It’s been sixteen months since I was diagnosed with ADHD. But it feels more like sixteen days or even sixteen hours, because I still don’t feel fully qualified in the ‘art’ of holding this diagnosis; of understanding it; of appreciating I was born this way and of knowing what to do with it.
This is a great visual representation of how my life feels compared with someone not born with ADHD:
Actually, the ‘when is your birthday?’ brain-freeze really happened. I was at primary school, our class was learning how to compile graphs, and because I had no idea when I was born (not even the month), I was sent to stand in the December group because that wouldn’t affect the results as much. I’ve often wondered if this would’ve been a ‘flag’ at school these days…
My daughter was delighted with my diagnosis, however. Because for months–maybe years—she’d been convinced I was displaying signs of dementia. Mainly forgetting things like dates, people’s names, household items, appointments, that kind of thing. And actually, aged 58, I also believed that might be the case. There’s a lot of overlap with the condition. Hence decades of misdiagnoses and lining the pockets of the antidepressant industry… but let’s not stray from the path (so easy to do, and now I know why).
Like a lot of other adult ADHD-‘survivors’–and this isn’t a real term; I just don’t know how best to frame the feeling of having spent a lifetime convinced I was stupid, ungrateful, silly, lazy, selfish, ignorant etc–I had a sense of validation at the diagnosis. Because although I’d been conditioned to believe I was all those things in brackets, there remained a still, small voice within me whispering: “you’re not really, you’re just misunderstood”… and the diagnosis confirmed this was true.
It’s an alien feeling to recognise that my small voice was telling me the truth.
The website attention.org says: “the impact of ADHD on life outcomes has found that ADHD is most often found in adults who have ended up under one or more of the following categories: unemployed people; those with substance misuse disorders; and previously married individuals, as well as younger adults; those living alone; people without educational qualifications; the unemployed and those who are economically inactive, especially those in receipt of disability-related out-of-work benefits…”
Which again, perfectly describes me. To a Tee. In fact all of the above. And it’s knowing I can type ADHD into a search engine and watch my life unfold before me which gives me reassurance (at times. At others I still just want the world to stop so I can get off).
Here’s another great visual representation via the wonderful ADHD-alien site. Eyes down, and don’t move your markers!
Maybe the difficulty I have in ‘owning it’ is because of my age. Because the people I grew up surrounded by are no longer in my social circle. Parents are long dead. My brother is geographically distant despite attempts at keeping in touch and, out of the two surviving friendships from schooldays I did somehow manage to maintain, I lost one following my diagnosis and the other doesn’t appear interested in any kind of chat, social media or otherwise. Other friends I left behind when I moved counties five years ago also don’t keep in touch. Although since last Christmas I’ve stayed in daily contact with someone I used to house-share with, which is a very lovely thing even though I don’t think she completely understands ADHD.
But we all move on, right?
Correction: the person with ADHD doesn’t move on. We have the same kind of relationship with time that Doctor Who has. It’s not linear. The only thing we can sensibly contend with is what’s happening right now. There’s definitely no future. And because the past is something we still see, feel and smell, it’s intrinsically linked to the Now.
So, something I did aged nine is the same as something I did aged nineteen and twenty-nine and fifty-nine. The instances are knitted into the pattern of everyday because it’s forms the bigger picture. I struggle to understand how not seeing someone or not living close to them anymore can be such an easy thing to move on from. Maybe that’s why I always tried to stay in touch with ex-boyfriends “let’s still be friends”; I just couldn’t compute the full-on-closeness to existential Nothing that happened after a break-up. The idea would break me.
Everybody I’ve ever known, whatever their relationship was to me, still exists in my present day. It’s why social media makes me feel so sad; when I see posts from those I used to be so very close to, showing their lives in pictures and words, I struggle so badly with whether I ought to comment or even ‘like’ because I know whatever connection I make won’t extend into anything more than a ‘like’ in return. Which, to me, is so dismissive it hurts.
I think I may have strayed a little from my original point. But it doesn’t matter because… well, I spent a happy half hour scrolling through images of David Tennant which is never a waste of time. See what I did there?
But owning it. That’s right.
Shortly after my diagnosis my daughter, who has the indubitable honour of living in the same house as me, told me she’d noticed I wasn’t ‘masking’ as much. Even though she’d only known me for 27 out of 58 years. My child is hyper-intelligent and super-aware of the nuances of life and I couldn’t be more proud. And she was right. I’d decided that it was time to shift my mask–now I knew what it was called and how painful it had been trying to hold it in front of me my entire life–so I let it slide incrementally.
Instead of pretending I was happy, or ‘fine’, as I’d become used to (mostly to appease others and not make them feel awkward or uncomfortable) I started to voice my displeasure or sadness about something. Instead of saying ‘yes’ all the time to things I knew I wouldn’t take any pleasure in, or which I knew would cause me discomfort, I began saying ‘no’. Instead of “Pushing Through” and forcing myself to do things that would make me feel physically sick and exhausted just thinking about, I would simply Not. I’d take a break. Sit down. Decide that the time Right Now wasn’t optimal. It didn’t feel right. Maybe another time would be better. Because really, who had I been kidding in the past? Only myself.
Through a lifetime of masking, I was discovering, I’d merely become a thousand shades of a million different people who I saw living life the way I presumed was the Right Way. The Only Way. Which meant that whoever I was didn’t actually exist. The pink, pliable sensory mound that I’d been born as had soaked up all these subtleties from whatever experiences I’d encountered and kept them inside my own shell. No wonder whenever I was asked “what do you think about XYZ?” I invariably had no answer to, so had to swiftly scroll through my memory banks to locate a suitable other person who might provide an answer for me.
Likewise “what XYZ do you enjoy?” would elicit the same type of frenzied spreadsheet-search. I didn’t have an answer. Or if I did, then I’d stop myself from saying the first thing that came to mind because I knew from experience that it would be something stupid or insensitive. Just wrong. So I’d find something ‘right’ to say instead. Something that the person posing the question wouldn’t find so inflammatory or cringe-worthy or dumb. And this was the way I navigated life. Like a soldier-in-training sliding on their belly under barbed wire to outsmart whatever the enemy was. Kind of.
It’s also why, after several attempts at preparing a profile for online dating, I’ve stopped trying. Because when I get to the boxes asking you to describe yourself; what you like doing; places you like going… those sorts of things… I have no idea what to put. Even the sections which ask you to tick which picture appeals to you the most, I find none stand out, so revert to the belief that I was simply made wrong. I can’t even choose one image. I have nothing to offer a prospective date. I couldn’t even tell them my favourite colour because the name of the colour that I like the most doesn’t have a name, or else it changes daily. Hourly sometimes. It depends on which way the wind is blowing.
Yesterday I had a phone call from a local mental health service I’ve convinced myself I should join because I’m becoming a hermit, and this would get me out of the house for two hours a week, and the lady asked me to confirm my date of birth because on the form I sent back it stated 22.02.2022. And instead of apologising for not putting the correct date, I told her the truth and said I didn’t have the patience to scroll back to 1962, so I’ d left it at this year. There was a small silence that I could easily (and would easily, in the past) have filled, but I wanted to see how it felt just being ‘me’ for a change, so said nothing.
It didn’t appear to upset her unduly and she did find it amusing, even though it wasn’t a joke. Maybe I’m evolving into the person I was always meant to be. Maybe all I need to do is carry on being as honest about things as I can. Because I’m the one inhabiting this length of flesh and bones. I may as well let it have a personality of its own.