goes undiagnosed growing up, it often causes depression, and if you have memory issues so bad you have to write everything down, you might have it. Without proper treatment for the disorder, the brain effectively shuts down.
The post linked to an article on the website ADDitude, and I remember crying in relief as I read page after page relating exactly what I had been going through without even knowing it. Finally, after years of impasse, I was being understood.
I was stunned to find out that my case was actually really common in people like me; the ADHD diagnosis rate for women and people assigned female at birth is lower, with a higher chance of getting diagnosed with a personality disorder or other mental health condition by mistake.
I had lived with this for so long that I didn’t know which of the things I did were symptoms and which were just me
This is largely attributed to two factors: firstly, the fact that some of the most prominent research on ADHD is centred around cisgender men, and secondly, how the inattentive symptoms I experience are less likely to be noticed in childhood because they’re not overtly disruptive to others.
With the common media depiction of ADHD being characters going ‘look! a squirrel!’ and not much else, I had always associated it with hyperactive traits. If I had known there was an inattentive branch, I have no doubt I would have realised that I had ADHD long before entering adulthood.
Knowing why I felt the way I did definitely improved my mental health, but what transformed my life was treatment. To get diagnosed with ADHD, you have to see a psychiatrist – the first part of the appointment involves going over your mental health history, and the second is specific questions regarding symptoms and your daily life.
Despite the excitement of getting answers, I remember being worried before my appointment; I had lived with this for so long that I didn’t know which of the things I did were symptoms and which were just me.
In the end, I had nothing to worry about. The psychiatrist’s questions were straight to the point and brought up things I would have never mentioned on my own. The idea of sitting down with a stranger and trying to make sense of your brain is daunting, but ultimately they’re like a detective who already has a faint idea of who did it and has to fill in the blanks with evidence by asking the right questions.
The assessment, resulting in a formal diagnosis, meant I could now take ADHD medication, and after a few tests to make sure my blood pressure and pulse were normal beforehand, I went home with my first box of stimulants. I broke the safety seal on the small white bottle and watched the pills rattle inside; for the first time in years, I felt like things were finally turning around.
A year later, I’m glad to say it turned out to be more than just a feeling. This is the most alive I’ve ever felt and I’m finally enjoying my 20s, which is something I used to think just wasn’t on the cards for me.
There are still hard days, of course, but when they happen I know why. I no longer beat myself up for getting distracted or needing more reminders than other people do.
The only negative is that I wish I could tell my teen self all of this, and pull them out of their sadness. Failing that, I’m going to be the person they needed then, and at last, start living.
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