October marks ADHD awareness month and with the aim of sharing what it is like to live with ADHD, a neurodevelopmental disorder which can affect both children and adults, one of our Assistant Psychologists in the Adult Neurodevelopmental Service, Helena Fitzpatrick, has kindly agreed to share her story having recently been diagnosed in July at the age of 27.

Prior to working with us, Helena was a Specialist Mentor and Study Skills Tutor for disabled students in Higher Education for 5 years.

Here is her story:

In my previous job, I would often say to my students “You are an Apple living in an Android world”. Neither one is superior but if we try and run an Android app on an Apple phone, it won’t work as intended, if at all. This doesn’t mean it’s broken, but simply different.

I always knew that I was different from a lot of my peers, they didn’t seem to struggle in the same way I did. At University, I would be so organised with my deadlines noted at the start of each semester and I would start my assignments with plenty of time to spare. Despite this, I didn’t finish them earlier and I never felt the result reflected the work I’d put in. I remember countless hours sat in the library frustrated, tired and angry that I just couldn’t focus.

As I got older, I was constantly surprised at how I seemed to lose time and how I couldn’t remember to buy birthday cards or cancel subscription trials. I couldn’t seem to stop interrupting people or telling long-winded stories that had several side stories combined or forgetting what I was saying as I was saying it. I had a constant rotation of hobbies that I would get so invested in and learn so much about before inevitably losing interest in a few days or weeks. For example, I know a lot about making cheese despite never having made cheese. I even have a cheesemaking wish list on Amazon which I have never purchased from.

I always struggled with numbers and started to suspect that I have dyscalculia so I did a screener and it indicated that I should be assessed. I decided to screen for other conditions as I know there are often cooccurrences between diagnoses. I completed an ADHD screener which also indicated that I should get assessed. In all honesty, I was surprised. At this point, I’d spent 4 years supporting disabled students in Higher Education, I had often felt that I related to their experiences, but I put this down to having been a student myself. Turns out that I am also “an Apple living in an Android world”.

I found online communities of women with ADHD, read books and listened to podcasts. I did so many self-assessment booklets and screening tools. The more I researched, the more I saw myself and my experiences. It was validation and relief all in one. Often prior to diagnosis, people report high levels of imposter syndrome “I just need to try harder, I’m just lazy, I can’t have ADHD I have an MSc”. I was no exception to this, and I felt like this until I heard my diagnosis of combined type ADHD was confirmed.

I decided to try medication and started this a few days later. The difference for me has been quite incredible, it’s like all the background noise in my brain just slowly gets turned down. The day I started medication, I sat and watched a whole movie from start to finish and marvelled at how I could just think about one thing at a time. I didn’t have to tap my foot constantly or verbalise every thought as soon as I’d thought it. I didn’t have to google every actor on screen or scroll on Instagram at the same time.

It’s been a few months and I’m still exploring what ADHD means to me. But I do know this, it’s fundamental to who I am and how I experience the world.

If this story has led you to have questions about ADHD, or you would like to find out more about how we can support people living with ADHD, please contact us on 01904 412 551 or email info@theretreatyork.org.uk.