So a week ago today I had my ADHD diagnosis appointment. Since receiving the letter telling me when my appointment was, I had been majorly stressed out. I didn’t need a psychologist to tell me that I had problems dealing with life, I knew that already, what I needed was a psychologist to tell me that I wasn’t just lazy and scattered. I’m going to go into huge detail here so it’s all in one place otherwise I’ll just have a huge, choppy, incoherent mess of information spread across probably several posts.
As a kid I was painfully shy, very quiet in class, prone to daydreaming, and I had very low self-esteem. Having since found old work books from my early school days, it’s clear that I also completed less work than my teachers expected and made frequent careless errors as well as misunderstanding the task given to me entirely. I have a vivid memory of taking a math test at the age of five. I didn’t understand the nature of exams: the time limits, the importance of being silent, the consequences of exam results. I remember being the last in a class of thirty something other children to complete my test and even then I don’t think I completed it. I remember being sat in a seat I wasn’t usually in amongst abnormally silent kids, I also remember them announcing that time was up and I was one of a few others who hadn’t finished. We were given more time. The class around me resumed while I still took the test and the other kids soon finished and I just remember feeling so embarrassed and ashamed of myself, so much so that I don’t think I even touched the exam paper again. I remember the teacher saying I couldn’t have any more time and took the paper away from me even as I protested that I wasn’t finished yet. I improved over the next couple years to the point where I was achieving good grades.
I hadn’t even heard of ADHD until I was about 13 and even then I thought – like many people – it was just some behavioral issue little boys suffered from. Of course I was so quiet and rarely participated in classes that teachers forgot I was there, they were never going to notice if I had difficulties. The teachers who did notice me did so because either I enjoyed and excelled in their class, or because I was terrible at it. Yes, I was still bad at math. The trouble was, math was the only class I was consistently bad at and my teachers were all old school and probably didn’t even know what ADHD was. My school reports are mostly vague overviews of the syllabus with the occasional ‘conscientious’ and ‘should try harder’ thrown in. It’s hardly a wonder now that no one realized. For the most part, I was blissfully unaware. Sort of. We’d be given homework every night and it had to be returned next morning or you’d get a good scolding for it. I spent my entire evenings on homework that should’ve taken me far less time. I didn’t ask how long it took my friends, although I did start to realize as I got older and that sucked. I got more lax about handing in work in the last two years of school there, I was still terrified of being scolded (something I’m convinced helped me suppress symptoms of ADHD) because of the embarrassment and sense of being a huge disappointment, but most of the time I could get away lightly by saying I left the work at home or in my textbook which was conveniently at home too. Most often the case was I’d forgotten to do the work rather than I’d forgotten the work itself. I always had to make it up though.
Most of my last year of that school was revising work we’d done over the last year and I lost interest in school hugely. I’d always had a level of enthusiasm for learning which I think really helped me pay attention, but going over the same thing twice – no thanks. I have a really good memory when I’m interested in something and paying attention. I was so sick of the big GCSE pressure and everyone’s obsession with revision and practice papers. I did practice papers for a whole stinking year. I scored so badly in all of these practice papers that I had teachers strongly suggesting that I take the lower tier paper meaning I would be guaranteed a C grade, but I couldn’t get anything higher than that. I refused, my biology teacher was especially chagrined. More fool her, I got a B on that paper I never would have gotten and I didn’t study once. I really didn’t want to do more schooling after and I especially didn’t want to go to a private school again. I ended up going to a normal local school for sixth form and misguidedly thought I’d take sciences – I wanted my backup career to be forensic pathology. Well I didn’t do the extra GCSE in science and I’d done a different syllabus on top of that and I couldn’t hack it. The deadlines were more relaxed, I was taking hours still on homework but with even fewer assignments, and most of my homework wasn’t getting done. I didn’t want to drop the classes but I was lagging behind so bad that I eventually stopped going to school for a month because I was so depressed from struggling to make new friends and so stressed over my work, that I’d have panic attacks on the way to school. Fortunately, the head of sixth form was sympathetic and instead of kicking me out, she had a meeting with me and helped me figure out that it was Chemistry and Biology that were making me shit bricks. I continued with Photography and Psychology which I enjoyed and arranged to pick up two new classes the following school year. It was suggested I stay for a third year so I could get 4 full A levels instead of go straight to university but again, my pride wouldn’t have it, so I didn’t. I didn’t even intend to go to university, I couldn’t bear the thought of more school.
I applied to drama schools but after two rejections I got cold feet and decided to put it off a year. I’d have to stay home, get a job and learn to drive, or something else that didn’t involve festering around the house. I just happened to get an email for a Computer Gaming Technology degree that I could apply to through clearing and all I needed was C grades or above in English, Math, Science GCSEs. I had those, I liked computer games, I thought why the hell not? Twenty minutes later and I was three weeks away from starting university. I literally went to uni on a whim. I switched course after the induction day where they said programmers have to be mathematically minded, one of the first modules was called Basic Mathematics. I couldn’t, I just couldn’t.
I had always been a bit of a computer whiz and while that now helped me, I was still out-skilled by everyone else. Some of them had done foundation degrees in some computer course or another, others had been programming for years. Deadlines were bi-semesterly or for the end of the semester and as I had always done with deadlines not for the next morning, I put them off until the last minute. Like really last minute. Like I stayed up for 3 full days in a row to start and finish the three assignments I had due at the end of those three days. The finished result was always poorly executed and I rarely understood exactly what I was doing, probably not helped by my really bad attendance of classes. This continued throughout university – I forgot I had one deadline and nearly hyperventilated in the class when it was announced it was due the very next day, I failed one module because I didn’t have time to write the online blog part and I was going to finish it later but I forgot. I nearly dropped out so many times. In my third year, I think I saw a discussion about ADHD and procrastination online (while lagging behind terribly with my final huge end of year project as in I hadn’t started it at all when everyone else had) and I looked up the symptoms. I was a little doubtful about the hyperactivity parts, but the other symptoms definitely hit home. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do the work (it was boring but I knew it was best to just do it) but I just couldn’t bring myself to unless I was staring the deadline in the face. What I read suggested I go see a doctor first, so I did.
I walk into the room and sit down and she asks what I’m there for. I’m nervous by now because I can’t remember all the symptoms in detail and I blank and don’t know how to communicate it. I say rather lamely, “I think I might have ADHD”. She laughs and says “Don’t you think you’re a bit old for that?” This was not the response I was expecting. I’m mortified and I’m stressed as fuck, and if I didn’t cry right then and there I certainly started welling up. Now completely disarmed, I tentatively start trying to explain how I can’t make myself do work and I don’t know how I’m going to get all the work done I need to because I just can’t bring myself to do it. She tells me that everyone is having the same problem and I just have to sit down and get on with it. I know I won’t but she won’t hear it so I admit defeat. When I next go home, I tentatively mention it to my parents and they both laugh. My dad says I just want to be ‘special’. This is when I really gave up on the idea, apparently even my parents thought I was ridiculous.
Three months later I’m two weeks away from my deadline and I haven’t done any work since that appointment. I need to build a whole website and then do a 7-10k work write up for it. In the end, I meet the deadline but the result is a website that barely functions and 3,000 words only. I was sure I was going to fail, somehow I scored 51%, enough to pass. I finish uni, move back home, and my next challenge arises – get a driver’s license, get a job. The latter I can’t do without a car because of where I live so I decide I’ll do an intensive driving course and pass in a couple months. I was never really interested in driving before, the whole idea of being responsible for myself and maybe others in a dangerous vehicle at high speeds terrifies me – I’ve never really had the best coordination. It turns out to be a nightmare. I come home in tears after almost every lesson, my parents blame the instructor, I blame me. I can’t remember to shift gears, I don’t remember to put the clutch down fast enough when I need to brake, I forget to put the car back into first gear when I’ve stopped at traffic lights. I can’t do all of that stuff (badly) and take in my surroundings for more than a couple seconds without doing the wrong thing and freaking out. He assigns me homework to write out each step of driving somewhere and it takes me so long I don’t finish it but he says what I did have was very accurate and thorough and if I drove like I described I’d be perfect. Well I still couldn’t fucking drive a car. I couldn’t drive for any length of time without needing his intervention. Eventually he said he really didn’t know what to do, I would never be able to pass my test in a couple weeks, and he’d tried managing me all sorts of ways but I just wouldn’t pick up. He’d explain things and I’d zone out or understand it wrong, or I’d understand but forget five seconds later when I’m actually driving the car. Eventually I told him how I’d seen someone about ADHD once when he asked if I had any learning difficulties and I forget what he said but it put the idea of it back in my head and so I made another appointment, obviously with a different doctor.
This doctor was not terribly keen on the idea. Again, I really badly communicated my issues and he said he could write a letter and have me referred but that’s all and did he want me to? I was all over the place and I must have said yes because that’s what happened but when I left his office I wasn’t even sure if I would be referred. I gave up on driving and rebooked my test for February (this as November, nearly December) and increasingly toyed with the idea of switching to automatic. After Christmas, I had adequately convinced my parents to let me switch to automatic and holy shit the difference was crazy. All of the things my last instructor taught me must have sunk in because I was driving proficiently, my only problem was taking in all that was going on outside and around me. I failed my first test with only one fault and it as a major fault, I didn’t anticipate a turning properly and went too far to turn but was still in a place to turn so I held up traffic. I failed my second test two weeks later because the examiner said something about which lane I should be in and I panicked and switched very abruptly, I realized later I had been in the right place originally. I was so upset at this and I was even considering giving up driving when I finally got a letter from the hospital about a consultation for ADHD. I hadn’t mentioned this to my parents because of the last time I had brought it up. I hadn’t mentioned it to my friends either because at this point I feel like I’m on a vanity mission that, at some point, someone will turn around and say “you’re normal, just lazy and a bit of an airhead”.
A few weeks later, I have to come clean to my mom because they recommend bringing someone with them and I still can’t drive so I need transport too. She’s very skeptical at first, I think offended that I didn’t tell her sooner too. Of course my dad finds out and is all kinds of eye-rolling dismissive. My mom warms a little to the idea as the appointment gets closer and to my sweet relief, she’s surprisingly forthcoming in the interview and the psychologist finds enough evidence to refer me for diagnosis. My mom is not longer so skeptical and I feel instilled with confidence that maybe I wasn’t deluded or desperate for some sort of disorder to make me a special snowflake. Not enough lasting confidence that I felt like I could tell anyone – what if I was told I didn’t have it and then sounded like a deluded wannabe special snowflake? Of course my friends aren’t so shallow and judgmental that they’d have thought that, but even still I just couldn’t. Not to mention, what sort of situation do you bring that up at unless someone happens to introduce the subject first?
That was March 2016 and I finally got a letter late December saying I was booked for an appointment for January 17th. For the record, I passed my driving test third time lucky in April. My initial reaction to the letter was pure glee because by this point the not knowing had become a huge shadow hanging over me and I felt like I needed a diagnosis one way or the other to really progress in life. This joy soon turned into paranoia and stress. What if I didn’t have it? What if I had gone through all of this only to be told I was exaggerating issues that most people have? My friends still didn’t know and I thought about telling them so many times but the appointment was so close now that I couldn’t bear the thought that I’d have to say “Well actually, turns out I’m just an idiot hahahahaha”. Not to mention, I’d hidden it for so long already, what was a couple more weeks for certainty?
I was so tense by the time the appointment arrived that throughout the 3 hour appointment I was like a washing machine on the intense spin cycle. The first hour and a half was an interview again, way more thorough this time and again my mom was really great. The second part was the part I was dreading: attention related tasks. I like puzzles and challenges, I focus on them really easily (if they’re not so difficult as to frustrate me) so what if I performed so well that they dismissed me for diagnosis? In the end I didn’t really have to worry because my results were sort of all over the place ranging from the 1st percentile to the 99th. Most were within the range for whatever was typical of people with ADHD, however, and combined with the school reports I’d provided and the interview it was concluded that I have combined type ADHD.
My original doubts about the hyperactivity aspect had gradually changed as I became more aware of my behavior. It’s actually only in the last year that I’ve realized how easily I lose my temper, how often I interrupt people while talking, how much I fidget, how I need to be doing things or I get destructively bored. Even in the week since the diagnosis I’ve realized how it’s affected me in the past, or how many coping mechanisms I’ve subconsciously developed over the years. Even in writing this I’ve realized things. Now I’m waiting for a letter for an appointment with a psychiatrist to discuss medication as well as a letter for a two hour workshop with other recently diagnosed ADHD diagnosis. I forget what the point of this huge fucking post was but it’s taken me about 3 hours and now it’s 6pm and I have forgotten to eat. How the hell did I ever doubt myself?