I have ADHD. This is pretty obvious if you watch me go about my day. I frequently pause one project to write down ideas for another; I’m constantly stimming with one thing or another; I forget where I’ve put an object the moment I’ve set it down; I am chronically early or late, never on time; I often “zone out” and start daydreaming in the middle of an important task.
I am, however, undiagnosed. Like millions of women around the world, my ADHD was missed in school, thanks to research that focused almost exclusively on young, cis boys. I’ve had to learn all of my coping mechanisms through solo trial and error. I’ve never been able to access life changing medication for my disorder. Up until a couple of years ago, I didn’t even realize I had it, because my knowledge of ADHD was based on that same limited supply of research.
Now that I know, what difference does it make?
The answer is both “all the difference in the world” and “none”.
A lot of things about my life make more sense now, like the ADHD coping strategies I stumbled into on my own. I had already developed dozens of ways to deal with my disorder, without knowing I had it.
Knowing allows me to deliberately seek out more of these strategies. I watch YouTube channels like How to ADHD, ask my ADHD friends to recommend planners and apps to help me manage my disorder, and spend a lot of time listening to others talk about how they cope with the disorder.
What this knowledge doesn’t give me is access to professional help. In fact, I struggled for several months to get a diagnosis, and many others go much longer without one. The Ontario healthcare plan, like most “universal” healthcare plans I’m familiar with, doesn’t generally cover ADHD assessments for adults. If you made it through school all right without help, it’s expected that you can go through your whole adult life without help too.
To get an assessment at a free or even reduced price, you must navigate bureaucratic systems that are frustrating for anyone and overwhelming for an ADHD brain. There are phone calls to make, referrals to ask for, and endless wait periods. All of it becomes more complicated if your general practitioner doesn’t understand ADHD or actively disbelieves you. If you don’t have a general practitioner, well, good luck getting into the system at all.
I mustered the courage to request a diagnosis in December 2020. Partway through writing this article, in May 2021, I managed to get a diagnosis. Those six months were agonizing, but as I mentioned before, it’s actually a short waiting period. Several things had to align for me to get the diagnosis this soon.
The first thing that worked in my favor is that I’m registered with a community health centre for the majority of my medical care. It’s one of the few places where you can access physical healthcare, a psychologist, and therapeutic treatment covered by OHIP.
I’m also lucky to have a doctor who listens to me and advocates for me. This sounds like the bare minimum for a doctor, but the truth is that many disabled and neurodivergent folks don’t even receive that much from their so-called care professionals. When a professional does care, they don’t always have time to follow up the way they should; budget cuts are always tightening around their schedules like a noose.
My doctor made the time to follow up with the clinic psychologist not once, but three times. We also pursued other options, including a basic psychiatric assessment that ended with referrals to specialized ADHD clinics. When I attempted to call these places to find out what the “sliding scale” was for these clinics, I was led through a complicated series of robotic phone instructions that got me absolutely nowhere.
I was still waiting to hear back from one of those clinics, attempting to find the spoons to maybe call one back, when I landed an appointment with the psychologist at my health centre.
After all of that, the assessment itself was so easy it felt almost silly. We had a short conversation about my previous stints in mental healthcare, then went through two assessment quizzes together. I got full marks on both, leading to a very secure ADHD diagnosis.
On the one hand, I’m relieved. I’ll finally be able to access life-changing medication. I can (mostly) stop feeling like an imposter when talking about ADHD and access tools that will allow me to function better. Maybe I’ll even have a clean house someday, although that one seems like a bit of a stretch.
On the other hand, I’m furious. Furious that a lack of research on ADHD in women left me and millions of other women without an essential diagnosis. Furious that there are so few publicly funded services for both mental healthcare in general and ADHD specifically. Furious that I can’t tell my undiagnosed friends how to replicate my process to get their own diagnosis.
I’m finally getting the help I need, but millions of other women still aren’t. As a society, we can do better. We must do better, because right now we’ve left millions to drown in the chaos of their own minds.
Dianna Gunn is a freelance writer by day and a fantasy author by night. Her sword and sorcery novel, Moonshadow’s Guardian, was released in November 2018.
When she’s not writing, Gunn can be found working to develop the indie author community. She hosts the #WeeknightWriters Twitter chat at 7PM EST, runs the Author Marketing Club, and hosts free virtual events through the Weeknight Writers group. Sometime between all of those exciting things, she produces the Spoonie Authors Podcast. She also occasionally takes breaks to cuddle her two cats.