My life with ADHD

A student gives her experience of an often misunderstood disorder

October was Attention Deficit Hyper Disorder Awareness (ADHD) month, and in the spirit of discussing mental health, I’ll tell you three short stories.

One day in July 2016, I was finally determined to have Autistic Spectrum Disorder, after many, many years of misdiagnosis, watching J.J in Skins and reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night in tears of helplessness. I cried too that day, however, my tears were brought on by the relief of everything finally coming together. But leaving aside the additional diagnoses of Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Panic Disorder and Depressive Disorder, I was puzzled and surprised by the diagnosis of ADHD. I, one of the quietest girls in my class? I, one of the high achievers in my class? But it made sense. The drifting of my eyes as forty minutes of class progressed in slow motion. The “grades do not reflect ability” comments on my report card.

Cut to 13 months later – 16 August 2017. This was supposed to be the triumphant note to end the six years that I forced myself to stay in school, amidst daily threats to drop out. I was supposed to prove to myself and to everyone that I could do this. I, with ADHD and Asperger’s, could achieve my top points.

But I was 100 points off my goal, making me 63 points short of my CAO requirement. Nobody outside of my house was ever told. I was so ashamed of myself as I screamed in the car, and I still am. Ashamed of myself for not reaching that goal despite studying every weekday of school since the first week of first year. Ashamed of myself for being so assured that I could achieve my goals that I told everyone about them. Ashamed of myself for having what seemed like such fruitless goals. I can thank DARE for my place here, as I was reminded several weeks ago by the words, “You do realise you’re here through the DARE scheme”, uttered to me as if I had forgotten.

Two months later and we have arrived at my third story.

I won’t lie, the past month I have felt more lonely and frustrated than I have for a long time. I can’t explain why I just binged an entire bag of sweets at the thought of writing this, only to realise the damage afterwards. I can’t explain why I adore the literature I study in English and Film, yet am still unable to focus on a single chapter or scene without fulfilling the urge to move on to another activity. Mostly, I can’t explain why I have become more embarrassed about my diagnosis since I moved to college. The self-deprecating jokes and honesty were locked away on the first day, and every time they re-emerge for some fresh air, paranoia sets in.

Note to self: Accidentally telling a room full of strangers of your diagnoses ended in disaster on one occasion, so this will always be the case.

Note to reader: This is most certainly not the case. These three stories, and many more, are exactly why I’m writing this article.

I would apologise for the excessively long anecdotes and make a joke about feeling as if I’m auditioning for the X-Factor with a sob story, but this is no sob story. This is the reality of life with ADHD. If I was to tell this story through speech, you may have had to quote the lady in Little Britain – “Say it again?” – but genuinely, since I do fulfil one of the ADHD stereotypes of speaking with impressive speed.

ADHD takes many more shapes than the stereotypical image of an inattentive, disruptive primary school boy at the back of the classroom. In fact, this stereotype is often difficult to apply to girls with ADHD (let’s not get started on the statistics relating to girls with undiagnosed ADHD, ASD and more).

ADHD is mainly characterised by academic struggles, oppositional behaviour and developmental delays. It is important to remember, however, that like any disorder, ADHD also impacts many other aspects of one’s life, from mental health to one’s relationships with both themselves and others. From impulsivity and hyperactivity to a lack of motivation and energy.  From insomnia to difficulties with social interaction. And to get one thing straight while we’re dissecting ADHD — it is not curable by better parenting, a healthier lifestyle or medication.

In fact, it is not curable at all. Yes, the support of loved ones, looking after one’s health and prescribed medication can make life easier for many with ADHD and similar disorders, but this is not the case for everybody living with the disorder, nor does it remove the presence of ADHD.

Myths and truths aside, I do want emphasise an ADHD diagnosis is valid and relevant and important enough to seek assistance when it comes to dealing with the obstacles of everyday life. Here in Ireland, we like to think of ourselves as modest, with a tendency to be a little lax on prioritising our needs and struggles. “Ah, be grand”, we say. Think, for example, of the “thanks, Penneys” one says, accompanied by flushed cheeks, when complimented on an outfit. Except, here, in the scenario where one can access help but believes that their difficulties are not severe enough to “make a fuss”. As much as this can be deemed a positive quality in some instances, when we are struggling and need help, it only damages our own well-being.

I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to reach out when you feel that ADHD is having a negative impact on your life. This is especially relevant to settling into college, which should be more appropriately named “Land of a Level of Independence and Responsibility that Adolescenthood  Did Not Prepare Me For”.

Where is help is available, help should be given, no matter how large or small the problem is. However, it is often required to disclose an ADHD diagnosis to professionals to access such assistance. At Trinity, the Student Counselling Service run one-to-one counselling, as well as online counselling. Niteline is another option if you feel comfortable speaking over the phone. The Disability Office offers many supports which range from assistive technology, such as dictaphones, to accessing respite rooms and examination accommodations. If you ask for assistance and do not receive support for unjustifiable reasons, ask, ask and ask again (I really need to take my own advice).

Dealing with being diagnosed is obviously not a life-or-death situation, but it can be overwhelming and confusing. Disclosing a diagnosis is always a personal decision, but please do not hide your ADHD due to fear of discrimination and isolation. It sounds cliche, but how somebody reacts to hearing such a personal revelation says more about them than it does about you. One is never ever at fault for existing with ADHD (I need to take my own advice).

Leading on from this, it is ironic that a hidden disability can seem as if it is tattooed on one’s own face, sticking out like a sore thumb. Living with ADHD does not make it your identity. Yes, it can play many different roles in one’s life but you can still achieve so much in life. It does not make you less of a person.

On a final note, low self-esteem is one the many friendly faces of ADHD. At risk of resembling the tone of a Tumblr user who has just exited their emo phase, your diagnosis is valid, your successes and struggles are valid and above all else, you are valid.