As I navigate my way through this foggy phase, I feel the only way I can create a positive out of a negative is by documenting my experiences in the hope it will help someone else. Amid complete and utter burn out I discovered I have ADHD. My understanding of it was always shaped by the boys in school who couldn’t sit still, sucking everyone up into their tornado of chaos, ultimately pushing the teachers to the end of their tether. I assumed that when girls said they had ADHD that they displayed similar symptoms and were diagnosed during childhood like most males, but this is hardly ever the case. I stumbled upon this information by accident, learning that most females are diagnosed during adulthood, if ever at all because their symptoms often displayed differently or were treated as depression or anxiety. Reading through the list of symptoms was uncomfortably relatable as I reflected on their regular occurrences throughout my lifetime. Things such as lateness, inattentiveness, becoming hyper-focused on topics or hobbies of interest, indecisiveness, disorganization, poor money management, finding offices or busy classrooms a total sensory overload, forgetfulness… and some other symptoms which I have most certainly forgotten.
This realisation sent my brain up, down, left, right like some dance routine from TikTok. I began reflecting on moments of my life where I’d done strange things and just laughed them off, labelling myself as quirky. I remember teachers telling me off in school stating, “You’ll never get anywhere in life staring out of that door!” I just remember daydreaming of the places outside of that door that I’d rather be. Was it ADHD the whole time? Was this just overlooked my whole life because I’m a girl?
I was doing too much recently, on the verge of burnout. I could feel it in my body, I could hear it in the back of my mind, I could see it in the pile of washing that was accumulating in the corner of my room next to some payslips from 2016. I tried convincing myself that burnout only happens through doing things that didn’t bring me joy or were deemed detrimental to my health, but if this was case then why was writing or going to the gym contributing to this never-ending exhaustion?
Apart from the odd night out or dinner dates with friends in attempt to distract myself from my situation, I’ve spent most of the past two and a half weeks in bed. I’m constantly tired. My tiredness slowly turned to sadness, then my sadness quickly turned to anger.
I feel I have been let down by my countries healthcare system my whole life. I place no blame on its workers because I understand they are doing their best in an underfunded sector. Some of the people I love most in this world work for the NHS. I feel let down by the lack of resources, the funding cuts by our government and the lack of compassion I’ve received from the professionals who treat me as an item to cross off their to-do lists. I can’t help but acknowledge the lingering thought that if I was a wealthy white woman, I would be sitting in a well decorated waiting room, staring at a painting of lavender fields whilst a friendly doctor drafts up my treatment plan in the other room, preparing to give me some comforting words on how everything is going to be okay. Instead, I’m sitting here on a 9-month waiting list writing about my experiences because that’s the only way I can feel like I’m doing something constructive.
I feel like I’ve often been considered by the people closest to me as quirky or a joker. Most of the time though I wasn’t doing things that I intend to be perceived as funny. I remember calling my mum to tell her about an incident at the train station and we both laughed for ages without realising this could signify a neurological issue. I was travelling to college and missed my train. Because I had to wait 25 minutes for the next one, I sat on my phone, responding to funny messages in group chats and scrolling through Instagram, innocent and carefree. When I looked up again, I saw the train I was supposed to catch leaving the station. I must have ended up being a total of 2 hours late that day…
I didn’t get the grades I was predicted in school, and I feel like I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to overachieve in as many areas as possible to compensate for my previous downfalls. I’ve never been stupid, so tell me why I sat down several times in the past two weeks to write a blog post and my head was just empty? Yet I’ve written this in one sitting, without turning my head away from my laptop.
My biggest concern is that my progression and ultimately my career will begin to suffer if this is left untreated. Deadlines are creeping up on me and lingering around like a bad smell. If I’ve always had ADHD, why is it only now that my symptoms seem so disruptive to my everyday life?
Unpacking this, I think the pandemic initially broke a lot of the structure that was present in my day-to-day life, so I had no choice but to self-manage my time. This is when my symptoms started to worsen. If I got up to make myself a coffee, took a nap, or procrastinated in any way, there was no-one there to answer to. I’d usually blitz the work at 3am when the insomnia hits anyway. After adapting to this carefree way of working, I’ve found myself re-entering classrooms feeling extra fidgety and unfocused unless I have a keen interest in the topic being covered.
Looking back, I’d always had the routine of school and work to keep me somewhat focused throughout my lifetime. There was always an external factor holding me accountable. My first year at university seemed more structured than it is this year and having lectures at home meant I was still free to drift in and out of focus without consequences. As soon as the summer holidays hit, I was focusing on looking for work, new experiences and starting independent projects. I worked a few different jobs in that time, travelled, visited family etc. When I was working my life had structure. When I wasn’t I was just enjoying the ability to be carefree. Although my symptoms were still present during this time, they weren’t as disruptive, however I can now see the habits towards work and productivity that I’d developed during this time are clearly what has contributed to my inevitable burnout.
An increased conversation around ADHD is the only reason I’ve connected the dots and began to understand why I am struggling recently, which is why I am documenting my experiences and contributing to the conversation. I feel like I’m at the start of a whole new chapter, where I can learn new things about myself, discover better ways of working and hopefully help other people in the process.
If you relate to this post and believe you might also have ADHD, I urge you to persist through the resistance of the healthcare system and get yourself the support you need. Speak to a loved one that can help you through this process – including keeping track of your appointments, provide a shoulder to cry on (because lord knows I’ve needed this), and assist with the never-ending paperwork which is like a sadistic joke in itself – if you know, you know.
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