Diagnosed with ADHD at the tender age of 40, here’s what writer and mum-of-five Julie Williams learnt about herself along the way…
I don’t know about you, but I grew up in a home with a very sparse medicine cabinet. Fiercely proud of our unearned good health, my mum insisted that almost any ailment could be fixed with a single aspirin. And in our family’s case, she was largely right! Yet while I was mercifully protected from the ravages of serious illness and never (ever) in danger of being over-medicated, I’ve come to realise that I wasn’t spared from that most dreaded of ailments: mental health issues.
The fact that it took me four whole decades to discover that I had ADHD is perhaps not surprising, considering my long-held, unspoken belief that most (if not all) head issues literally and figuratively are just in one’s head. Patient and kind as he is though, God has been at work… slowly, gently, leading me around the same mountains until I was brave, humble and exhausted enough to tire of the familiar landscapes and the perpetual chaos, and finally stop to ask for a little help in the (cough) mental department.
God has been at work… slowly, gently, leading me to finally stop to ask for a little help in the (cough) mental department.
That’s how, a little over a year ago, on the cusp of turning 40, I found myself sitting in a doctor’s room, awkwardly trying to explain that I wasn’t really sure why I was there. But seeing as I was there, I finally asked: “Is it normal to have gone through your entire life feeling like you’re running late for the main event? Do most mums live in a chaotic haze of lost keys, missing school slips, rage cleaning, forgotten appointments and mismatched socks? Do other women who work get tired of pulling rabbits out of hats at the last minute, taking deadlines to places they’ve never been, and perfecting the art of procrastination? Is it common to have multi-tasked for so long that you don’t actually know how to not do (or think) three things at once, all of the time? Is a primary diet of adrenaline, chocolate and caffeine still acceptable at my age? Is it normal to feel like you never, ever have enough time and yet still manage to fritter away hours scrolling through dead-ends on social media? Is it usual to feel ‘book smart’ and yet as thick as a pile of Encyclopaedias when it comes to the practicalities of normal daily life that others seem to find so easy?”
Read more on wellbeing
From the look on my doctor’s face after my high-speed, mixed bag of questions, I had a feeling that she was not writing a script for aspirins on her notepad. After a somewhat lengthy barrage of questions back at me, I discovered that I was definitely, undeniably a member of the high-functioning ADHD community.
The horror! It’s taken me months to accept and even embrace this diagnosis. Along the way, I’ve had to face some uncomfortable truths. For instance: perhaps my lifelong battle with procrastination isn’t just a funny quirk, but a coping mechanism I’d cleverly (albeit unknowingly) developed to kick-start myself into action. You see, thanks to a lack of serotonin, many people with ADHD aren’t as motivated to get things done when they need to be done. While serotonin might be hard to come by for us folk, we’ve subconsciously discovered that a jolt of adrenaline or cortisol (easily caused by a self-induced crisis) works just as well! Our long-term health however, would beg to differ.
The diagnosis allowed me to meet God in unexpected places and ways… and now, more often than not, in the calm, not just the chaos.
It’s early days for me on my ADHD journey, but I’m learning to be kinder to myself, to take medication that really helps (and not feel guilty about it), and to pay more attention to my kids, especially my knee-jerk reactions to their own needs, quirks and struggles.
Because aspirins can’t always solve everything, and it’s really OK to not be OK sometimes… to reach out for help and accept our unique frailties. It’s certainly humbling, but it’s so liberating too. In my case, it’s allowed me to meet God in unexpected places and ways… and now, more often than not, in the calm, not just the chaos.
So what is ADHD?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), typically presents as inattentiveness (a tendency to zone out or daydream, and/or a seeming inability to focus), hyperactivity (a tendency to fidget all the time and not be able to sit still), or a combination of both.
When a person is not diagnosed until adulthood, it is often due to the fact that they are what is termed ‘high-functioning’ (meaning that ADHD has not significantly impaired their day-to-day activities).
While there are some obvious drawbacks to these traits, especially for desk-bound ADHD kids or adults, there are also some under-appreciated advantages too. While those with ADHD may have a hard time completing things that don’t interest them, the upside is, when something does spark their curiosity, they can focus on it, and excel in it, like few others can.
That’s perhaps why some people with ADHD have gone on to really achieve in their field of focus. People like: Serena Williams, Olympians Simone Biles and Michael Phelps and leaders like John F Kennedy. Other famous thinkers who exhibited classic ADHD traits include; Thomas Edison, Erin Brokovich, Emma Watson and Salvador Dali!
Please Note: If you think you or your child may have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), speak to a GP. If you’re worried about your child, it may help to speak to their teachers, before seeing a GP, to find out if they have any concerns. Many avenues of treatment exist that can help ease symptoms. Your doctor or therapist can help to find the best approach for managing ADHD.