Why I Decided To Share Publicly About Having Adult ADHD
A few days ago, I decided to write an article here about my diagnostic process that led to being diagnosed with ADHD. It was a process I went through in my early 30s.
My ADHD Diagnosis Story
Cross-posted from Twitter, lightly redacted, and expanded:
To date, I’ve written more than 300 articles here on Medium. I use it as a public diary of sorts to collect and share my thinking about issues ranging from how to charge for freelance writing (for plenty on that, see my Medium publication) to what I think about gastronorm pans. It’s a mixed bag. And I write primarily for the joy of writing without thinking about who’s going to read it (for that reason, my writing here isn’t paywalled).
As a result of this publishing activity, I also receive a healthy dose of feedback from readers, conveyed both privately and publicly. I enjoy the engagement and meeting these people, if only through the internet. It’s fun.
While I tend to write my articles in an hour or two after I’m finished with my day job (also writing), this one actually took a bit of forethought.
Some of my thinking process:
Do I really want to tell the world that I have ADHD?
What if a potential client — or employer — stumbles upon the article and decided against hiring me on that basis?
These are all legitimate concerns.
As are these questions which Way Ahead — an Australian mental health association — has prepared to help guide potential ‘sharers’ through the process.
And here’s why I ultimately decided in favor of sharing anyway.
Shame Is A Major Impediment To Accessing Mental Health Care
The majority of feedback that I have received since posting my article has been positive.
Friends who I discovered by chance have ADHD have re-connected to ask what I think about Vyvanse and whether they should consider it too (answer: ask your doctor this).
One person reacted negatively and amplified, if only briefly, the doubts that ran through my head before publishing.
While I understood the logic of those questions I had just grappled with, I also couldn’t help but notice that this person appeared to be looking at the whole issue of ADHD through the prism of shame. “I don’t take pills,” this person proudly affirmed.
The line of thinking went something like this: ADHD — or depression, or anxiety — is something shameful. If you have it, keep that dirty secret to yourself.
To my mind, this is the kind of thinking that belongs in past centuries. It’s the fire that keeps the stigma that surrounds mental health burning. And prevents people who need it from reaching out for help.
Then I thought back to all the useful articles about mental health I read during my own diagnostic process. All the videos I had watched. Such as the excellent How To ADHD channel by Jessica McCabe. Driven To Distraction which was the book full of patient anecdotes that sounded like my life story.
What if Jessica had felt that keeping her ADHD to herself would be the more prudent course of action?
Or if the authors of Driven to Distraction had decided it might detract from their professional reputation as doctors to author a book about treating ADHD?
The internet is a vast and rapidly mushrooming place.
My article is but a drop in an enormous ocean of the collective stories that mental health patients have shared with the world.
Nevertheless, at least it’s a drop.
If only one or two readers are encouraged to reach out for help from their healthcare providers …. it was worth sitting down to draft it.
ADHD Is Still Misunderstood. Too Many Think It’s A Children’s Illness
I think that sharing any mental health struggle publicly can be helpful — whether it’s depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder.
But ADHD in particular seems to be badly misunderstood.
ADHD patients seem relatively unique in that only they are regarded, by some, as exaggerating something inherent in all humans (a sometimes flakey ability to focus — don’t we all kind of have that?!).
Patients with depression are rarely accused of having found a way to legitimately take those SSRI medications that every college student wants to get their hands on as a performance enhancer.
But ADHD patients do face the ridiculous charge that they’re signing forms at a pharmacy to access controlled substances because they want to get amphetamine derivatives on the reg.
Far too many also buy into a picture of ADHD that predates the evolution of medical science.
ADHD isn’t a monolithic entity that can be tidily summarized as a child running around a room. It has subtypes, at least one of which can mimic anxiety and depression.
The more people that can understand this the better.
I Like Writing. And I’m Excited
As I shared in my post, my self-mediation process that persisted for more than 10 years and which finally led to me asking enough questions to get diagnosed was self-medicating my ADHD tendencies with large daily measures of caffeine. (Fun fact: I haven’t drunk coffee in over a year and now hate the smell of it; sensory sensitivity is a facet of ADHD; although maybe it just brings back bad memories).
I’m beyond excited to be almost finished replacing that substance with a couple of dozens of miligrams of a laboratory-produced substance which I can dose only once a day. If you were in my position, I venture to think that you would be too.
Imagine being dependent upon coffee — or caffeine pills — for your focus and getting work done.
And — because caffeine doesn’t have a very long duration of action — being sort of involuntary wed to your espresso maker so long as you want to get work done (it also has a high tendency to produce insomnia and cause anxiety). Now imagine being able to take a pill once a day and getting the same effect with much less unwanted consequences such as tossing and turning at two in the morning. Maybe that helps explain why I’m really excited to be embarking upon this phase of the journey.
Do I worry that a potential freelance client will see this and decide not to hire me?
Do I expect that there will be those among the readership who will react negatively and think that I’m imaginging things or making excuses?
Yes I do.
But setting that expectation in advance is a good way to make it less powerful.
Besides, I don’t intend shouting about ADHD from the rafters. Right now, it’s just what’s on my mind. And would I want to work for such a judgmental client? Probably not. Clients and employers should be more worried about those with mental health issues who are not receiving treatment.
Having ADHD is a challenge — no doubt about it.
But playing a tiny role in helping to break down the stigmas that surround it and mental health care generally is a rewarding activity. It’s one that I’m happy to play a small roll in.