As a twenty one year old female on antidepressants, I have spent over my half my life being analysed by various health professionals, trying to establish what it was that made living a normal life that little bit harder for me than it did for my peers. To name a few, the suggestions have included Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Major Depressive Disorder.
However, it was only last month that a psychiatrist was able to confidently identify where my issues came from: I was a classic case of unidentified Attentional Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), who had slipped through the cracks because the condition is so often widely misunderstood. As a result of this diagnosis, I have read heavily on the condition, and thought about the debilitating effects it has been having on my life, and the lives of others.
According to the Attention Deficit Disorder Association, ADHD is “a brain based syndrome that has to do with the regulation of a particular set of brain functions and related behaviours.” https://add.org/adhd-facts/ This is not surprising, as most of us recognise ADHD as being unable to sit still, not able to focus and generally being difficult to control. Whilst this is true for many suffers of ADHD, these symptoms are only the tip of a very large, unacknowledged, and complex iceberg.
Like every brain disorder, ADHD manifests itself differently in each individual that it affects. The physical effects can be: poor maths and spelling skills; poor handwriting; restless leg syndrome (my future life partner has that to look forward to); difficulty with driving (ask my driving instructor, who has been trying to teach me how to steer for three years now); and constantly misplacing everyday items.
However, there are several emotional symptoms associated with ADHD that often lead to a misdiagnosis of depression or anxiety. These include feelings of low self-worth, being hyper-sensitive to criticism, engaging with unhealthy behaviour and a lack of concern for one’s personal safety.
“Whilst this is true for many suffers of ADHD, these symptoms are only the tip of a very large, unacknowledged, and complex iceberg.”
For me ADHD means being so overwhelmed by ordinary emotions that hurting myself seems to be the only way to regain control. It means checking my phone to see what time it is, then checking it again because I wasn’t paying attention the first time. It means handing in an important piece of coursework three days late, because cleaning my Nike airforces with a toothbrush is a less daunting task for my brain. It’s regularly drinking far too much because the lack of dopamine in my brain means that the rush I get from alcohol is so addictive that I become enslaved to it. It’s not being able to sleep despite being desperately tired. It’s going to the toilet six times in an exam because it’s easier than having to engage my brain on complex tasks that I won’t be able to concentrate on. It’s feeling guilty for forgetting important things and feeling stupid for being unable to recall the easiest things in a tutorial. Most of all it’s the constant sense of self-hatred for burdening the people around me with my inability to control my emotions and, in turn, my behaviour.
There is no need to get the violins out just yet. My ADHD also makes me energetic, creative, and, apparently, I show the odd flash of brilliance (you can ask my long-suffering friends about that one). I know that some people may read this and think that the girl who is writing this is just a self-obsessed drama queen, and maybe I am. But when you have spent your life wondering why you struggle in relationships with your peers, why your emotions are so uncontrollable, and why no matter your intentions you just can’t be the person people in your life need you to be, the right diagnosis is life changing. I can get the support I need academically (my first opportunity for extra time comes with my last ever exam), I can develop coping strategies, and I can be a better sister, daughter, and friend to those who have had to deal with me at my worst.
Putting things in perspective, there are far worse diagnoses to receive than an ADHD one. ADHD is far less stigmatised and debilitating than the majority of developmental disorders. Despite being one of the most common disorders it is so often mistreated and goes undetected for years. I’m not suggesting that we all start diagnosing each other with ADHD every time we forget our keys or cry over a broken hoover (one of my finest moments) but I am suggesting that we look at each other with more of a view to understanding each other’s imperfections, instead of dismissing them.