We’re putting the spotlight on Invisible Illnesses in this new series. Are you one of the many Kiwi women who suffers in silence with Adult ADHD?
In this series we’re talking to Kiwi women about their health battles with Invisible Illnesses, their journeys to being diagnosed and what’s given them relief along the way. Our hope is that by sharing these stories, they may help spread awareness of these illnesses to other women, giving some tools to help, inspiration to those who can sense something isn’t quite right with their health to continue to search for answers and ideally, get diagnosed sooner! If you’d like to contribute your story, please drop a line to [email protected].
Scrolling through social media, the last thing guest writer Lauren Kate Borhani expected to find was the answer to years of struggle and torment. And she’s far from the only one – why is the health system letting women down when it comes to Attention Deficit Disorders?
Earlier this year I walked into my GP’s office as a broken, burnt out, frustrated and depressed young woman for at least the fifth time in three years. In my head I’d declared this time was going to be the time I get it right and start my real mental health journey. But it’s the words that came out of my mouth next that will make me laugh forever.
“TikTok is making me think I have ADHD.”
And it turns out, I did.
Unfortunately this isn’t a problem that’s isolated to just me. Five of my intelligent, successful female friends have been diagnosed as adults in the last year too. And shockingly, since I’ve opened up about my diagnosis to my wider friends, I’m adding an additional five to that figure.
So how the hell did I, a 27-year-old professional, get here?
I’ve always been a high-achiever and naturally intelligent, so my ADHD didn’t get picked up in any of my schooling as it might in youth, and I’ve always set meticulously high standards for my performance across work, schooling and social activities. To make things even more difficult for me, ADHD is hereditary and no-one in my family has had that diagnosis of our knowledge. But, I’ve always struggled to stay on task and perform – and the pressure to do so affected my self-esteem hugely.
Things really fell apart for me when I got a desk job. I cycled through jobs and had immense difficulties performing to the high standard I knew I was capable of— but why?! Obviously the fact that I didn’t know of my neurodivergence meant that my employers didn’t, and weren’t able to support me.
This ultimately led to my diagnosis of depression and anxiety, and years of therapy and medication as I struggled to realise why I was struggling to get those metaphorical gold stars I was so desperately chasing.
But hold up, what does this all have to do with TikTok?
This time last year I managed to slip onto what those in the know call ‘mental health TikTok’ thanks to said platform’s clever algorithm. Alongside the Berries and Cream guy I started seeing clips from the likes of the wonderful Kiwi mental health advocate Jazz Thornton. Jazz had recently been diagnosed with ADHD as an adult and was sharing some of her symptoms that were linked to undiagnosed adult female ADHD. Interestingly, she also shared that TikTok was also her catalyst for realising she had ADHD.
Her video “Things I thought were my bad personality traits, but was actually ADHD – Part 3” really shook me. Some of the behaviours she called out in this one video alone hit a little too close to home for me, like:
- Frequently finishing people’s sentences before they can finish them
- Struggling to wrap up projects when the bigger details are done
- Talking too much in social situations
- Difficulty relaxing/unwinding
- Impulse spending.
I jotted them down in my phone as I dove deeper and deeper into mental health TikTok, and within a couple of months the list was so long I knew I had to do something about it. These were all things that I hadn’t ever thought to connect to a mental health condition and had to just be me being lazy or anxious or just tired all the time, right?
But it’s this thinking that was my downfall time and time again, because when I set such high expectations for my performance and wasn’t able to meet because giving 110% of your energy all the time is exhausting and won’t work forever, it destroyed me.
And so I ended up scraping together every dollar I had and heading to a private psychology centre at the beginning of Auckland’s current lockdown. While (spoiler alert) it completely cleared my savings I promise you this is the best money I’ve ever spent.
I filled out multiple questionnaires, spoke to my psychologist for hours, took test after test, supplied school reports and even offered up my husband and mum for an interview to gather the final pieces of evidence needed. And then, finally I had my answer. This bitch has ADHD.
There’s one singular line in my 16-page report that breaks my heart every time I read it: “It is likely that a proportion of her pre-existing anxiety, depression and negative self-concept stems from frustration caused by longstanding, undiagnosed and untreated ADHD.”
First this made me mad. The system had failed me, just as the mental health system had failed others. Why was it so damn hard and so damn expensive to get this answer?
Then it made me sad. How much easier could my life have been if I knew earlier? Would I have been less critical of myself? How much would I have achieved?
Turns out, there’s known gender and racial bias when it comes to diagnosing ADHD. Depending on which research you look at, the ratio of boys to girls with ADHD could be anywhere between 2:1 and 10:1. So once again, it’s women and people of colour who have once again found themselves at the short end of the stick if their childhood symptoms differ from what has typically been the indicators.
A month on from my diagnosis, and now being medicated for ADHD for the first time in my life, I now feel like a fire has been lit underneath me that I didn’t know existed. I have always been a social, successful, intelligent and driven young woman. I’ve collected lessons, skills, memories and experiences all while battling undiagnosed ADHD, and now that I’m medicated and feeling the relief that Ritalin is giving me, I feel unstoppable.
In an online support group for Kiwi adults diagnosed with ADHD, someone likened Ritalin to “glasses for your brain”. And yes, there was a level of relief that I can’t describe. I realised that the huge amount of energy I was putting into day-to-day functioning left me exhausted and miserable at the end of the day, and that the reason I didn’t understand how people got out of bed on the weekends and were capable of doing leisure activities after a 40-hour work week is because my brain literally did not let me.
Now our home is a HELL of a lot tidier, I’m so much more relaxed, and I’m performing better at work.
All of a sudden I can switch between tasks much more easily, I can deal with interruptions from my husband when I’m trying to focus on writing an email, and I can do it all with much less mental strain, frustration and exhaustion at the end of the day.
What’s more, I’m able to push past my crippling performance anxiety that’s stopped me putting myself out there. My band, aptly named ‘The Not Okays’, kicked off RAPIDLY once I was able to focus and quiet down that little voice in the back of my head that always said I wasn’t good enough. Now I’m living my best emo dream as a frontwoman and working towards being the role model I didn’t have when I was a young woman– a curvy rocker who sure as hell will be open when things are a bit shit.
I recognise that my diagnosis process has come from an absolute place of privilege and that not everyone will be able to access private psychology support the way that I did. feel very fortunate that I was able to afford this, and on top of that I have an incredible support system in my friends, family and work.
I’m now in a work environment that’s employed me with a clear understanding of my past with mental health, and is ready to support me every step of the way. When I sheepishly said to my boss that her new hire was going to be exploring an ADHD diagnosis, I had nothing but support. And when I finally had my diagnosis (which I was oversharing the progress of every step of the way because verbal diarrhoea is a fairly common ADHD trait), I thanked my team for having to listen to my constant mental health chats. Their response was that they were grateful to have such open and honest conversations around mental health and medication because you just don’t know what other people are going through, and that’s the whole reason I’m putting my experience out there so publicly and writing this piece.
We have a broken mental healthcare system in New Zealand and it’s pretty clear for anyone who’s been through it. So unfortunately my best advice is to be your own advocate, listen to your body and understand when your behaviour and mood isn’t as it should be in comparison to other people.
After some really low years now is my time to be unapologetic about my skills, learn about my behaviours and do plenty of mahi to reach my full potential. There’s still plenty of work for me to do in the background on top of the medication to understand what behaviours and anxieties may have stemmed from my undiagnosed ADHD, but already I feel such an overwhelming level of relief– everything feels like it’s coming up Milhouse.
Thank you modern medicine, thank you Ritalin, and thank you Jazz Thornton for your fabulous TikToks that helped me advocate for myself and get this life-changing diagnosis. If there’s one thing to take away from this article, please have open conversations about your mental health if you’re strong enough to. You never know who you might help.
The above is an opinion piece of one person’s experience and should never replace advice from a medical professional.