Growing up before diagnosis
Growing up, I always had a sense that I was somehow ‘different’ and not in a good way. I was the child who would get stressed and anxious about disagreements and end up crying in school. Despite this, I loved school.
Learning new things came easy to me most of the time. If a subject interested me then I could pick it up super-fast. If it didn’t (like reading books of any kind) then I would feel physically pained by having to do it, or I would just forget that my reading book existed. I think my Harry Potter reading book sat untouched in my book bag, with the bookmark around 50 pages in for the best part of a year.
As a teenager I’d get detentions for not completing homework because I’d forget to write the homework down, forget to check my planner, or just plain forget homework was a thing as soon as I’d stepped out of the school gates.
When it came to tidying my room, my parents would lose me for days at a time whilst I embarked on a massive deep clean of my entire room which involved moving furniture and completely reorganising all my worldly possessions. My bed would be covered with all the stuff I had pulled out of my wardrobe, and suddenly as if by some sort of cruel magic, I’d lose the will to carry on. Or worse: I’d get distracted by something I found hiding in my cupboard. I’d be so fixated on what I was doing that I’d forget to eat and drink.
What ADHD looks like for me
As an adult, I look back now and can see that those (and a great many other) little ‘quirks’ about me were actually undiagnosed ADHD. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition marked by a pervasive pattern of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity which interferes with someone’s daily life.
I don’t blame my parents for not knowing that I was different. ADHD looks different in girls, who are more likely to display inattentive symptoms outwardly. I was hyperactive, but I wasn’t disruptive at school, so my teachers were none the wiser either. The epitome of ADHD in girls, if you will.
If I had a penny for every time, I was told that I was ‘smart’ or ‘capable’ but ‘just needed to knuckle down more’, I could probably afford to retire at 27 and live out the rest of my days in a tropical paradise. I can laugh at those sorts of statements now, knowing that they say nothing about my character.
But back then the way I was experiencing the world, being told I was exceptionally bright but struggling to keep up in many ways, caused me a great deal of anxiety. And I’m not alone. Some sources say that there is a huge overlap between anxiety and ADHD, with up to 50% of ADHDers experiencing comorbid anxiety.
It’s not hard to see why so many of us neurodivergents struggle to function in a world that wasn’t made for us. We may forget obligations, appointments, and important dates like birthdays. We’re often disorganised and struggle to prioritise tasks.
This isn’t because we don’t care, but because the part of our brain (called the prefrontal cortex) which deals with these higher order mental processes developed, and functions differently to that of a neurotypical person.
You can’t look through someone’s skull and see their brain (imagine, that would be horrible, in my opinion!), so it makes sense that lots of people, especially those closest to us, can become absolutely exasperated with what seems on the outside like a reluctance to pull our weight.
Loved ones may think we’re just being lazy when we forget to take the laundry out of the machine for the 6th time this week or get stuck doom scrolling on our phones.
Cue feeling absolutely pants that you’ve just spent 3 hours watching videos of kittens and not cooked the dinner you said you’d make. So basically, this all only serves to add to the anxiety we feel. But let’s not get it mixed up. It’s not necessarily that just having ADHD means you’re more likely to be anxious, but rather, the specific issues ADHD causes us in our relationships and working life are incredibly anxiety provoking.
So, nobody can see the way our brains are different but those developmental differences are visible on an fMRI (a fancy brain imaging technique that maps out changes in blood flow to different parts of the brain). Hence the term neuro (meaning nerves, the nervous system) divergent. There is a population of people who flat out refuse to believe ADHD is real – hello more anxiety about proving you’re not making it up. But ADHD is actually very well researched, with those fancy fMRI images to back it up [there are too many articles to reference here!].
DISCLAIMER: Not all criteria mentioned above are considered diagnostic requirements, to be diagnosed will need further testing please speak with your GP to find out more.
Think you or your child may live with ADHD?
So what if you think you or your child might have ADHD? Well the first thing to do is look at the symptoms, but go to a trusted source. ADHD Adult UK and the NHS website are a great place to start. Next, you’ll want to think about whether you ask your GP to refer you for an assessment, or whether you want to be assessed privately. Both have their pros and cons. An NHS assessment is free, but can often come with lengthy wait times, whilst a private assessment will happen relatively quickly, but will come at a potentially eye-watering cost.
As for experiencing anxiety, whether it’s related to ADHD or not, there are things you can do right now to begin taking back control. The best thing I ever did was to make a conscious decision to accept myself as I am, even the anxious part of me. This can be hard, and you might want to seek the support of a counsellor to do this work. In the meantime, there are a million things you could try at home to alleviate your symptoms, see the support links listed below.
A good starting point is talking to your GP or alternatively, find support at Dorset Mind.
Young Minds ADHD Group Support
YoungMinds is here to help if you think your child has ADHD. Find out more information about ADHD and how to get help. ADHD Parent Support. The Symptoms of ADHD.
ADHD Adults in Dorset
The Cheeky Tipple 6 N Square, Dorchester
Family Counselling Trust (FCT)
Anxiety UK, (Mon-Frid 9:30 am – 5:30 pm)
Anxiety UK offers services to support those with or experiencing symptoms of anxiety.
Call 03444 775 774 OR Text 07537 416 905
Samaritans, 24/7 phoneline
Emotional support and listening service.
Call 116 123
Connection, 24/7 phoneline
For people of all ages in Dorset who are experiencing mental health issues and need support.
Call 0800 652 0190
Please support our work
Dorset Mind is a self-funded local charity that helps people in Dorset experiencing mental health problems access the vital support they need. The charity is at the very heart of our communities shaping futures, changing and in some cases literally saving lives.