It’s a year from my assessment with an educational psychologist in Sheffield, which resulted in being told I “present a profile indicative of primarily dyslexia, with overlays of dyspraxia” and the difference knowing has made to my life, in 12 months, is quite remarkable.
What led to assessment?
Being 21 when I was diagnosed with learning difficulties, you may wonder why I had never been alerted somehow to them prior and what caused me, all of a sudden, to think that I might have them.
Alarm bells first started ringing, when a Facebook friend shared a status on their struggles with ADHD, in the winter of 2015, and it all resonated so strongly with my ongoing feeling throughout life, to various degrees of intensity, of being a “fuckup” person, of being as we say in Northern Ireland, “throughother.” This article was linked.
I started to research ADHD and found that it often existed alongside several other conditions, including learning difficulties. I took a test on the University of Sheffield’s disability support part of their website, which stated it was probable that I have dyslexia and dyspraxia. This was in the Christmas holidays, and I was tested (funded by the University), just before Easter break in 2016.
I think it’s likely that I was never diagnosed with anything mainly because I grew up in Northern Ireland, where awareness is so much lower than the rest of the UK. Plus, I exist in the high functioning end of the spectrum; I got into grammar school, was a strong reader, got good GCSEs and A Levels and got into University. Although, I can see that I often had to work a lot harder than many of my peers, and frequently put myself through a lot of mental stress. Leaving school, the problems become clearer-the tightly controlled structure of my life to 18 played a huge part in my ability to succeed and cope with day to day life, much more easily.
But I convinced myself I was simply not as smart at QUB-that school must have been a fluke. I struggled massively, and hated academic life. As each year progressed, I engaged less and less. I could never mange my time, became obsessed with activism and the student newspaper as these were things I could excel in, found it almost impossible to focus on studying and was late with all my essays, bar two or three. I spent on reflection, a lot of my undergrad jumping between extreme positive and negative emotions and was mentally unwell throughout quite a lot of it-I spent half of second year depressed, for example.
I never went to anyone to talk, as it wasn’t encouraged by my School, my personal tutor had told me in first year to *email* any issues (this in response to me asking could we meet as I got lost and missed my first face to face meeting), and whilst I almost went to counselling a few times, my ingrained negative attitudes to mental health from my childhood stopped me (that I should just carry on and it’s weak to not be able to).
I am not formally diagnosed with ADHD but have done a lot of research and can relate so much in my life to the symptoms. I attend an excellent support group which is run by ADHD Northern Ireland. The process for diagnosis is more drawn out than learning difficulties. I have recently secured my first appointment with the local mental health team in east Belfast, after a GP referral.
What is dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD?
Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty which not only affects reading and writing ability-before my own diagnosis I had thought this. With reading and writing, the speed of both is affected, as is the quality, especially with the latter. My verbal skills are very strong but my spelling is a bit below average. I also often mix up letters in words but “for many adults with dyslexia, it is issues with short-term memory and speed of processing that are more frustrating than issues with reading or spelling.” This is the case for me, and where my greatest challenges for day to day life present themselves. Structure of writing and how logical it is, is also affected.
Perhaps dyspraxia could be described as a sibling of dyslexia’s, and there is some crossover, in that both are specific learning difficulties, and both affect memory recall and time management. With both, short term/working memory are very weak. It is chiefly a form of developmental co-ordination disorder, which affects co-ordination and movement, with brain messages failing to transmit to the body in the normal manner. Spatial awareness is affected and generally, dyspraxics are more clumsy-poor at sport, dance, driving etc. We find following instructions harder, reading maps and our lefts and rights get mixed up (I often need a few seconds to figure out which is which).
ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is a mental health disorder consisting of behavioural symptoms that include inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. People with ADHD experience emotions more intensely and have weaker emotional regulation. There are three types: predominately inattentive, predominately hyperactive and combined. Boys tend to be more so hyperactive and girls, inattentive, hence many girls and women are later or never diagnosed, as the symptoms are not so disruptive in childhood. ADHD brains have impairments with neurotransmitters which control executive function, and lack normal levels of the hormones dopamine and noradrenaline.
How exactly am I affected?
I could write a lot here, as every aspect of my life is affected in some form really. Being diagnosed in adulthood, I initially went through a period of denial about my learning difficulties but coming to accept the quite severe and often negative impact they have had on myself and thus, others in my life, has enabled me to find methods to massively lessen their influence. I’ll give one example for each and show my coping strategies.
In my current job, I have to log into a phone system and change the codes quite a lot every shift. I remember to log in, but find it extremely difficult to remember to change codes, or change back and when to (once I start working, I go into the zone as such and become consumed by what I am doing). So I stick a post-it note on my desk, with ADHERENCE written on it in capitals (it amuses me that 9/10 when writing the word, I misspell it #dyslexia) and the times I have to change my codes. On days I forget about this visual reminder, I always end up messing up.
Perhaps a hunch deep within myself that I was not normal, from childhood, I had an extreme fear of learning to drive. It was my learning difficulties diagnosis which enabled me to feel confident enough to try, as I then knew of the challenges I faced. Driving is challenging for people with dyspraxia as it depends very strongly on co-ordination and spatial awareness.
Steering, concentrating, judging distance, using hands and feet together and remembering how to carry out a sequence of tasks, all at once, is highly daunting. I gave up lessons as I couldn’t afford them but may soon return to it. My instructor said I was proving to be slower than average to grasp the skills, and would be in for a long haul if I wanted to learn how to drive a manual car. The best strategy we found was that I would never start off doing everything at once. For example, with turning, she would for some time, control the peddles whilst I focused on steering. Once my steering was strong, I would start to include feet-work- I have to learn in small building blocks, in order to eventually be able to fit actions together. I am highly considering switching to automatic however, as it removes the most stressful parts, for a dyspraxic person.
People with ADHD tend to be poorer with social boundaries and have a tendency to share a lot about their life, this is strongly linked to the weaker emotional control default setting we operate on. I definitely overshare in real life, and often realise (especially when nervous) I’m rambling on excessively but probably more detrimental has been my tendency in the past to overshare on social media. I don’t think having a very open personality is entirely bad, as so often it’s what people like about me, and allows me to connect with many people, and be empathetic; with positive emotions, it’s good. But the danger comes with negative emotions-with the amplified emotional depth, lack of logical and long term thinking and impulsivity, it’s a toxic cocktail.
I have been *that kind of girl* who had a twitter meltdown after being dumped in a horrific way. I honestly thought at the time, I wasn’t so bad. But only when I came out the other end of the few weeks of the most intense emotional woe, did I realise that I had been a complete mess. It probably didn’t help, living in a city where I knew few, lacked close circles and had lost the person who gave me belonging but nevertheless, it was destructive behavior. On other occasions, anger has led me to post impulsively, for example when I edited the student newspaper- The Tab tried to poach The Gown, and I posted a very outraged, idealistic status on Facebook slagging them off, which a few people pointed out, wasn’t exactly mature.
The ADHD person may know in a part of themselves, at the time of overshare, that this isn’t wise but it is the weaker ability to cope with how intensely they feel that causes them to quickly disregard any doubts, and focus on how justified their heartache or anger feel-their brain is ‘flooded’ with this emotion.
However, I am learning to control this. Recently I quit a 0 hour contract and was outraged by how fickle and unfair my main boss, who to I had quit, was fond of me, was being. I had a long Facebook status drafted and had started to tweet about it. I quickly deleted the tweet and never posted the status. I’ve been trying to tell myself to think more long-term, and reasoned to myself, that it’s probably not very respectful or professional to criticise a former employer on social media.
To end positively, what are some major achievements within the last year?
-I was able to get extensions for assignments on my postgrad course at the University of Sheffield and pass my degree (it was touch and go with an entire law module to resit and an essay).
-I am shockingly, not a messy person to live with anymore. One of my housemates recently commented that I seemed a lot older than I am, as I seem so together and am on the ball around the house. Having been told all my life I am lazy, forgetful and untidy, this felt really strange. As I now know how poor my short term memory is, I don’t put off tasks-I wash my dishes immediately vs “setting them down” which would translate into forgetting for a day or a few. I write down all my chores in my diary and am building up set days and slots for them, such as washing my clothes at the weekend.
-I am generally a much more aware, organised and tidier person. I am learning to deal with criticism better and for my initial response to be what have I done, or perceived to have done, and what can I learn vs my past tendency to go into defensive mode straight away (because prior to diagnosis I had no clue to why I was messing up so much, and was trying my best to operate as a ‘normal’ person would).
The most difficult part of getting an adult diagnosis, is coming to terms with the many years you were clueless and how not knowing affected your own achievements and confidence and more crucially, how it affected other people in your life, negatively. However, the past is gone so the responsibility is on me, armed with this knowledge on how my brain is weird, to improve as a person in the present and for the future. In 12 months, I’ve come far.
“Even after diagnosis it can be hard to let go of these things. Here’s what I try to tell myself: your life isn’t over. Whether you’re 18, 30, or 60, it’s never too late to start doing the things you want to do…I get how easy it is to get caught in the trap of asking “what if?” Here’s the thing though; it doesn’t matter what might have been, because it never happened. It’s not relevant. You might have been something else, but that won’t change the fact that that’s not who you are. There’s nothing wrong with imagination, but don’t waste your time mourning something that never existed. This sounds a little depressing, but I believe it can be positive too. Because now you can instead focus on what it is you want, and how you’re going to get there. The future is so much more interesting than the past, and we get to choose which one we focus on. So just keep asking yourself: what is it I want? How am I going to achieve it? What’s next for me? Now that you’re diagnosed you can actually recognize and start working on the things that trip you up, which will help you overcome them” (taken from a fantastic tumblr site: http://bit.ly/2ojpuvU