Think of the word “diagnosis” and in all likelihood, you think of something bad. But my diagnosis – for ADHD – is one of the most important events in my life.
It gave me an explanation for why I struggled with things the rest of the world seemed to find so easy. I was given a way to understand myself and how I think. That understanding gave me control for the first time in my life. Most importantly, I had a way forward: to manage and make my life better.
Before my diagnosis, things were starting to fall apart. I was running my own business, had a young child at home and was increasing my involvement in politics. I struggled on by putting myself under pressure and ignoring things that did not seem to matter.
My wife Jackie was the person who urged me to get help and a professional opinion.
I was constantly letting her down and my work-life balance was a mess. I started a vicious spiral of negative thoughts and behaviours. When I vocalised my thoughts, calling myself stupid, Jackie pointed out the pattern of my behaviour and thought it might be ADHD.
At 35, I sought counselling which led to a psychiatric consultation. Let me be frank, the counselling was a waste of time. Asking a person with an attention problem to sit and talk patiently is at best counterproductive. It was the diagnosis of ADHD and with it a prescription that gave me the space and capacity to deal with the issues I had.
That is the catch with ADHD. Absolutely, there are many non-pharmaceutical therapies, but in order to apply yourself to them and adapt to them, you need to be able to concentrate and pay attention.
NICE [The National Institute For Health and Clinical Excellence] describes drug-therapy as the first line treatment for adults with ADHD and for school-age children with the most severe form of the condition.
I take a slow-release form of Ritalin. Let me bust the myth: rather than turning you into a zombie, it sharpens and focuses your attention.
If your brain was a car, having ADHD is comparable to your accelerator working well, but the steering keeps playing up. Stimulants help put you back in control.
The best way to deal with ADHD is a combination of taking medication, but also learning the techniques you need to manage your concentration and attention.
Some of those skills are simple things like keeping lists and strict daily and weekly routines. I have also taken up mindfulness meditation, which gives me an ability to step back and reflect. Medication makes all of these things possible.
My diagnosis was important to me not just because it led me to take steps to manage it, but also because it lets me see my strengths and abilities.
Many people with ADHD will tell you that they think it gives them the ability to think laterally and creatively. People with ADHD do not think in straight lines, they see the tangents and patterns.
The ability to look at things differently, ask awkward questions and feel uninhibited by received wisdom is an advantage in politics, not a hindrance.
The biggest hurdle people with ADHD face is the lack of understanding of the condition and its management. My experience shows that you can tackle it if you ask for help and accept treatment.
Some people dismiss ADHD or describe medication as a bad option or a sign of failure. The reality is people with ADHD can be successful and happy. If we keep stigmatising ADHD and the medication for it, we are creating new barriers for those with the condition.