Changing Channels
May 5, 2016

Hello. My name is Blandine. I am 34 years old and have been dealing with ADHD my whole life, although it’s only in recent years that I’ve been able to work that out…

In my world of constant misunderstandings, “could-do-betters” and feeling dismissed and judged, I’ve felt guilty and apologetic my whole life, but now it’s time to set the record straight. I have Adult ADHD and realising this has since opened up a world of opportunities. This is my story.

As a child and the youngest of four siblings, excuses were always made for my behaviour, not that it was necessarily bad, I just acted in a way that was different to my sisters and I never really knew what people expected of me. This extended to school where teachers would tell my parents that I was “doing ok” but if I tried harder my grades would improve. This was hugely frustrating as I was doing my very best and felt like I was constantly being penalised. Take this example… I was really good at Maths, particularly equations and during a test I’d usually get the answer right, however, when it came to showing my working, because I’d done it differently I’d lose the bonus mark which would therefore impact my overall result. This would be the same in subjects like English; when writing a creative story, my ideas and imagination would make for a really interesting piece, but it didn’t matter how good that was because marks would soon disappear for spelling and grammar. I felt like the system was always working against me, and this is still true in certain circumstances today.

Lesson number one: It’s not about trying harder; it’s about trying differently

As I approached my teenage years, I never struggled to make friends; I just struggled to keep them. What would make me popular one week would be the same reason they didn’t like me the next. I found it hard to keep-up with what helped me to fit in and this made school quite a lonely place for me. I couldn’t wait to finish! I did ok in my exams but at that point further study was totally out of the question – I couldn’t think of anything worse! Instead, I started my own adventure…

At 18, I left France (where I’d lived all of my life at that point), and moved to England to learn the language I’d always struggled with. I made the move knowing no-one in the UK, not having a job or a home to go to, but I knew that if I could start to speak the language it would open doors in the world of work… and that it did. I got a job in hospitality with one of the world’s largest hotel chains and climbed the career ladder quickly whilst opening restaurants all over the world spanning Dubai, Australia and New Zealand. This field of work suited my need for diversity and for every day to be different and it helped to mask the fact that I struggled to remember things systematically (one of the big manifestations of my ADHD). I’d overcome this by writing endless to-do-lists and singing lists to myself to help the information stick but it was so exhausting mentally, and others seemed to approach it with ease. This is where the depression started (often a common mis-diagnosis of ADHD).

Lesson number two: find coping strategies that work for you

After a particularly bad day (whilst I was living in Australia) I remember getting home and telling my flat-mate how depressed and desperate I felt and that nothing was going right no matter how hard I tried. As someone who has ADHD herself, she handed me a book to read and I will always consider this my breakthrough moment!

I stayed up all night and read cover-to-cover, The Edison Gene: ADHD and the Gift of the Hunter Child (Thom Hartmann), and it felt like this person had been following me around my whole life and that the story in the book was all about me – it explained and articulated everything I’d been feeling. In the days that followed, I made an appointment with a GP who referred me to a Psychiatrist and I was diagnosed with Adult ADHD in weeks, at the age of 27. This changed everything. I was prescribed medication, which had an immediate impact; it was like putting glasses on for the first time and things not being blurry anymore. I could concentrate for longer periods of time and this gave me options that I hadn’t had before.

Lesson number three: talking to people about how you’re feeling will give you the different perspective you need

I moved back to the UK and enrolled at University at the age of 30 and managed to secure a First Class Honours degree in Psychology in Childhood and Ageing – something I’d never have believed was possible when I left school. Things got better with my personal relationships too and I met my partner Alex and we married last year. Although these years have been some of the best of my life so far, they still haven’t been without their challenges. When moving back from Australia, my ADHD treatment regimen was disrupted and I didn’t have the same access to medication as I was prescribed in Australia, not only that, the diagnosis I had received there didn’t stand either and so I faced a lengthy delay of going back through the UK healthcare system to validate my ADHD diagnosis and the extra support I needed. This is still very much a challenge for me, and lots of other people with ADHD today.


Lesson number four: the impossible usually is possible (with a bit of extra help)

Right now, I’m not on any ADHD medication and life is like being surrounded by a hundred TV screens that all have different sounds and pictures, with someone changing the channel 24/7; all of my senses are constantly on high alert and I can never filter things out to focus on that one TV screen. By developing my own coping strategies and explaining my condition to those people who surround me on a daily basis has meant I am able to find ways around this though to make things more manageable. My husband no longer takes offence when I ask him if he’s taken the bins out five times – he knows it’s not me being a nagging wife, it’s my ADHD.

Lesson number five: explaining what you’re going through to those around you helps

Looking forward, I’m in pursuit of some extra help to help me manage my ADHD better and although this feels like a battle with Adult ADHD service provision practically non-existent in the UK, I no longer let it hold-up the things I want to achieve in life. Yes, I do live in fear that I’m never far from messing it all up or making a big mistake but I’ve found ways of blocking that out as much as I can so that I can live my life to the fullest.

I’m currently looking into how I can help people with ADHD by investigating what more could be done earlier on to avoid people going through all of the things I went through. I’m hoping this will be in the form of the PhD I’ve just been accepted for starting in September this year.

Finally, if I could change one thing and leave you with one message about living with ADHD, it would be for others to not be so judgmental about ADHD and for them to better understand what it means to have this condition. Please share this message to help people with ADHD win one of the battles that they face on a daily basis.

Blandine French