Sam Harrington-Lowe was going to talk about growing older gracefully. Or disgracefully. Or however it is you want to do it. But then life said something else
This article was originally going to be about positive ageing. A rage against the purported dimming of the light, if you will. But actually, I’m going to write about being diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 51.
I was recently on the phone to a fella, I won’t say who, and we were talking about this. And he made some crack about it being the latest trend. And good lord weren’t there loads of women doing this now at our age, isn’t it fashionable ha ha.
If he’d been in front of me, I might have been tempted to punch him across the room, but obviously only in my head because ABH etc. Also I’m working on my impulsiveness, now I know that I can be impulsive.
But as I found myself patiently explaining – again – why having ADHD, or in fact any kind of neurodiversity really isn’t a trend, nor is it usually ‘fun’ or even funny (well, maybe sometimes funny), and not something you’d want to make up having, I did feel weary. A weariness that women everywhere will recognise anyway, and I expect all late-diagnosis ND people too.
‘But you seem so normal’, he continues, unabashed. I sigh. ‘Yes,’ I say. ‘And that’s taken half a century of exhausting acting.’ But I’m not ‘normal’, whatever the hell that even is. I’ve always known I was different, and always had to work hard to fit in. The reason for women being diagnosed later in life are so many and myriad I haven’t got room here. Let’s just say they slipped through the net.
Fortunately, the relief of being diagnosed more than compensates for (repeatedly) having to have idiotic conversations like this. Finding out that there was a good reason for being weird was such an emotional phenomenon, I’m not even sure I can put it into words.
Before diagnosis my day would be filled with trying to do too many things at once. Starting things and not finishing them. Working out how to do something and then not doing it because hey, now I’ve worked it out it’s boring. It was fighting executive dysfunction – I’d have a ten-minute job to do that was holding EVERYTHING ELSE up and not be able to do it. Just absolutely stuck, sometimes for weeks. By 11am I would be exhausted, unable to form clear thoughts. I was filled with panic, so I’d curl up on the sofa and hide from everything. I couldn’t talk to people. I could barely respond to text.
It was an inability to sit still, or concentrate on anything for more than about 10 minutes. It was a constant search for distraction which then led to a cluttered mind. It was being unable to decide what to wear every day, so mostly living in the same type of clothes 24/7. Offending people by blurting things out that were best left unsaid. It’s having hyperfixations and listening to the same tune or watching the same programme over, and over, and over again. It’s an inability to cope with noise and light, and an actual fear of supermarkets and the overwhelm.
There are masses more, but let’s do some positives, because there are some, and I try to be an upbeat sort of lunatic. When I’m under pressure, back-to-the-wall deadlines etc, I can turn out extraordinary things (although the crash afterwards is like the worst drug comedown ever). I’m able to paint, sing, play the piano, write, memorise whole pages of text, pass exams without actually going to any classes, run a business. I can see music; I have synaesthesia which is pretty cool. Music is coloured. I love that.
But it took almost a full-blown breakdown to get diagnosed and treated, because I’m also awful at asking for help. I’m fortunate – I’ve got a lovely GP (who I suspect is also ND), who was 100% in my corner. When I tentatively approached her with the possibility, feeling like I was being some kind of show-off for pretending I was special because yay imposter syndrome, and she took me seriously, I wept. I wept for weeks actually, as I went through the process, and ultimately had a psychiatrist diagnose me and prescribe me medication. I finally had an answer for all the things I did that made me feel such a failure. And a way to fix it.
Every school report I ever had said the same thing – Samantha would do well if she could concentrate for any length of time. Samantha is disruptive, Samantha only has herself to blame for this poor report… well finally Samantha understands why, and Samantha is getting on with shit.
It’s hard not to feel cheated, like where would I be if I’d been diagnosed 25 years ago? But I’m here, and it’s now, and my life is opening up before me. Let’s do this thing.
#LifeBeginsAt50Sam is founder and Editor-in-Chief of Silver Magazine – for the mature maverick