About me; unabridged editions ~ Growing Up With (undiagnosed) ADHD.
The newest-known label I get to take home and keep is that controversial little nugget called ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (Predominantly Inattentive Type). I’ve ranted enough about the name itself, that’s the current accepted label so it’ll do here. It is called ‘adult ADHD’ because I’m an adult now, or so they tell me, however to even have that diagnosis it must have existed as ‘child ADHD’.
And it did, in hindsight.
It is a blessing and a curse and I have an entirely dichotomous relationship with the disorder. Ultimately though, the summit of my feelings about the actual label is that I am utterly and completely thrilled to finally have it. I’ve had the disorder my whole life whether I’m loving or loathing it in any given moment. Knowing what it is? That is ALL blessing.
Even when I hate every part of the disorder itself, I love knowing what it is.
I was diagnosed in April 2013, a couple of months after my 31st birthday.
A few reasons for this. Firstly, I spent a long time being frustrated at myself, but too ashamed of what seemed to me (and everyone around me) like my absolute failure as a human being, to open up to a doctor and ask if it was actually *something else*. Beyond having to admit it – what if they confirmed my worst fear? I was just useless and doomed to a life of disappointment? – I didn’t want to face that until I reached a point just inside myself (not under threat) where I felt like I had no choice. Secondly, it didn’t exist as a defined separate type of ADHD when I was growing up and disruptive, external hyperactivity was seen as the hallmark feature of the disorder. Finally it was ‘a disorder of boys’, and diagnosis of girls was rare.
I was the typical trait-list of the undiagnosed:
Lazy. Selfish. Jealous. Vicious. Hormonal. Psycho. Weird. Scattered. Blonde. A bitch. Rude. Inconsiderate. Lacking Willpower. Useless. Hopeless.
Somehow, I was broken, and it was all my fault – and a way I was living on purpose. When you’re basically the opposite of that, and working three times as hard as anyone else just to look like all of those horrible things – and just can’t seem to SHOW anybody outside of yourself it’s not true (the fight to do so adds ‘desperate’ to that list), life hurts just to live some days.
I was always told I was ‘the academic one’ and I was, really. I liked school. I loved learning for learning’s sake – just to know or to find things out, desperately so. I still do. I live my life based around two questions and apply them to everything.
I was the bookworm, the reader, the one with the big imagination. I was going to go places. I’d be off to university followed up with a brilliant career, making all the right choices and living the life everyone saw as what ‘smart people did’ and was therefore waiting for me – and I wanted that too. It wasn’t pressure – only from myself, it was just a given – that’s just who I was. I completely agreed.
Only it didn’t quite work out like that.
Barely into the senior trio of grades, I promptly walked out one day because I felt like it, and never went back to school. A life of private Catholic schooling and advanced classes, good grades and at times prestigious schools – and not a single thing to show for it.
A running theme.
I couldn’t explain it to anyone, myself included, and no one really pushed me too hard to do so. I ‘just did’. It was my 5th school move since starting high school in year 7 and I was only at term two of year 10. I think I blamed that a lot, and it seems to make sense to others, but I’m not sure how real it is. I’m not feeling it, and if I’m not feeling it then it might just be a little bit bullshit in my experience.
In response to my action, I was given the choice of getting a job or going to TAFE to get my equivalent intermediate certificate. To at least say I’d been to high school – got to the first exit-point. I chose the latter along with a casual job, and loved TAFE. So I guess if the 6th educational venue was positive, it wasn’t about the numbers at all. Yes, that feels right. In fact, I think I was sick of the environment of school. I felt lost in a sea of stupid, sheep-like people, in a large school with no interesting subjects – my electives of the term before and the year earlier – both at other schools – weren’t on offer. I didn’t want to learn what they were teaching, let alone do so with the other people learning it.
So on I moved, to a small class full of fascinating people from a spectrum of experience – aged 15 like I was, to over 60. And it was amazing. The content was basic – I remember telling people I went from doing year 10 advanced subjects to what felt like year 7 general ones, but it really wasn’t about the course content. In some ways, TAFE has always felt a little like that content-wise to me – but I’ll always have a soft-spot for some of what it gave me that year. It set my life on course to head exactly where it is today, actually. Even though so much of that is difficult to accept, even nightmarish to recall at times, and I can find regrets galore, I do begrudgingly know I am happy to be where I am now – mostly – so I need to accept how I got here.
After TAFE, I met a new group of people – one that led to a marriage, three children and a not-so-perfect life.
I’m still suffering that having nothing to show for it thing though – and struggling with the it. Beyond the offspring I managed to materialise into existence, there is nothing else to say: ‘Hey – I’ve lived through 17 years since that one happened!’ You’d never know on paper. I have a trail of half-attempts, great ideas that only got initial start-up, a job history spanning as many industries as there are individual jobs – moving sideways and not upward. And a diagnosis that may have seen things play out very differently if I’d been given it the first time someone looked into my head, 28 years ago. Or the second time, 17 years ago. Or any other time since.
After 13 years of marriage, it slowly headed into my past. This was my floating untethered period.
And yet, as I said – I have to be thankful for all of it, for it led me to where I sit today. Happy, loved and finally starting to grasp the dangling threads of a forming life-passion.
Generally, I try to keep a sense of awareness about my emotional responses to things. I KNOW I have limitations and reactive experiences due to both ADHD and my personal history that mean my initial emotion – while perfectly explainable and ‘logical’ in that sense, is not accurate in the current situation.
I’ve found ‘quiet time’ inside my head – feeling it, listening to it, and poking it with thought – all let me discover if I’m genuinely upset/angry/other emotion about something, or whether it’s a part of ADHD or my past popping up. Sometimes this will take me a few minutes, sometimes it might take days. Often I have to talk it through or write it out before I can see the absolute root of the situation and how it became the feeling I have. I’ve learned to speak in terms that frame my thoughts, feelings and perspectives in a very personal way – although it seems I take more notice of those things in myself and when someone says something to me, than others do. By saying ‘I think, I feel, I interpret’ etc. I’m saying ‘this is my experience of what happens’ not ‘you’re doing this to me’. If I get the chance, I will be able to explain WHY I’m feeling or thinking that way. Why the emotion sparked and what I logically think about that.
I also have a tendency to cry-on-site when it comes to confrontation. Ask anyone! Always have. A parent has always said I was ‘over-sensitive’ – also common in ADHD! It’s not ‘real’ and I try to explain that wherever I can. People don’t always hear me. It’s pure reaction. If I’m crying it’s not because I’m SO upset I need to cry. It’s because I’m a shy, sensitive person with certain brain chemistry who reacts this way to confrontation, even though I’m happy enough to have the confrontation and resulting discussion. I just can’t help it. Ignore it – let me calm my tears and breathing down, I know there’s no need to hyperventilate as well, I’ll manage to speak in a calm voice in a minute.
The request and explanation are met with varying levels of success. Some ignore, some continue to discuss my over-sensitivity. Some people are still read it as me being ‘too emotional’ or ‘over-reacting’, going ‘crazy’ or whatever it is, when I’m everything BUT those things in that moment. It’s physical. Like chopping onions.
In addition and in part the reason I specify things like that, is because I have a habit of noticing ‘everything’. This means I notice the subtle ways people speak – all the time – and the difference their words make to the meaning they either intend or want me to think. This has proven in my life to be an incredibly vital tool, and it is one that I appreciate having. To be able to hear properly and to be able to ensure I am speaking properly.
Everyone should learn this, ADHD or not!
It does open me up to a fair bit of conflict sometimes, which can then loop with the leaking eye issue (I’ve had ‘leaky eyes I think since I was about 3 years old, it was one of my first sentences about myself), because there are some people I’ll point it out to who don’t like to hear it.
But overall it’s made me a much better friend, romantic partner, child, parent, employee and person. Because truly listening – other people’s internal thoughts and feelings fascinate me remember – is an indulgent interest topic of mine, where I will excel naturally and without effort. Because I’m able to notice such subtle cues (like using ‘you say’ rather than ‘you think’, or ‘you seem’ instead of ‘you do’) I am capable of being a brilliant listener. It is one thing people have said about me since I was a little child first out in the world. I am a great listener – great to talk to. I’ve been ‘social counsellor’ since ever – to friends, family, colleagues, even near-strangers. And there are plenty of times people realise I’ve paid careful attention to their words at a later time. And I can store and recall those conversations with an ease my ADHD often doesn’t let me experience.
I’m an awesome gift-giver, as I get to know you, by the way. Just make sure you clarify when you’re over something or have a new interest – or you’ll doom yourself to a lifetime of butterfly ornaments. Long story related to an interest and someone who didn’t generally like sharing themselves in too much detail (may have been a parent, I may have been a child – it made me better at buying gifts at a deeper level of thought as an adult though).
If you’re telling me about inside your head – your private completely inaccessible world – I am ALL ears. This, I can thank ADHD for though, too. If I’m naturally interested, I’m naturally hyperfocused.
The skill in listening this carefully, specifically (and with so many pieces of detail being noticed at once) let me feel my way through a complex, painful and intense faltering relationship – one that was not at all as it had appeared to be. It let me find a path to making sense of a world that started by having the rug ripped from under me, casting me off into a weightless space, floating around with no sense of bearing and nothing to tether myself to. I got my bearings and tethered myself firmly back in the real world by listening to and seeing in front of me the subtle information that was there, free for anyone to see and hear if they chose.
And it was probably the single most defining moment of my life, even though it was years of moments.
I lost my marriage, but I found myself.
I found my passion. I found my label. I found treatment. I found some level of the truth of what it was I was living – I am sure that I did not see the full depth of actual truth there, there’s every chance I wasn’t even close. I found a world of amazing things that made such simple, obvious sense to me. I found the science my year 9 science teacher begged me to have an interest in, owing to my ‘natural talent but obvious disinterest’.
I found myself in that moment and for that I will be forever glad, although the experience itself I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
With that, we come to now. Finally, now. I still have nothing to show. I still have three children, one of whom has the same condition but with a diagnosis aged 14 and still loving academia, should go a lot further a lot quicker than his mother. I have a sporty, easy to parent daughter who is as self-assured as she is smart and I have a toddler who I see my compassionate, empathic side in every time he asks ‘are you sure, mum?’ (this means are you OK) and anyone having a quiet moment or may look even mildly upset gets a check in ‘are you all right?’ Just in case. I have family, I have friends (although there aren’t many these days), I have love and care and kindness. I have plans, space and nothing but my truth. I have responsibility, trust and positivity. I have my enthusiasm. I’m not bitter and ‘ruined’ by my history. None of it – failures in life, ability or relationship – I’m all good there!
I have my label. Perhaps one day I will be able to quickly and clearly show those close to me why I can’t shut up about it – and how much this means to me to have. It’s like I have the meaning of life, the key to the universe. The answer to the world’s biggest mystery. It was, in my life – my world’s biggest mystery is solved. If I can find a way to sum it up (not in 5000 words!) perhaps they will have that moment of aha! like I did, and get why this is SO BIG.
In the meantime maybe I can show other ADHD’ers who feel disillusioned that some of us out there get it, and show those who do not have it but want to experience life with someone who does how to navigate through 🙂 Using this blog and my intuitive opinion (entirely uneducated, formally speaking) maybe we can get this moving forward!
Oh yeah, and I’m determined to un-demonise dopamine. Personal fight of mine – it’s not the ‘pleasure chemical’ they sold it to be. It is far more important to us all than that.
I’m at the edges of my passion and looking for my way forward. I’m hovering in a manner that tells me I just haven’t quite found ‘it’ yet – not in its absolute form. But I’m closer every time I rant, ramble, read or revise.
I think I’m close, and I have not given up. For me, this is achievement in itself. I have not – will not – fail myself on this.
I’m happy with the label of ADHD. (I just want it re-named 🙂 )