Diagnosis is Elusive

I’ve always been a cynical type: I was pretty sure Santa wasn’t real by the time I was nine. At the age of 12, my mum gave me a lecture because I’d told my brother, then eight, that God didn’t exist. I don’t believe time travel will ever be possible, that ghosts exist or that Katie Hopkins is real and I’ve not become more gullible with age. I’d like to be more idealistic than I am, but I tend to think that hopes get dashed less completely if they never get more than an inch or two off the ground.

Considering that, I might say that my optimism on seeking out an ADHD diagnosis was uncharacteristic. I’d looked into the condition having tried every anti-depressant going without any change in my mental state, and it was as close as you could get to an open and shut case. Many years prior, I’d been diagnosed with depression by a GP on a single, ten-minute visit.

This was before I read a bit into the world of adult ADHD, and started going to meetings of a local support group. “You can expect to be met with skepticism from doctors”, “You will be told that you’re just depressed, or forgetful” and even “my doctor told me it was something that you grow out of”, were some of the more worrying revelations that came my way.

I’ve had my suspicions that I had ADD ever since I knew what the condition was. More than one doctor, likely guided by my existing diagnosis of depression, told me that my poor attention span, my cartoonishly weak short-term memory and my struggles for motivation were all characteristic of depression. So depression is far from a fanciful diagnosis, and is one I made myself – not least because my poor attention and memory were both things I felt made me an awful human being.

But here’s the thing: Attention deficit disorder barely existed as a diagnosis when I was a kid. I did well enough to be in the top group of the class in any subject I cared about, when I was diagnosed with depression, in 1997, even that was pretty esoteric among my peer group. So about ten years before that, when I was in the exact age group that today would be automatically screened for ADHD, there was no chance it would even have crossed a teacher’s mind.

To be diagnosed with ADD as an adult in the UK today can be shockingly difficult. Before the specialist I finally got referred to would even say I had the condition, they asked to speak to my wife and to my mother and to see some of my old school reports. For someone with ADHD, asking them to co-ordinate this is pretty much like asking them to embark on a search for the Holy Grail, get it signed by Lord Lucan and ride it on back to the surgery on a unicorn.

To make a long story short, I got the diagnosis. My wife talked to them and confirmed that I’m a textbook example of the condition, my mother sent some of my school reports (“Paul is a talented boy, but lacks concentration”, “Sometimes seems not to be listening”, “Good at French, but occasionally prone to spending twenty minutes dissecting the lyrics of Ice Cube’s ‘It Was A Good Day’ when he should be learning tenses*”). It’s official – I’m not just an idiot.

So now I’m on Atomoxetine, and things are better. I still forget stuff, my focus is still poor compared to most people, but my reactions to all of this are better. Before, when I forgot to do something, it would be followed by a performance of the tragic opera “Why I Am Worthless And Should Just Die”. Now, I accept that it’s going to happen and set myself to putting it right. I’m not going to be better overnight and I get that. But at least I don’t feel like it’s the end of the world.

The simple truth is that ADHD doesn’t just happen to kids. It doesn’t just go away magically when you hit adulthood. Without focused treatment, it can be ruinous emotionally, financially, personally and professionally. If you suspect that you have it, don’t let anyone – even a doctor – just tell you you don’t. It’s worth pressing the issue.

Paul Kelly (@impotentfury)