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'My whole life I thought I was lazy and unmotivated. Age 33, I was diagnosed with ADHD.'

For the longest time, since at least high school but possibly even earlier, I was convinced that I was lazy, unmotivated, or just had no drive to succeed or do the things most other people my age were doing.

I got good grades in high school, which I owe to anxiety and the micromanagement of teachers in secondary school – as long as the pressure was on, I got the work done.

However, it was often late and always left until the very last minute so I’d be stressed and scrambling to write essays at 2am on the days they were due.

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When I entered university immediately after finishing year 12, I floundered without the watchful eyes of teachers and the threat of my parents finding out I wasn’t doing the work.

In uni, it’s all on you to be motivated and driven enough to do the work. I didn’t even have a good first semester and then lose focus; the downhill spiral was immediate.

So, I dropped out. Then I had my first baby and decided to try again. And I dropped out again. Repeat another, oh, three-ish times (switching up the university and degree too), and you get to me now.

I’m 33, still don’t have a degree, but I’m steadily chipping away at it (at least, more steadily than I ever have before; it still feels a lot like wading through thick mud) while working almost full-time and raising three kids.

I’ve struggled a lot with anxiety and depression, but my lack of focus and attention made it worse as I would get more anxious and in turn more depressed about all the tasks I just couldn’t make myself do.

It wasn’t until I had isolated myself in a hotel room in order to focus on some assignments, but found myself instead Googling what drugs would help me concentrate, that I fell down a rabbit hole and realised that I may, in fact, have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

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After putting appointments off in typical me-fashion, I eventually did the tests, got a diagnosis, and was put on medication.

While I wouldn’t say the medication has been life-changing in a “click your fingers and it’s all better” kind of way, it has made a huge difference and I’ve seen notable improvements in my work output over time.

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But how did I get to adulthood without this being picked up?

It turns out ADHD often looks very different in girls and women than it does in boys and men.

The first thing most people associate with the condition is the stereotypical boy who is disruptive and can’t sit still in the classroom (I must admit that up until six months ago, I thought ADHD meant you were attention-seeking, not that you struggle to maintain focus), but in girls it can present as:

  • Talking all the time, even when parents or teachers ask them to stop.
  • Frequent crying, even from small disappointments.
  • Constantly interrupting conversations or activities that include their friends.
  • Trouble paying attention.
  • Frequent daydreaming.
  • Having a messy bedroom, desk, or backpack.
  • Difficulty finishing assigned work.
  • Impulsivity.

Girls with ADHD are also likely to experience depression, stress, anxiety and low self-esteem, which make the disorder more difficult to diagnose. When I see this list now, looking back I would have checked every box well into adulthood.

My diagnosis was surprising for a lot of people who know me, in part because I’m good at hiding how much I struggle, but also because I don’t appear to be hyperactive as they’d imagine someone with ADHD to be.

However, my score in the ‘impulsivity’ section was very high, which is no surprise to me. I have wondered if the bank would take this as an excuse for wild credit card purchases (“It wasn’t me; it was my ADHD!”).

One downside to getting diagnosed so late in life, aside from wondering what I could have achieved already had it been picked up earlier, is that ADHD medication isn’t covered by the PBS if the diagnosis is made after the age of 18, so I’d encourage parents who recognise these symptoms to seek help earlier rather than later.

For me, it’s late coming but I’m relieved to have this diagnosis as I can now focus on treating the symptoms and hopefully doing the things I’ve always wanted to do, like finishing this effing degree once and for all!

Feature Image: Getty.

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