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How ADHD Saved Me

I shouldn’t be able to write this article. I was told so growing up. I faced an unrelenting barrage of reasons why I couldn’t do things. 

“You want to write? You’ll struggle holding a basic job down, lad, never mind write”

“One day, Darryl will realise that talking and acting up will never earn him a living”

“If you can’t concentrate for longer than 5 minutes then you have no hope. You’re thick. You’re just one of those thick people”

Most of my early life can be defined as restless. I always had somewhere to go, somebody I wanted to talk to, something I wanted to see. As I made my way through the early years of primary school, the restlessness had gripped me. I was failing. My mind seemed to be besieged by distractions and curiosities. The natural by-product of struggling to concentrate was to be disruptive. If I couldn’t focus, I’d just play up. I’d do anything to get a laugh from my classmates. My Mum and the teachers tried everything – shouting at me, being kind to me, giving me incentives. It wasn’t working. My agitation was reaching fever pitch and I, and all those around me, were suffering.

Something had me in a chokehold and it was time to try and figure out what.

After tests and monitoring, at the age of 10, doctors reached for four letters that would change my life. I had ADHD. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Now, as ADHD Awareness Month draws to a close, I look back on that moment as a huge relief. Many people make the case for over or inaccurate diagnosis – it cannot be denied that there are nuances, and, on occasion, we get it wrong – but to have my restlessness defined saved my life. It allowed me to understand what was happening in my mind. Why I felt the way I did. Why my mind would stray from some things and obsess over others. It gave me a perspective of my brain that I would never have reached alone.

Secondary school would have been unbearable without knowing what was happening. Just being aware of the fact that I would struggle with the elements of academic life that many of my friends took in their stride made it easier to live with. There was a strange disparity between my performance in subjects that, finally, I could explain. In Drama, for example, both my practical and theory work were consistently achieving high A grades. For maths, on the other hand, I was bottom set. OK, you’re thinking, people are better at some subjects than others. This isn’t new. But English was where the disparity was most stark. I participated brilliantly in group discussions, I could analyse text and articulate my critique of it perfectly – I was top of my year for showing ability and understanding, but when it came to writing it down, I crumbled. I simply couldn’t apply what I knew into an essay. My mind would race around the room and seem, somehow, to escape my control. A reprieve was granted by a forward-thinking English teacher who campaigned to allow me to sit my literature exam orally. I aced it.

Being diagnosed allowed me to explore the upsides that ADHD offers. It gave my school and teachers a way to define what was happening and find a way around it.

Then I fell in love with radio – and, suddenly, ADHD was my greatest asset. The opening came around the time that the condition was hitting me hardest. I was 14. The school set up their own radio station and I jumped at the chance to be involved. Talking? Playing music? Entertaining people? All my most destructive skills could finally be put to good use.

I fell in love with the power of broadcasting, the precious connection with your audience, the ability to stir emotion with a sentence or a few chords of a song. ADHD comes with a hyper-focus; a relentless, obsessive commitment to something you love. I would wake early and trudge through the battering wind and rain to be at school for 7.30am and switch on the school’s radio station, broadcasting to the playground and corridors of the high school. An interest turned into a passion and I pursued it ruthlessly. I soaked up every last book or tutorial I could find on how to master this craft. Listening and learning and practicing – morning, noon and night. ADHD gave me a focus and drive that helps me to not only practice radio, but to excel at it. I have made it my livelihood. So, yes, talking and acting up has earned me a living.

I can be a pain to live with, too. I am forgetful, I have a hundred jobs I need to sort around the house and I can often gear change from distant to intensely loving in a heartbeat. ‘You have a busy mind,’ said my girlfriend Michaela, as she was trying to figure me out early in our relationship. Knowing why I am this way has not just helped me, it’s helped those that have to live with me too.

From the moment I got the diagnoses, it gave me the chance to reshape the way I lived. I took medication for a while, and that helped, but it isn’t often sustained into adulthood. Rather than living my life in the hopeless despair of believing I’m not capable and destined for failure, I apply structures to my life to help fill the gaps. I have to stay impeccably organised. My diary is a work of art. I write in silence. I discipline myself to work at certain times – but I don’t beat myself up if my mind wanders. I accept that sometimes it will and that it’s not always a bad thing. I have learnt not to battle with my mind, but to embrace it.

I am no longer defined by the limitations ADHD imposes on me, but by the opportunities it offers. The creative doors it opens. The natural and wonderful curiosity with which ADHD allows me to see the world. It feeds me with an impatience to explore and an unquenching thirst for knowledge. Qualities that have driven me in my personal and professional life.

When I hear arguments about overdiagnosis, or people misunderstanding what the condition entails – or doubting it exists at all – I am haunted by the fact that there are people who will spend their whole lives believing they are not capable. Simple misunderstandings can condemn people to a lifetime of being defined by their shortcomings.

This article exists because I have ADHD. It exists because I was given an opportunity to see my brain for what it is – and make it work for me. It changed my prospects. It offered me the chance to not only survive… but thrive.

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By darrylmorris