Background: how I got my ADHD diagnosis

An icon of a pink stethoscope with black details

This post might be useful to anyone who thinks they could have ADHD, but it will be especially so for those in the UK, as that’s the system I dealt with.

Do research, list your symptoms.
Call GP, get appointment.
See GP, bringing research, and get referral.
Wait months. See mental health nurse. Have an ‘interview’.
Wait months. See consultant (doctor).
Get diagnosed. Talk about treatment. Get prescription (if needed).

How I got my ADHD diagnosis

I’d thought something was wrong with me for ages (read this page for details). As a child, it was put down to ‘ditziness’ and other, more unkind, adjectives. As an adult I had been diagnosed with (and unsuccessfully treated for) anxiety in the past, and I blamed some of my quirks on that. I also assumed that a lot of my failings were as a direct result of my alcoholism. When I got sober, two years ago, I realised (to my great annoyance) that many of those failings weren’t vanishing.

Reluctant to accept that I was just a useless human being, I started researching, on-and-off. I thought for a while that I was somewhere on the autism spectrum: I am easily overwhelmed by stimuli, and I hate being touched or making extended eye contact. But it didn’t seem quite right.

Then, one day, a friend (who had unbeknownst to me been going through a similar process) shared an article on her Facebook wall. It was about ADHD, and how it presents differently in women. I read the article with unusual focus, equal parts amazed and appalled. That was me. The person writing was (apart from some minor details like being a beautiful and successful New York author) me.

I was hesitant about such a quick self-diagnosis, especially as I knew my view would be coloured by wanting it to be true. If I did have ADHD, not only would I have an explanation for the most unlikeable parts of me, but I might even have a solution to some of them.

So, partly because I wanted to mull it over and read more, and partly because, well, it’s just what I do, I put off calling the doctor for several months.

Step 1: Seeing the GP about ADHD

When I eventually got around to it, I put together a list of symptoms that I experienced (with the help of this list, from the incredibly helpful ADD-UK), along with some brief explanations of how I thought they had impacted my life.

I took that bit of paper along to the doctor, who listened to me ramble on for a few minutes before agreeing that, yes, it sounded like I had ADHD. She would not be able to make a diagnosis, however: she would have to send a referral to the mental health lot.

The GP got me to get a note from my Mum (yes, really!) saying what a scatterbrained child I’d been, and drop it in the next day so that she could include it. Parental compliance is useful.

I had had to wait two weeks for a GP appointment, which seemed interminable until I did some more research and realised that I would be waiting months for my first “proper” initial appointment with a psychiatric nurse.

Step 2: Seeing the psychiatric nurse about ADHD

When that appointment came, I toddled along to the mental health clinic and chatted with a lovely German nurse, who asked me a lot of questions about everything from my day-to-day life to whether I’d ever experienced abuse. I welled up a bit when we got to certain subjects, like bullying at school, but was otherwise fine.

The nurse told me at the end of the appointment that she was pretty damn sure I had ADHD: that it was written all over me. I must have looked a bit uncertain at that, because she reassured me that she liked people with ADHD; that we were interesting to talk to. This was gratifying.

When I got home I burst into tears. It was the release of months of gearing myself up for this, and of years’ worth of wondering and beating myself up for being so bloody useless. I now felt validated, relieved, and hopeful. I had a diagnosis.

Another couple of months passed before I got to see the consultant (doctor) to make it official, and to start treatment.

Step 3: Seeing the consultant about ADHD

With the letter that informed me of the appointment came about 15 pages of questionnaires (including CAARS and DIVA) to be completed by me and my loved ones. I thought it quite funny that they dealt with ADHD patients by sending them a folder full of paperwork to lose, and wondered if it was part of the test. But I dutifully filled ‘mine’ in, and got the others filled in by my mum and partner. I took them all with me (hooray!) when I went to see Dr. E.

Dr. E was engaging from the beginning, telling me how she’d researched ADHD in women and how different it was to the ‘traditional’ diagnosis. This was extremely relieving, as I had been worrying about having to convince somebody of my disorder, if they thought mainly in ‘boy’ terms.

The appointment was two hours long, but it flew by. I suppose I quite like talking about myself. The only thing that made me cry this time was when I explained how I used to be such a bookworm, but that after I’d quit drinking I’d lost the ability to focus for long on reading. (I theorise that it might be because the drink helped me ‘switch off’ the parts of my brain that fought for my attention. Whatever it is, I find it deeply upsetting.) I was given a prescription at the end: Elvanse. More about that, and the appointment, here.

At this point, I should probably note that I have been really bloody lucky throughout this entire process. I have seen an understanding GP, a sympathetic nurse and a knowledgeable doctor. I ‘only’ had to wait a couple of months between appointments. Your mileage may, I am afraid to say, vary considerably.

If there’s anything I’ve left out, please let me know using the contact form and I will endeavour to answer your questions. I know how much easier all of this is if you can prepare.

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