EDIT: True to form I focused on the content of this rather than the title. I’m actually 41 and 1/2. The URL slug is set now so will leave it but mildy amusing that this happened. Thanks to everyone who messaged me to say that this resonated with them in some way. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone. This has been updated with useful links at the end an another image.
Edit 2: 23.08.21 added more links and a useful Reddit thread to bottom of article.
This used to be a place where I would post things about riding or a video I liked somewhere and so on but now seems like a place where I come to record thoughts about mental health. I find the process of writing things down helpful, cathartic and often helps other people. Some people will probably think it’s all for attention and that’s fine, but the last thing I want is attention for this or for it to define me or really to talk about it that much in public (other than to help others). At the same time I’m not ashamed about this and if it helps one other person then it’s all worth it. Maybe I’ll find time to write up some rides again soon or some thoughts on the world but for now it’s back to another mental health post. This time we’re going to deal with my recent journey to an ADHD diagnosis.
So important caveats first. I’m not a psychologist or expert in this field. This is just my own lived experience and you should not take this as a guide to ADHD or how you might experience it. It’s simply a collection of thoughts and experiences that I have worked through and how I understand it as of date of writing. If you are exploring issues around ADHD this may be too much information and overwhelming for you.
Caveats out of the way… off we go.
I imagined that I might start this blog post with “…so I always knew I was a bit different” but that’s not the case. It’s simply not possible to know how other people experience the world and this is probably the biggest barrier I found to not quite dealing with this for the many years I’ve been on this earth. That and a lack of education about this field and a clear misunderstanding of what it actually is about stopped me getting anywhere near dealing with this until I was 42 and 1/2 years old.
This diagram is probably the most succinct explainer of what ADHD actually is as I understand it and how I relate to it.
I’ve previously had issues with depression and anxiety, general negative feelings, feeling like an imposter and so on. I’ve been to therapy a number of times to deal with this but not quite got to the root cause – through no fault of the therapist I should add. So how do you get to the point where you see a psychologist for an ADHD diagnosis? Well… I started with an online test after a friend noted of similar symptoms to me (but with a diagnosis). And then another. And then one more on a different website. But I thought I was gaming the system and that I was making it up. Maybe the websites were American and more likely to encourage a diagnosis. How could I possibly be this old and have ADHD? Nah. Not possible. Surely that was angry kids at school with difficult home lives? (I’m overstating that but it’s clear that it’s how this was what large sections of society thought about it when I was at school). I got 42 – 44 out of 48 on the test I refer to most often and I kept thinking that if I didn’t get a full house on it then it probably meant I was faking it.
I kept reading around the subject and what it meant. I looked at articles that referenced DSM 5 which any of this would be measured against. I made sure all google searches had “UK” appended to the search to try and make sure I was getting good advice. I still thought I was unlikely to get a positive diagnosis.
I finally plucked up the courage to book a test and went private. I got my test here with Psychiatry UK. I found the idea of trying to get a doctors appointment and referral almost impossible (and it is almost impossible) but also comes with a long waiting list. It’s possible to get a referral to a private consultant under the right to choose in the UK but more obstacles meant this was never going to happen. I bit the bullet and paid the money up front in June. I was pretty upset to see that my options for an appointment were in December onwards – quite a long way away and not quite the immediate feedback I’d hoped for. I stuck with it and filled out the forms. Again lots more self doubt here – many of the forms I didn’t feel like I hit them 100% and kept thinking of more faking it. If I wasn’t off the scale in all areas of the test they would just laugh me out of town.
The other part of the assessment is that someone else fills out some slightly shorter form about how they experience you, in this instance my GF. And holy shit that was hard to read. It did have the effect of making me ever so slightly more confident that maybe this was a thing. But then, what a nightmare I am. How did she live with me like this? How have I been this awful for so long.
One thing that did help was looking at ADHD meme accounts on Instagram which were alarming in the way in which I could relate to them. It kind of validated a lot of the behaviours and experiences I had. But then I was alarmed when not all described what I experienced.
And then I got an email saying my appointment had been re-allocated to early August back from December. I’m getting to the point soon I promise. This was a huge moment. Now just all the anxiety and worry to come from thinking about the appointment and what a diagnosis (or not) might mean. It was even worse when I mentioned it to a few people and then seemed slightly perplexed as to why I was doing it. “I wouldn’t have thought you were ADHD”… and shrugged. But then most people aren’t psychologists.
Appointment day comes and it’s via a remote call with an incredible person and psychologist. It’s fairly fast paced as you cover a LOT. It was meant to take just less than an hour but it lasted and hour and a half. It wasn’t until quite late in the session that it was confirmed that yes, I was ADHD, and no I had not been making it up. I’d been so nervous the whole call that we would get to the end of the call and she would thank me for my time but ultimately I was just lazy and smile at me and end the call. The last 15 mins were spent talking about treatment options – more on that in a bit. It covered everything from family, childhood, school, university, relationships, work, leisure, drugs, alcohol and so on. Pretty thorough and quite painful looking back at a few things really where I had come unstuck with this. A few examples are below. Kind of hilarious and sad to look back at this now and see it all make sense.
When I went to sixth form college I did a vocational course (GNVQ) and it was all coursework. All the modules were clearly defined in terms of outputs and you could take additional units to bulk out the course. Each piece of coursework I listed the bullet points out of the requirements and then just ticked them all off in the paper. I found it quite straightforward and I finished 3 months early and with a bunch of additional units done. I guess that wasn’t normal really. I was also quite socially awkward at the time and had very few friends or things to do in the evening so just did this instead. There were no other distractions.
When I did my degree I was top of my class, first class honours and had worked through Christmas at my shared house that year. Not because I was behind, but because I was hyper fixated on the work and just keep on at it. I would work from 8am until 1am most of the time just listening to music and working between a drawing board and computer. A completely all or nothing response. The boundaries were all super clear and a framework set for me to work and deliver against. I could work hard and deliver huge amounts of work and achieved incredible things within this framework. Then when I did my Diploma a few years later it was more open and less of a framework. I scraped a merit. There were also other distractions such as Internet cycling forums where I would be easily distracted as they were far more interesting. I found other ways to find stimulation and distraction away from work that someone else hadn’t set clear boundaries for me.
I was going through a bit of monotonous period at work around 2008 and 2009 and thought I’d get back into photography. Except I didn’t just do occasional photos. I took a photo every single day for an entire year becoming completely obsessive about it. Then I needed to know everything about photography. How to use off camera flash. How to do this that and the other. Then I started wanting to know everything about architectural photography and then turned it into a successful side business. Then I got bored of it as I felt I had completed it. I’d learnt everything I needed to. The fun was always in the obsessive learning and not necessarily repeating it once I had learnt it. I struggled to photograph buildings I didn’t like.
I used to read websites or forums and disappear down worm holes on the internet until 3am in the morning. Not the current addiction as designed YouTube type things but weird forums and news sites such as slashdot.org reading about obscure operating systems or delving deep into retro UNIX hardware from Sun, HP or DEC digital. Reading for four hours straight about programming languages and the latest MacOS release and its history and frameworks. Looking into all sorts of weird and wonderful hardware systems that never went very far. Apparently that’s not normal when you’re 25 and not a software engineer. And also not normal to do this at the desk next to your bed when your GF is in the bed next to you. I did the same with nuclear bunkers having grown up over one. Of course.
I drove someone to Scotland and back to a bike race in 2015 with someone I barely knew. It was around four days worth of driving there and back, plus another day and a bit for the actual race. I simply just said to him… “I can drive you if you like” and then figured out the consequences after. We’re now good friends, but still. Kind of not what a neurotypical person might do.
I get really really really offended by the most minor of things and then chew on them and continue to suffer from the pain and anger it causes me for weeks or months on end. The list of thrown away friendships and burned WhatsApp groups is extensive. I now know that this is likely to do with RSD – rejection sensitive dysphoria, quite common with ADHD. People just think I’m an arsehole, as do I.
I got into road cycling. Except I couldn’t just get into it I had to know everything about it and ride huge huge distances – 200km, 300km, 400km, 1200km… Kind of complete road cycling. Then I got bored of it and bought a different bike. I have now have nine bikes. I have poor impulse control and my finances are worse for it.
I can’t make a meal without eating half of it. Or making toast and eating it whilst my GF is plating up. Again, impulse control issues.
These are just a few of the many examples that came up in that appointment and that I’ve since been reflecting on since. It’s weird to see all of your traits and oddities laid out like that and how you’ve been fighting against it all for so long.
I’d pinned so much on getting a diagnosis that I saw it as some amazing moment of clarity that would hit me and my life would instantly become easier. That hasn’t happened, obviously. And it’s been hugely painful to reflect on life’s experiences and to think of what could have been. It’s left me feeling utterly bereft and isolated thinking about what could have been and how could I possibly have left it so long. It’s all so obvious in hindsight with the knowledge I have now. Why did I not help myself? Why did no one help me? Do I need to do some form of contact tracing and go back through my whole life and apologise and explain to people? It seems like it might ease some guilt or make things better.
It’s really hard to not look back and reflect on it. The one thing that is I guess some form of positive is that I’ve achieved a few things whilst all the time fighting this. Constantly battling against it. Maybe I could have achieved more. My only hope now that is by working with it, understanding it and managing it I can live a slightly less angst driven life and come to terms with it. It’s still really really fucking painful looking back though.
I start the next part of my treatment in a few weeks and may well update this once that hopefully starts to work. I’m going to try medication as a way of managing this as I know I just won’t engage with CBT type therapies and have already explored talking therapies at great length.
I guess that’s not quite the positive ending I’d hoped for. But I’m really quite glad I know and hopeful for how things can improve in the future. It’s going to take a while I think.
Here’s a few links to things I’ve found helpful.
What is neruodoversity and other conditions
ADHD 2.0: New Science and Essential Strategies for Thriving with Distraction–From Childhood Through Adulthood A good book on the subject. Naturally I got the audio version so I could actually get through it.
ADHD causes an inability to “feel” time. A really good Twitter thread.
Treatment for Adult ADHD The link between exercise and managing ADHD was really interesting for me in this one.
This post about the ‘spectrum of executive function‘ was also good. You colour in the areas where you struggle.
ADHD Designer A good Twitter account for those who are ADHD and designers.
Reddit thread on full process at psychiatry-UK. Super useful!
Russell Barkley explains ADHD – anything with Dr Russell is always good on this subject.
Will keep adding more as I find them.