By Carolyn DeBarra
When it comes to being neurodivergent, I am very proud of the way my brain works. I was diagnosed at the age of 10 with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD) along with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). The combination of all three can be a blessing, but it can be a curse too.
It can be really difficult being neurodivergent especially as so much of the world doesn’t cater to different neurotypes. Combine that with the fact that so many of our conditions can be so different from each other. My ADHD is very different from the next person’s.
While we do understand a lot more now than back in the day when I was first diagnosed, there are so many areas of neurodiversity that we hear little about.
Here are five things that I wish people told me about ADHD.
1 – It’s okay to feel grief or anger
ADHD diagnoses are on the rise at the moment as more people recognise the signs of the condition through social media and articles. It has prompted many people to seek a diagnosis or speak to a GP. While many feel relief and a sense of power in knowing their diagnosis, there can also be a feeling of grief.
When I started to learn about my condition as an adult, I felt sadness at understanding how I could have overcome challenges by accepting my own neurodivergence. I also felt angry for not getting help sooner. I also felt grief for my childhood where I struggled as much as I did. All of these feelings are not only valid but part of the process.
Thanks to the emotional dysregulation of ADHD, processing the range of emotions associated with a diagnosis can be difficult. It’s important to take time, talk it out with loved ones and let yourself feel how you need to. But do know this, it’s completely normal and you are not alone if you feel sadness at your diagnosis.
2- Your workplace can and will make reasonable adjustments for you
In the past, I’ve made mistakes due to my ADHD but then, we are all human at the end of the day. Despite my difficulties with certain tasks, I’m a good employee with tons to offer that can be utilised by a company. However, I often worry that an ADHD disclosure will put employers off.
While I may have hidden this in the past, I now refuse to pretend. Your company can make reasonable adjustments for you and it is completely okay to ask them to do so. There is no timeframe on this. If you didn’t disclose the second you were hired, you can ask at a later stage.
There is no set list of things that can make your workday easier but having a look at what causes you difficulties is a good place to start. Simple things like being able to take a break in a long meeting because I am struggling to sit still help me.
There are grants available such as Access to Work which can help people change their workplace to make things easier. It could be money towards software or physical items such as desks or chairs. You are worth it. All you need to do is ask even if it’s the last thing you feel like doing.
3 – Postural Sway and bad balance
When I was a kid I had the worst balance which occasionally caused me great panic. While I always thought this was down to a fear of heights, I’ve realised that it goes deeper than that.
My ADHD plays a part in bad balance because those with neurological conditions can have poor motor control. My body struggles to find its centre of gravity so this means I have a harder time balancing while standing still. I often find heights, patterns, lights or movements can be disorientating so I can lose my balance while not moving. Over time, this has also been exacerbated by my anxiety as the two work in tandem to destroy my day. I often find I need an arm to hold or a banister or something to steady myself when it’s particularly bad.
I wish someone had told me when I was younger that this is not only okay but it’s totally normal.
4 – Caffeine affects you differently
Anyone who meets me for breakfast is horrified at how many coffees I can put away in a short space of time. It’s truly a sight to behold as I throw six or seven back easily.
While most neurotypical folk would be bouncing off the ceiling by now, or throwing up, I am absolutely fine with the mildest of buzzes going on.
You would think that the last thing a person with a hyperactivity disorder would need is a stimulant but you would be wrong. A lot of the drugs to treat ADHD are stimulant based because our brains devour them differently.
Caffeine stimulates the body’s central nervous system and boosts dopamine production. ADHD brains are thought to have lower levels of dopamine so no longer we love a coffee break. Dopamine helps us with concentration and focus. So if we have lower levels of dopamine compared to neurotypical folk, stands to reason we may need more coffee to get us to focus. So hence why my seven coffees don’t touch the sides for me.
Although make no mistake, there is a sweet spot and for me it’s usually around eight.
5. – ADHD can go hand in hand with other disorders
It is estimated that about 40% of people with ADHD have oppositional defiance disorder like me. In my daily life that means I can be defensive, anti-authority and a bit combative when I don’t
want to be or intend to be.
ADHD can often be diagnosed alongside other conditions such as mood disorders, learning disorders, sleep problems, anxiety or tics and Tourette's syndrome. It’s also worth noting that substance abuse disorders are higher among ADHD people than neurotypical people. This means we have a higher chance of developing issues with alcohol, drugs or nicotine. I wish before I started smoking I had known this.
There is power in knowing the full picture post-diagnosis as it can help you to explain how you behave or feel. However, if there are other conditions in the picture, it could affect what medications you need or how things work for you. It can be difficult as ADHD presents very differently in each person so sometimes it can mask symptoms so keeping a diary can be helpful to note what is happening.