“The Day I Almost Died — But Instead Found Hope”
“I want to fight for this with all that I am to stop others from getting to the very edge as I did. Please join me. We CAN do this if we pull together.”
In late December last year, in an incredibly raw state of overwhelm, I painfully drove to a railway viaduct a few miles from my house and only just stopped myself from jumping to my death.
I’d always known I was “different” somehow. Teachers at primary school assigned my restlessness to boredom, as I was very bright and finished my work ten times faster than many of my classmates. I remember being frequently sent to the head-teacher’s office to greet visitors and work on other projects, now realizing it was just to get me out of the classroom.
In hindsight, I must have been really irritating, always blurting out my “know-it-all” answers and telling the class stuff I’d read in my encyclopedias. Not very many friends in the early years.
My inner restlessness continued into my teens, when my undiagnosed ADHD started to affect my self-esteem. Like many girls and women with ADHD, I went completely under the radar, not fitting the stereotype of hyperactive, failing, and disruptive. I was frequently top of the class, so how could I have anything wrong with me?
I was just untidy, a bit disorganized, overly chatty, and blurting the wrong things, wasn’t I? And I convinced myself that I worked better under pressure to excuse the self-loathing I had begun to feel from my chronic procrastination and other issues. Pull yourself together and try harder, Michelle.
Soon impulsive decision making began to make an impact. I no longer wanted to be in the Oxbridge group in 6th Form, in there to apply for medicine. I had had a couple of lead roles in school musicals, so I decided on a whim I wanted to be a professional actor.
From bright working-class kid with a high IQ and a bursary to a private school, I flunked my A levels, luckily being offered a place at a good university to read theatre. But I felt a failure every single day, not for making that choice, but for my scatterbrain and disorganization. Daily shame.
I never felt I reached my potential, always life circumstances and some dramatic event getting in the way. Pregnant at 22, then self-employment. Two failed marriages. Mother with terminal cancer and her long, drawn-out death. “Making it” postponed. Again. One day, soon, I’ll get there, I kept telling myself.
Meanwhile, increasing damage to my self-esteem from my life choices and daily difficulties was starting to eat away and affect my mental health. This was despite knowing that, when I was “on it,” I was highly creative, with a brain that could “do a month’s work in a day” according to an old business contact. Full of ideas, energetic and apparently likable. But I didn’t like myself.
I was a fraud, a phony. They couldn’t see the crap going on in my head, good and bad, at a million miles an hour, relentlessly.
About 6 years ago, aged 38, I decided to “fix” myself, knowing something was wrong. A neuroscientist in York rigged me up to an EEG machine. “Your brainwave patterns suggest you have ADHD.” I dismissed his diagnosis as rubbish. How could I have ADHD? I could sit still when I needed to. I was just rubbish and needed to sort myself out. Come on, Michelle. Metaphoric self-slap across the face.
“Bad mother, with two divorces under your belt. Look at the brains you had, but wasted. Look at all these unfinished tasks and the state of your desk. And you’ve forgotten your sister’s birthday, AGAIN. Can’t sustain a marriage like everyone else. You are a waste of oxygen.”
Yet, at the same time, I could be half writing a novel, thinking of five different business innovations, dreaming up an idealistic political policy to save the world. But these TV channels in my head would change without my permission, all the screens in view at the same time. Exhausting.
Then came interventions from health professionals. I’d be perfectly normal and happy, then one life event going a bit wrong on a handful of occasions spiraled me into a state so low, I could be dangerously suicidal within an hour. I was diagnosed with a mood disorder that looked like BMD 2, but didn’t quite fit. My drive, energy and enthusiasm was put down to “hypomania.” As were the occasions when I’d get intensely focused on a singular project.
“Have some counseling to talk about your childhood, and you’ll be OK.”
But I still wasn’t.
And mostly I carried on, the next fix would work, to calm the motorway of thoughts in my head. This supplement, that amino acid, this meditation machine with binaural beats, or whatever. This probiotic, that self-help book. Getting all my genes mapped. I’d find the answer one day, wouldn’t I?
Poor choices built on my enthusiasm, impulsivity and trusting nature bit again quite hard in December 2016. I sadly had chosen the wrong business partner for a business idea that was mine and meant the world. In the end, the stress of trying to fix an unfix-able working relationship floored me, and I ended up in the care of the local mental health crisis team, after standing close to the edge of that viaduct.
I genuinely believed my daughters and partner would be better off without a failure like me.
It was then that undiagnosed ADHD was mentioned again by the psychiatrist. As I recovered, I discovered that an NHS referral to an adult ADHD specialist was nigh on impossible, and they refused to refer. So I decided to seek a private diagnosis.
I truly believe that not only did this decision transform my life, but possibly saved it. The diagnosis itself lifted most of the guilt. Finally, an explanation. Not an excuse. My whole life made complete sense.
Also, life felt so much easier on medication. No longer the constant motorway of thoughts and ideas at such speed, but calm stillness. I was still me, full of enthusiastic ideas and a feisty spark to change the world, but a healthier version. Like a car that previously spluttered through life with an engine problem but was now mostly fixed. 80% of people treated with medication for ADHD find it of significant benefit, as I did.
No more overwhelm. Less tired, more focused, more able to get the boring, necessary stuff done. Still with the same emotional depth, but I could now choose how to react. A pause for thinking time that ‘neuro-typical’ people take for granted, but had never been available to me before. I felt WELL, less tired, at peace.
I told one of my close friends how I felt on the medication.
“I think this is what normal people feel like.”
“How do you know?” she asked. Good point. I don’t know, but I don’t really care. I can manage the second half of my life with so much more ease, peace, and HOPE.
HOPE… that’s my focus now — for others, too.
I want everyone to truly understand us.
And I want to fight for this with all that I am to stop others from getting to the very edge as I did.
Please join me in the ADHD Action movement. We CAN do this if we pull together.
This post originally appeared on ADHDAction.org.
Updated on September 20, 2019