Living with ADHD

I wanted to write a post about my experience with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) because I feel there’s not enough awareness surrounding it. Whilst ADHD is a commonly heard of condition, there is still a perception that it only effects school aged children and boys in particular. Many people are still unaware that it not only effects people into adulthood, it also manifests itself in different ways from person to person. Not many people know that I have ADHD because I’ve always been ashamed of the stigma attached or thought people will treat me differently. As a result of this, I’ve been labelled as a lot of things including ditsy, chaotic, dumb, bipolar, forgetful, slow, lazy, useless, disorganised, careless and extremely erratic in my behaviour. Whilst a lot of these are true, the thing people don’t realise is I can’t actually help these traits and I experience a great deal self loathing and frustration, always vowing to change but never able to.

From a young age in primary school, my Mum and Dad would frequently be called in by teachers, suggesting I should have my hearing tested. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I sat with headphones on, tapping a funny shaped stick on a desk. I passed every hearing test with no difficulty and it was concluded that I could hear teachers perfectly fine, I just chose not to listen. This didn’t make me popular among teachers as you can imagine, however, this was not an active choice I made. I would sit in the classroom looking directly at the teacher and trying my very hardest to listen to what she/he was saying, however, after a few minutes I would drift off and start daydreaming. What my teachers didn’t realise, is it was as frustrating for me as it was for them. There was nothing worse than being asked “so Olivia, what’s the answer?” in front of the entire class and having to respond “I don’t know” because I had absolutely no idea what the question was. It was even worse when the teacher would finish talking and say to the class “right, now get on with that in silence for half an hour”. There was no way around it. Either I got shouted at for trying to ask the person next to me, I sat not doing anything for an entire lesson or I tried to ask the teacher for instructions again and she asked “what do you mean you don’t know what you’re doing? I just told you”. Most of the time, I’d try to make an educated guess from what a fellow pupil was writing, however, if you’re sat next to someone who’s got the wrong end of the stick about the task, you’re in a whole world of trouble. I resorted to using my own little ‘stay focused’ tactics. One of which involved me gently stabbing myself with a pencil or compass so I didn’t drift off, however, this made them think I was unhinged and I was made to see a behavioural therapist. In reality, this was the best thing that could have happened because after talking and a series of tests, they got to the bottom of how my brain works. This was when I was diagnosed with the primarily inattentive subtype of ADHD along with APD (Auditory Processing Disorder). In short, I often struggle taking in information presented orally, processing the information, storing it, then recalling it. Often when I do manage to process this information, I forget it quickly which means I struggle with instructions and directions.

In the end, I realised I was never going to get anything out of school and I became a troublemaker. I was disruptive in lessons, became the class clown and I gained some status back amongst pupils as I was underachieving because I didn’t care, not because I was just an idiot. This continued into secondary school and I spent most lunchtimes in detention for lateness, forgotten homework or for misbehaving. Some teachers I found more engaging than others, whether it be the changing tones and volumes of their voice, their passion for the subject, their teaching style or how interested in the subject I was. The worst thing about it was, I was bright. I loved English and could spend all day reading and writing. The work I handed in was good which made the teachers frustrated over my wasted potential, however I didn’t want them to know about my condition in case they said anything in front of classmates. As a teenager, the last thing you want is to stand out or be known as ‘special needs’. Once it got to year ten and GCSE’s were starting, I knew I needed to do well. I was aware of my potential and I wanted a good job when I was older with a good wage. I started to mature and stopped with the disruption, showing teachers and other pupils some respect. I took my teachers aside and explained my troubles, asking whether they could send me their slide shows to go back over at home. They were surprisingly understanding about this and appreciated my effort and honesty. My revision process was teaching myself everything from scratch, as I never actually took it in at school. As you can probably imagine, this was a lengthy process and I made the decision to concentrate on the ones I liked/was good at, disregarding the rest. It wasn’t a normal way of doing things but I felt it was better that than risking getting D grades in all subjects.

I didn’t exam well because of the pace I worked at, however, once I was tested again in secondary school, I was allowed 25% extra time added. I had to sit in a separate exam room which made things less intimidating, though I would hate it when everyone walked past and saw me. People seemed shocked when they saw me and would ask “Oi Liv, I didn’t realise you were a spacker?!” Kids are complete savages. I would find it frustrating in the lead up to exams when we were forced to attend revision sessions because I just wanted to revise my own way. I’m a visual learner so I would draw sketches and visualise things in my head in order to remember them. The learning style worked for the majority, which was why it was an outstanding Ofsted rated school. It just didn’t work for me. Come results day, I received mostly either A or F grades and I was happy with my results for the ones I tried with. After GCSE’s, my Mum and Dad understandably couldn’t comprehend why I planned to leave this outstanding Ofsted local school, to attend a college in town that had ‘underachieving’ statistics. I had heard that in college, you are treated like an adult, attend only your lectures and are left to your own devices the rest of the time. If you didn’t work hard, no one was going to chase you. This was a risk, but it was a risk that massively paid off and I achieved good A level grades. All the slide shows were put online so I could go back over the stuff I didn’t take in the first time and I could learn them my way.

Into adulthood, having ADHD effects most parts of my life. I’ll suddenly ‘zone out’ for no reason, I’ll forget instructions or not take them in properly, I’ll make silly mistakes because I’m not concentrating and it’ll sometimes take me longer to complete tasks. Despite my best efforts to be on tome, I never am. I forget to get round to important tasks, pay fines or make some appointments which makes me feel furious at myself and completely useless. I’m the first to get paralytic during drinking games for not paying attention and I take longer than I should to get ready because I space out and dawdle. I get sudden bursts of energy out of nowhere where I talk nonsense at 100 mph, laugh at things other people don’t find funny and make inappropriate comments that sometimes offend people. I struggle to regulate my emotions and sometimes the nagging and criticism I receive gets all too much for me. Relationships often don’t work because they think my personality is too full on or my behaviour too unpredictable. I’m prone to things like depression and anxiety because I’m always in my head, overthinking and analysing everything. I don’t think I realised how badly I struggle until becoming a single parent two years ago. I went from barely being able to look after myself to having the sole responsibility of another human, sorting out medical checks, nursery and sometimes just getting out the house is enough of a struggle. Before I would zone out for a few minutes and nothing would happen, now I zone out for a few minutes and she’s written on the carpet in foundation and removed her own poo nappy. I get bored easily on a day to day basis and with life in general. I’m constantly doing little things to give me a ‘thrill’ and making impulsive decisions without any thought or care for the consequences. I’ve considered medication many times in an attempt to help me stay focused and on track, but I’ve always been worried about the side effects and making things worse overall. Until then, I hope no future employers find this or I may be jobless forever.

Olivia x