Like many people, the pandemic was rough for me. As an immunocompromised person, the sheer lack of shit given about us by the general population was a hard pill to swallow, so naturally, my mental health spiralled (which also had a significant effect on my physical health). I managed to keep my shit mostly together right up until the second New Year’s Eve in which a fireworks ban was in place to reduce pressure on healthcare workers. The blatant “FUCK YOU!” in the form of caveman-adjacent dangerous, antisocial, and polluting entertainment sent me right off the deep end. Even though I know it was completely reasonable to be upset by the disregard it seemed everyone had for vulnerable people and healthcare workers, it became such a problem for me that I was in a constant state of anger that made functioning next to impossible. So, I finally sought out some help from a psychologist.
As a kid, I was put through a bunch of testing that lead to me being placed in Gifted & Talented classes. I had wrongly assumed that autism and ADHD was covered by these tests, and I didn’t meet the criteria for either, so I never considered in a million years that ADHD would be ~my problem~. It couldn’t be if I didn’t have it as a kid, right? But I did. I just thought I didn’t. I’ve always been quick to anger. This was always written off as a behavioural issue brought about the depression from being present when my grandmother passed away at four. Except I don’t think I was ever truly depressed. I understood death. I understood that my grandmother was unwell. But a young girl with anger issues in the early 90s? Must be depression! Not PTSD, and definitely not ADHD. So imagine my surprise when, after only three or four sessions, my psychologist says, “I think you should look into an ADHD diagnosis.”. I told her I’d been tested as a kid, but after a bit more thought and a conversation with my mum, I realised that I hadn’t been tested. Those tests were just to figure out just how ~gifted~ I was.
Three days before my 35th birthday, I booked in my diagnostics appointment with ADHDcentraal, which is a dedicated ADHD diagnostic and treatment service here in the Netherlands. In the six months wait time between then and my appointment, I did some research into late-diagnosed ADHD in women, and for the first time in a long time, I was hopeful that I’d figured it out! Although anecdotal, there was a lot of evidence that women suffered from chronic health issues due to the trauma created by undiagnosed and untreated ADHD. I wasn’t only hopeful for the potential improvement in my anger and mental health, but also in my physical health. But of course, that also led to me worrying that it wasn’t ADHD, and I would forever be a rage-filled sack of disabilities I couldn’t overcome.
The 4th of November, 2023: the day finally came. Diagnosis day! I had been so incredibly anxious in the lead up and I was so scared that I wasn’t going to come away with a diagnosis and thus no help. On the morning of the appointment, my blood pressure was hypertensive, and my heart just wouldn’t drop below 90 bpm. I mean, I was about to find out if my lifelong mental health issues that hadn’t really been helped with the usual treatments were something that COULD be successfully managed, and as someone with chronic illnesses, the idea of coming home without results was terrifying. So naturally, I was worked up.
I arrived early, like I always do. This was one of the things that made me think it couldn’t be ADHD, but as I later learnt, hyperfixating on appointments is 110% an ADHD thing. The idea that people with ADHD always being late is not quite accurate. At least for people with the same type of ADHD as me. The day started with an interview with a nurse practitioner. He asked me about myself and what made me come for diagnosis. It was during this interview that I found out that, if I did indeed get a diagnosis, I wasn’t going to be able to start the medication until I got clearance from my neurologist due to being epileptic. I didn’t realise how much of a problem that would be until I contacted my neurologist, but I’ll get to that later.
After the nurse, I saw a psychologist to do my DIVA (Diagnostic Interview for ADHD in Adults). I had also filled out the Conners (Adult ADHD Rating) Scale before the interview, but I honestly don’t even know if it was used in the diagnosis process. The DIVA was so comprehensive that I think the CAARS was just a screening tool. I then took a Qb-test, which is a computer-based test designed to measure reaction times and movement. It “only” took 20 minutes, but it was probably the worst 20 minutes of my life. It felt like at least an hour, and I swear I heard a few braincells popping as I did it. But this was absolutely the test that (eventually) helped me understand that I am indeed, a woman with ADHD.
Because I wasn’t going to be able to try the medication on the day, my final task for the day was to speak with the diagnosing psychiatrist. I had to stop myself from crying when she said that, yes, I have ADHD. Combined type, but predominately hyperactive. Which is a more abnormal presentation for women, and likely part of the reason why it was missed by the numerous psychologists I’d seen previously. The relief was immediate, but I was also a little bit angry. It wasn’t depression! It wasn’t anxiety! It was fuckin’ ADHD! And it always had been. All those years wondering why nothing worked even though I desperately wanted it to when it could have been diagnosed and treated earlier in my life. AND I still had to wait for clearance from my neurologist before medication could start.
So I went home, knowing I had ADHD, but not being quite able to do anything about it just yet. I called neurology the next day, and they made it seem like things would get sorted out pretty quickly, but it ended up taking another two months before I was finally able to start treatment. COVID had really done a number on the wait times to see a specialist. I spent those two months basically hyperfixating on ADHD. Reading everything I could, following a bunch of ADHD creators, and trying to implement things that really just wouldn’t be helpful until I started treatment. But hey, as I’ve now learnt, intentions absolutely DO count for something and I shouldn’t beat myself up over not being a woman of action 🙃.
After finally being cleared by my neurologist, I went for my medication appointment on the 22nd of February. I wasn’t quite as nervous as the last time I went in, but my blood pressure and heart rate were still a bit high in the pre-medication checks. I was given 15mg of methylphenidate and was told to wait for it to kick in. If anyone wants to know just how contradictory ADHD is, my blood pressure and heart rate DROPPED after taking the medication. My brain didn’t quite do the complete quiet thing I’ve heard happens for other people with ADHD, but I felt relaxed in both my thoughts and in my body. Relaxed?! ME?! That’s when I knew I was going to be okay. That life was about to get way better.
After an hour, I went in for my post-med Qb-test. Now, I can’t even begin to tell you how different doing the test medicated felt. It actually felt like a 20 minute test and it didn’t make me want to rip my eyeballs out. I also noticed that I didn’t feel the need to move at all, which is a sensation I’d never experienced before. I think this graph of the movement results of this test show, very clearly, the difference between unmedicated Darnielle brain vs medicated Darnielle brain:
I have now been on medication for just under three months, and although I got COVID in the first month and wasn’t really able to fully test drive things until recently, I can confirm that things have been going really well. I also recently finished the therapy component of treatment and have actually been able to implement the things I learn in therapy. Who would have thought? And that’s my diagnosis story! If you’re interested in how treatment has helped me, I hope to post part 2 about my journey with treatment next week (around the 3-month mark). Feel free to nudge me about it if I haven’t, because although I’m not nearly as paralysed by ADHD as I used to be, old habits do tend to die hard. 🤪
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