What does it feel like to be diagnosed with ADHD? In short, I don’t know.

What does it feel like to be diagnosed with ADHD? In short, I don’t know.

This morning, after my final diagnosis appointment with a Psychiatrist, I have been diagnosed with Combined-ADHD. In short, this means I have both inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive traits and in terms of the ADHD spectrum, my Dr said I was moderate. I’m thankful that this process hasn’t taken very long and that options available to me for private treatment via the NHS have meant that I have not had to face long waiting times and I have the answers to my suspicions. In terms of what else I am feeling about this diagnosis, well, many things, and it’s going to take me some time to process those feelings. So I’m starting the only way I know how: writing.

Firstly, I am feeling relieved. I am grateful to have got this diagnosis and relieved we have reached the point of an official, i’s dotted and t’s crossed diagnosis. There was always a niggling doubt this wasn’t going to be the answer, that I had projected and fitted the diagnosis to myself, but that’s not the case and for that I am grateful, as I can now put those feelings of doubt to bed and stop the guilt spiral from taking hold.

And obviously, I am relieved to have answers to some of the things that I have questioned for so long, some of the things that have ground me down for years. I am relieved I’m not just ‘lazy’ ‘ambivalent’ ‘unmotivated’ etc, well, I am, but I now know why, I understand why I feel so weighed down by those feelings and find them so very hard to overcome. I am relieved that I’m not just ‘a bit weird’ and ‘incapable’. I can now work to understand how I am capable, but how I have to make adaptations and adjustments to achieve my potential via a slightly different route.

That relief is also happiness, happiness that I won’t be weighed down by those feelings anymore. Happiness that I can understand myself better and work with instead of against myself. Happiness that going forward I can ask for help and have the ways to express why I need help, to articulate the things I struggle with and show how others how they can support me.

A sense of happiness that in my future, I have a better chance of reaching the potentials that I know are possible but have always felt just out of reach. I have always felt like I had the potential but not the ability, and now I know that I can have both and there are ways and means to help me with that. It’s nice to know my life won’t always have to feel like this constant whirlpool that I’m trying to keep myself out of without knowing why I always feel like I’m nearing the middle.

Without sounding like a worn out cliche of ‘no one understands me’ (complete with dramatic wailing, of course) through the process of getting to this point, I have been introduced to a community of other women who face similar struggles. Women who are able to truly understand what I mean when I talk in circles without ever really conveying a point. Others who are able to say ‘I hear you’ when I try and explain that I don’t need help understanding how to do something, but I do need help getting started on that thing, because much as I understand it, I find the task impossible to physically undertake.

And the reason I have highlighted women here is because of the chronic under-diagnosis of women which means we are much likely to have been diagnosed as adults and faced a lot of these struggles alone, without understanding from ourselves or others, before we are finally able to find help and support. Women who understand the emotions of finally finding what’s ‘wrong’ and being able to move forward from that realisation. And women because in all honesty in the handful of online groups I have joined for support, the most active and informative were the ones specifically for women so I have just connected more in these groups.

There are positive feelings surrounding this and negative ones too, it would be remiss of me to try and pretend otherwise. I’m not angry at anyone in particular but there are still negative feelings such as anger mixed up in this. It was no single person’s ‘responsibility’ to pick up on my signs before, not me, not my family, not my teachers and I am not angry at any single one of them, but if someone had, I am left wondering how much of my potential in terms of schooling and university I could have reached. Would I have had the help that could have allowed me to get better grades, to explore more opportunities, to achieve more? I don’t know, I will never know, and the not knowing is going to gnaw away at me for a while. And much as the logical part of my brain knows that is pointless, knowing it’s pointless won’t just switch that off, much as I wish it would.

I do want to stress again that I am not angry and anyone, because I think that’s really important. I don’t have any blame to apportion at all. If anything, I am hugely grateful to all the people around me for always accepting me, for supporting me and helping me even when I was at my least deserving and most testing, because I was no angel. The people who continued to support me when I snapped at them, shouted at them or showed no remorse for previously upsetting them, the people who continued to support me when they too had no idea why I was acting the way I was. It wasn’t just me who had no answers in the past, my family, friends and teachers had no insight either and still continued to ensure that I was loved and supported. Quite honestly, they deserve medals, not my misplaced anger.

Again my resentment isn’t at a particular person, it’s just a generic feeling that things could have been so different in quite a few situations. There are quite a number of times I look back on now, with better clarity and understanding and thing ‘they could have been SO different, there could have been positive outcomes here’ and in complete truth, that hurts. It hurts a lot to know that I could have avoided a range of situations that led to negative outcomes, pain and upset.

And a resentment that not only could have those situations been different or avoided, that I will never know what would have happened if they had been. Would I have been happier after that? Would I have been able to still do certain things, go to certain places etc and not now avoid things because they are still painful? The never knowing is going to take a lot of time for me to get through. I feel there is a form of grieving process for the feelings of past me here that I need time and space to work through and I worry about how long it will take for me to move on from this aspect.

The concoction of both positive and negative feelings overall leaves a sense of confusion. Confusion about how to feel all these things at once. One of the common symptoms of ADHD is feeling deeply, everything from finding things way funnier than other people, being extremely excitable to being oversensitive to even the slightest negative comment and crying at things that don’t really warrant tears (looking at you, kids movies…)- so with all the feelings I have going on right now, I am feeling them all intensley and struggling to have them sit side by side with each other.

I am also working out how to navigate life going forwards, how I ask for help and ensure I am supported with this condition, without letting it define my whole life. I have always been used to having health conditions that are part of me but aren’t the whole of me. That were ‘convenient’ enough to forget on a day to day basis and only focus on them when necessary. I know for a fact that ADHD isn’t going to fit in that same category, the symptoms that I now know are ADHD have been present day in, day out for as long as I can remember and I know that I am going to have to continue to live with them, hopefully more harmoniously going forward, but I have to loosen my grip a little and let them define me, to a certain extent. Again, as before, I need to learn to work with them instead of against them and to do that I have to accept them, which for a long time I have been trying to avoid.

And confusion too regarding how to show others that ADHD is part of me but not the only part, and sometimes I will have to tell people about this to get the support I need to better function, without misconstruing this as using ADHD as an excuse. It doesn’t absolve me of any of my actions at all, but it does go some way to explaining why my actions are the way they are. This is going to be a fine line to balance and I am going to get it wrong, probably quite a lot to start with and I am hoping that those around will give me grace and space to get this wrong, until I can get it right and find that balance.

Although this isn’t my biggest feeling right now, I hope it becomes my biggest feeling soon, because I am hopeful. Hopeful for a future where I and others better understand my needs and adjustments to reach my full potential. Hopeful that I can still achieve, still make something of myself after 6 years since graduation where I have wondered almost constantly when I am going to find that. When I am finally going to slot in to what it is I am meant to be doing with my life.

I am hopeful for the ability to settle into my life and navigate the things that I find difficult or need to do slightly differently with more positivity than I have had previously. I am not expecting overnight success or this diagnosis to completely transform my life on a dime, it’s going to be a process, a long one too, one that will be ongoing, but I know there is a way now to brighter days where I can be more comfortable in my own skin and with the way my brain works. Because ultimately, this is a brain condition, my brain does not function in the same way as a ‘neuro-typical’ brain does and that is not my fault or my failing. It is something that at a biological level is completely out of my control. There are ways, both medicinal and behavioural, that I can help myself to adapt to these changes, but there isn’t something I can do to suddenly ‘correct’ these biological differences. And I have to cling on to that and remember that when I am facing challenges, because if nothing else changes immediately, this is going to, I’m going to stop blaming myself for this. I am going to stop allowing myself to believe the things I struggle with are because I have failed or am not good enough, because that isn’t what’s led me here and now I can say with conviction and medical back up, this isn’t the case.

And overall, I am hopeful because there are treatments available to help me. They don’t ‘fix’ my brain and make it biologically correct, but they help to overcome the struggles that are the result of that difference. Due to my heart condition, medication is not going to be the first port of call for me. Most of the most effective medications are stimulants that would affect my heart. For people with healthy hearts, the effects aren’t enough to cause problems and the benefits outweigh the impacts on the heart, but for me that’s not going to be the case. My psychiatrist is going to start off down the non-pharmacological route, looking at what therapies such as CBT and coaching may be available to me, to help me with managing my day to day symptoms. I’m not against medication in the slightest, but knowing that it’s not going to be suitable for me (which I already had some idea of before today, so it didn’t come as a shock), I am grateful there are other options and I’m looking forward to exploring them. And as my psychiatrist pointed out, hopefully these options will teach me skills and adaptations that will last me for life, and I won’t only find help when I am on medication/ when medication is kicking in which is also a plus point.

So there we have it, I have Combined ADHD, I don’t know how I feel about it, but I am trying to hold on to the positives as I take the next steps down this path and explore ways that I can learn to live well with this condition. Right now though, I am giving myself time and space to feel all these things and work through them, because if I have learnt anything in life so far, I know that not facing them means they will only come and haunt me in the future.

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