I stood awkwardly outside what appeared to be an empty derelict house. The yard was overgrown with weeds, and rubbish was strewn on the lawn. A small one wheeled tricycle leant haphazardly against the flaky door. It became readily apparent to me that this therapy centre could be referred to colloquially as “a shithole”. Maybe the HSE was reducing the mental health budget again? Or what if the “psychologist” himself was a psychotic kidnapper, keeping all his confused forgetful hostages in a dingy basement? ! I carried out a risk evaluation, and concluded that life in the basement would be an improvement on the current situation. Indeed, imprisonment wouldn’t be so bad.
No rent, a strict healthy diet (maybe even intermediate fasting, which would assist me in dropping a well needed dress size) and regular social interaction (depending on the neediness of the captor). Undoubtedly if my hypothesis was correct, he would have other prisoners, and trauma bonding often lead to potential friend for life. Popping round for post-release PTSD tea sessions, trauma shopping, and maybe even having a glass of wine (or seven). I could also further my own writing career, publishing “Basement”, similar in its plot line to Emma Donogue’s “Room” but based on personal experience. Best of all, I wouldn’t be forcibly ejected from the basement, and a sense of belonging would surely ensue. It was a little odd that he hadn’t arrived yet. Were there booby traps laid down? Would he pop out of the beer can filled bushes? I had already accepted my fate, and was becoming rather impatient.
A further ten minutes passed, and a familiar feeling of disappointment washed over me. I was lost. AGAIN. Feeling disorientated I dropped him a line. “I think I might be in someone’s garden.” Unfortunately, I had failed yet again to reach my destination. Luckily the counselor quite literally guided me to the therapy centre.
“This happens to everyone, it’s not signposted very well.”
I nodded glumly, noting this happened to me at least five times a month. What had lead me to his office was a series of unfortunate events with the inclusion of, but not limited to the following predicaments:
- Being fired (approximately 3 times, and one de facto time when I caused my boss to have a mental break down)
- Losing or forgetting my belongings (Every day)
- Losing friendships and romantic relationships (People become tired of you being constantly late/getting lost)
- Becoming confused in busy noisy environments (or not that noisy, sometimes just Starbucks)
- Having the kind of bedroom/office environment that could easily house the massive basilisk snake from Harry Potter.
- Lastly, and worst of all, my confidence, self worth, and sense of dignity was being eroded away.
After numerous GP visits in which I was told I was suffering from anxiety, or imagining things, eventually I was forwarded for an Adult Attention Deficit Disorder assessment. I sat through the rigorous questioning and took a four hour long test. Like a contestant in an ADHD-based hunger games, I struggled my way through the tasks. Patterns, block building, error spotting, listening exercises and mental arithmetic. I felt like a one-legged, short sighted horse, being forced to jump hurdles. It was blatantly obvious towards the end of the testing that I had it. I had always had it. Amongst the upset and shame was a sense of humongous relief. Finally an answer. I wasn’t losing my marbles. I wasn’t stupid, reckless or lazy. My brain was unfortunately wired a little differently to the rest of the general population.
Although nobody likes to receive a bad diagnosis or be labelled, I had already hit rock bottom. It was only two weeks prior to the test, that I had found myself clearing out my locker for a third time. Except this time it mattered more than anything to me. I had lost my apprenticeship with a firm that I worked so hard for. I remember quietly filling a cardboard box with my belongings, a burning sense of shame filtering through me, concentrated in my chest. I had sat on the pier with my belongings, and stared out to sea having never been so frightened or helpless in all my life. I had so badly wanted to make it through the training, but the old symptoms started to come back. Instructions became jumbled in my head, names swapped, files were forgotten and emails were not sent. I knew it was coming, and no matter how late I stayed, or how much I tried to compensate eventually I would be exposed. A fraud, whom eventually everyone would become tired of.
I couldn’t seem to escape that terrible fate, problems seemed to follow me wherever I went.
My time in the Deli or “Dante’s inferno” as I referred to was truly hellish. I couldn’t hold onto the orders for long in my mind, and got so mixed up, that one man got a slab of quiche instead of lasagna. Another customer got several pounds of Corned beef instead of two slices. People no longer wanted to order from “the foreign/slow one” and other hawk-eyed managerial staff regularly pounced on me.
“YOU’RE TOO F’IN SLOW! THERE’S CORNED BEEF ON THE SPOKES OF THE GRINDER. YOU BETTER CLEAN THAT TILL ITS SHINING!”
Academic timetabling wasn’t my forte either with classical studies students finding themselves in a seminar on how to comfort a heifer in the throes of labour. After that incident I was lead into a secluded forest area by an enraged manager who produced an error report as long as Santa Clauses list.
I know now the errors occurred due to my faulty working memory, my slow processing speed and my high distractibility level. At the time all I could do was apologise and curse at the wind.
I made it through school and college surprisingly unscathed. Although I had sat through various detentions for losing text books, locker keys and glasses while also failing maths numerous times. I stuck out like a sore thumb in the room 110 detention den. However I did find solace at the sight of “Big Bill’s” furry hood, and wished seventeen year old unibrow clad Jack the best, as he embarked on the rocky path of his impending paternity leave. Although I could remember nothing in class, I was able to cram at home and my night before memory allowed me to regurgitate material reasonably well. Mathematics and accounting were disastrous for me. I stayed silent as other students called out answers such as 5 and 10, while my recurring answer was -1.54762. When it came to Leaving Cert I got the dates mixed up, and was painting during my oral examination. Luckily the Department of Education were understanding and put it down to bad stress management.
College was tougher, Law wasn’t easy. My situation was made worse however, due to a bad memory and an inferiority complex. I regularly found myself the unintentional butt of people’s jokes. I had on speed dial Dublin Bus’ lost and found, and would regularly make a dramatic entrance to lectures, ridiculously late carrying numerous bags. I struggled to meet deadlines and would lose my notes but made it through with a 2:1. If only real life would run half as smoothly..
Outside of my career relationships and friendships suffered. My lack of confidence lead me into unfortunate situations with unscrupulous individuals, which led to events such as bullying, controlling relationships and terrible sexual experiences. Similarly the sheer power disparity due to issues caused by ADD led many to feel they had to take care of me. I felt more a burden than a partner.
I found it difficult to even interact with strangers. Becoming distracted is a major issue for me, and I would find myself forgetting an order quite easily (Although to be fair it was usually something long and hipster, like a pumpkin spice almond milk latte with a spruce of nutmeg on top). When it came to public transport I was a disaster. Due to a poor sense of direction I would regularly find myself on the wrong route. Or I would go back the way I came, which irritated bus drivers. When directing a taxi man to my own home, I found it simpler to ask them to leave me off at the local church. I seemed to have become distinctly religious post-midnight, reeking of beer and Garlic cheese chips. To make matters worse I regularly had to lie to cover my tracks.. I was caught out on the basis of an elaborate lie, namely I had come down from Derry to visit my dying nan. My appalling Northern twang wasn’t what got me caught, but rather by chance, the same astute taxi man picked me up later that week.
“You aren’t from Derry are yeh?”
“No Sir… I doubt I am even from this planet.”
Now post diagnosis, and six weeks of therapy later I feel like I have undergone a massive transformation. The following tips and tricks I found useful.
- Making lists like one for packing your bag or a task list for work.
- Numerous alarms to remember to take medication or get to work on time.
- Setting weekly goals.
- Using assistive technology, Google calendar to schedule your bustling social life (cough cough) and entering a codependent relationship with SIRI (the robotic dominatrix who regularly gives orders in the form of reminders).
My psychologist has been amazing and assisted me through the most difficult period of my life so far. I am far from perfect, but I am on the right path. Although ADD has posed many challenges for me, it has taught me many lessons. I have learnt to accept myself and others. I appreciate all the gifts I have been given (for me I enjoy writing and painting). I work on my weaknesses. I feel immense gratitude for the opportunities that I can avail of (such as studying Literature, becoming involved in a start-up company, sitting Law Society exams etc). I have learnt to develop resilience in the face of adversity, and not to back down in light of an impending challenge.
I don’t know what lies ahead for me in the future, and I am currently negotiating the difficult terrain of my potential limitations. All I know is once I find my niche, I will not give up, and will not let anything or anyone stop me. Life is too short to lament on losses and wallow in regret.
I would recommend to anyone who is experiencing mental health difficulties to seek the help and guidance you deserve. If you were short sighted and needed glasses you wouldn’t “Be Strong” and stumble about squinting. I am learning to accept my diagnosis, and learning to live with it, rather than let it define me. Never let a stumble be the end of your journey.
Now I am learning to reclaim my life in order to unapologetically become the best version of myself I can be.