Clare Mcaleese was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 52.
Until the end of last year, she was one of up to 75 per cent of women with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, who are living undiagnosed in the UK.
Only when her son was found to have the disorder six years ago did Clare begin to think she might have it too.
Now, she is part of a campaign to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of ADHD in adult women and non-binary people, in the hope those who may be living undiagnosed will feel confident to speak to their doctor about the condition.
Clare, who lives in East Morton, near Bingley, says: “I know now what the challenges of ADHD are so I can compensate for those and I can also recognise what the strengths are.”
She adds: “The diagnosis has provided validation of what I’d suspected for some time. It has enabled me to look back at my life through another lens and make sense of it.”
People with ADHD can seem restless, may have trouble concentrating and may act on impulse. It presents differently in each individual but primarily impacts the part of the brain responsible for organising, planning and focusing as well as managing emotions.
According to the NHS, the condition is more often diagnosed in boys than girls.
Girls are more likely to have symptoms of inattentiveness only, and are less likely to show disruptive behaviour that makes ADHD symptoms more obvious.
The Staring Back at Me campaign, by pharmaceutical company Takeda UK and with the support of six ADHD organisations, aims to help women and non-binary people recognise the symptoms of ADHD in themselves, or in their family and friends.
It is hoped it will support individuals to have conversations with their healthcare professionals to aid assessment and, if appropriate, diagnosis.
At the forefront are 11 people from across the UK who were diagnosed with ADHD later in life. These individuals have shared their personal experiences of living with undiagnosed ADHD, and what eventually led them to a diagnosis.
Clare is among them. Her journey began when her son was diagnosed with ADHD.
She was filling in an assessment questionnaire about some of the ADHD symptoms with him, and recognised many of the traits in herself. “I looked and I just thought well that’s me,” she recalls. “But I put it to the back of my mind, the priority was him.”
That was six years ago and in the time that followed, Clare noticed she would experience periods of high anxiety.
She went to see a doctor about this and also set out that she thought she might have ADHD.
“This was dismissed by my doctor who said, “even if it were, what good would it do to find out now, at this stage of your life?,” Clare says. “I was prescribed antidepressants and advised they would help with my anxiety.”
She did feel better for a while but later went back to the GP with another peak in her anxiety and also followed up with her suspicion about ADHD, taking a test with the ADHD Foundation.
“When I was doing the test, I thought without a shadow of a doubt this explains everything that I’ve been going through, that I’m feeling,” Clare says.
She was put in touch with a psychiatrist to get a formal diagnosis.
“This required me to answer questions and look back over my life, my childhood and dreaded school reports,” says Clare, who works in financial services in Harrogate and is an ambassador for neurodiversity in the workplace.
“I got quite emotional reading the comments made all those years ago by my teachers such as ‘Clare must resist urge to chatter’, ‘she is easily distracted and lacks focus’, ‘takes too long to settle down’....
“I often feel like I have to work harder and longer to achieve results others seem to do with ease. Despite this I’ve always done quite well in my career and my life in general, and I’m really proud of that.”
Clare now supports The ADHD Foundation as an advocate for women with ADHD finding out in later life, and has recently completed the Yorkshire three peaks challenge to raise funds for the organisation.
Fellow ambassador Jenn Rossiter, who learnt she had ADHD at the age of 51, says: “My ADHD diagnosis was one of the best things to have happened to me. It explains who I am, my strengths, my pain and gives a reason for the difficulties throughout my life.
“My advice to anyone that feels they might have ADHD is to seek out help, support and understanding from a healthcare professional and experts in the field.”
Professor Amanda Kirby, GP and Chair of The ADHD Foundation adds: “Women and non-binary people have been left out of the ADHD conversation for far too long.
“We hope that coming together with Takeda and the wider patient community will help us to reach even more women and non-binary people living with undiagnosed ADHD, help them access the support they need and empower them to not be defined by their ADHD, but enable them to be their best self.”
According to the NHS, as ADHD is a developmental disorder, it’s believed it cannot develop in adults without it first appearing during childhood.
Adult symptoms of ADHD tend to be far more subtle than childhood symptoms.
There’s less research into adults with ADHD but specialists suggest symptoms may include lack of attention to detail, starting new tasks before finishing old ones, poor organisational skills, inability to focus, forgetfulness, losing or misplacing things, restlessness, interrupting others and difficulty keeping quiet, extreme impatience, mood swings, and an inability to deal with stress.
For more information, visit the NHS website, or www.adhdfoundation.org.uk