In August of this year, I was diagnosed with ADHD. I am in my late 40s, and I am 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 physical. 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 diagnoses of either autism or ADHD in the past few years. 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 a 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 be neurodivergent. That was an ‘aha’ moment for me. Susan further explained that because I have been doing so much hard work, for so long, around my trauma that issues identifiable as ADHD symptoms are probably not trauma related. This made sense to me, and I set about being assessed. The waiting lists in Ireland (even for private patients) are years long, so I found a psychiatrist in London whose specialism is 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 tortuously difficult. It was akin to 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.