For a long time after I was diagnosed with ADHD, I was reluctant to make friends and socialise with anyone else with the disorder. I grieved the loss of normality for a long time after my diagnosis and it stopped me from being kind to myself or accepting my “new normal”. The first year after my diagnosis was spent trying desperately to prove the diagnosis was wrong, but however hard I tried to fake it I was never going to be like everyone else – and it hurt. I felt boxed in, and smothered by my diagnosis.
I thought if I hung out with others with ADHD, it would be embarrassing and it would be like having a sign around my neck saying “Yep! I’m a weirdo too.” I would have to admit to myself that I had it, and I just wasn’t ready. I wanted to carry on pretending I was normal and that I could function like any other; even though my life was a complete shit show before my diagnosis and underneath my stubborn attitude I knew there was a reason I had pursued an ADHD diagnosis.
Shortly after I was diagnosed, I was invited to a psycho-education course run by the Leeds ADHD clinic to learn all about my disorder. There were three other newly diagnosed people in the group with me, all in the same position, and yet while I was perfectly pleasant to them, I knew in my head that I would never see them again. I’d already made that decision before I entered the room.
My first foray into willingly hanging out with others who have ADHD was a meeting of the Leeds Adult ADHD group about 14 months after my diagnosis. If I’m honest, I felt lonely and fed up. I had let my diagnosis affect me. I had received quite a few negative reactions from my friends and family about my diagnosis. I felt regret at even revealing it, and hadn’t seen my life change drastically like I thought it would. I desperately needed some support.
I hated it!
I vowed never to go back.
I made excuses in my mind why I shouldn’t go back:
“The cost of a taxi there and back is astronomical”
“I derived zero benefit from it”
“I hate the seating layout”
“They were looking at me”
“I’m not like these people”
“I don’t fit in”
Another reason I didn’t want to go back to a meeting was because of personalities I didn’t like, or get along with. Due to my dysfunctional and defensive attitude it was even harder to separate my feelings from the people I met and liked, and wanted to hang out with. I actually met a lot of cool and lovely people that night, but in my biased mind it was easy to say, “Well that’s just proof I shouldn’t go back.” Looking back to that first meeting, I was standoffish; even in the break instead of socialising with the others, I chose to go out for a cigarette on my own.
I recognise now, that even though I made the effort to go, I still subconsciously had my back-up script prepared. This defensive and negative thought process won the day, despite consciously believing I had dealt with it. I spoke to my Gran when I got back. I was in floods of tears and she knew what a hard time I’d been having with it all. She gave me a good talking to (as she always does!) My Gran encouraged me to be non-judgemental, and persevere. As always, she was right!
She convinced me I had to give it another go.
It was during the next meeting that things changed for the better. I got talking to Adrian as soon as I got into the room, he was so lovely, friendly and welcoming. He told me he felt like he’d found his tribe, and even though I agreed with him out loud, inside I couldn’t have felt further from that. Despite being welcomed by everyone I again felt intimidated, uncomfortable and overwhelmed. Regardless, I vowed to carry on and stay till the end and I even remained in the room with the others during the break. I also met a very funny woman called Hannah who put me at such ease, we laughed a lot and connected very fast, and I think it was this relationship that made me want to stay. At the end of the meeting Hannah offered to give me a lift back home, and we chatted all the way about the group and how we felt about our diagnosis.
I began hanging out with Hannah away from the meetings, and I started chatting to the others from the group over social media which helped me realise just how much I needed others with the disorder around me. I also explored my feelings in therapy, and both helped the shaming process I was caught up in over something beyond my control. I started owning the fact I was different.
I have recently finished a mindfulness class run by the NHS ADHD clinic. I absolutely adore everyone from that group. We get along so well. A lot of funny stuff happens, including at the end of one session seeing how long we could all hold our pelvic floors! There is no judgement, we all just laugh and I come away from them feeling less burdened, and a lot happier. I doubt it was all due to the mindfulness (sorry Jo!) It finished just before Christmas, but I’ve kept in touch with everyone and hung out with a few of them. I’m organising a pizza night for us all so we can catch up and have a laugh!
It is so invaluable to know people who just get it; people who understand the way you think and behave, don’t judge your flaws, and give you the breathing space to discuss your feelings honestly. They don’t care that I blurt out answers, interrupt others, and swear like a trooper because they do it too! I can’t believe due to my previously protective pre-judgements, I missed out on 14 months of amazing friendships. They make me feel so much better about myself, and they raise my self-esteem instead of denting it. As a result, I approach myself with much more kindness when I make a mistake or have a meltdown. They make bad days better, they have the rare ability of being able to quickly turn my frown upside down, and they make me feel loved and accepted.
I now have a big supportive circle of friends with ADHD and I can turn to them for anything whether it be in times of humour, crisis, or just for a natter. I can text them at any time of the day being like, “Great, I just spent the last 3 hours fantasising about my math’s teacher, and now I don’t know how to calculate the area of a compound shape” or, “I just spent half my rent on shoes that don’t even fit me.” Instead of getting a judgemental reply, you’ll get something like, “I feel you mate! I’ve been there” or, “How big do you reckon it is?”
I admit, we can be a bit forgetful, we can be disorganised, and we can be loud; but you’ll never meet a more compassionate, friendlier or funnier bunch of people than those with ADHD. It’s been a bumpy road to friendship but Adrian was right, I had found my tribe, it just took me longer to realise.
P.s I still don’t know how to calculate the area of a compound shape!