Everything that changed after I started ADHD medication.

When I found out that I had ADHD, a lot of things changed. Struggles I’d been so ashamed of my entire life suddenly had an explanation, a reason that wasn’t my fault, and one that – hopefully – I would be able to receive treatment for. I was anxious to start – in both meanings of the word – desperate for life to become manageable, but also terrified of taking something that seemed so… extreme. I made a vlog on TikTok of my first day on the medication, documenting how scared I was in the morning, and how, by the afternoon, my life had changed. But that was only the first day, and I knew I had a long road ahead of me. So now, two months later, I’m back to share an update of all the things that I’ve experienced since starting treatment for my ADHD.

Please note, that this is not intended as a promotion of any medication. This is simply my personal experience, and it will not be universal at all – medication may not be suitable for other people, or it may not work the same way. I just think it’s very important to share, because the whole idea of AFAB adults being diagnosed with ADHD is still a new concept, and the more we understand how much the treatment for it improves our quality of life, the better off so many of us will be.

So anyway, let’s get on with it!

BETTER SLEEP

I know, this doesn’t sound right. I’m taking a stimulant medication, and sleeping better?! I was dreading the effect it would have on my sleep, but instead it’s been fantastic – when it gets to bedtime I feel relaxed and happy, because I know I’m going to sleep instead of being about to spend 4 hours tossing and turning and worrying about stuff.

LESS ANXIOUS

This was another thing I was really concerned about before starting medication. I was an extremely anxious person, mainly because I have a phobia that affects my every waking moment. So I was terrified that it would be intensified by taking a stimulant medication, especially when a lot of people I’ve seen say that it makes them very anxious. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I have truly never been so calm in my life. I can fully relax, I can sit back and enjoy things completely without the anxiety still nagging at my below the surface. Yes I still have big issues, but they were insurmountable before. Now when I think about the future, I no longer feel dread about how much anxiety and fear I am going to have to live with.

EATING MORE

There are several reasons why I’ve been eating more. Firstly, you have to take ADHD medication with food, ideally a balanced breakfast with fat, fibre and protein in it. This helps the medication to kick in more gradually, allowing you to ease into the day and experience the longest-lasting effects. So the fact that I have to eat breakfast has meant that I start the day off with food, something I have struggled to do for long stretches of my life. Another reason is that I used to forget to eat constantly but I can actually remember mealtimes now. And lastly, the reduction in my anxiety levels has, I think, allowed my appetite to come back to what it should be.

A QUIET MIND

Before ADHD medication, I would be having 3, 4, 5 or more conversations in my head. Thoughts would leapfrog over each other, racing, fighting for dominance, everything was so damn loud in my brain ALL the time and I couldn’t stand it. I had no escape, I just had to hang on for dear life as my brain rocketed around at full pelt in every direction. Non-ADHDers might think this is hyperbole, but it isn’t. Being in my brain was pure torture. And I know how bad it was now, because ADHD medication stopped it from happening. I have a proper train of thought now, and if it diverges onto something else, I can save that thought and come back to it, or even remember to write a physical note to think about it later. It’s hard to describe how this worked, but in the cacophonous din of my pre-medication mind, that thought would have carried on being thought simultaneously. I wouldn’t have been able to stop it or put a pin in it. So everything I thought about just snowballed into more and more things.

CHOOSING WHAT TO FOCUS ON

This leads on from the previous one, because when there’s that much going on, it’s really hard to get control of anything. I was pretty much at the mercy of my own thoughts – will they let me concentrate on the things I need to do today? Or is it going to be yet another battle? Now, I don’t have to fight my brain anywhere near as hard to get it to do something it needs to do. This has made such a huge difference to me, because it was utterly exhausting going to war with my brain whenever I needed to get something done.

LISTENING TO MUSIC

For a long time, I had become completely unable to focus while listening to music, apart from an ADHD ‘focus beats’ track on youtube. But then even that became too distracting, and I had to listen to brown noise in order to have any chance of concentrating. Pure silence was preferable to all of these, but that’s a rare thing to find and so brown noise became my go to. But now, I can concentrate while listening to anything as long as it doesn’t have words! It might sound silly, but it’s so enriching. Brown noise has its benefits, but it’s hardly music.

LISTENING TO PEOPLE

Probably a little bit more important than music! But yeah, before meds I had to be doing something physical in order to be able to pay attention to what someone was saying. Conversations were like trying to pull a completely taught elastic band into another direction – my brain was desperate to get away and do something else, and I was desperate to pull it back to the person talking to me. This inability to listen was one of my biggest sources of shame, and I cannot tell you what a relief it was when I started to realise that it was getting easier.

PROCRASTINATING

Now, let’s be reasonable. Procrastination still happens. I have been wanting to write this for ADHD awareness month and at this rate I’ll be lucky if I get it out before November starts! But when it comes to things that NEED to be done, like laundry, self care, cleaning, working etc, it has become so much easier to just go get it done. If we boil it down into a statistic, I would say I’d overcome procrastination about 10% of the time before meds, and now it’s about 70%. Beforehand, I would have had to employ the ‘wait until it becomes urgent’ tactic to finally get myself to do it, and that really is not a good system if you don’t handle stress well.

DISTRACTIONS

There are two different types of distraction. Firstly, losing concentration and going off and doing something else, what I’d call internal distraction. Secondly, something happening in your surroundings that cuts into your concentration, what I’d call external distraction. For me, both of these have massively improved. Internal distraction still happens, but so SO much less. Like I can focus for 20 minutes on one thing now, which unless I was fully hyperfocused on something, would never happen before. External distractions also don’t affect me the way they used to – previously they’d completely derail me, I wouldn’t be able to get back to whatever I was doing, and the threat of that made be unwilling to start things, because the feeling of being pulled away when I had actually managed to concentrate was almost painful. But now, I can stop cleaning to answer the door, stop studying to put out laundry, stop talking to answer a text, and go straight back to what I was doing after I’ve finished with the distraction.

SELF ESTEEM

As you can imagine, the lifelong struggles I was experiencing before I was diagnosed had a pretty negative impact on the way I saw myself. I believed that everyone else’s brain worked the same way mine did, but that they were capable of so much more than I was. So what did that make me?! Even after I was diagnosed, part of me still didn’t trust it – I truly believed I was lazy, selfish, with no self-control or discipline. I couldn’t follow my dreams because I didn’t believe I could work hard enough to achieve them. I couldn’t pursue meaningful or important careers, because I didn’t trust myself to be able to perform well enough to actually be helpful. I felt guilty every time a new interest popped up, I felt ashamed by how hard it was to listen to people. It wasn’t really until I started medication and felt all these differences that I realised how much I had been struggling every second of every day, and I was genuinely able to start learning how to believe in myself again.

So those are a few of the ways that my life has improved since starting ADHD medication. I hope this sheds some light on why it’s so important for adults who need it to be assessed for ADHD. No one should have to fight their way through life with an undiagnosed, untreated disability.

Being diagnosed with ADHD in my 30s | Part One – Why?

The first time I properly read about ADHD, I was trawling the internet, trying to work out why I couldn’t concentrate on my copywriting job in a bustling open plan office. I’d casually mentioned to my fellow copywriters how hard I found it to focus, and they looked at me with kind, sympathetic, but confused expressions. They definitely didn’t seem to struggle the way I did – they’d tune in and out of conversations with the rest of the creative team seamlessly, and often when working on a big chunk of work, they didn’t even wear headphones. I, on the other hand, was at my wit’s end after three months.

I felt like the only time I could actually concentrate was after people had started to filter out of the office after half 4, and I would get all my work done in that last hour of the day. So I started forcing myself out of bed at 6, to get to work for before 8, so I could have an hour or so before the office filled up. I was getting about 4 hours of sleep a night because no matter how exhausted I was, I would always get distracted on my way to bed. And my home life was a shambles. My partner James was working full time and studying for a master’s degree, so he had absolutely no free time, and I just could not handle managing the house – which was embarrassing, given we lived in a 400sqft flat and I was a fully grown adult.

I was on the verge of breaking down completely – I was wrecked physically, mentally and emotionally, but the thing is, this wasn’t the first time. In fact, I’d spent the year before I got that job working from home as a sporadic freelancer, specifically because a similar (though less intense) thing had happened to me in the job before. And before that? The same again, and before that was university, where my struggles were experienced a little differently. I was in a cycle of trying something new, liking it for a while, then becoming overwhelmed and bored at the same time, breaking down, having a rest, and going again, each time getting steadily more and more burnt out at the end of it.

At school, the term system, with long and frequent holidays was probably the only reason I made it to adulthood, because I NEEDED those breaks. It wasn’t that I hated school – in fact learning is something that sustains me like nothing else. It was because I was constantly trying to corral my brain into listening to my teachers, being stressed from getting to the end of lesson after lesson and realising I hadn’t paid attention to any of it, the time constraints, doing what I was told when most of the time I felt compelled to be doing something else. My greatest fear was getting into trouble – so I never let anyone know that I was fed up, or that I hadn’t listened, and I would never express my frustration or boredom outwardly. Because I was a teacher’s pet, I was often privy to conversations that the adults at school deemed me ‘mature’ enough to hear – things like their opinions on children who were disruptive, I even remember one being particularly derisive about a fellow pupil’s recent ADHD diagnosis! That exposure reinforced the shame, fear and embarrassment I felt about my secret inability to concentrate on my lessons.

I was determined that no one would ever know I wasn’t paying attention, because I’d heard what adults said to children who weren’t performing well – “you must try harder”, “you have to listen better”. But I dreaded that, because I knew I was already trying my hardest to pay attention, and it wasn’t happening. I felt like if someone said those words to me it would be all over – I would be a confirmed failure. I couldn’t hide it to begin with though – I took ages to learn to read and write, and for the first years of school I was in a remedial class for maths. When I eventually learned these skills, I soon caught up, became a total praise-hog, and ended up with such accolades as getting the ‘most merits’ in a school year, and being in the local paper for my GCSE and A Level results.

What I know now is that throughout my life I’ve been relying on quick wittedness to ‘fill in the gaps’ and ‘work stuff out’ when I haven’t been paying attention – which is why back when I was a tiny child, a knower of nothing, I didn’t fare very well. It still happens. In conversations at work, when socialising, and at home, I’ve learned to fake listening so well that people have no idea my mind is elsewhere. I can glean a few words here and there, and pretty much work out what someone is talking about. By the time it’s my turn to contribute, I’d be able to offer insight or feedback and people are none the wiser that I’m doing it based off of about three sentences. Would you believe I’ve often been complimented on what a good listener I am? It’s true. This, I’m aware, makes me sound like the worst person ever. I know how bad it sounds, but the shame I felt is one of the reasons I kept all these struggles to myself. I didn’t have the vocabulary or ability to express that I couldn’t listen to people, because it was such a humiliating secret for me. Now that I know, I have felt empowered to ask people to repeat stuff, or to request that we get into a setting where I can concentrate better (such as being free to move and fidget).

The thing about ADHD that a lot of people don’t understand is that it’s not actually a ‘deficit’ of attention. That term is based solely on what it looks like on the outside – of course if someone isn’t paying attention to you, it’s understandable that you think they’re lacking attention. But people with ADHD actually have an overabundance of attention – the issue is that we don’t possess the same ability to direct where our attention goes. ADHD attention is a powerful, wild and untamed thing. It’s a bit like bodies of water. Someone without ADHD has attention that behaves like a river – it can be redirected, it flows evenly, it can get a little rambunctious at times, but for the most part, it’s a stable enough entity that you can safely build a whole town on its banks. ADHD attention is the north sea. You never know what it’s going to do next, it’s rough, powerful and destructive, but also awe-inspiring. Good luck building anything on it – your foundations could be swept away by a ten minute squall. Neither one of these attention types is worse than the other, we’d never say “why can’t the north sea be more like the river thames”. We accept them for what they are. Just as we should accept attention diversity.

There are several reasons why things came to a head when I was in that copywriter job, but in terms of realising I had ADHD, the primary one is that it was the busiest environment I’d ever worked in – and a job I thought I wanted to do for years. The overwhelm of the office and the unexpected boredom despite my initial excitement when I was hired meant that I couldn’t hide or ignore the issues I was having anymore. When I started researching, I was looking for tips on how to concentrate in a busy office, but pretty soon stuff started coming up about ADHD. I started reading, and as I learned more, every example I’ve written in this blog post (and much more) flooded my mind. The way that ADHD is diagnosed in adults is by checking off criteria from a list called the DIVA (Diagnostic InterView in Adults) – and evidence from both childhood and adulthood must be present. As I read through the criteria, I realised I had memories and specific examples for all of them, from every single stage of my life. And for the first time, I realised my secret shame might not be so shameful, and might not need to stay so secret.

This is the first part of my story about how I ended up with an ADHD diagnosis in my 30s – I hope it was interesting for you, and if you’re going through something similar right now feel free to reach out! And please check back for the next part – I’m intending to make this into three parts, the second one on how I ended up getting an assessment, and the third on the assessment itself.