First off, the disclaimer: IANAD (I am not a doctor), so none of this is medical advice or can replace medical advice. What this is, hopefully, is a way to help you get started with looking things up and figuring out whether you might want to seek a diagnosis or not.
It’s a collection of resources for everyone who’s going, “oh wait, I think I might have ADHD, but what to do about it?” And it’s particularly targeted at adult afab (assigned female at birth) people because we usually have a much harder time getting diagnosed. And when we do get diagnosed it’s often quite late in life.
The idea isn’t to self-diagnose your potential ADHD but to figure out if it’s likely that you have ADHD and whether you want to take any further steps towards diagnosis and treatment.
I’ll also mention treatment options etc. to give you a bit of an overview. So let’s jump right in.
ADHD often goes unnoticed in people who are afab, who get good grades, have other diagnoses of neurodivergence etc. It’s easy to dismiss ADHD symptoms as “oh, but everyone experiences this,” because to some degree, everyone does experience this. The question is how much it’s affecting your everyday life and ability to function in a neurotypical world.
Fortunately, there are some online tests you can do as a first port of call. These don’t replace an actual psychologist who knows what they’re doing but it’s a way to figure out if it might make sense to make an appointment.
Both of these are quite decent and will give you a basic idea of what you’re looking at. Try not to overthink your answers (if you have ADHD it’s a fair bet you will, though), you’re not getting graded on this. Just answer with your gut and trust your instincts.
Finding a psychiatrist for assessment
So what you’re looking for to get an official diagnosis is a psychiatrist/neurologist. Not a psychologist. Not a therapist. A psychiatrist.
I very much recommend finding a doctor who specialises in adult ADHD. That’s not to say that a psychiatrist who isn’t specialising in ADHD can’t help you. I’ve just heard from many people that it can be harder to get access to the care we need.
ADHD often gets misdiagnosed
Why? Because, even in the medical community, there’s a lot of minimising happening around adult ADHD, a lot of “oh, ADHD doesn’t actually exist” — which is a sentence I have heard from an actual doctor (a brain surgeon) once. Misdiagnosis happens, partially thanks to “masking” (which we’ll get to later).
I was initially diagnosed with an adjustment disorder by a garden variety psychiatrist who only heard that my dad had recently died and immediately jumped to conclusions. So finding someone who operates off the basic belief that ADHD is a thing in adults is a much better good start, as you can imagine.
How to find the right doctor
You can try googling for doctors near you who specialise in adult ADHD and scour the reviews on various review sites to see if people with ADHD have left any helpful reviews. You could also try to find a specialist for childhood ADHD, if that’s easier to find, and then call them up and ask for a recommendation for adults. It might also make sense to look into psychiatrists who experience with other neurodivergence, such as autism, for example.
If you know someone with ADHD, ask them if their doctor is any good (I have sent multiple friends in the direction of my fantastic psychiatrist back at home), ask around on Facebook, Twitter or in ADHD online forums. Your local/regional ADHD advocacy group might also have a few names for you.
Do it now!
One thing that’s important to mention, especially if you do have ADHD and tend to procrastinate phone calls, is that most psychiatrists in most countries have quite the wait times. So you need to call them now, even if it’s super hard, because you likely won’t get an appointment any time soon. So waiting until you’re “ready to make the call” will mean you’ll have to wait much longer.
Btw if you’re in any kind of immediate distress (in danger of losing your job because of your mental health, etc.), let the psychiatrist’s office know when you call — maybe they can accommodate you sooner. If you experience any suicidal ideation, please get immediate emergency help first. You can deal with the ADHD assessment later.
Dealing with ADHD on a daily basis
One important thing to consider with ADHD, especially when you only find out as an adult, is the emotional fallout of going a long time without diagnosis: we have low self-confidence, a low sense of self-worth, we’re always convinced everything is our fault, the ADHD has disrupted relationships, we can often feel like we’re “too much” for other people,…
Here are some interesting symptoms that can affect us quite noticeably in our day-to-day life:
- Many of us have shitty spatial awareness: We have a lot of mystery bruises from bumping into things.
- We have no sense of time: If you tell us we have 20 minutes to get ready to leave, we will possibly start a 45-minute task because we’re convinced we can do that and still get ready in time to leave. We probably can’t give you any estimations for how long something will take, even if it’s a task we do regularly. Which is why I recommend you start tracking your time with a time-tracking tool so that afterwards you can see how long it took you to do that task.
- You’re not lazy! You likely have what is called executive dysfunction or Executive Function Disorder.
- Hyperfocus/lack of focus: We can hyperfocus on an interesting task for hours, forgetting to eat, drink or pee. At the same time, we will find ourselves unable to focus on what is a boring task.
- There are potential comorbid (= simultaneously present) disorders to be aware of (there’s more but these are quite common, afaik): depression, anxiety, tics, insomnia,… some people have both ADHD and autism, etc.
- There’s not a lot of info or research on this, but adverse reactions to medication have been reported. Personally, I get antsy when I take 1st generation antihistamines, while a neurotypical person should get drowsy.
- Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria: RSD is a real fucker, but here’s a good coping mechanism I have discovered on TikTok that works well for me.
- Risky behaviours and “bad decisions” because they give your brain the dopamine rush it craves.
Learning more about ADHD
There are various great ways to learn more about ADHD, symptoms, diagnosis etc.
- [CW for ableist words in the title] You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy? I’ve found this book to be vey helpful in learning more and counteracting all the harmful internalised bullshit.
Is It You, Me or Adult A.D.D. is a book targeted at partners of ADHDers that my spouse has found super helpful when we had just found out I had ADHD.
Online resources (watch out, some of these might lead you down a rabbit hole)
- Forums have mostly been replaced by social media these days but they do still exist:
- https://aadduk.proboards.com is, surprisingly, still active
- There’s an ADHD subreddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/ADHD
- Look for specific forums for you own situation, e.g. women/afab with ADHD, etc.
- Gina Pera (the author of Is It You, Me or Adult A.D.D.) has a very informative website and blog: https://adhdrollercoaster.org
- Twitter: There’s a lot of content happening under the hashtags #NeuroDiverseSquad and, of course, #ADHD.
- TikTok has a very good ADHD and neurodivergent community. Check out the following hashtags — or just wait until the algorithm figures out you’re interested in ADHDtok. 😉
- I can also really recommend these two accounts for a lot of relatable content: https://www.tiktok.com/@connordewolfe and https://www.tiktok.com/@catieosaurus
My personal experience
If you’re interested, I have written about my ADHD diagnosis in the past (the language from these posts is not up to my current standards so you might find some ableist or otherwise problematic language in there. I apologise, I don’t have the time to overhaul these posts but they might still be helpful because they describe a personal experience.
Over the years, I’ve come to resent how the neurotypical world expect we make ourselves fit into it. We shouldn’t have to. If we didn’t live in a neurotypical world, our neurodiversity wouldn’t even be an issue.
However, we do live in this world and many of us have to make ourselves fit so we don’t lose our jobs, homes, etc. I make use of a few things that make it easier for me to get along with the neurotypical world and move around in it.
First of all: Don’t fall prey to neurotypical organisation methods (Getting Things Done, etc.) — they are not meant for people with ADHD and it’s likely they will drive you to despair and make you doubt and blame yourself even more.
A while back, I wrote a Twitter thread and a corresponding guest post for Gina’s blog about how I use certain tech tools to organise myself. The info is the same, so choose whichever format is easier for you to digest:
There is also a lot of fantastic content on TikTok about how to deal with executive dysfunction, especially by the user Catieosaurus, who I mentioned above.
Therapy / Wellbeing
- Personally, I recommend going to therapy. I did talk therapy, which worked great for me, as it helped me deal with my ADHD diagnosis and the grief that came with it for a “normal” life, but also let me tackle all the underlying life-long mental health issues I mentioned at the very beginning, as well as my more unrelated childhood trauma. I found it helpful to tackle all of this to be able to begin moving past it.
- I’ve also tried CBT, which is what doctors seem to recommend a lot for ADHD. Unfortunately, I hated every second of it because it gave me homework, which many ADHDers detest. However, lots of people report CBT helps them immensely so it’s always worth looking into it. Just make sure it’s your choice and not your country’s mental health care (or lack thereof) automatically sending everyone to CBT, no matter what mental health issue plagues them (looking at you, NHS in the UK).
- Mindfulness: Again, works for some. Doesn’t work for others. Telling me to empty my mind is a hilarious suggestion and entirely useless. You might as well tell me not to think of a pink elephant.
- If mindfulness doesn’t work for you, try other relaxation methods instead: I’ve had a session of hypnotherapy and that was super relaxing. Consider active relaxation with a physical component: Swimming in the cold North Sea year-round works like a reset button for me. Others like yoga, weightlifting, powerlifting, running, kayaking, surfing,… you name it.
- It’s become more and more known that, similar to autistics, ADHDers also “stim” (here’s a primer on stimming). In my personal experience, stimming toys targeted at autistics don’t always work for me, but there are some great ones targeted at us. For example, Fidgetland has some cool options. I have a Noah Jumbo and a Stephie, and I love them. You can also find cheaper fidgeting or stimming toys elsewhere if you just want to try it out and find what works for you. Because of my ADHD forgetfulness, I find it helpful to have a fidget in most places where I might need one. One on my desk, one in the pocket of my outdoors trousers, but I also keep one in my sweatpants pocket.
- Masking: I recommend you read up on masking because it’s a complicated topic but, essentially, what we mean by “masking” is that we establish behaviours to hide our neurodiverse ADHD behaviours. This term is also used to describe the same behaviour in autistic people, btw. Masking is partly why many of us are diagnosed very late in life and/or misdiagnosed. It is also exhausting af, and many of us find it helpful and freeing to just ditch the mask once we become aware of it. Here’s a 15-minute video that explains masking and here’s a short blog post about it. You might also want to look into what people on Reddit and TikTok are sharing about masking.
Here’s the disclaimer again: IANAD so please don’t take this as anything but my personal opinion!
Personally, I recommend giving meds a try, unless there are any health reasons for not taking any. Why? Because it can make your life so much easier from here on out.
There’s nothing shameful about taking ADHD medication (or any medication, for that matter). Your brain needs certain chemicals to function. And if your body doesn’t produce those or enough of those hormones, then you’re a bit fucked. If you have ADHD, then your brain doesn’t get enough dopamine. It’s far better to get that dopamine from medication than to engage in risky, dangerous, sometimes life-threatening behaviours instead.
Stims v non-stims
Generally, there are two main options: stimulants or non-stimulants, all depending on what is right for you and what’s available in your country. And then there are various sub-options in each category, that all are processed differently by the human body and work in different ways.
ADHD meds are usually prescribed by a psychiatrist/neurologist, but sometimes your doctor/GP will take over the regular prescription. Expect them to send you to an ECG before you start stimulant medication to make sure your heart is healthy. High blood pressure might be an issue as well, as stimulants can elevate it further. Doesn’t have to be a knock-out criteria, though; I myself have high BP so I take blood pressure medication on top of my ADHD meds.
Please, do not fall prey to those who claim that stimulant medication will “make you addicted” or “get you high”. If you have ADHD, your brain does not process stimulant medication the way a neurotypical brain does. You don’t get hyper on Adderall, you get calmer. That also means that you do not get high on it. A medicated ADHDer is not addicted to their meds, they’re simply taking their meds as prescribed every day.
Nonetheless, it’s important to take your meds as prescribed and not abuse them in any way. And don’t give your friends any of your meds, even if they ask for them. They will get high, and you will be left with not enough meds for the month.
Some people take medication breaks, others don’t. Discuss this with your doctor.
If you’re trying out medications, and you have really bad “comedown” (an adverse reaction when the meds wear off and you get really antsy, for example), then talk to your doctor. It might not be the right dosage or it may not be the right medication. There are usually options and often it’s not even about switching to a different active ingredient, just a different brand.
Just as an example: I started out with a combination of Ritalin (short-acting) and Concerta (long-acting). Both are methylphenidate. But I got really bad comedowns from the Concerta. So my doctor switched me to a different brand of methylphenidate called Medikinet (again, a combination of short-acting and long-acting) and I’ve been on that for about 8 years without any issues or need for changes.
A lot of us self-medicate with coffee/tea/stimulants before diagnosis. I have pretty much stopped that completely since starting medication because I get my dopamine from my meds now. Now I barely drink coffee, and I only drink tea because I enjoy it and not because I cannot function without it.
**I hope this primer has helped you a little bit. If you have any questions about what I wrote or have found a really good source you would like me to perhaps add here, feel free to get in touch with me. If you have any medical questions and concerns, please get in touch with a medical professional. **