Gareth Gregan, a recent graduate of Trinity College Dublin who now lives in London, says his previous diagnoses of anxiety and depression were “like a jumper that didn’t fit”.
Gregan got through school just fine, but when he reached uni, things started to fall apart. He failed two consecutive years, where previously he’d been getting top grades. “I'd sit exams in May, fail them, resit them in August, and fail them again. It was like this cyclical process that wasn't actually going anywhere.”
He soon got diagnosed with anxiety and depression. “I was going down a very destructive route. I was getting very depressed because I didn’t know what was wrong with me, and I wasn’t able to put any structure or organisation into my life. I couldn’t imagine [what would have happened] if I’d continued down that road for another 25 years.”
The medications he was put on to help the anxiety and depression did make a difference, he says. “They stop the bleed, but without ever addressing the underlying cause of it themselves. They were a beneficial short-term solution to get me out of a slump. But I didn't actually need to stay on them at all once I got diagnosed with ADHD.”
To get the diagnosis Gregan saw a psychiatrist, who referred him to a psychologist. The psychologist gave him tasks like organising blocks, or circling places on a map, that he had to complete both with and without a beeping noise in the background. With the beep, he fell apart. “I'd just throw all the blocks up in the air and be like, ‘I can't concentrate on that,’ because the bleep noise was such a distraction,” he says.
When it finally came, his diagnosis felt like “turning on a light switch”, he says. He had some exam resits in May 2016, shortly after starting treatment for ADHD, and they went well. “I had the experience of coming out of exams after actually having been able to study for them like a normal student.”
Gregan thinks his anxiety and depression were symptoms of his untreated ADHD. Now he’s on Ritalin, and it’s working. “It gives me the ability to focus on a particular task,” he says. “Instead of being like, ‘I have 20 things to do and I'm going to try and do them all at once,’ it’s like, ‘No. I'm going to sit down and send this email, then I'm going to do this lecture, and I'll do this homework afterwards.’”
He thinks adults with ADHD fall through the cracks because people assume if you have the condition you’ll get diagnosed with it as a child, or that you’ll grow out of it anyway. He also thinks some people don’t view ADHD as a “real thing”. The public discussion around ADHD "did dissuade me from looking for a diagnosis," he says, "because I thought, Oh, that’s not much of a real thing.”
With his diagnosis and new meds, Gregan managed to finish his degree and get an internship in London. “I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t got that diagnosis,” he says. “God knows where I’d be.”
By Kelly Oakes is science editor for BuzzFeed and is based in London.
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