This is part 1 of my story. In this part, I will be talking about my childhood and teen years, leading up to my first chronic illness diagnosis. I hope that by sharing this, people can recognise it in themselves or their kids and maybe figure it all out before adulthood has really set in and implementing change is a little more difficult. Although ADHD isn’t preventable, chronic illness absolutely is!!!
I was born in 1987 to parents who had lost a child to stillbirth the year before, so naturally, I was an incredibly wanted and loved child and my parents did (and still do) everything in their power to make sure I grew up well. I also had a wonderful extended family, including my grandmother, who looked after me while my parents worked.
Her name was Doreen. I called her DorDor. I adored her. She was instrumental in helping me develop my love of learning. She could turn anything into a learning experience, and reading became my favourite activity to do with her. One of the earliest memories I have was sitting on her lap with a Little Golden Book, trying to read what she was reading to me for myself.
I was 4 years old when we were visiting her, three weeks after my little sister was born. One morning, I listened out for her walking down the hallway before getting up to follow her down to the kitchen, yapping away like I always did (sign #1 of the ADHD). I remember her reaching up to a cupboard, and then suddenly, she was on the floor. I ran screaming down the hallway to wake my parents and grandpa: “DorDor fell over!”.
She had suffered a heart attack and passed away.
I cannot honestly tell you how I felt, because I don’t remember. But I do remember it becoming the “reason” for what came next, even though it was all happening before she passed. It only took the new setting of a structured school environment for it to become ~problematic~.
Because my pre-school experience was mostly one-on-one and tailored to my level and style of learning, having to share my teachers with 30 other children who weren’t as lucky to have had the same head-start as me was frustrating. I couldn’t tolerate boredom, so when I’d finished work assigned to me and the teacher was off helping another student, I’d find something else to do. Which was usually being disruptive to my friends who were still working.
Eventually, after getting in constant trouble for being disruptive, I got angry about it. I wasn’t able to articulate how I was feeling at that point. I couldn’t just say “I need something to do when I finish my work because I physically cannot just sit here quietly!”. The anger turned into straight-up tantrums, and then the tantrums became my go-to release of emotion for the rest of my primary schooling.
But, because I was ~highly intelligent~ and could focus on and excel at the work given to me, not once did anyone ever consider there was something neurodevelopmentally wrong. Instead, they assumed my behaviour was a reaction to the trauma of being there when my beloved grandmother passed. Which, I have to admit, wasn’t a bad assumption for the 90s, but it wasn’t the correct one.
Unsurprisingly, I was placed into gifted & talented classes for which I was tested. I had always assumed that some of those tests were for neurodevelopmental disorders, so even when I reached the age where I learnt about ADHD, I had already convinced myself that I was just a really weird neurotypical person with grandmother issues.
It wasn’t until my last year of primary school that my parents were finally able to get some help for me via an absolutely amazing teacher (who I rank alongside DorDor as one of the people who changed my life for the better). It wasn’t as though all my teachers previous to him didn’t care, but they didn’t have the tools to actively help. This teacher did, and he was determined to make sure my potential wasn’t hindered by my behaviour.
He still wasn’t able to figure out it was ADHD, but again, this was the 90s.
By the time I started high school, I had been evaluated by a psychologist who diagnosed me with major depressive disorder and prescribed anti-depressants, but I had also started to figure out what I now know is how to mask. So, even though I still had all the same things going on internally, I wasn’t expressing them as much externally. This, to the psychologist and my parents, meant the anti-depressants were working.
In my second to last year of high school, my dad (who I now realise is the source of my ADHD) decided he wanted to move yet again. We moved a lot during my childhood, but it was always within the same city so I was able to stay at the same school. This time, he wanted to move to a new town a 4-hour drive away, which meant a new school. That new school was my undoing.
I became an almost immediate target for bullies, and although I made some great friends, I knew it was too toxic an environment for me to be in. I managed to convince my parents to let me move back to live with my aunt and uncle, but that was short-lived when it became apparent that my friends had moved on while I was gone. I didn’t belong anywhere anymore, so my mask came off and I fell into what I thought was a deep depression.
I tried to finish school through a national homeschooling system that New Zealand has, but I was unable to keep myself motivated and I dropped out before completing my final year. I knew this had consequences for my future, and as someone who always expected to do well in life because of my ~intelligence~, it was a really difficult decision to make.
I spent the next year hyperfixated on my mental health. I was able to see another psychologist who thankfully did more than just throw anti-depressants at me, and he helped me get back on track enough to feel hopeful about life again. I got a job and tried to go back to school, but ultimately decided to just wait until I became eligible for age-based (20) special admission to university.
It was during my second year of this plan that I fell ill. And that’s where I’ll end this part of the story. Part 2 is coming in the next few days.
PLEASE NOTE: I am not a medical professional. Any information or advice provided in this entry is for general purposes. Please read the disclaimer for more information, if you haven't already done so.