The doctor said: ‘Hannah, I believe you have ADHD’
Warning: this story includes discussion of suicidal thoughts
The first time I overdosed, I was six years old. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and just wanting to taste the “special tablets” my highly allergic sister took before bed each night.
I secretly consumed an entire packet of the medication (enough to put an adult into a coma) and landed myself in the ICU.
The vivid images of fairies dancing around our car as my mum raced us, at a very illegal speed, to the hospital and the pint of liquid charcoal they forced me to drink are burned into my memory. The story has since become a bit of a conversation starter that we can, thankfully, joke about.
The story of my second overdose is not so light-hearted. This time I was 14 years old, overwhelmed, burnt out and desperate to switch off the racing thoughts of self-hatred that permanently filled my head.
Growing up, I was the excitable, overachieving, ambitious child. I loved hard, laughed loudly and felt my emotions through every ounce of my being.
Although never academic, I hid my struggles behind a larger-than-life personality and a drive to prove the world wrong. How many other valedictorians do you know barely completely high school?
It was year nine, and my boyfriend at the time gave me glandular fever, which saw me spending two weeks in hospital and months in bed. At the time it was assumed I had developed chronic fatigue and I was told to rest and wait it out.
It felt as though someone just flicked a switch, leaving me suddenly unable to function. The girl who did it all was now barely able to get out bed. I wouldn’t necessarily say I was suicidal; I just couldn’t find another way to numb the feeling of failure.
My release from the hospital came on the condition I attended frequent therapy, thus beginning my 15-year journey of on-again, off-again anti-depressants, psychologists and multiple different diagnosis. One day it was just depression other days it was chronic anxiety and once even possible borderline personality disorder. None of them ever felt quite right.
Hannah Fortune. Picture supplied.
Fast forward to 2021, and the pandemic had swept my feet from underneath me and dropped me into a paralysing depression. Like many, I faced redundancy from my travel agent career and my seven-year relationship came to an unexpected end.
The spiral continued and suicidal thoughts began to creep back, I knew I needed help. This time I wouldn’t accept the repeated cycle of medication paired a monthly chat and I begged my GP for a referral to a psychiatrist.
After seven months on a waitlist at the Melbourne Clinic, my appointment arrived. Following a deep dive into my childhood and ongoing mental health struggles, ruling out things like bipolar and obsessive-compulsive disorder, my doctor came to an unanticipated conclusion.
“Hannah, I believe you have ADHD,” he said.
After a week of polarising meltdowns and countless hours scrolling every corner of the internet, I had come to terms with it. It was undeniable how perfectly I represented a neurodivergent.
Hannah and her friend Kelly at the Spice Girls. Picture supplied
My research quickly revealed there were thousands of others, generally females, in the same position. What I had presumed to be the newest TikTok trend was, in reality, a major health crisis.
Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder is a neuro-developmental condition that apparently affects one in 20 Australians. According to recent studies the historical lack of diagnosis in women could be due to referral bias, misdiagnosis and the likelihood of co-morbid conditions such as ASD, anxiety, or in my case, depressive disorders.
The general understanding of ADHD was that it caused children, typically boys, to be hyperactive and distracted. Females, however, usually experience internalised symptoms that can make us seem daydreamy, overly sensitive or anxious.
For many late diagnosed ADHDers, receiving their diagnoses had been euphoric and life-changing, finally someone had confirmed what they knew to be true.
In most of the stories I came across, women had spent thousands and fought hard just for someone to listen to them.
All I felt was anger and defeat. I mourned the ruined relationships and the missed opportunities that my relentless self-doubt and perfectionism had taken away. My ADHD brain had played tricks on me, depriving me of the ability to see things through. For years I convinced myself it was better to fail by not trying, than to try and fall short.
The many quirky traits I thought had shaped my ever-changing personality had now just become a list of symptoms on a page. I felt like I had lost myself.
After spending many weeks mad at the world, I broke down on the phone to a friend. In an attempt to ground me and bring some rationality into my processing, he flipped my world on its head.
“Just remember, they didn’t give you ADHD, you have always had it. Now you can access the help and tools you need to make life a little easier,” he said.
In the seven months since receiving my diagnosis, I have spent almost every day reflecting on moments in my life that could have been easier had I realised earlier that the world just wasn’t built for people like me.
This discovery may not have cured depression or been an instant fix, but it has helped me to be kinder to myself and allowed me to be open about my experiences. Even with long wait times and costly appointments, I know that I am privileged to have access to the medication and therapy needed to further understand my condition and create a life I am excited to live.
While going undiagnosed for 30 years has taken a huge toll on my mental health, I realise now that it has also helped me to build profound resilience.
Most neurotypical people wouldn’t impulsively move to the other side of the world, completely alone, at just 21 years of age. Nor would they have worked in 29 different jobs and travelled to 30 countries by their mid-20s. They wouldn’t have been to acting school, completed four certificates in hospitality and tourism, a certificate in Pilates and be studying a bachelor’s degree. They wouldn’t have spontaneously bought ice skating boots, a keyboard and bass guitar or flown for 24 hours just to see the Spice Girls at Wembley stadium.
I am left with the realisation that I haven’t achieved these things despite living with a disability, but I have achieved them because of my disability.
October is ADHD Awareness month