Getting an ADHD diagnosis was not on my radar when I met with my therapist for the first time three years ago. About halfway through our initial session, she asked me if I had ever considered I had ADHD. Honestly, the thought had never crossed my mind. She proceeded to screen me for the symptoms and that was the starting point of my journey to an ADHD diagnosis.
Before going any further I would like to remind you that this post is for informational purposes only. Many of you let me know that this information would be helpful to you, and so I am sharing my personal experience with getting an ADHD diagnosis. This does not substitute professional medical advice or consultations with healthcare professionals. If this information resonates with you, please find a professional in your area to find the appropriate next steps for you.
Screening for ADHD
ADHD is such a meme supported buzzword these days, and it’s easy to Google a “Do I Have ADHD?” quiz and self-diagnose. I caution you against doing that since our minds are hardwired for confirmation bias. Like other neurological differences, an ADHD diagnosis is more complicated than an online questionnaire and deciding you have it. However, if you do not have the privilege of accessing psychological support, consider discussing your concerns with your doctor.
After my psychologist completed the initial screening, we kept ADHD on the back burner. Acknowledging it was there, without shining a direct light on it. I hesitated to accept having ADHD because I had built in coping mechanisms throughout my life without realizing it. I felt like I was functioning fairly well as an adult — and I was! But with more time in therapy, the more I recognized that ADHD was creating unnecessary roadblocks in my life. Accepting it made it easier to recognize where I needed more support. This helped me communicate my needs better and led to improved daily living overall.
Signs and symptoms of ADHD
Every time I hit the explore page on social media, I’m inundated with infographics about ADHD. Usually, I can tick off all the boxes, including the list above. The signs and symptoms of ADHD are different for everyone, but here is how it was predominately showing up for me:
- experiencing time as elastic: so expansive I could do everything, or so restricted that there’s no time for anything
- needing to set an alarm reminder for absolutely everything, including picking up my child from school every day
- a feeling of being driven by a motor — ie: deep cleaning my house could be considered an intense full body workout
- inability to think long term and plan ahead
- interrupting people often, and going on tangents but never making a point
- impulsive behaviors that led to negative future consequences with relationships, money, and my career
- dependence on hard copy visual reminders for any appointment, coffee date, or obligation
- inability to process information or losing focus and needing to read a paragraph over and over again
- saying yes to too much, procrastinating, then working myself up into extreme anxiety to get it all done
- self medicating with excessive amounts of caffeine
- unable to complete a simple task like emptying the dishwasher without getting distracted
- out of sight, out of mind is taken to an extreme level
What’s the big deal?
While I can appreciate that none of these things sound like a big deal, they can be debilitating. All these minor things were adding up and making me feel completely inadequate. Knowing I need to set an alarm every day or I will forget to pick up my child at school did not have me feeling like the world’s greatest mom. Interrupting people and losing that opportunity to connect because of my impulsive behaviors was not supporting my relationships. Reminding myself every morning for twelve days that I need more of my daily contact lenses, and forgetting until I’ve run out is not ideal.
Entering my thirties and parenting for well over a decade has prompted me to become more self aware. A skill I definitely did not have earlier in my life, and that remains a work in progress. Noticing how some of my ADHD behavior was impacting me was somewhat jarring. It shows up absolutely everywhere. A forgotten cup of ice on the counter from when I got distracted from getting a glass of water. Looking at the clock and realizing I’d spent three hours working when I thought it had only been forty-five minutes. Recognizing the negative effect of past impulsive decisions that impact my life today.
Again, these things in isolation may not seem like a big deal. But when your entire life feels like you’re falling two or three steps behind because you “don’t have it together”, it really takes a toll on your well being.
Medication for ADHD
After working with my therapist to establish more coping mechanisms for ADHD we agreed that medication was the next best step. It took me a long time to come to the conclusion, as I find taking medication to be a very serious decision. After much consideration, I decided the reward outweighed the risk and went for it.
In Canada, psychologists cannot prescribe medication. So my next step was to visit my family doctor and discuss this with her. My psychologist wrote a letter for me explaining the progress I had made over the previous years of working together.
One of the things I really appreciate about my family doctor is that she is very thorough. She did not prescribe medication right away as I had to meet her criteria for a prescription as well. This took about another six to eight weeks. It’s unlikely that all doctors will have you take extra steps at this stage, but depending on your relationship, they may. If you decide to go this route for ADHD medication, be aware that you may not get a prescription immediately.
Side effects of ADHD medication
The medication I decided on (with guidance from my doctor) is classified as a stimulant. If you’d like to know more about why stimulants are commonly prescribed for ADHD, this article explains it well.
Negative side effects I’ve personally experienced are a lack of appetite, an increase in my heart rate, and not sleeping as well as I used to. These are not constant side effects, and with some minor changes, I have been able to mitigate them most of the time. By minor changes, I mean ensuring I take my medication early in the day so it wears off by the time I want to sleep. Watching my caffeine intake during the day, and making sure to eat three times a day. Really minor adjustments!
Some positive side effects I’ve noticed are: being a more effective communicator, feeling less stress and anxiety, and overall being less forgetful and impatient. As mentioned above, none of these things separately sound like a big deal, but all of them combined can be disastrous.
Though ADHD medication has helped me tremendously, it’s not a fix all solution. I still lose track of time and rely on alarms to get me where I need to go. My daytimer still has to be open on my desk at all times, and I reference it more than once a day to make sure I’m not forgetting anything. I often forget to do laundry until everyone has empty drawers, will miss appointments if I forget to create the alarm reminder in my phone, and get lost in activities for hours on end. If I don’t have a hard deadline for something, I will put it off until I have forgotten about it completely.
Medication isn’t a perfect solution that will make your ADHD symptoms go away. But it has improved some things for me and given me more confidence in all areas of my life. I don’t believe I will take ADHD medication forever, but it is really benefitting me for now. I’m grateful to have it as yet another tool to help me reach a higher level of potential within myself.
If you think you could benefit from ADHD support, please reach out to your physician and ask for a referral to someone who can help. There is so much more awareness and you are worthy of receiving help. You matter, and I’m rooting for you!