The Malta Independent 8 December 2022, Thursday
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ADHD has ‘brought us together’ as a couple

Sabrina Zammit Sunday, 2 October 2022, 09:30 Last update: about 3 months ago

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has played a role in bringing “me and my husband” together, and keeping us as a couple, Jessica Portelli said.

Portelli, in her 30s, was diagnosed with the condition only last year.

To commemorate October as ADHD awareness month, The Malta Independent on Sunday sat down with Jessica, a real estate agent, who said that she never expected to be diagnosed with ADHD when she sought medical help.

She said she is very familiar with the stereotypical traits of the condition since her husband had been diagnosed with the same thing when he was 11 years old.

She said she went for a psychiatric evaluation expecting to be diagnosed with anxiety, and was quite shocked to learn that she had scored high on the chart for ADHD.

Usually they associate ADHD with disruptive children and, secondly, “I have a 38-year old husband who has ADHD, and as much as we are very similar, we are very different and in my mind he was the typical ADHD person”.

The condition manifests itself in many different forms, making a proper diagnosis hard. ADHD diagnosis and treatment can also be costly, which can prevent those with suspicious traits from reaching out and getting the help they need.

ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopment disorders. It is usually first diagnosed in childhood and proceeds into adulthood. Children with ADHD may have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviours (may act without thinking about what the result will be) or be overly active. Such behaviours can easily have a child being labelled as naughty, disruptive or hyperactive.

Jessica can still recall the exact moment when she said to herself that she needs to stop and take care of her mental health. It happened last year in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Taking into consideration the type of job she has, it was very hard on her overthinking mind and she couldn't take it anymore.

That day she had just had an argument with a colleague “and there was a feeling of tension and anxiety and suddenly this rage took over. I became extremely anxious and angry. It almost felt like I was taken over by something, which was probably built-up over time, and I tried to put my fist through a glass door out of frustration”, she said.

 

Jessica said that after being diagnosed and joining a Facebook group dedicated to ADHD persons, many people have been reaching out to her and telling her their story. The majority of them are women, who also happen to have been diagnosed with ADHD in their adulthood.

 

A life without a label

“The problem with ADHD, I think, is that people have this perception that you have to be a naughty 10-year-old who performs badly in a school setting,” she said.

In explaining what she meant, Jessica said that through research she discovered that ADHD is more obvious in young boys. Women’s capability of masking and mirroring means that they are usually diagnosed later on in life, if they are lucky.

Recalling her experience, she said that throughout her school years, she was an average student, who neither excelled nor failed in scholastic material. However, looking back she said that there were subjects in which she used to perform better than others, just because she enjoyed studying them. Nowadays she recognises this hyper-fixation as one of her ADHD traits.

Delving into what her other traits are, she said that it is very difficult for her to hold her tongue or think before speaking; additionally she is also very fidgety and finds it hard to sit still for a long time, always feeling the need to be stimulated in some way.

“I’m an over-sharer but I see myself as being a very open person so I think the diagnosis for me worked in a sense where I could put a label and I felt that it was an opportunity to create awareness because I was not in any way embarrassed about it.”

She said that she sometimes wonders whether her life would have been different if she had been diagnosed earlier in life. If she had been under medication in her earlier years, some life experiences would have been different, especially from when she started her sixth form until she finished with her Master’s in archaeology at University.

In her early school years Jessica’s mother used to help her while doing her homework as part of an everyday routine. This changed in secondary school when subjects started to become more complex and instead Jessica attended private lessons for more difficult subjects such as maths.

Jessica said that at the age of 16 she started to lose interest in school as there was a lack of routine. She still remembers how she had decided to not go to her Advanced level examinations just a day before, after which she had to repeat for a whole year while working part-time. In the end she still managed to get the necessary qualifications and enter University. She went on to graduate with an honours degree at the top of her class in archaeology, but not after having restarted her first year as she could not come to grips with the secondary subject chosen.

The same cycle repeated itself when Jessica started her Master’s degree. She initially had a hard time dealing with the pressure of the course being offered only by research, rather than taught. The first few months proved difficult for Jessica to find her feet and she decided to take yet another break in her studies before starting again the following year. The frequent breaks in her studies meant Jessica’s time at University totalled nine years.

 

Life after the diagnosis

“The way I can describe my mind is that of a radio without an off button,” she said.

Jessica explained that before she started medication, she would find it hard to focus on one task without being distracted by another. She explains that medication is in no way a miracle, but helps to calm the mind and allow her to focus on the task at hand more efficiently. It also helps with emotional disregulation, which is common in women and often interpreted as anxiety or depression, rather than an ADHD trait.

She said that she is very thankful for her job as a property agent, as it allows her to move around and meet new people rather than staying stuck behind a desk.

Jessica said that with medication her life is much better, as although having to set up three alarms to remind her to take them, she is now able to function more efficiently.

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