This is MY ADHD Story; Literally

by literallyausome, 30th October 2020

In late August, I marked my two-year ADHD diagnosis anniversary. The passage of time, coupled with a global pandemic, has not allowed a lot of time for further reflection upon the diagnosis itself; however, remote-learning & having to revisit concepts that were long forgotten or never understood & try to explain them to my kids was a confronting reminder of the experiences & emotions throughout my life (especially the underlying theme of education, learning & study) that has impacted & still resonates me to this day, decades later. 

I’ve posted my story before, but I’ve updated it & sharing it again to provide an insight of the long term side effects, emotional heartache & residual trauma of living a life with undiagnosed ADHD in the hope that any parent avoiding or dismissing the notion of having their child(ren) assessed realises that this is about the child & their overall academic, social, emotional & mental well-being. Having answers is the gateway to supporting your child saving them from a lifetime of confusion & sadness. And for adults too; it’s never too late to get yourself assessed & get the answers you deserve & have earned.

Here we go. It’s a long one. Get comfy!

“It’s abundantly clear that I’m part of the generation of missed and overlooked (and then later misdiagnosed with depression) girls/females with ADHD.”

It’s been over two years since being diagnosed with ADHD by my Psychiatrist who spent a long time asking me a lot of questions about my childhood; how I behaved & at school & how I did academically & socially. For the most part, I couldn’t recall the earlier Primary years apart from a few instances that have forever etched into my memory, like that time my year three teacher called me stupid in front of the class but had clearer recall from high school. 

I did well in the subjects that I was interested in & not so well in others (that were either compulsory or I found to be too hard). Seems like an obvious correlation on the surface,  but after learning more about ADHD & how it affects a person’s neurology (not just behaviour/presentation), it’s abundantly clear that I’m part of the generation of missed & overlooked (& then later misdiagnosed with depression) girls/females with ADHD.

For my diagnosis anniversary, I read through my old school reports. I started with grade one (five years of age) & then grade one again as I had repeated the year trying to find evidence in the report to why this was the case. (Growing up, I was told it was because I was born mid-year near the cut off for entry into the year & was one of the youngest for the year. I also recall the word ‘immature’ being used in conjunction with me still wetting my bed until the age of eight). 

Curiosity got the better of me & I began reading the whole pile which was both heartbreakingly confronting yet validating at the same time.

Year One: …..’ requires almost constant supervision with her work’….. ‘polite but tends to interrupt others & is inclined to be distracted’.

Year One (repeated): ‘written work tends to be disorganised’…. ‘finds it difficult to control restless energy’….. ‘needs to concentrate more’….. ‘needs to make a concerted effort in organising her work’….. ‘responds well to praise but tends to be disruptive during class time’.

Year Two: ‘When she applies herself’….. ‘generally well behaved however can be very talkative at times’….. ‘ does beautiful work when supervised’…. ‘good academic potential’….. ‘ a talkative yet capable student’… ‘when she tries’….. ‘has creative ideas in story writing, although she sometimes has difficulty ordering her thoughts & expressing herself concisely’…. ‘she can sometimes be a distraction’….. ‘a hearing test is encouraged’.

Year Three: ‘learnt to settle down, listen to instructions & think problems through more carefully’…. ‘needs to improve her retention of number facts & in computation’….. ‘works quickly’…. ‘more care would result in more pleasing results’….. ‘under careful nurturing has learnt to concentrate on the set task’….. ‘always aware of all matter arising in the classroom’…. ‘experiences difficulties with problem-solving’.

Year Four: ‘difficulty in expressing herself’….. ‘still only achieving limited success’….. ‘good potential but has not yet achieved this & must try harder’…..’new concepts take time to be learnt’….. ‘natural organiser’….. ‘most cooperative & attentive’…. ‘she has not made the desired improvement & must try harder’.

Year Five: ‘making pleasing progress despite the occasional self-deprecating gesture’ (I have NO idea what the teacher meant by this)….. ‘generally works at an average class level’…… ‘she is bordering on the average class standard’….. ‘improved research skills but needs to stick to the questions at hand’.

Year Six: ‘When she concentrates on her set tasks, she achieves good results’….. ‘needs to concentrate more & think more logically’….. ‘ coped well, thanks to her natural ability, but she is obviously capable of a considerably higher standard’…. ‘quick mental computation tends to be inaccurate & this is a fault which she possesses. She needs to develop “less haste, more speed attitude” as mistakes that occur cause her to become frustrated sometimes to the point of “dropping her bundle” which is hampering progress on her part’….. ‘noticed a declined contribution in class discussions which is a pity & restricting her progress’.

And now for high school. Comments have been taken across multiple subjects.

Year Seven: ‘capable of a much higher standard of work if she would concentrate more during class time’…..’needs to work harder at home’….. ‘concentration is lacking which could be improved’….. ‘has not worked as well as she could’…… ‘more sustained effort & more thought needs to be put into her work’….. ‘with continued concentration, she can improve further’…. ‘disappointing exam results’…. ‘requires further concentration & has the ability to achieve a higher standard’……’gets overwhelmed by new concepts resulting in difficulty understanding concepts….’capable of attainting higher standards, should, prepare herself better for tests with more effort’…..’more effort with bringing better results’…. ‘does not put in sufficient effort into her work’….. ‘struggled all semester, but I admire her determination’…. ‘has not submitted all work & needs to be more organised’…. ‘better concentration in class would help’…. ‘poor performance in her tests have let her down’…. ‘tendency to be talkative in class’…. ‘needs to concentrate more’….. ‘better attitude would lead to better results’.

Year Eight: ‘More preparation in tests’….. ‘I was surprised to see how poorly she performed in her exam’….. ‘positive attitude despite her difficulty in coping with tests’…. ‘must put more sufficient effort into her work & must work harder’…. ‘her work is too ordinary – because her effort is too ordinary. She needs to find some ambition to do well – to pay attention more, to think more & to study harder. She is too content to drift’….. ‘she does not give her best which is a pity as she has the ability to do well’…. ‘her work would improve if she read the content more carefully & thought more about the questions’….. ‘struggles to grasp new concepts’….. ‘perhaps she thinks science is not for her, though it’s too early for her to decide that’…. ‘more effort required in group discussions’….. ‘classwork a high standard, but exam result was disappointing’…. ‘with more self-confidence she could really achieve’…. ‘an improvement in behaviour & attitude would lead to better results’.

Year Nine: ‘her grades do not reflect the effort she has displayed in class’…. ‘she is shy with presenting but perfectly capable’…. ‘lacks concentration. More effort, work & concentration is needed’…. ‘with a little less chatter & more hard work she can maintain these satisfactory results’…. ‘lacks confidence with basic principles’…. ‘her concentration span is limited & she has difficulty expressing ideas logically’…. ‘while completing the year well-below class average, what you have learnt is that you can certainly achieve if you are willing to put in the necessary effort (I got 81% in this exam!!)…. ‘easily distracted & need to put in more effort in her concentration’…. ‘does not like to take part in group discussions’…. ‘fluctuations between attitude & concentration’.

Year 10: ‘her understanding in very weak & consequently examinations are not much joy for her’…. ‘she can be easily distracted in class’…. ‘better note-taking & concentration required’….’ she is capable with more effort & tends to be talkative’….’ordinary result following ordinary attention in class’…. ‘tried very hard, but unfortunately just could not cope. Completed homework but when it came to tests she could not perform’…. ‘more effort required in group discussions’.

Year 11: ‘She seems to be overwhelmed’….. ‘works efficiently but not with enough understanding’…’ work often lacks relevance, however, she always finishes her work very early’….’written work was a good standard, her final test results were somewhat disappointing’…. ‘I am surprised that she allowed a piece of work to be outstanding’….. Overall comment by year level coordinator, ‘well organised in her time management skills when it comes to working requirements & projects. However, there seems to be an argument amongst her teachers that more depth & thought should go into her work’.

Year 12: ‘applied herself well & her skills have improved, though she needs to write better under time pressure & to learn to map out more logically’…. ‘she is capable of doing better’.

I recall how my self-esteem took a beating after beating each year as I read my reports. I legitimately worked really hard & tried my best, but my results were seldom indicative of this. There were concepts I just could not grasp (maths & science), but my effort never aligned with my results. And what’s also clear now, after reviewing my reports, is that I struggled with tests & exams with my overall results being poor.

For months after my diagnosis, I dissected my life from early childhood, my memories of school in terms of my education & my overall results, my results at the end of high school & how devastated I was in my score despite me working so hard, my results at university (college) & then how I progressed in my career once in the workforce. I recalled how depressed I was when I was young in terms of all the negative self-talk & self-confidence around my academic results. I worked my butt off. 

[After my diagnosis, I trialled various medications before I found one that worked best for me. Some people I know that have been recently diagnosed & have started medication have felt instant clarity, are super productive, more focussed & attentive & can even feel when the medication is wearing off. I’ve not had those results, which I have to admit has been disappointing, however, I have reassessed my expectations & after going a few days unmedicated, it became clear to me that the medication I’m on does make things clearer & overall I’m less distracted].

During my mediocre medication trial results, I actually started questioning whether my diagnosis was accurate. Was I just looking for an excuse for my challenges? Why did I need a label, when there’s no treatment for me anyway? Why pursue this diagnosis – what difference does it make to my life? It’s not like I’m going back to school or need to memorise anything! I can now say that I accept that medication (for anyone) is not a cure (even when working as effectively as it can) but it can make a positive difference to my life & overall functioning.

As stated, reading my reports was both validating & confronting. It was validating as I will never ever question my ADHD diagnosis again. There is no doubt based on how I presented in my formative years.

What was confronting, however, is that each page I turned over I wondered how no one drew any correlation between the comments year after year of a possibility of any neurological condition that might explain any of it (& then support it once identified). How did no one see this? How is it that I was never offered any support to help with my ongoing ‘distraction’ & ‘lack of concentration’? 

The answer is two-fold. Firstly, my issues were not disruptive to the class or causing any overall behavioural issues, & secondly, what is this so-called ADHD anyway & even if this is a ‘thing’ (& not just poor parenting & no discipline) girls can’t have it as they can sit & play for hours! I was dragged to eye tests & hearing tests as the school assigned these be to explain my poor concentration (but not my disorganisation, jumbled thoughts, not understanding new concepts & the list goes on) & the tests were made to either confirm or dispel these conclusions.

This shame is (still) hard to shake & can be paralysing with the added embarrassment of not meeting the deeply embedded expectations of how a woman ought to be.

And then it dawned on me when reading my reports….. I was missed-diagnosed. I wasn’t diagnosed back then because we didn’t know then what we know now about ADHD, or that girls/women could have ADHD. And once it was determined that we could have ADHD, the symptoms & traits needed to be unpacked being different to the traditional ones already established, specifically around daydreaming, being talkative, being distracted, being unfocussed & not being able to compile thoughts. Whilst my issues were not disruptive to the class or causing any overall behavioural issues, it was most certainly caused emotional & mental health issues that I still carry to this day. 

The signs were ALL there. I never needed to feel stupid, dumb or lazy. I didn’t need to be depressed over my average & satisfactory results as there is a legitimate reason I didn’t (& at the time couldn’t) get better results. There is a reason I didn’t do well in exams. It explains why I would have to read & re-read materials because I could not retain anything. 

If only more was known then. If only….. so many if only’s’.

As I moved into adulthood, & certainly as a wife & mother, I’ve felt deep-seated shame for not being able to perform seemingly basic tasks in running our home & managing the family’s needs. 

Assigning this to my previous diagnosis of anxiety, depression, antenatal & post-natal depression, was the only answer anyone could assign for answers to these issues. 

Because the notion that women could have ADHD wasn’t mainstream, I simply had no framework to assign or understand why I couldn’t accomplish (often) basic tasks or why I still struggled with things that those around me didn’t. This shame is (still) hard to shake & can be paralysing with the added embarrassment of not meeting the deeply embedded expectations of how a woman ought to be.

Having ADHD doesn’t mean my brain is slow or that I’m unable to focus. It’s actually opposite. Having ADHD is like having a turbocharged mouse-on-a-wheel-like brain that goes much faster than other brains & is constantly taking in a lot of different stimuli. I can have more thoughts in an hour than most people have in a day! It’s no wonder I’m always exhausted, confused & overwhelmed by trivial things & find it hard to fall asleep.

I’d spent over 40 years berating myself internally & although I finally got a diagnosis decades after my symptoms first manifested (& only after my daughter was diagnosed), I’d heartbreakingly grown accustomed to blaming myself for my inability to ‘get it together’ & do all of the things that most mothers, daughters & humans are able to do.

I am no longer missed-diagnosed & this is a game-changer.

I am so bloody grateful to be living at a time now where more is known about ADHD, learning difficulties & all other neurological conditions, such as Autism. No one needs to go through life being told or feeling less-than, feeling unworthy, feeling unfulfilled, feeling undeserving, feeling stupid, feeling depressed, feeling helpless or feeling hopeless.

I am so bloody grateful that more is known about the female presentation & for the ‘high masking’ males too.

I am so bloody grateful that my children can grow up in a world with a LABEL that explains to them why some things might be harder for them & a reason why some things in their lives will be more challenging. When first diagnosed, I paradoxed between being angry that (if more was known) I could have been diagnosed earlier & not had to bloody struggle to be grateful for this acronym for reasons to my future struggles. (It’s still not easy, but I no longer blame or question why all the time). 

Just last week I was helping my husband with some renovations; he would tell me to go left or lift something up & me yelling back at him, ‘I don’t know what that means’! My dyscalculia has not been magnified this much since I was in high school, but instead of feeling stupid, worthless & incapable of anything that really mattered in life, I knew exactly why it was hard & reminded myself not to go down the self-hatred well-trodden path. I actually laughed at the situation because I knew precisely why I struggled with simple concepts like left, right, up, down, backwards & forwards 😂

My label is an explanation. 

My label is validation. 

My label eliminates feeling confused or broken in a world that seems together. 

My label brings acceptance; of the things that are just harder, if not impossible & for the things that require more work for me & not another. 

My label provides me with confidence knowing that I am not a failure, rather fortunate in other areas. 

My label gives me permission to celebrate my neurodiversity & my strengths, rather than be dragged down by unrealistic expectations & unachievable requirements. 

My label makes me part of a club that I never knew existed & knowing I’m not alone. 

My label gives me terminology for how I have felt my whole life.

My label has saved me. I won’t need to spend the rest of my life wondering why & why not. I won’t spend the rest of my life comparing myself to others & then asking why I can’t do what they can do. I won’t have to spend the rest of my life under a cloud of self-loathing (still working through forgiving myself) & questioning my worth.

Both of my children have labels too. I wear mine with pride & a badge of honour, & well, they don’t wear their labels because they’re literally too itchy….. but they own theirs. They own their neurodiversity & embrace their self-identity with assurance & confidence & will never ever find themselves questioning their worth or value as I did mine.

Understanding, acceptance & support is literally everything.

Disclaimer

The ADHD Women Project Team does not endorse or verify coaches and their accredited certifications. We suggest that you review the Practical Guide to Finding a Coach for your ADHD (June 2020 which is authored by the ADHD Europe AISBL Subcommittee Group). This Guide aims to give you practical tips on how to find the right coach to help you overcome the challenges associated with your ADHD.

The Practical Guide to Finding a Coach
https://adhdeurope.eu/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Practical-Guide-finding-coach-for-your-ADHD-v29June20-.pdf 

For more information about ADHD Europe visit their website
 www.adhdeurope.eu

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