I only discovered by chance that I had ADHD. After losing my passport in Thailand in spring 2016, I Googled ‘how to stop losing stuff’. It turned out to be one of the major symptoms of ADHD. Getting my diagnosis explained a lot.
ADHD explained why I could be so intelligent in conversation, and academically bright in subjects I’m interested in, but it also explained why I couldn’t hold onto my keys, or would continually get into trouble for forgetting to close the front door, or buy the milk. It explained why I am so often running late to another appointment, interview, meeting or station, costing me my self-respect and hundreds of pounds in travel tickets.
It explained why I could be emotionally hypersensitive to any sign of rejection, overcompensating with sometimes debilitating perfectionism. I was undiagnosed when I left the safe structures of school and university which were just about keeping me together. When I entered working life, I wasn’t prepared at all It explained why I had such intense relationships and depressive lows – even suicidal thoughts – when they ended. The realisation that I had it was like a jigsaw puzzle coming into place, and when I started reading more, the tears kept coming. They were tears of relief that I wasn’t alone. They were tears of sadness for all those years wasted thinking I was a worthless, fundamentally flawed child-woman, who no matter how hard I tried couldn’t do this thing called life, couldn’t be a responsible adult and couldn’t get a steady job or partner.
Concentrating on ADHD
It was no surprise to me that according to a new report by thinktank Demos, awareness of ADHD in adults especially is poor, meaning that many people (and, I would add, especially women) go undiagnosed and untreated. This is costing the UK billions a year in wasted talent. There are more serious implications too. According to Pay Attention UK, adults with untreated ADHD are seven times more likely than their peers to have had multiple vehicle crashes, twice as likely to be fired from a job and nine times more likely to end up in prison. 40 per cent of the UK’s prison population have undiagnosed ADHD, say Pay Attention UK statistics.
This a huge problem when you consider that 2.5 per cent of adults are affected by the disorder and most are undiagnosed. I was undiagnosed when I left the safe structures of school and university which were just about keeping me together. When I entered working life, I wasn’t prepared at all. Years of unpaid work at magazines followed, as did years of working retail jobs that bored me stiff, and months of working in mundane admin jobs my creative mind couldn’t hack. It was no surprise that I was fired from two of them, and no surprise that my self-esteem was in pieces.
I’ve accepted ADHD as part of who I am now, but it’s been very hard to get to that place. I’m based in Camden, supposedly the ‘best’ borough in London for mental health care. I’ve been told I would have to wait three whole years to see a specialist at St Pancras Hospital, with no recourse to getting on a shorter waiting list at renowned specialist hospital The Maudsley. I have also been dealt with by GPs who can only give me a few 30-minute sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy (most of which I turned up late for, thanks to my ADHD) and can only prescribe me antidepressants for my anxiety, but can’t treat the ADHD which is inextricable from that anxiety. I now appreciate how creative, interesting, unique, caring, non-conformist, curious and funny we ADHDers are I’ve now gone private. It’s cost me over £550 to do so and will cost more as follow-up appointments with a psychiatrist cost £195 whilst my therapist costs £65, and that’s at the cheaper end. I am one of the lucky ones: I have a full-time job and parents who support me, so I can afford it. But what about those who never get the support and treatment they need because they are never diagnosed? Or those who know there’s something amiss but simply can’t afford to investigate, or who instead get misdiagnosed as having borderline personality disorder, depression and anxiety?
Before I knew I had ADHD, I thought well, that’s just me: ‘Liability Priscilla’. It became a running joke amongst my friends that I would always be late, always leave something at a party, or that I would overreact if I wasn’t invited to something – that last one cost me a few friendships. After the initial discovery and passing through the stages of grief that come with realising that you’ve been living with a treatable condition all those years – misunderstood and unsupported – I’ve come to the final stage of acceptance and hope. Don’t get me wrong, I still have very self-critical moments; I cursed myself recently for forgetting to lock my bike after running late for a meeting, and it then being stolen. But I know now why I am the way I am and can understand and manage myself better. I also now appreciate how creative, interesting, unique, caring, non-conformist, curious and funny we ADHDers are. We’re exhilarating and refreshing to be around and there’s never a dull moment – we don’t have time for them.
Priscilla Eyles is a writer, improv comedian and charity worker for Anthony Nolan.