A few days ago, a friend suggested that I try taking one of her ADHD meds. I was telling her about my desire to try medication as I felt overwhelmed all the time, and about my frustration at the wait required, even with private psychiatrists. She suggested I try her medication, so that I would know if it worked for me. I took one pill, and it was a revelation. For the first time in years, I felt calm and peaceful for most of the day. It made such a difference that thinking about how I felt before made me want to cry.
After taking the medicine, I went for a swim in the river. Usually after my swim I read a book or check stuff on my phone whilst I drink my coffee. This time I felt compelled to take my flask to sit on the stepladder at the water’s edge, without my book or my phone. I noticed this desire because it was really unusual for me.
As I sat and sipped my coffee, doing nothing else but sitting and contemplating, I noticed things I had seen in so much details before, such as the reflection of the clouds and sun on the water, the dance of the damselflies on the water lilies, and many other details. It was so beautiful I was enthralled. It is not that I hadn’t seen these things before, but rather that I had never seen them in such beautiful mesmerising details. I hadn’t been able to see before because my brain was always so busy.
The most noticeable difference, the one that brought me close to tears, was the contrast with before. I felt so content, sitting there, doing nothing else but sitting and watching. I didn’t feel like I ought to be doing anything else. I hadn’t quite realised how fraught I had been feeling for such a long time until then.
It felt as if before my brain was a train station with far too many trains coming in all at once, and now, fewer trains were coming in in slow and orderly fashion. And I could see them coming, instead of having to react to all of them without warning.
Later when I came home I noticed that I no longer felt overwhelmed by doing stuff in my house, because rather than seeing the tasks all at once and feeling overwhelmed, the order in which they needed to happen was simple and clear. I also noticed that I was more patient with my family, calmer, had more clarity, and therefore felt able to better articulate my needs instead of feeling reactive.
I did this experiment because I’ve been considering taking ADHD meds for some time, and I’m also aware, having spoken to my GP about it, that GP cannot prescribe them, it has to be done by psychiatrist. The GP told me that it would be over a year long wait just to get a diagnosis, let alone prescription. I thought, OK I’m willing to go private for this. Only when I started contacting private psychiatrists, I discovered that they all have weeks long waiting list (the one that I was recommended as perfect for me isn’t taking new clients until at least January 2023!). Before putting energy into the process, I wanted to know if it was worth the effort, the fight, and the wait, and it seems that it might be.
How I discovered that I had ADHD in my 50s
If you had told me I have ADHD a year ago I would have laughed. I never did consider myself a neurodivergent person.
A year ago, it was first suggested to me by a teacher that my youngest child might be autistic, and that this might be the cause of her struggles. I was dismissive at first, as she didn’t fit the image I had of autism in my mind (I now realise that this image was incredibly narrow). However, I started gathering knowledge on this topic. I read books and articles, I joined groups, and I talked to a lot of friends who had autistic kids.
As I read it became clear that the teacher was right, and this led us down the route of getting a private diagnosis which confirmed this. Amidst the struggle, and the conflicting feelings that came with the diagnosis, the gift of discovering that I have an autistic child, was that the reading led me to discover my own neurodivergence. This is how I came to understand that I have ADHD (Actually I think I have ADD rather than ADHD. I don’t think I have the hyperactive part). I had this narrow view of ADHD being a little boy who fidget and cannot pay attention, so it had never occurred to me that this might be me. I’ve also learnt that it present very differently in female, who often mask it, and it’s very common for it not to be diagnosed until adulthood. I haven’t got a formal diagnosis yet, but I have diagnosed myself by taking self assessment questionnaires and reading and talking to friends who have it. Plus taking the drug was a confirmation as if I had a neurotypical brain it should have made me feel wired rather than calm.
There is a saying that what you focus on expand, and as I shared my newly discovered diagnosis with co-working people on the Focusmate app (This coworking app has been a revelation for me to overcome time blindness and procrastination. Perhaps not surprisingly it is full of neurodivergent people), someone suggested I join the Facebook group ADHD for Smart Ass Women.
This group was a revelation, and the accompanying podcast is fantastic. It really helped transform my view of ADHD. I learnt about so many high achieving women having it (I fit this bill myself) and it also helped me understand myself better. My ADHD symptoms weren’t that noticeable until I hit my early 40s, and when I listened to the podcast episode where a London doctor, Dr Susan Varghese explains that she didn’t have noticeable ADHD symptoms until the perimenopause, I thought, that’s exactly what happened to me. When I look back I always had ADHD traits, but the symptoms weren’t strong enough for it to be an issue until then.
Discovering that I have ADHD has been extremely empowering. I’m able to understand myself so much better, and most importantly, be kinder to myself:
- I understand why I feel so overwhelmed much of the time.
- I understand why over the last few years I’ve embarked on so many dopamine raising activities (such as cold water swimming and 5rhythms dancing).
- I understand why trying to meditate whilst sitting still is so hard for me, and why drumming and movement meditation work better for me. I find it quite telling that I started blogging about my journey to get out of overwhelm about 5 years ago. I understand why working with coaches who have helped me organise my time in a holistic way has been invaluable, and also why working with other more mainstream coaches in the past only increased my overwhelm.
- I understand why switching to a ketogenic diet 4 years ago has done wonders for my mental health.
- I understand why even though I’ve put a lot of effort, tried so many lifestyle changes, complementary therapies, supplements and herbs, and that things seemed to be working for a while, as my hormonal profile changes further (I’m at the cusp of the menopause now), things that helped then no longer seem sufficient in helping to manage my symptoms right now.
- Most importantly, as I’m learning I’m also starting to slowly put strategies and hacks in place to manage my overactive mind, my anxiety, and my overwhelm.
Recent books I’ve read and found really helpful:
- How to Keep House When While Drowning by KC Davis
- Your Brain’s Not Broken: Strategies for Navigating Your Emotions and Life with ADHD, by Tamara Rosier
- I’ve just started reading The Drummer And The Great Mountain by Michael Ferguson. I’ve also started listening to the podcast accompanying the second book.
(On a side note, I used to find it challenging to find the time to read books, listen to podcasts or videos, and I’ve found it very helpful to listen to these things whilst I drive, prepare food, or do chores-it makes it far less tedious.)
I’m hoping to explore more things and changes to put in place to manage my emotions and executive functioning better. I’m planning to pursue getting a formal diagnosis with a private psychiatrist and try medication to see if it works for me. I’m also planning to hire a ADHD coach.
I will carry on sharing my journey to help others who are in the same situation. I’d love to hear if this resonates, or if you are on the same journey, what has worked for you.
PS: I’m normally quite adverse to taking drugs, and much prefer more holistic options like better nutrition, supplements, and lifestyle changes. I have also tried dozens of complementary therapies. However, I am also in a position where I feel that these are currently not enough and I feel too overwhelmed by normal life most days to function well. For me, it is a tool, a bit like when people are so depressed they cannot function and using anti-depressant short terms can help them rise from the bottom of the abyss enough to make positive changes in their lives. The medication I tried is called Vyvanse (Lisdexanfetamine).