“My deteriorating mental health during lockdown led to my ADHD diagnosis.”

Series Bar ADHD & Me
A blog series dedicated to the women who have struggled with ADHD their whole lives only to be diagnosed with ADHD later on in life.
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So many people struggled through lockdown and found their mental health to be worse off, but those of us with neurodiverse conditions may have taken a double hit.

In our third feature story for ‘The Late Bloomers of ADHD’ series, a woman reveals how working from home during lockdown sent her mental health on a downward spiral. This led her on a journey to get her diagnosis at the age of 47, where she actually had to educate and convince her doctor on some important aspects of ADHD. Here she tells her story….

When the first lockdown happened in March, I went from a busy life working in the NHS, into a life working from home and my mental health really deteriorated, I didn’t realise I was having severe ADHD burnout.  I was low and started having really poor sleep, eating lots of food, feeling physically poorly, low in mood and disconnected ( I live alone). I inquire whether she shared her struggles or concerns with those around her. I thought I  was struggling to adjust to lockdown in a time everyone else was struggling. So, at the time I didn’t reach out or tell anyone what I was thinking or feeling. I work in mental health, and I kept hearing about staff being resilient yet that was the last thing I felt. I felt like I was crumbling.

I finally went to my GP, they sent me for blood tests and kept suggesting anti-depressants which I didn’t want to take. I then paid privately to psychiatry UK and had an appointment within a week. I got the diagnosis then they sent the report to my GP who rang me out of the blue to say he was shocked at what had arrived in his inbox; he was not happy. Wow, so he made it about him then. He didn’t believe it. He had never heard of psychiatry UK and thought they charlatans. He said anyone can put NHS provide stamp on an email. He basically said he did not know what share care was and he will not agree to it. Shared cared is basically a partnership between professionals; in this case it would have been between the GP and Psychiatry UK.

“I had to remind my doctor how long I’ve worked in mental health and questioned why I would make my struggles up.”

I had to very calmly explain that the psychiatry UK had explained to me what will happen and that all he needs to do is agree once I’ve titrated successfully and take over prescribing. He took some convincing, but I reminded him how long I’ve worked in mental health, I also questioned if I was the type of woman who would hand over money to a charlatan without heavily researching them first? Why would I make up that I was struggling? What benefits would I get from faking ADHD? I explained to him how dopamine depletion presents itself. My GP had no ADHD what dopamine depletion even was. I reminded him that for 20 years on and off (more on than off) I had been prescribed SSRI medication which never worked. I reminded him of my rights too. Eventually, he agreed.

 I’m just imagining where this woman would have ended up if she hadn’t pushed her doctor on the issue so what was her treatment  I was prescribed methylphenidate, but it turned me into a zombie. I then tried a combination of atomoxetine and methylphenidate and it was worse. So then just atomoxetine which was equally awful. I then almost gave up until my GP finally agreed to shared care. I’m open about my diagnosis now to staff and colleagues but not told lots of friends because I don’t feel I’ve needed to; my close friends know.

I’m always interested to know what school was like with people with ADHD, diagnosed or not, because I think the current education is very hard to access for many neurodiverse people, so I ask her about this. I was expelled at 15 for my behaviour. Leading up to that I’d been on report for about two years. Most lessons I wasn’t allowed into apart from English, maths, art, and PE. I was separated from my friends and spent a lot of time in isolation or in a designated area. Even then I would get into trouble. I was very hyperactive and difficult to control. I had poor impulse control too.  I had no fear of consequences I was very impulsive. I smoked, swore, and had no respect for teachers. It was all just a bit of a laugh really.

“If I’d have known about my ADHD when I was younger, I think I would have felt that it defined me.

I was given a final warning for my behaviour and then got caught smoking and was marched to the headmistress’s office which they locked me in! I tried to smash the room up as I didn’t feel locking me in a room was justified. It was decided after many meetings with an education welfare officer that I start attending a pupil referral unit for children with challenging behaviour. My best friend who was from a middle-class family was expelled on the same day as me, but she was given a private home tutor. Not sure what that says? I got pregnant at sixteen years old and left home. I stayed in a room in an old peoples home! The lady who ran it had taken pity on me. I had no qualifications and no parental support.

When I ask whether she thinks it would have been made a difference if she had been diagnosed earlier, her answer is rather surprising. I don’t wish I had been diagnosed earlier although it was obvious as a child I had ADHD. I have done well without a diagnosis and achieved a brilliant job. I have worked hard for my education despite leaving school with nothing and having a daughter at sixteen years old.I’m a bit relieved I didn’t know earlier as I may have felt when I was younger that it had defined me. I’m content with knowing later in life. I don’t mourn all the things I could have been because luckily I’ve achieved everything I wished for. I’m very grateful for this. It’s so lovely to hear someone with ADHD, being proud of what they have accomplished against adversity, and I think we need more people to acknowledge how hard it is to cope with the condition, but just how much we can achieve if we don’t let ADHD define us and put our coping strategies in place.

The only downside of this is that I have quite imposing Imposter Syndrome ( which on occasion feels far worse than ADHD). Imposter syndrome is where you feel like you don’t deserve your own achievements and that you owe your success to a fluke or other people. Feeling a fraud most days and thinking most things I’m good at is just a fluke. Even some days thinking my whole ADHD diagnosis is a con, Especially when feedback typically is women can’t have it, middle-aged women don’t have it and high achievers don’t have ADHD etc. This is so very true. The lack of clarity about what ADHD is, means that our struggles aren’t acknowledged even when we do have it. This can make us feel like it’s all in our head. I myself frequently suffer with Imposter Syndrome, which is probably linked to low self-esteem. Something that goes hand in hand with ADHD.

Simple tasks are not only overwhelming, but feel impossible (and often are).

Yes, it is difficult for others to believe I do have all the same struggles as anyone with ADHD, and Specific leaning difficulties because they just see achievements. (I don’t want this to sound I’m a big head) I think it’s hard for people to understand that I find lots of things really difficult. Weirdly complex situations and problems I find a doddle. Simple tasks are not only overwhelming but feel impossible ( and often are). I can’t even open the bloody box that laundry capsules come in without smashing it with a small axe! I have little coordination and am very clumsy and chaotic externally and internally. I really relate to this, as anyone who has seen my last blog article will know. We are often seen as if we are coping then we are not struggling, but the amount of effort it takes to maintain just being able to cope is huge and often overlooked.

We move on to talk about what she has already brought up; the stigma or stereotype of having ADHD, particularly as a woman. I read a lot about how girls ADHD is not presented the same as boys but mine was. I was loud, abrasive, climbing up walls, furniture and very disruptive. I do think there is a stigma attached especially for women. Only a few weeks ago someone shared an article about middle-aged women being diagnosed with ADHD and one of the comments was why does everything have to have a label? This was upsetting as this was within a work Facebook page and I work for a mental health trust.

“I do everything I want to do or need to do that feels good. I don’t feel like I’m missing out at all.”

Other people’s misconceptions of ADHD can be very upsetting to those of us who have it. That’s why I think it’s so important to surround ourselves with people who are empathetic and understanding. This brings us to how ADHD has impacted her relationships.  It has impacted romantic relationships as I’m never settled, and I’ve not been in a relationship for years. I don’t have any inclination for a romantic relationship. I don’t feel lonely, and I’ve really never had anyone to rely on in my life, so I guess I’m just used to being very independent and self-sufficient. I am not sure what a relationship would bring to my life? I do everything I want to do or need to do and that feels really good. I have my dog and he takes up plenty of my time and love. I don’t feel I’m missing out at all. I have a wonderful relationship with my daughter and my grandson and I’m more than content with that.

It’s fantastic that she has been able to thrive as a strong independent woman in such circumstances, despite her struggles with ADHD. Does she have any advice to give for anyone who thinks they have ADHD too? If you think you have ADHD then talk to others who have sought a diagnosis and research! There is often many barriers to get over to get an assessment  especially for woman regarding outdated beliefs on how ADHD presents itself, but don’t give up!

This woman’s story is rather inspiring as she is someone has managed to rise above her circumstances of ADHD and achieve success. Unfortunately, not all of us can be so lucky, but it does give us something to hope for. I always like to believe anybody with ADHD can achieve anything with the right support in place.

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