health

'It took my psychiatrist 10 years to realise I had ADHD. Here’s why I’m not angry at them.'

My back slid down the cold shower wall as a pool of water began to surround me. I screamed at the top of my lungs, grabbed the roots of my hair in tight fists and burst into tears.

Why me? I thought. 

The night before, my psychiatrist had officially diagnosed me with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) just a couple of months before my 27th birthday. To say this came as a complete shock would be an understatement.

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I started seeing my psychiatrist at the age of 16, after my parents became extremely concerned by my major depressive bouts, intense manic episodes and multiple self harm attempts.

After surviving years of trauma as a child, I had a lot to work through, with textbook signs of major depression paired with panic attacks and crippling anxiety. 

If my parents didn’t force me into that initial consultation room, I don’t think I would be here today.

Ever since, I have worked alongside my psychiatrist to build mental resilience and develop coping strategies. 

Throughout this time, my psychiatrist has helped me navigate some of the most difficult times of my life. 

My psychiatrist supported me when I was admitted to a mental health ward during my first year of university and helped me work through the trauma of finding out my mum died after a long battle with alcoholism, just a few days after being discharged.

Over the years I’d graduated university, built a career in a different city and settled down with an amazing partner while continuing to work alongside my psychiatrist.

But every regular Zoom catch up started the same way.

"How are things?" my psychiatrist would ask.

"Life is great, but I can’t seem to shake this constant heavy feeling in my chest," I'd say.

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We kept working on managing my anxiety symptoms, but it didn't always work. 

Then, two months ago, I was explaining during our regular Zoom session that I was struggling to 'switch off' while at home and that I was constantly feeling overwhelmed by just how much I had to get through each day.

"Every day is just challenging to get through. I love my life but I look at other people doing similar things and I just wish things felt easier," I sighed.

It was then that she suggested I might have ADHD. But first, we needed to see if I had multiple symptoms and had ADHD traits as a child. The first thing I said was, "Isn’t ADHD just like, naughty little boys who play up in school?"

But as it turns out, ADHD presents very differently in women.

Image: Supplied. 

My psychiatrist sent me a link to the American Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) website for me to learn more about ADHD.

"ADHD in young girls is often overlooked, the reasons for which remain unclear, and many females are not diagnosed until they are adults," CHADD’s National Resource Center on ADHD says.

"Some women seek treatment for ADHD because their lives are out of contro – their finances may be in chaos; their paperwork and record-keeping are often poorly managed; they may struggle unsuccessfully to keep up with the demands of their jobs; and they may feel even less able to keep up with the daily tasks of meals, laundry and life management.

"Other women are more successful in hiding their ADHD, struggling valiantly to keep up with increasingly difficult demands by working into the night and spending their free time trying to 'get organised.' But whether a woman’s life is clearly in chaos or whether she is able to hide her struggles, she often describes herself as feeling overwhelmed and exhausted."

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The ADHD Australia website further details the struggles people with ADHD have, including the impairment of executive functions.

"The mental processes people rely on to self regulate are called executive functions. The executive functions enable a person to control their thoughts, words, actions and emotions. They also assist them to perceive and manage time, and to direct and manage their behaviour over time," ADHD Australia says.

It was everything I had been experiencing, no matter how many coping skills and strategies I was using.

The above, paired with my dad saying it was very hard to get me to stay focused on completing tasks as a child and that I struggled to put in the time and effort to study in school no matter how much I wanted to, was enough for me to receive an official ADHD diagnosis.

A few days later, I was prescribed stimulant medication and within 10 minutes of taking my first dose, the heavy feeling I’d been carrying in my chest for the past decade lifted. Since then, I’ve been able to plan my days better, organise daily tasks and have been less overwhelmed, distracted and forgetful.

I no longer go to sleep feeling completely consumed by just how much I have to get through the next day and am able to sit down and complete a task from start to finish – including this story!

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I’ve done extensive research into ADHD to try to process my diagnosis including how it could have been missed all these years. 

I learnt that as females, our hyperactivity doesn’t always present as bouncing off the walls like it does with boys, but that our minds can be hyperactive – causing us to overthink and experience symptoms of anxiety.

So while yes, it may have taken my psychiatrist 10 years to diagnose me with ADHD, since connecting with several ADHD groups for women, I’ve learnt that I actually had it easy when it comes to being diagnosed and prescribed medication.

Every day, I open up Facebook and see firsthand stories of more women struggling to get through each day, desperately trying to seek an ADHD diagnosis so they can get the support they need. 

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I also read about countless women on waitlists over 12 months long to see a psychiatrist.

From the stories I’ve read, many professionals won’t even consider ADHD as a potential diagnosis because it’s still attached to the stigma of occurring in young boys.

And in order to get prescribed medication to help them function more efficiently on a daily basis, many women have to undergo regular drug tests. 

I’ve even heard of chemists refusing to fill scripts because stimulant medication is abused by so many people.

Every day, these stories break my heart, and while I’m still coming to terms with my unexpected diagnosis, I feel it’s my duty to advocate for these women. 

So, I’m sharing my story in order to help break the stigma associated with ADHD and create awareness around the condition in women. 

If more medical professionals became educated on how the condition presents differently in females, more women would be able to get the help they need earlier in life instead of struggling so much well into their adulthood.

Every day doesn’t have to be a challenge to get through.

You can read more from Lauren here

Feature Image: Supplied.

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