In August of this year, I was diagnosed with ADHD. I’m in my late 40s, and I’m a woman which is part of why it took so long for me to receive a diagnosis. Women have always been under-researched, and therefore, under-diagnosed. When it comes to ADHD, we mask better than boys from a young age, and our ‘hyperactivity’ tends to be mental, rather than physcical. The other part of why it took so long is that it genuinely never occurred to me that I was neurodivergent.
Then one of my friends – Helen – received a diagnosis of autism. I mentioned to her that a number of my female friends in their 40s and 50s, had received a diagnosis of either autism or ADHD. At this point, Helen suggested that I might want to get myself tested. Later that day, I did an NHS online screening test, and scored nowhere on the autism spectrum. When I reported this back to Helen, she suggested that while I may not be autistic, I might have some other identifiable neurodivergent diagnosis. So I did what I always do: I started to research. Being a big fan of Gabor Maté’s, I read his book, Shattered Minds, which offers his perspective on ADHD. Maté reveals that he has been assessed as having ADHD, and so have two of his sons – one of whom takes medication for the condition, and one of whom doesn’t.
Taking a look at the symptoms associated with ADHD, I discovered that the Venn diagram of symptoms attributable to it, and the symptoms attributable to trauma form almost a complete circle. At this stage, I felt like I was back where I had started, because any woman who like myself who has been sexually abused by her father and both her elder brothers, has a narcissist for a mother, and is gaslit by her entire extended family, is going to be living with complex post-traumatic stress.
In discussion with Susan Madigan, the OT, I mentioned that assessment had been suggested to me. I told her about my discovery that ADHD and trauma have pretty much the same symptoms. Susan made a really good point – she said that it is possible to have both; to have complex post-traumatic stress, and also to be a neurodivergent person. That was an ‘aha’ moment for me. Susan further explained that because I have done so much hard work around my trauma, and for so long, that issues that are identifiable as ADHD symptoms are probably not trauma related. This made sense to me – then, because the waiting lists in Ireland (even for private patients) are years long – I found a psychiatrist in London whose specialism in diagnosing, and treating, people with ADHD.
I was given an assessment tool to fill out in advance of meeting my doctor and I found it outrageously difficult because it was pretty much a Likert scale, and, therefore, impossible to record precise answers on. The questions were too imprecise for me to be able to answer them in a way that I felt was accurate and reflective of my assessment of the situations that were being presented. I made footnotes, scribbled in qualifiers, provided explanations, and a bit of history, in a cover letter to the doctor. I was upfront with him and said that I wasn’t necessarily looking for a diagnosis – but I was prepared to accept one.
Now that I know I have ADHD, I am aware of why I had certain life-long difficulties, and why – no matter how hard I try – certain things are nearly impossible for me. I have mixed emotions associated with the diagnosis because on the one hand, it is a huge relief. On the other hand, I have a sense of grieving around this: Had the supports been in place, had I had the help, and the accommodations that I really needed, I know that I would have accomplished a lot more, and would enjoy the resultant satisfaction in many areas of my life.
That said, I have this information now, which brings new understanding, awareness, and supports. I am looking forward, and getting excited about, how the diagnosis, the resultant accommodations, medications, and supports can facilitate the accomplishments I have my heart set on.
(If you would like a recommendation for a diagnosing practice in Ireland, or the UK, please contact me.)