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How to manage an ADHD diagnosis

My brain has too many tabs open notebook alongside a pumpkin, cupcakes and a mug.
Photo: That's Her Business Unsplash

What I learned to do, and not to do, while getting to know my neurodivergent brain.

How I was diagnosed

I started off the Fall 2020 semester with my Google Calendar, color-coded lists and due dates noted. Equipped with a planner, my trusted highlighters and 46 alarms, I made a perfect study schedule and went to every online lecture.

Then came my first midterm.

I kept looking at the timer.

I couldn’t focus on anything else. I forgot everything I knew. I read the same question over and over as the time ticked by.

I failed.

Usually friends and family can tell you if something seems off, or you may notice some symptoms yourself. My friend suggested I get tested when she noticed symptoms.

Don’t diagnose symptoms with a Buzzfeed quiz

The kind of bread I am is Banana Bread.

There are a thousand “tests” online that will tell you everything from the type of vegetable you’re most like, to the childhood trauma you sport, but they are not accurate. There is no test on the internet that could have diagnosed me with ADHD and/or other mental disorders.

If you think you have ADHD, get tested by a professional.

I went to my general physician at the University Health Centre to get a professional opinion. It might surprise you to know that this is where to start, but your GP is pretty good at helping you find the right mental health resources. My GP directed me to a psychiatrist. (Note: Getting an appointment with a Psychiatrist can take up to 4 months. Sheesh. Right?)

But it is worth it. My appointment lasted a good 90 minutes where I talked about myself and my childhood. It was awesome. And then I got a diagnosis.

Getting a diagnosis

Just like online tests, your therapist might not be right on their first try either. I wish they could take one look and BOOM! Diagnosis! But that wasn’t it.

I was first diagnosed with Depression, then ADHD, then Depression and ADHD and now it turns out I have Anxiety and ADHD.

I started on medication soon after, but the medication did not fix me. Instead, it made me really anxious. I was studying from home and it made things difficult. I also made the mistake of not taking my medication at the same time everyday.

Medication helps. A ton. But it isn’t a magic potion. It takes time to figure out the right dosage and what you need for it to work well. It took me about two months, working with my GP, to find a dosage that works for me. So expect medication to be a learning curve for yourself and your doctor if you try it out.

Now, my medication helps me (especially when I take it on a full stomach and before coffee) and I am better than ever.

There are accommodations for ADHD

I did not know this and you might not either. Remember how I mentioned failing my midterm because I ran out of time?
Turns out there is help for that.

Even if you are in the middle of the semester, it is possible that you can get accommodations for final exams.

My physician wrote a letter accounting for my disability and we discussed what challenges I have with exams.
I was approved for more time and being able to talk to myself during proctored exams.

Getting accommodations reduced pre-exam anxiety for me. Now I go in thinking of how prepared I am, rather than getting distracted by the clock. Confidence is a big part of acing your exam and it helps to have any assistance.

Reach out and find what works for you, it may be help with note taking, time management or needing to talk yourself through the exam (proctoring softwares can flag this if you don’t have accommodations).

Here is a link to the accommodations services with the Academic Success Center. They do online appointments right now and are incredibly helpful.

Sunshine and rainbows
Work with your doctor

Your doctor is trying to help you and mental health is complex. If you are prescribed medication, take the time you need to see effects and possible side effects. You may need to take it at night, with meals or it might work better with another medication, or not. Your brain is unique and it may take time to get it right.

I love coffee but it interacts interestingly with my medication. My doctor helped me figure out the best times to enjoy it!

Who knew there is so much science to this stuff?!

Understand accommodations

Make an appointment with an Accessibility Advisor as soon as you can. Even before I had my letter confirming my diagnosis, they were helpful in figuring out what to expect.

Accommodations need to be made and then renewed every semester. There is an online portal that allows us to apply for accommodations for every new course and it automatically sends your professor a letter outlining your accommodations.

It takes a village

Let the people in your life know. My manager was incredibly helpful and supportive when I got my diagnosis, and we figured out the best way for me to show up at work. If you need a break, ask for it and share what you can.

Your friends can also lend a compassionate ear.

You can learn how mental illness shows up in your work and relationships. My favourite Youtube channel is How to ADHD for learning strategies for coping with school, home and adulting as someone with ADHD.

Knowledge is Power. But not always

I read all I could about ADHD and medication on Reddit. But all that reading made me paranoid.

Are these meds causing me to sleep less?

Is my mouth dry?

Should I worry about headaches?

I do not recommend using information from multiple sources because everyone is different. Your doctor is your primary contact for medication dosage, side effects or concerns.

For instance, this article is an example of my personal experience and not a medical resource. I hope what I’ve shared encourages anyone who needs it to get help–but you may be really suspicious of coffee suddenly.

Source: University of Alberta

About the Author

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Khadija is a third-year Economics and Psychology major in the Faculty of Arts. She can be found naming her new plants or propagating others from produce. She will grow pretty much anything the Canadian weather allows for. Khadija enjoys hiking, finding waterfalls and lakes to dip in specifically. Her main adulthood goal is to start a blog for her dog. Once she has the dog.