During the Covid-19 pandemic, I have been exceptionally lucky. When the first lockdown hit in March 2020, I kept my job, was able to work remotely, was able to stay outside London with my partner in the countryside and I was safe and healthy. Well, mostly healthy. I had anxiety and depression, semi-managed by medication.
Living in London for 14 years, I’d fallen into a cycle of overcommitting, running late, dashing round to a hundred appointments, eating crap and feeling short on time/energy, or always on the backfoot. A nice break, then, to be forced to take things more slowly, and to be able to walk in the green lanes, away from people.
As the weeks wore on, though, despite my comfy situation I began to feel like I was taking sugar pills instead of SSRIs. My anxiety begin climbing, my moods flailed one way and another, I took offence to anything and nothing, and I could hardly stay awake. At first, screen time seemed the obvious culprit, but I had spent far longer glued to my PC in London. Next came brain fog, an inability to remember very simple things, irritability and intense sadness. I felt like a rusty little robot that was sparking and fizzing, breaking down piece by piece.
I was talking to a friend online when he revealed that his partner, who was also prone to anxiety, mood swings and forgetfulness, was getting assessed for ADHD. This followed a conversation with a friend of hers who also had ADHD, and had observed similarities in my friend’s partner’s behaviour.
I’m a cis female in my late 30s who’s been on a carousel of antidepressants for many moons, and this had never once been suggested as a possibility. ADHD had always been framed as either an overdiagnosed creation of the US pharma industry, or as shorthand for naughty little boys who ran around screaming all the time. I was always ridiculously well-behaved at school, fearful of failure and overly concerned with following rules.
After the call, I hit DuckDuckGo and started reading up on ADHD.
It was a bit like seeing a ghost. Reading down the list of symptoms, I felt like I’d been surveilled as an experiment since childhood, and never told what was going on.
Here’s what the NHS lists under Adult ADHD:
Carelessness and lack of attention to detailSource: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/symptoms/
Continually starting new tasks before finishing old ones
Poor organisational skills
Inability to focus or prioritise
Continually losing or misplacing things
Restlessness and edginess
Difficulty keeping quiet, and speaking out of turn
Blurting out responses and often interrupting others
Mood swings, irritability and a quick temper
Inability to deal with stress
Taking risks in activities, often with little or no regard for personal safety or the safety of others – for example, driving dangerously
Related conditions in adults with ADHD
As with ADHD in children and teenagers, ADHD in adults can occur alongside several related problems or conditions. One of the most common is depression.
About two thirds of the list was spot on.
After the initial spooked-out reaction, I began to feel dangerously hopeful. Maybe this was me too. Maybe after 15+ years of vague doctoral shrugs, indeterminate mental health issues and ambling from medication to medication as each one conked out, I might not be doomed to a life as a busted robot?
Thankfully the GP I spoke to was lovely, and had a keen interest in mental health issues. He listened, he took me seriously and he agreed it sounded possible. He did, however, explain that there was next to no provision for diagnosis or care of Adult ADHD on the NHS, at least not in my area. Less than none, really, since Covid-19 was rampaging through South London. So for the first time, I looked into going private.
After comparing some scary prices, I found Psychiatry UK, and was able to choose a specialist with good reviews for an assessment. It was the smartest money I ever spent.
The doctor sent through lengthy forms for me to fill out ahead of time, in which I answered questions about my past and present. He asked that a second person (in this case my partner) give their observations too. We filled them out (cue more Holy Shit/Hang on – is that not what everyone does?/Wait, that was THAT? moments).
Appointment Day rolled around and the internet connection graciously held out. My doctor listened to me, trusted me and believed me. He was in no doubt that I had ADHD.
I can’t describe how much of a difference this new knowledge has made to my quality of life. Firstly, because it’s remarkably simple in its root cause (my body doesn’t produce enough dopamine on its own) and secondly, because now I take a medication that actually helps me.
For most of my life I have written off so many of the things I find difficult as the products of my own idiosyncrasies or personality flaws (can’t finish things, lazy, impatient, clumsy, avoidant, always late, dizzy, quick-tempered, lethargic). It’s very good for feeding the old self-loathing when after threatening, bribing and berating yourself, you still can’t make yourself fill out that spreadsheet.
At least some of these traits are directly linked to the mechanics of my brain. Even things I hadn’t considered, like my Brundlefly-esque sugar addiction (brain ill-advisedly foraging for dopamine), my volcanic misophonia around headphone crackles on the bus, and my inability to remember detailed procedures, keep Japanese vocabulary in my head for 5secs, estimate journey times, interpret maps in real-time or hold a pen unlike a monkey with a dagger.
The most overwhelming feeling when the doctor first explained all of this was one of relief. Not because I suddenly had an excuse for being scatty or impulsive, but because I felt like a) there was hope at last that I could start managing it all and b) because I could forgive myself for many of my perceived weaknesses and failures.
I’m still figuring how to handle the different challenges (I currently have four concurrent bullet journals going, a Google calendar, the Habitica app and the Let’s Meditate app, and I still forget the odd thing). There are good days and there are bad days, and I’ve definitely experienced that period of mourning post-diagnosis when you think of the time you’ve lost, but I feel like I know myself much better now, and I actually like myself.