Brianna Parkins: What it’s really like to have ADHD, by a woman with ADHD

Too many people in Ireland know they are different but don’t know why

ADHD is like having 50 tabs open in a web browser and jumping through them every three seconds in a randomised pattern. Photograph: iStock

ADHD is like having 50 tabs open in a web browser and jumping through them every three seconds in a randomised pattern. Photograph: iStock

 

I’ve been trying to book a haircut for a week. The salons are open. There are spaces available. That’s not the issue. I can’t book a haircut this morning because the neighbour is mowing his lawn loudly. I couldn’t book a haircut last week because I spent three days researching salons, and where the stylists trained. I stalked their Instagrams, what awards they’d won and if they’d ever given anyone a ‘can I please speak to the manager haircut’.

I couldn’t book a haircut yesterday because at 2pm I had a doctor’s appointment which means I couldn’t do anything until then in case I got distracted and completely forgot the existence of the scheduled blood test and indeed the existence of doctors at all.

Brianna Parkins
Brianna Parkins

Other neurodivergent people reading this have probably guessed correctly that I have ADHD. And one of the best ways to piss someone off with ADHD is to tell them that they don’t have ADHD because “my nephew has it and he’s always running around. You don’t do that so you can’t possibly have the same thing”.

That’s funny isn’t it that a condition might present differently in a five-year-old boy versus a 31-year-old woman. For example I have strategies around impulse control. Which is good because when someone starts up with the “you don’t have ADHD” nonsense my impulse is to pick up my drink and slowly pour it into their handbag.

It is true that I am safe from being accused of hyperactivity. In fact I have the opposite problem. Sometimes the amount of noise in my brain means I’m too overwhelmed and I get stuck looking at the ceiling for three hours until I can find a singular train of thought. It’s like having 50 tabs open in a web browser and jumping through them every three seconds in a randomised pattern. Trying to book a holiday? Do your taxes? Sign into internet banking? You can’t do it until the program stops glitching. Unfortunately though you always just can’t turn your brain on and off again to get it to start working again.

I would get up at 3.30am instead of 5am to triple check my notes before going live on a breakfast show, unable to sleep worried I had a single figure wrong

People do think it’s that easy though. They are full of helpful tips. Write in a diary. Keep a to do list. I have many diaries. Organisers. To-do lists. They lay half empty and forgotten. Do you know what isn’t helpful for someone who struggles to do tasks? Giving them the added task of writing the task down.

ADHD is not about being unable to focus. I have focus. I just have problems regulating it. A teacher once told me I was either a the dumbest smart person he’d ever met or the smartest dumb person. He couldn’t work out which. This is because I handed in an intricately detailed essay about how Germany circumvented trade blockades during the war by making ersatz goods. Except I got so caught up reading about how they made butter that I handed in the essay a week later so it didn’t count. All this when the syllabus just wanted a paper that said Germans in WW1 = bad, English in WW1 = good.

That being said, my hyperfocus helps me as a journalist. Especially in investigative and fact checking work which requires going into things like data, business records, government files etc. I find broadcasting easier because when I’m on air I can’t think about anything else. I’ve been able to handle things going wrong on air well because I find high stress environments quite soothing. I thrive when the chaotic outside world harmonises with my inside brain.

I’m not sure what would have happened to me if I had been unable to afford treatment. I don’t like to think about it

A chronic fear of being ‘outed’ as different or ‘not trusted’ to get things right because of the stigma of ADHD means for a long time I felt I had to overcompensate at work. I would get up at 3.30am instead of 5am to triple check my notes before going live on a breakfast show, unable to sleep worried I had a single figure wrong. Talking about this publicly might cost me work as a journalist but also I don’t want to work for a boss who doesn’t understand the value of neurodivergent employees. Or worse yet someone who ‘doesn’t believe’ in ADHD. Like it’s the tooth fairy instead of a recognised medical condition.

I was misdiagnosed with anxiety and depression because I would cry to GPs that I couldn’t cope when everyone else seemed to be able. Do you know what taking antidepressants does to someone who is not depressed? It’s not good. Getting the correct diagnosis cost me thousands. The medication costs €114 a month. I just paid €28.33 for the same thing here in Australia. Where all my treatment has been free.

I’m not sure what would have happened to me if I had been unable to afford treatment. I don’t like to think about it. I do think about people living with the knowledge that they are different but don’t know why, and end up believing they’re ‘useless’ because their brain doesn’t work like everyone else’s. There are too many people in Ireland living like this. If you’re tired of me getting angry about the health service available in Ireland, that’s ok. Now it’s your time to get angry. You bloody should be.

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