Keep proper journalism alive. It's time to Back the Cable
The Bristol Cable

‘I was finally diagnosed with ADHD at 25. Would I have got this sooner if I was a boy?’

After years of being misdiagnosed and incorrectly medicated, Dolores has finally got an ADHD diagnosis. But how different could her childhood have been if she’d been diagnosed sooner, like boys often are?

Illustration: Dolores McGurran

Voices

I was 25 when I finally got diagnosed with ADHD, after spending years researching neurodiversity and fighting for a correct assessment. I was known as a hyper and imaginative child, which made thriving at school harder and often left me feeling different and disconnected.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms mainly fall into two categories: inattentiveness (difficulty focusing) and hyperactivity (including impulsiveness). It is treated with medication and talking therapies. The cause is unknown, but it tends to run in families. Untreated ADHD can reduce life expectancy by as much as 13 years. In the UK it’s believed 2-5% of children and 3-4% of adults have the condition, mostly undiagnosed. 

As a baby I avoided eye contact. I struggled to speak, and had speech therapy. I could never learn to ride a bike. I now wonder if I have dyspraxia – a developmental coordination disorder – which has links with ADHD. 

At school, I fell behind and had to be tutored in reading and writing. My inattentiveness was dismissed as “daydreaming.” I loved art and was just deemed “creative.” It wasn’t disruptive and therefore not a red flag. Being creative seemed to explain my struggle with logical subjects, but I wonder if I could have thrived in an educational environment that understood my condition. I struggled with intense “daydreaming,” struggling to focus on class. I found being different difficult and confusing.

I sometimes feel frustrated that my symptoms weren’t picked up on sooner. How different could my education, childhood, teenage years and early adult life have been?

Neurodiversity presents differently in boys and girls. Girls are more capable of masking symptoms early, while hyperactivity in boys leads to them being diagnosed younger due to them disrupting class. An earlier diagnosis can help someone with ADHD understand and treat impulsivity in their teen years and adult life, avoiding risky, unhealthy behaviours developing. They better understand their condition, emotions and world perception. Boys are more likely to be given the opportunity to develop healthy coping mechanisms – an opportunity we are robbing girls of. 

Having ADHD and mental health issues while feeling misunderstood led to my hyperactivity being less controllable, often acting without thinking. This impulsivity is why people with ADHD can engage in behaviours that place them at risk, including substance abuse, dangerous driving and gambling. Many of these behaviours, which can feel highly addictive, begin in undiagnosed teenagers who don’t understand their disorder and lack coping mechanisms. ADHD is believed to be linked to the brain struggling to produce dopamine, which may explain why we crave impulsive behaviour, but this negative behaviour often continues.

Get our latest stories & essential Bristol news
sent to your inbox every Saturday morning

Due to my mental health misdiagnosis I was on and off antidepressants until 25. I was frequently offered short-term therapy but couldn’t really change my behaviour without a better understanding of my condition. I started to question if I had a dissociative disorder due to my inattentiveness, which worsened as I was bounced around services, therapists and GPs. 

I finally got a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder (ADD) privately in 2020 and started stimulants, but they affected my sleep and appetite too much to continue. I was then prescribed Atoxmetine, but I was still on antidepressants and had a serotonin overload, which can be fatal. No longer able to afford private help, I was put on the NHS waiting list, taking two and half years. My treatment is private but funded by the NHS. I was diagnosed with ADHD last summer, receiving my medication late December – a low dose of Atomoxetine again, but without antidepressants this time. No therapy or other support is currently offered. Though more support would be welcome, at this point I’ll take what I can get.  

I sometimes feel frustrated that my symptoms weren’t picked up on sooner. How different could my education, childhood, teenage years and early adult life have been? Would my mental health and relationships be better? Could I improve more with better support now? 

But I have some support. Many don’t. One in four prisoners in the UK are believed to have ADHD, which is five to 10 times higher than its prevalence in the general population. How many people’s lives could be different if we focused on early diagnosis and prevention of serious symptoms? Could prevention ease pressure on the NHS and prison systems? 

Despite the issues surrounding ADHD, there are positives. Research into neurodevelopmental disorders is progressing, as is public understanding. If we support our health services and research into neurodiversity, the future for the next generation will improve. And that’s something worth fighting for.

Independent. Investigative. Indispensable.

Investigative journalism strengthens democracy – it’s a necessity, not a luxury.

The Cable is Bristol’s independent, investigative newsroom. Owned and steered by more than 2,500 members, we produce award-winning journalism that digs deep into what’s happening in Bristol.

We are on a mission to become sustainable, and our first target is to raise our membership income by 50% within 12 months. Will you help us get there?

Join the Cable today

Join 2,500 Cable members redefining local media

Your support will help the Cable grow, deepening our connections in the city and investigating the issues that matter most in our communities.

Join now

What makes us different?

Comments

Report a comment. Comments are moderated according to our Comment Policy.

  • My grandson will be 22yrs in August, and although he has a form of autism he has never been tested, we recently manged to get him on the waiting list for BASS, but it could still take a couple of years for him to been seen.

    Although are hundreds of youngsters waiting to have tests for various disorders, I think they concentrate on testing the more disruptive and aggressive children first and that the placid ones are put on the back burner.

    Reply

Post a comment

Mark if this comment is from the author of the article

By posting a comment you agree to our Comment Policy.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related content

A home for the ‘Hypochondriac, Mad and Distracted’: remembering the ‘madhouses’ of Fishponds

For more than 100 years, a family firm profited handsomely from running mental health facilities in Fishponds – sometimes using shocking and bizarre practices. A new book uncovers the startling history of ‘Mason’s Madhouse’.

Listen: Bristol Unpacked with filmmaker Aodh Breathnach on surviving being stabbed – and documenting its impact on him

With knife crime a tragically common part of life in Bristol and other cities, Neil talks to Aodh about the psychological trauma of being the victim of an attack, and the process of recovery.

Healing is a justice issue: how can we radicalise the voluntary sector, amid a perfect storm of cuts?

When it comes to recovery from trauma, meeting people’s basic needs such as food, shelter, and physical safety is not enough. In an increasingly harsh environment, charities will need all their imagination and creativity to do more.

The gloves are on: the boxing charity helping young people bounce back

Photo essay: Empire Fighting Chance equips some of Bristol’s most marginalised young people with tools for survival and success

When words fail: Meet the Bristol group nurturing male musicians’ mental health

The Seed Sessions project combines counselling and music mentoring to help young men express themselves. We heard from its founder, one of the participants and a counsellor working with the group about the power of music as a therapeutic tool.

How talking clubs are getting Bristol blokes to open up and be vulnerable

I joined Talk Club and learned I can’t regulate my emotions. Then I got schooled by a therapist on toxic masculinity and dangerous role models. But how are you doing, out of 10?

Join our newsletter

Get the essential stories you won’t find anywhere else

Subscribe to the Cable newsletter to get our weekly round-up direct to your inbox every Saturday

Join our newsletter

Subscribe to the Cable newsletter

Get our latest stories & essential Bristol news
sent to your inbox every Saturday morning