From batting ADHD away to enlightenment, not an easy journey so far. Written by Phil R

So I’ve been a Changes Bristol member/regular meeting attendee for some years now, having first found a face to face meeting in central Bristol back in early 2017 when I found myself out of work, feeling alone in the world after coming out of an intense relationship – this has been a common theme throughout my life, certainly since my teenage years. I’ve spent many years growing up feeling different to other kids and adults around me, but never quite knowing why. But since October last year, I’ve been looking into finally trying to get a formal diagnosis of ADHD, having been aware of certain behaviors for a number of years but doing nothing about it (life got in the way was often my reason for not doing so, which was actually true in some cases).

Having seen some ADHD storylines in films and TV shows over the last year or so, it made me want to look into things again. Only this time I wanted some answers after many years of not knowing why I find others reactions towards me difficult and why I feel really low when rejected by people in social circles or when my relationships have ended suddenly. A good friend I know from Changes Bristol helped me get started on things by sending me a link to a local Facebook ADHD support group in Bristol. Not long after I contacted them and have since been to a few face to face meetings, which has helped me feel less alone and more understood. The group has enabled me to ask questions and learn from others experiences of ADHD, which I’ve also learnt has overlaps into Autism as some of the behaviors are quite similar/cause other behaviors.

Having learnt a bit about ADHD I decided to take a leap at xmas last year and tell my family about seeking a diagnosis. I wish I could sit here and say it went well, but sadly it didn’t. Only 1 family member, my oldest brother chose to show interest In wanting to hear about it once I said I was seeking help via my GP to get a diagnosis. My mum of all people, who is an ex-NHS worker of many years as firstly a nurse and then a Health Visitor was far from compassionate or understanding, lots of comments such as ‘what are you doing that for’, ‘why do you keep putting yourself through these things’, ‘you need to get your brain sorted’ – great thanks! Just when I was dealing with all this on my own and seeking support/not feeling great about things, you decide to be cold and thoughtless about things. That caused a lot of upset for me when visiting the family home for xmas and my time there become so traumatic. I found myself going out for walks to escape my thoughts about such people (trying not to resent them even more than I already did). I have another brother who was also in the family home at xmas, but he has his own stuff going on shall we say and wasn’t in the room when this all got said (undiagnosed Autism is top of the list and not wishing to get a diagnosis for, which has caused lots of problems in our family for sure – not just me that thinks and says that). There’s a lot of unsaid stuff in my family and no one wants to confront anything, they just talk about things behind people’s backs and do nothing – that feels like a trapped life to me, no way to exist and I feel like I’m surrounded by lots of ill people. I think some of that talk rubbed off on me, which is probably why I never addressed/confronted my ADHD sooner – not realizing the harm that it has done me until recently.

I left some days later for a new year celebration(?) in Bristol, what was there to celebrate I thought – my own mum thinks I’m not worth bothering with and doesn’t want to know what’s going on with me/shows no interest in wanting to know about ADHD. Luckily I have some good friends in the Bristol area and spent my time with them over the new year period, which got me out of things a bit. Soon after midnight on new years eve I did find myself breaking down a little and went home soon afterwards, as I could feel myself building up to an overwhelming meltdown, which happened when I got home. It wasn’t just the stress of what happened at xmas that was starting to hit me, but that need to be with someone special as everyone started hugging/kissing their loved ones. Before returning back to work after the festive break I had a more severe meltdown at home (lots of sobbing and drinking). The reality of what happened at xmas finally hit me hard, resulting in lots of self loathing and guilt – but why, I’ve done nothing wrong, it’s others that have upset me and reacted badly to things.

This common feeling of others making me feel bad has been a common theme in my teenage and adult years, I don’t really know how to get away from it as with family it’s hard to change other’s behavior towards you – I thought by gently educating my family in ADHD this would help them understand my current stresses and why getting a diagnosis would be helpful to me – but sadly not! I spoke to my personal counsellor about this and the experiences I had at xmas/new year, she wasn’t impressed to say the least and I appreciated her compassion and insight into why they reacted the way they did. She thought it might be because they see it as a criticism of how I was raised/looked after, not that I ever thought that.

At school in the late 1970s and early 80s I was always the kid that was always chatting away, taking the longest to learn things/didn’t quite achieve academically, especially Maths stuff but English I was great at. My social circles at school, especially in primary school were often formed around the kids good at maths sitting next to me in class to help me, it often confused me massively as they tended to be girls and my brain was telling me ‘oh it’s because they fancy me!’ – which wasn’t the case.Secondary school wasn’t much better, but I started to excel in a few subjects surprisingly and that got me some points in my social circles. New folks came into my life, but by the time I left Lancashire in the late 1980s when I moved to Telford that all changed when I was diagnosed with Epilepsy, as my social skills deteriorated due to the medication I was on and I didn’t make many friends when at the new school. I left secondary school with no GCSEs in the early 1990s and only got 2 when re-sitting some during the sixth form year, when studying a vocational course – what do I do now I thought, but I soon learnt I could get into college via the BTEC route.

My college and university years in the early and late 1990s after that period were a bit more positive, but socially at home was tough as my Epilepsy became worse and required an operation to sort things out. As a result of time off from college, I had to repeat a year of my course and lost more friends as a result of them getting ahead of me. I managed to complete the course eventually and got to university in Preston, where I just about scraped through the course and got a decent Honours degree. Although again, during those years I had lots of friends, but no close friends and long term girlfriends, which frustrated me massively. ‘I’m a good guy why don’t folks want to spend time with me’ I used to say to myself. The reason, I realize now is due to the quiet teenage years and taking lots of medication, I didn’t really do typical teenage things like going to parties and nightclubs, so I did all that in my university and graduate years in London in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I think I just came across as quite wired and in party mode all the time, so folks didn’t want to be around me loads at that point. ADHD I realize now gives you lots of emotional highs and lows, which I see now is something I suffered from even at a young age (I can think of several experiences around age 6/7 where I reacted oddly to good moments as well as bad moments, mostly with family – I wonder why!).

Between the early 2000s and the late 2010s I just plodded on through life doing the same kind of thing, with the odd long term relationship to perk me up sometimes, but again things went wrong – some of it was me, ADHD behavior related and some of it was them. Life felt like that Fatboy Slim song, ‘Eat Sleep Rave Repeat’!. Some have said to me over the years, maybe it was some form of psychosis you were suffering from – it sure felt like life was going on but I wasn’t aware of it. Since 2017 when I started to come to Changes Bristol meetings, I’ve learnt a few coping mechanisms and calming techniques which have helped, not just via hearing other people’s stories and picking up tips from them, but also via a few counsellors I‘ve seen for various reasons.

Being able to apply self care into my life has helped massively and has helped mask some of the ADHD stuff, but it’s time to take the masks away and let the world see the real me. There’s no shame in being an ADHDer, I’ve spent years thinking this would hold me back and others would keep clear of me due to, but as the world becomes more interested in learning about things like Mental Health, I now feel able to confront things finally. One of the things I’ve learnt recently about ADHD is that we tend to be very sensitive around feeling rejected/sidelined, which I’ve always struggled with and still do. There was a situation the other week where people were out with me having a meal and then they changed places, so immediately I thought I’d done something wrong when it was just them wanting to mingle with people and chat to others. However, confusingly this has sometimes been due to people being rude to me and not valuing my company which is the biggest thing that upsets me still. Being able to separate those moments remains difficult, so I hope I can talk to a professional in the near future to help me navigate those moments better. I can take action myself and find better people to spend time with, but that’s not easy as you get older, those opportunities become less and less (especially as a single straight man seeking a partner, you feel like everyone you’re interested in is taken already/off the market).

So where do I go from here, well lots of journalling has helped me process my thoughts about my situation and theres progress with the ADHD diagnosis via my GP. Attending more ADHD support group meetings has helped, not only learning about it when talking about certain matters around ADHD, but going out socially with them and making new friends. The brother who was supportive towards things at xmas has said he will give me a personal statement about me/my younger years, as that is one of the things with getting an assessment – you need another view of how you are to help get a formal diagnosis. However, it’s been some time since I made this request and he’s not even replied saying he’s on it, will get to it soon, so again feeling rejected and forgotten about with that – when does it end??
Over the coming months, I am hoping once the statement from my brother comes through I can get the health company doing my assessment to progress on things and get to the bottom of my behaviors and how I can manage them better. Whether that is with or without medication remains to be seen, as I‘ve heard not everyone needs medication to manage their symptoms. Watch this space and I’ll update you all on the next chapter later in the year all being well.

In the meantime, if this article has triggered an interest in knowing more about ADHD and you wish to contact the NHS website for more information.
– Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – NHS (