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ADHD and Me: Before

The first in a 3 part series, Before, During and After, Claire shares insight into her life before she learned that her brain was wired differently, and how not knowing greatly impacted her life.

I was 28 years of age when I received my ADHD diagnosis. My 20's were an incredibly chaotic phase of my life, having experienced trauma and suffering with my mental health. I had been in and out of therapy to work through different incidents and while I felt I had gotten a handle on things, there was still something not sitting right. I spoke to my Mam about what was still challenging for me, and she mentioned that from a young age, she had always wondered about ADHD. So I turned to google, began exploring and had uncovered enough evidence that I could identify with to suggest that I could possibly be ADHD. Full of curiosity and an open mind, I decided to embark on the journey in search of getting an assessment.

The year I was born, I was 3 weeks late, but arrived bright eyed and fully alert. The running joke was that I always did things in my own time, and when I was ready. My poor parents were exhausted because I never slept. While in the pram, I sat up and watched everything that was going on around me. As I got older, I wanted to know everything and everyone. I was extremely active and always off exploring. I had a ferocious independant streak, telling my parents to go away from the age of 2. I was incredibly observant and did not want to miss anything. FOMO.

As far back as primary school, every single teacher I had commented on how I found it difficult to focus, left things incomplete, spent a lot of time day dreaming and was very talkative. Teachers remarked on my challenges with reading, hand writing and maths. Phrases such as 'she needs to try harder' and 'she should apply herself more' were used frequently, and my ultimate favourite.....'her grades do not reflect her ability'. My Mam told me that she always thought I was bored in primary school, that there wasn't enough excitement going on. I don't remember much of my primary experience, except being constantly afraid of getting it wrong. My opinion of myself was that I was shy, awkward and lacked confidence.

When teachers would ask us to take turns and read paragraphs out loud in front of the class, it was followed by summarising what we just read. I loved reading out loud, but I could never answer these questions, I wasn't focused too well on the actual content and I couldn't recall the information. Other teachers would invite us to the black board to demonstrate solving maths problems. This was a form of torture for me. My anxiety was through the roof, my palms were sweating so much I could barely hold the chalk and my uniform would stick to me. I was much slower than my classmates, and this led to them, and my teacher, getting extremely frustrated with me. It would result in me crying, and at this point I could no longer see the board.

My surname begins with T, so I was generally sitting at the back of the class. This gave me enough time to figure out what piece I would be doing, and I would hurriedly practice it before my turn, to help myself when in real time. I now know that this is what they call a coping mechanism. This meant that I was not learning from the other students. The result of this experience was traumatising and occurred regularly. The message that I took from this, was that I was not good enough, and had to try harder.

When I reached secondary school, I was very fortunate that I really took to it and found my place. Travelling into Dublin from Meath, and meeting others from all over the capital created a bit of excitement for me. I also think the shorter classes, the movement in between each and the variety of subjects and teachers made it more interesting and therefore easier for me to get through the day, although my grades were still not representing my intelligence. It was here that my obsessive organisation skills came to great use, as I was a member of every committee you could think of, and even went on to be head girl of the student council.

‘Could do better, needs to apply herself more.‘

In the classroom environment, I continued to feel embarrassed about not grasping things as quick as my classmates did. Maths, English, French and History continued to be a struggle. Learning things off by heart was not my strong point, and I had very little interest in these subjects. I had been learning Irish since I was 3 and had a huge grá for it. I distinctly remember getting an A in an English essay in 5th year. My teacher asked for permission to read it out to the class. The assignment was to tell a story from the perspective of a man in a wheelchair. My grandad had been in a wheelchair since I was 7. This is when I started to view my ability to connect and understand others as a strength, and that I could use my lived experience, good and bad, to get places. The sad part of this is that it took way too long for me to feel like I had achieved something academically. I was 17 years of age.

The social life and extra curricular activities created excitement and stimulation for me, which is why I think I 'got by' and no one suspected that anything was wrong. I had big goals, and teachers telling my I could achieve them, however, when the results came out, I was bitterly disappointed and I didn't understand why. I never felt like I was reaching my full potential, or showing people what I was really made of.

While I did find my Leaving Cert year a challenge due to conflict with friends and pressure to perform, it wasn't until College where I had my first crash and things fell to pieces. I found the process incredibly overwhelming and hard to keep track of assignments without the structure and accountability. I was studying psychology, as I was fascinated with people's behaviour and trauma, however I failed exams and couldn't continue into the following year. I was absolutely devastated, heart broken. Alongside enduring the biggest trauma of my own life, I was completely drained and reached burn out. This was when I deferred for the first time.

When I look back now, the transition to third level education was an exciting one, but incredibly daunting all the same. The difference in responsibility levels were huge, I was completely overwhelmed and overstimulated. I went from having adults tell me what to study and when to study it, to being expected to be an adult myself and have all my ducks in a row, without knowing how to do it, or having someone to do it with me. I certainly wasn't discussing anything with my friends, because I didn't know how to do that either.

I took some time out, and set off to explore what had happened and improve my mental health. I ended up going on this incredible journey of healing and discovery which resulted in changing my perception of myself and the world around me. I believe that it was this work that I had done, that left me unafraid of chasing and open to receiving an ADHD diagnosis.

When it was all official, I remember feeling a sense of relief, because now that I knew what it was, I could do something about it. But, there was also a lot of pain, anger, and sadness for the little girl in me who's natural instinct was to try very hard at everything she did because she thought she had too. I later learned that this was called grief. Up until this point, I did not know who I was, what my purpose was or how to lead with my strengths. I had years of missed opportunities, failed attempts and road blocks. I have since had several mountains to climb to get to where I am today. And despite how hard it was, I never gave up. I kept going, putting one foot in front of the other. Perseverance. A trait I see in every ADHDer I meet.


In Part 2, Claire will share with you her experience of getting an assessment and her own personal coaching experience. The second part of this series; During will be released next week.


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