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Hyperactive-Inattentive: #WrightNews 12-18 September
Diagnosis isn’t murder.
I’m writing this one straight into the editor. Normally, I’d spend some time rooting through my notes archive, connecting ideas, weaving things together, but this post is different. This is a once-through life update, because one thing this week overshadowed everything else.
I was diagnosed with ADHD.
There’s still a way to go. I’m now in a queue to meet with a titration nurse to get me set up with Concerta. We’ll see how that goes; after that, there might be an autism diagnosis, too (unmediated / untreated ADHD can mask autism symptoms, so it’s good to get the ADHD sorted out first). But I’m not starting at the beginning — beginning are illusory things, fashioned to give us a sense of narrative — and perhaps I should; what this post wants to be, I think (in this moment, right now, as I type it out) is a little history of my ADHD. So, I shall narrate it below, explaining what it feels like, why I sought diagnosis, and what the diagnostic process was like. For the sake of privacy and dignity I shall not include all, but I thought it might be helpful for some — and I’m sure there must be many of you out there) who are going through something similar, or love someone who is. So, below is a little history of my ADHD. I’m happy to talk about it. These things are hard, to talk about and to live through. Reach out on Twitter: @curtaindsleep.
One of the big things about being diagnosed with ADHD as an adult is that it has to have been a part of your childhood.1 This begs the question: why aren’t adults with ADHD diagnosed when they’re children? ADHD is, after all a pretty noticeable condition. The stereotypes of children with ADHD in the classroom are tantamount to pedagogical nightmare: children who can’t sit still, won’t do work, zone out, who in short wreak merry hell in 60 minutes of putative teaching time. But, in the same way that if you’ve met 100 autistic people, you’ve met 100 very different people with very different autisms, the same holds true of ADHD. There is research to suggest that children with high IQ2 can mask their ADHD; more accurately, their ADHD is masked by their intelligence.3 From my experience, children are very adaptable, knowing from pretty early on whether or not they’re normal, whether or not they fit in. I remember very early on wondering why I was on my own in the Primary playground, while the other children naturally clustered together. The games that happened so organically around other children were alien to me. Yet, I was restless. I found one child who was like me. His name was Christopher and I was convinced that we should be friends. He had a best friend already. I followed them both around relentlessly, unable to understand their frustration, their rejection of me, the anger that boiled in their eyes and voices. I remember trying to play with the other children. Sometimes, I’d just get bored. Sometimes, I’d be frightened — there would be too much happening for me to process. Sometimes, I’d just end up phased out, not knowing what to do or how to be or where to go. I remember watching the bodies of other children as though through some haze. They bucked and moved with such foreknowledge of what was expected of them. Where was my instruction manual? Was I asleep when they were handed out?
By the end of Primary, I was alone. I would sit and read under a tree, and hope nobody would bother me.
My mother wanted me to stay in Catholic education, so I had to get the bus from Wellingborough, which had no Catholic secondary, to Northampton. I hated the bus. I tried to do what I did in the playground: sit, read, don’t bother anyone; but it didn’t work this time. I was suddenly conspicuous in my oddness.
Sometimes, I left the bus bleeding.
At some point around 14 or 15 years old, I had simply had enough of being odd and quiet. I had taken to hiding in the school library. But I discovered stand-up comedy and I realised that there were people who could make whole rooms eat out of the palm of their hand. These men were funny. I realised that being funny was just about being a combination of smart, controversial and timely. So I practised it. It worked. But I had unleashed a part of myself I’d kept long dormant.
I was a bright kid. But I don’t remember anything about lessons. I would zone out, but I was bright enough to figure out what I was supposed to be doing. That said, all my school reports point to a propensity for almost limitless distraction. I fumbled through my GCSEs; but what was better was that I now had friends. I had people who thought I was funny because I said outrageous things. What they didn’t know was that I was just removing a filter that showed who I really was.
Once I’d removed the filter, I couldn’t put it back. I upset more and more people. I had no idea, it turns out, what was appropriate. I had unleashed who I really was — masked for so long by fear — and now I was crashing from one chaotic situation to the other, working entirely on impulse.
Things fell apart.
I find myself unable to be much more specific about this now. I meant what I said: I’m typing this in one go. Who knows how much sense it makes? What I can say is that it got to a point repeatedly at which I could not function. This happened again and again and again. I knew there was a version of human I was supposed to be. I could act it, to an extent, but doing so exhausted me, depressed me. Not doing it got me into trouble.
I sought diagnosis. I wanted to know what was wrong. Most of the time, though, I just assumed I was an idiot, a malformed narcissistic self-pitying fool who just needed to get himself together, finally, once and for all.
That’s enough of this potted history now.
On Monday at around 11pm I was diagnosed with ADHD. The appointment with the psychiatrist took place online; it was the quickest way. Before the appointment, I had to fill in a lot of paperwork, giving an extensive history of my life: my schooling, my mental health, my past. There’s stuff I told him and stuff I alluded to. I don’t want to think about it all now.
The psychiatrist told me, after interviewing me for a good hour (and having reviewed all the paperwork) that I met all the criteria for both Primary Inattentive and Primary Hyperactive ADHD, making me ‘Combined-Type’. Here’s what my ADHD looks like:
I am extremely forgetful, losing things multiple times a day
I zone out, meaning that I do things automatically. This can result in some very silly mistakes. I will often drive to completely the wrong place (e.g. work during the holiday when I’m supposed to be going to the shops) if I don’t have the sat-nav on.
I get overwhelmed. This happens to the point of extreme sensory overload, especially to light. I have prescription sunglasses now, which helps.
It feels like there are eight different songs playing in my head, and I’m expected to listen to them all at once.
I find it very hard to process what people expect of me.
I’m very impulsive, meaning I’m terrible financially.
I tend to say exactly what’s on my mind, which upsets people. This is why I am very careful on Twitter.
I have problems with sleep which sometimes border on insomnia.
I suffer from huge amounts of self-loathing and shame due to my ability to function normally.
I get overwhelmed in social situations.
There are positives, too. I can hyperfocus. I can lock into things that interest me. I can access and link ideas while teaching with ease. I speak really fast.
This post has been a ramble. I dare not read it for fear it makes no sense or doesn’t accurately portray ADHD or something else entirely. But I hope that if you’ve made it through it has provided some insight. There were things I wanted to write about while I was writing that flashed up and then disappeared.
It’s never right, never enough. If diagnosis has helped me with one thing, it’s knowledge that that’s just fine. I process a bit differently. Looking back, I don’t think I would change it for the world. I like being alive. And my version of alive is solely mine, uniquely mine. Only mine. It fuzzes and fizzes and flies past at thousands of miles per second. Watch me blur through the sky like a comet, and make a wish.
There is some evidence to suggest the existence of adult-onset ADHD. I haven’t read a whole lot about it, though. Note that adult-onset refers to ADHD that first appears in adulthood, not that is first diagnosed in adulthood.
My vague understanding of IQ is that it is controversial. The safest thing to do with anything concerning human cognition and intelligence in my opinion is to assume that everything is controversial and do one’s level best to stay abreast of the research.