By Corin Doolan
I always knew I was different.
As a woman with learning disabilities and mental health difficulties, it took me a long time to understand that the obstacles I live with daily, are only obstacles because of the structures and expectations of our society.
To me, my mind is my gift.
Throughout my teenage years and into adulthood, my free spirit and childhood dreams were stamped on. At times I felt my very being was an annoyance to others, as if I was carrying a sign around alerting others that I was different.
I still remember the heartbreak of new hopes or ideas being met with laughter or a nasty comment. The humiliation of being used as an example of how not to sell KPI’s in my first job.
The devastation I felt losing my job over two marks on an exam I had no support in organising my access arrangements for.
All these moments felt like bricks piled on top of me, as if this were the weight of the reality of living in a society built by and for neurotypical people.
The memories of those years of my life have now blurred into a prolonged period of miserable grey storms, the only distinguishable moments being those of absolute despair.
Ten years of fighting my internal battles on my own was enough, I realised I needed help.
After realising I had dyslexia at 15, despite my school expressing my academic history gave no indication of it, I was diagnosed. The relief of having a word to use to help others understand the difficulties I faced, changed my life. Communication, one of the things I find the hardest, became easier with research and the understanding of my own brain.
But 10 years on I felt like I was back at square one. I remembered a brief mention of attention deficit disorder (ADD) in one of my assessments by an educational psychologist but I never understood if I had a diagnosis of it. After some research, I realised ADD can only be diagnosed by a psychiatrist, which meant I had to be referred to one through a general practitioner.
My relationship with GPs had been a difficult one to say the least. Years of feeling unheard and dismissed had left me thinking I would never get the help I needed. But I tried. I booked a telephone appointment and spoke to a GP, they listened and asked me to email a list of my symptoms and the reasons I thought I had ADD or ADHD.
Fast forward, the GP agreed to refer me, and I waited for a call from the hospital. A lovely woman called and went through some diagnostic questions with me over the phone. I’ll forever remember the aftermath. Crying in my car in a service station on the way home from work, just from hearing someone confirm my self-diagnosis and agree that I did need help.
I can’t find the words to express the relief I felt in that moment, I had been heard. The validation of my difficulties and an offer of help felt like a light at the end of my never-ending dark tunnel. From that moment to now, I am a different person.
I had no idea that medication could change my life, one tiny pill could clear all the storms and allow me to feel the sun again. I wake up every morning now without the dread of living, I feel hope and joy, and I am so glad I asked for help.
Help is out there. For more information on diagnosis for mental health difficulties visit https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/talking-therapies-medicine-treatments/medicines-and-psychiatry/psychiatry/