Guest Blog by Ellie Perkins
Telling my mum, “I think I have ADHD,” was like ‘coming out’ as bisexual. All over again.
The heart-in-the-throat, stomach-in-the-bum and take-a-deep-breath-before-pressing-send all consumed me. Except, this time, the ‘coming out’ was worse - because a) I wasn’t drunk and b) Mum had (some) grounds to dispute this self-identification. At least she had to take my word for it, when I told her - via Twitter - that I liked women, too.
I swallowed and pressed the big blue arrow. My phone immediately lit up. Her response was forthright: “But, you’re a Virgo?” (I mean, I was born on the 23rd of September. So, technically, if we’re going to get all astrological, I’m on the Virgo-Libra cusp.)
Anyway, two minutes passed. “Indecision? We can all have that trait.” She was clearly Googling the symptoms. Then, after another two minutes, “You only have papers on your desk.” Of course, this isn’t my mum’s fault (see: section 5.). But, yeah, the invalidating responses from others held me back from seeking a diagnosis. For a long time.
*Okay, so I’m not quite Whitney Housten (every woman). However, I believe there might be crossovers between my experience and the experiences of other women or gender diverse people. I think that because boys are almost 3x more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls. ADHD isn’t more common in boys, though - it’s just more commonly diagnosed. And I’m always wondering why.
In this article, I’ll outline 5 reasons why I didn’t seek an ADHD diagnosis before I was 23. How many reasons resonate with you?
Realising you have ADHD is pretttttty scary. It simultaneously makes sense of your entire livelihood, while inundating you with unanswered questions.
When I think back to the initial GP appointment I had - adequately armed with a list of all the reasons why I thought I had ADHD - I remember sobbing. I mean, ugly sobbing.
Why? I was terrified that the GP wouldn’t listen to me. I’d experienced over a decade of being routinely dismissed with antidepressant prescriptions and self-referral leaflets for group therapy.
Likewise, I was afraid that no one would listen. My partner, the GP, the psychiatrist - everyone. I catastrophised about coming across as dramatic. (I now recognise this was rejection sensitive dysphoria.)
In the end: they all listened, of course. And that made all the difference.
2. I thought my symptoms could be caused by something else
I was in my second year of high school. I excused myself from biology, and walked to the doctors. 10 minutes later, I left with a month’s worth of Fluoxetine.
For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with depression, anxiety and disordered eating (all co-occuring conditions with ADHD, by the way).
And, when I was in my later teen years, I even visited the GP to discuss bipolar disorder. I saw myself in each impulsive symptom listed on the NHS website: I overspent, overdrank, and I had bouts of being over-energised. (Fun fact: I was referred, but missed the appointment and forgot to follow up. Sound familiar?)
Funnily enough, ADHD never crossed my mind. Which leads me onto my next point:
3. Gender Bias
The first time I heard the term, ‘ADHD’, it was attached to a naughty boy in my primary school. He was loud, he’d chuck scissors, and he was always getting sent out of class. “Ah, that must be how ADHD presents,” my subconscious noted.
I was the polar opposite. I didn’t - and don’t - see my ADHD symptoms reflected in naughty school boys.
As women, it’s thought that our symptoms present differently. Plus, there is both a clinical and research bias that puts emphasis on the presentation of ADHD in young boys. The diagnostic tools tend to favour this, too - making it challenging for girls/women to meet the criteria, and for others (such as parents or teachers) to spot the symptoms.
4. I'm A High Performer
32.2% of students with ADHD dropout of high school. (Ok, I dropped out of university, but that’s later down the line.) So, as a ‘Gifted & Talented’ student, I didn’t see how I could possibly have ADHD.
During my GCSEs, I put so much pressure on myself to perform; I spent my entire school years burnt out. To a crisp. My bedroom walls were a tapestry of mind maps; I made bunting of Shakespeare quotes to memorise, and my floor was post-it note galore. Looking back, I know that I grasped at any shred of self-esteem through academic success. Telling my mum I got 100% on a test - that was precisely where I pinpointed my self-worth.
The thing is, while my achievement might have been high, so were the costs associated with the attainment. I put (both in past and present tense) myself through severe stress and anxiety, lack of sleep, loss of relationships, etc. All because I desperately want(ed) to feel a sense of belonging, a sense of worth.
5. Lack Of Awareness
Ultimately, I didn’t seek a diagnosis because I simply didn’t know I had ADHD. I don’t blame anyone - not my parents, nor my teachers - for failing to pick up on it.
Perhaps I do blame the clinical bias; the outdated diagnostic criteria and the gender stereotypes that are perpetuated as a result of that. Just a little.
Thankfully, that’s beginning to change - thanks to Ellie and the (un)masked community. Educating people about (and advocating for) neurodivergent people is so important. For this community, I’m so, so grateful.
Let’s keep demanding change x