I got diagnosed with ADHD as an adult and finally, everything made sense
“People would say, ‘You’re just lazy and distracted.’”
The Rembrandts were right when they said that no one told us life was going to be this way. “Your job’s a joke, you’re broke, your love life’s DOA.” The journey to being a functional grown-up is tough. We’re stripped of childhood comforts, and the bijli ka bill arrives at our doorstep as a monthly reminder that the independence we fought our parents for as angsty teenagers comes at a price.
But there are those for whom the slippery slope to adulting is a veritable oil slick. Due to missed childhood symptoms, they battle through undiagnosed developmental issues thinking there’s something wrong with them. This often has adverse effects on their career, relationships and self-confidence.
It’s been three months since Althea S was diagnosed with ADHD. The 35-year-old let out a cathartic sigh of relief, finally being able to make sense of why kid Althea couldn’t seem to keep up with everyone else.
“People would say, ‘You’re just lazy and distracted.’” Those comments shaped me into someone who believed that, even though I was trying so hard, I would not be able to achieve what everybody else could. I just wasn’t good enough.”
In our new series ‘I wish I’d known sooner’, we pass the mic to people who share what it has been like to receive a mental health diagnosis that can transform your life – for better or worse. Here’s Althea’s story in her own words.
Two years ago, I dated someone who had bipolar disorder (BD). I didn’t know much about it, so I researched the subject in order to communicate better with them and handle their moods. One day, we were arguing, and he said, “You know what? I think you might be bipolar, too.”
He said it just to hurt me, but it did get me thinking. I had struggled with various things growing up, which I can now recognise in retrospect. But my experience didn’t match BD’s symptoms. A side effect of doing this research was that Instagram started throwing up more content about mental health. That’s when I started seeing stuff about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I started reading more about it. The more content I read and watched, the more I started to relate to it. While I always had these symptoms as a child, they never connected with ADHD. And all this while, I just thought they were my shortcomings as a person. I had heard about it in movies, mainly in a negative way. Getting diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, a lot of my behaviour started to make sense to me.
The question of whether I had ADHD or not had been tickling my brain for almost a year. Six months back, I spoke to my therapist and shared my thoughts. But they chose not to address it, making me think I was overthinking it. I mustered up the courage and reached out to a psychiatrist two months later, and after an assessment, he confirmed it. It’s been about four months now. I felt so liberated. I was always pegged as the kid that was brilliant but didn’t apply herself. I was always late, and I didn’t have a clear understanding of time. I’d zone out for hours and was hyperactive and unorganised. And to find out that it was because my brain is wired differently was just the light I needed at the end of the tunnel.
“You’re just lazy and distracted” are things that shaped me into someone who believed that, even though I was trying so hard, I would not be able to achieve what everybody else was achieving. I thought I wasn’t good enough. And sadly, while I was growing up, no one had open access to information on mental health like we do today, so the symptoms went undiagnosed. What horrifies me is that ADHD in women is still largely misunderstood, overlooked, and inadequately studied.
I didn’t just struggle with these things growing up. They followed me into adulthood. Tardiness is something that has plagued my life for a long time. I can almost still hear my ex-husband’s voice saying, “You’re always late!” We even fought about it on our wedding day. That day I started early and made sure everything was in place, then, something went wrong, and I miscalculated one thing, and it threw off my schedule, my anxiety kicked in, and it was all a mess. I ended up reaching the church half an hour late. I remember seeing his face; he was furious throughout the ceremony. I won’t forget those words, “you couldn’t even make it on time for your wedding.”
It was after getting diagnosed with ADHD that I realised that this would happen because of a thing called ‘time blindness’. I have a tendency to underestimate or overestimate how much time has passed, how long a task will take, or how much time is left before something is scheduled. This meant chronically missing deadlines or arriving late, even for things that I was excited about, including my wedding.
For some people, getting diagnosed with ADHD can be a struggle because people may not take you seriously, especially if it isn’t formally diagnosed. But it wasn’t a complicated process once I found the right psychiatrist. He asked me 18 questions throughout the assessment, and his analysis concluded that I had ADHD. There’s also the MCMI test you can take that is more elaborate. You need to be very honest when answering these questions and not worry about the other person judging you for your responses. I’ve learnt from therapy that it takes longer when you lie. You know when you’re lying, but the therapist doesn’t. The solutions they give you will be based on what you tell them. So if you give them the whole truth, they’re more likely to have answers or give you the tools to help you.
Getting diagnosed with ADHD was a relief. When I got that confirmation, it told me that I was not a lazy and disorganised person – not that being one is bad. But the fact that I grew up being told I wasn’t trying enough, doing enough, and focusing enough, I finally had a reason for why I am the way I am. More than that, getting diagnosed with ADHD has given me tried-and-tested tools that I now use to amplify the things that make me unique and amazing and manage the things that I cannot change.
Getting diagnosed has shown me all the good things that come with the ADHD package. I know that I’m great when it comes to my people skills. If I’m given a really motivating task, I will do the best job ever. I am great at problem-solving and risk assessment. One of my favourite things about my ADHD is my hyper-fixation. For example, I hyper-fixated on polymer clay jewellery because I love earrings. I researched and watched many videos on making them and started experimenting with designs just for myself. A year later, I launched my own brand of jewellery. If you ask me about polymer clay, I can tell you which brands, where to get them, how to work the clay, and anything you need to know because I researched the heck out of it.
I openly talk about my diagnosis. I am blessed with having a fantastic group of people around me. When I broke the news to my mum, I thought she would have a very different reaction than the one she did. She has been the most supportive person, reading about it and trying different ways to help me. When I told my circle of friends, they were very understanding. Each one of them has supported me on my journey.
I know one of the things that hindered my relationships was time blindness. Earlier, when I made plans with my friends to meet them, they would have this joke. They would ask if we are meeting according to the real time or Althea Standard Time. We’d laugh about it, but deep down, I felt awful because I knew just how hard I tried to make it on time. I don’t enjoy being late and having someone waiting for me. But they understand now and don’t make those jokes anymore. When we make plans, they account for an additional half an hour before the time they gave me. On the other hand, I plan half an hour ahead of the given time. Hopefully, most of the time, I will make it there as planned. I know they will not give me a tough time about it when I don’t.
One of the things I struggle the most with is experiencing impostor syndrome. You’d think that if a psychiatrist has said you have it, you shouldn’t keep thinking you were just using it as a crutch. This feeling amplified when you are relating something that happens to you to someone and they go, “Yes, that happens to me too. Are you sure it is ADHD?” But most days I can make peace with it. When I tell people about getting diagnosed with ADHD, I don’t use it as an excuse but rather as a way to explain why it might take me more time to do something or why it might take me a little extra information to get something done.
For instance, I have a nervous habit of shaking my leg. As a child and adult, my family would get irritated that I do it. Now, when someone points it out, I can say it’s a way to release my hyperactivity. I need to fidget with something.
Being open about it has also helped me accept it. It’s not been an easy journey, but I highly encourage people who feel they may be experiencing something similar to have it diagnosed. If I see it in someone, I never point out signs that might be related to ADHD, but instead, I share instances of things that happen to me and if they say they relate to it, I just help them with tools I have learnt to use. A professional needs to assess and guide you on ADHD. I have recently started an Instagram channel to talk about my journey with ADHD in an attempt to help more people like me who have been diagnosed later in life.
Getting a diagnosis has been cathartic. I’m a lot more confident and don’t give myself a hard time about the things I cannot manage to do. One of the things that I always felt as a kid was that I just couldn’t fit in and I tried too hard to be like everyone else. Now, I found my beautiful gang of misfits who are all so different from each other but have one thing in common – we are good to each other and support the hell out of each other.
I don’t make excuses for what makes me different from the rest. I find ways to improve on it for the next time. I’m a lot more positive now, forgiving of myself and kinder to myself in every possible way. That’s the biggest thing that has changed in my life.
As told to Sara Hussain.