A personal account of a long overdue ADHD diagnosis
I was diagnosed with ADHD around a year ago on the cusp of turning 22 and it happened, in its own way, accidentally. But my journey to an actual diagnosis, that “Aha!” moment if you will, goes a little like this:
In high school, I was always the “Gifted Child” who quarter assed or otherwise straight up didn’t do my homework but could somehow (spoiler alert: hyperfocus combined with cramming is how) get in the high 90’s on my tests and exams so I’d sufficiently pass my class. It frustrated my parents and my teachers to no end, and it was the cause of a lot of conflict between me and them. I would lie often, hide things like my report cards and homework results, and make up elaborate excuses to cover my ass. If I was being honest, I would have said “I didn’t do this because it was so mind-numbingly boring and I really, REALLY didn’t feel like it” but what kind of crappy excuse would that have been? I could never quite explain why I felt like this, why I would be doing a boring project and constantly just want to beat my head against a wall because even that would have been more interesting. I was ashamed of it, and felt like I was just stupid and needed to get it together. The problem was that I could never figure out how.
Impulsivity was another thing I struggled with in a big way. Being a girl who hit 6 feet tall when I was 13 meant I could get away with a lot of things I really shouldn’t have, just because I looked older. Having always felt like a bit of a weirdo in highschool. Aside from a handful of good friends my age, I tended to hang out with the 20 somethings I worked with a lot more. I got into a fair share of trouble that way, the details of which could better be chronicled in a book of short stories so I’ll spare you all the length of that.
A good number of the friends I did have in high school were diagnosed with ADD/ADHD and I dont think its a coincidence. Looking back now I’d refer to the birds of a feather concept and I’ve thought a lot about why it never came up as a potential root cause. I think probably a combination of being a girl and not necessarily struggling with my school material led to that oversight, because ADHD diagnosis in school systems can lean towards being based on acedemic performance alone, though obviously there would be some more nuance there than I’m letting on.
My diploma exam scores in grade 12 were worth 50% of my mark and they enabled me to get into University and a BFA Film Studies program. As a lover of movies, a degree in watching movies has been amazing, but my old habits from high school didn’t seem to just die off. University was turning out to be challenging. I was doing a lot all at once, joined boards of directors and got involved in activism and while all that was certainly a challenge I was willing to take on I nonetheless experienced a TON of stress. This became a hugely problematic factor for a chronic migraine condition i’ve lived with since I was 2 as stress became more and more of a trigger for my extremely debilitating and photo/sound sensitive migraines. I’ve tried many medications for it, none of which seemed to be worth the horrible side effects. I was able to find a good method of pain management through medical cannabis and CBD in this time though even with that, the cycle became quite vicious in that I would be stressed about schoolwork, the stress would trigger a migraine rendering me unable to do the schoolwork, which would in turn cause more stress about the schoolwork and so on and so forth.
This, clearly, was not super fun and I reached a point in year 4 of my studies where I finally cracked and decided to try and nip it in the bud. I got a referral to a psychiatrist at my schools clinic for anxiety and got put on the waiting list for a few weeks. The night before my first appointment with the psychiatrist I, naturally, was in a 2am youtube rabbit hole and unable to sleep. I was watching videos about bullet journals, having seen one of my friends’ that looked really cool, when I found a video called ‘why a bullet journal is the best planner for the ADHD brain’. As I watched it, it just seemed to hit WAY too close to home I had this long sort of epiphany like “oh my god… these are all the reasons this might work for me.”
I realized something pretty big right then: I didn’t actually know anything about ADHD beyond “cant pay attention”, which felt a bit ridiculous with me coming from a family chalk full of medical doctors and mental illnesses in fairly equal measure. I always grew up with an understanding of approaching mental health from a medical, scientific perspective, so I pulled an all nighter doing research and while I would never self diagnose personally, I realized that ADHD could potentially explain everything.
When I went to my doctors appointment, I arrived with about 5 pages of notes from my research and completely sleep deprived when I explained that “yes, I booked in for Anxiety but I stayed up all night doing research and I really think ADHD makes more sense for all the reasons I’ve listed in my notes with the proper citations but you’re the one with the medical degree so I’ll defer to you.” She agreed to do an assessment interview with me then and there, and the funniest part of all of it was that 5 minutes in, she gave up making notes on my answers and just started checking off boxes.
I’ve been on medication for almost a year now. While I know that pills dont teach skills and I still have a lot to work on I cant believe what a difference its made for my overall health. Above all though, its just such a relief to finally be able to explain all the things I could have never explained before without being embarrassed. The awareness and understanding of being actually ADHD has been, more than anything, the reason I have been able to “get it together” and find ways to work with my penchant for fleeting distraction rather than against it and for that, I will forever be grateful.