Our first feature story in ‘The Late Bloomers of ADHD’ series is about a woman who got arrested at the age of 27 and put on the path to getting diagnosed with ADHD while serving an 18-month supervision order. Here in her own words, she discusses how a drugs treatment worker finally set on the path to seeking a diagnosis….
Back in 2005, I was arrested and charged with possession and intent to supply. I’ve pretty much been taking recreational drugs since I was 17. I started off with speed for about a year and then I got into ecstasy. At the point I was arrested, I’d only recently been introduced to cocaine within the previous 3 months.
On the day of my arrest, I’d gone to meet somebody who’d asked me to get hold of some for him. It was a restaurant owner and I know he was heavily involved in cocaine, but apparently, he couldn’t get any. I got to the bar when I was supposed to meet him, and I had a bad feeling, so I left the bar. Then six undercover police officers jumped on me. I think they though it was part of a bigger thing. So yes, I was guilty of intending to supply on that day, but thankfully I was never convicted on that charge.
Looking back, I think the reason I got into drugs is because when I started taking ecstasy I could talk about my feelings and could seem to control my emotions better. I point out that it’s very interesting that she originally started on speed, because most forms of prescribed drugs for ADHD are just a moderated lower dose of speed. Yes, statistically people with ADHD are more likely to take or abuse drugs because they might help. When I was on the drugs, I could go into busy places and not feel vulnerable whereas now, I struggle with it.
Getting arrested was such a frightening time in my life as I really thought I was going to prison. Thankfully, I was convicted of just possession and given an 18-month supervision order where I had to see a drugs treatment worker and go for weekly drug testing at CJIT. It was during my discussions with the drugs treatment worker when she asked if I’d ever heard of something called ADHD and my response was “Isn’t that what naughty children have?” I think she must have recognised some signs of ADHD in me and told me to go and read about it.
When I read about ADHD, I felt like I was reading about myself. It was like the penny had dropped. So it was then I contacted my doctor and the ball started rolling, but it took me a long time to get a diagnosis. When I finally got my diagnosis I felt relieved because it explained so much. I was able to get the support I needed to continue with my life and get back on track. I went from having multiple jobs and relationships to returning to college for 3 years and now I have my own salon. Even though I struggle having ADHD, I’m able to manage my environment better. I don’t believe I can work for anybody else successfully. I ask whether she feels her life would have taken a different path had she been diagnosed with ADHD earlier. Yes, I think life would have been very different and stable. I think I would have had more confidence. People at school called me weird. I’m not sure there was much awareness about it when I was at school as I’m now nearly 44 years old.
I point out there is a lot more awareness of it now, but does she think there is still a lot of misinformation out there for ADHD? I think people think people with ADHD are stupid. The amount of times that I hear my clients talk about their kids and say I think he might have ADHD but I’m not sure because he’s really bright! Though, I think sometimes they can be other reasons of why people have symptoms of ADHD such as lack of iron and be vitamins and vitamin D, thyroid, etc. So I think all these need to be eliminated first of all. There is also other health conditions which can also cross over. Previously I was diagnosed with bipolar and borderline personality disorder traits. I ask her if she thinks the diagnosis of bipolar and borderline personality were incorrect and because not much was known about ADHD? I don’t think I do have bipolar or borderline personality disorder. I The borderline personality disorder has been confused with rejection sensitivity dysphoria which is linked to ADHD. And bipolar… Yes, I used to get up and down, but I’d never say that I ever had manic episodes.
I recently found out just how difficult it was for me to get the diagnosis because I managed to access a letter while trying to get diagnosed orginally where a psychologist tried to talk a psychiatrist out of referring me for further assessments. I ask her to elaborate on this further, because it’s a well know fact that adults really have to fight to be taken seriously when seeking an ADHD diagnosis and some are even discouraged from pursuing it. About two years ago I had to ask for my medical records, I had moved around a lot and been medication free for three years. I decided I wanted to go back on medication, but my new doctors said they had no medical records for me having been diagnosed with ADHD despite being put on medication for it.
When I requested my medical history, I found an email on record when the psychologist basically tried to talk the psychiatrist out of assessing me further. In the email it states that she was taking amphetamine and that if she was still working at a hairdresser then she couldn’t possibly have severely impaired executive function. She insists that a time she hadn’t taken amphetamine for 9 years and no cocaine since her drug conviction. She also is perplexed by them stating she was working as a hairdresser, because at the time of the email was written she was at college full time. I kicked up a right stink over it all and eventually I got a phone call from a consultant at the ADHD clinic in Cambridge who agreed to medicate me. Yet, I’ve still not had a follow-up appointment two years later.
Many people don’t realise how hard ADHD is to live with and ask her if she wishes people understood more about it. So, some of my hairdressing clients are aware of my ADHD and are very understanding when I run late and make silly mistakes with my diary. They all know what I’m like thankfully so I’m so lucky to have them. Some say they didn’t realise adults can have it ..others say ohh my son/daughter has it and then they start asking me more questions to help them get an understanding I suppose of how it might affect them in adulthood. My advice for anyone who thinks they have it would be to just keep banging on that door. Present as many examples as you can where it has affected your life. Don’t give up.
One thing I think it’s important that we take from this woman’s story is ADHD can manifest in all sorts of ways and without the right support, any one of us can end up in circumstances we have very little control over. I hate to think where this woman would be today if I she hadn’t been diagnosed, it’s very likely her life may have spiralled further out of control.