Opinion

I found out I had ADHD while live on air

Radio 5 Live presenter Connie McLaughlin was interviewing a guest with ADHD when she had her 'a ha' moment

Illustration of a woman sitting cross legged

Image: Shutterstock

I’d just gone to grab a cup of tea before my next guest on Radio 5 Live. I was sitting in on the Drivetime show with Tony Livesey and had been enjoying my first few days. I got back to the seat and Tony was finishing with his interview (something to do with strikes), when the producer buzzed on talk back to say your guest is there. I started the script which read something along the lines of “ADHD affects over 1.5 million people in the UK, but in women it presents differently and is under diagnosed ”. I started talking to this lady who was a professor of something or other and had been diagnosed recently. She started going through her ‘a ha’ moment. I was listening, blissfully unaware that mine was just around the corner. 

Connie McLaughlin
Connie McLaughlin. Image: Supplied

She described such a familiar feeling of enthusiasm and excitement for life, of great delight when meeting new people and talking (a lot), times of great creativity and boundless motivation, impulsivity, obsessive tendencies, mixed in with clumsiness, total disorganisation, forgetfulness, being bad with money, a worry about talking too much, or saying the wrong thing, worry about how she was perceived, zero attention to detail (unless in the flow state-then it was hyper attention to detail) poor time management skills… being known as the ‘drama queen’ and at times in her life crippling anxiety, particularly about her health and a nagging feeling that she wasn’t living up to her potential, despite the fact she’d studied hard and was now a professor.

I quickly ignored the suggested questions in the script and began probing her, desperate to hear an answer that didn’t resonate. Unfortunately for me it didn’t come. I glanced at my phone, my husband had been listening and had sent me a WhatsApp, the message read: “I know exactly what you’re thinking!” As is (annoyingly) so often the case he was right, but it turned out so was I.

About a month later I was assessed (because I have no patience obviously) and had it confirmed that I’d been going about with combined ADHD for 38 years. Even though I knew it had been coming, it was like being hit by a big ADHD-shaped train, with stigma playing the role of the fat controller (one for you Thomas fans out there). 

Every single thing I’d researched made so much sense. My search engine resembled a first year psychology student trying to get extra marks on an exam. I wanted to know everything, but I didn’t all at the same time, because it seemed all the little things that I thought were my ‘quirks’ were in fact ADHD and that shook me to the core. I started a bit of a tailspin into the abyss of who am I? 

I didn’t know where I ended and ADHD began. All the things that made me who I was, were taken away in the time it took the Dr to say, “Yes, it’s ADHD”. 

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I would lie in bed at night thinking how did no one spot this? But the more I thought about it, they did, they just thought as I did, that I was just very ‘passionate’ – often a word used to describe me. I thought about my hen party and one of the games my friend had organised. It was called ‘name how many things Connie has been obsessed with’ (catchy), the premise being whoever gets the most wins. I think the winning team managed 19 (and they’d missed a few). From Take That, to boys in my school, saving animals, football, healthy eating, the gym, my work, saving more animals, moving house, meditation, drinking water, moving house again (I’m in house 29 by the way), politics, you name it… all as I searched for my next dopamine hit. 

And that’s what ADHD is, I’m told. The brain doesn’t produce enough dopamine, so it searches for it in relationships, hobbies and, if you’re lucky like me, in things like your work. But it means it’s almost insatiable and very hard to control. The flirting between the current focus and then quickly on to the next can be exhilarating and exhausting all at the same time. And when other people are seduced into the path of the ADHD tornado it can be destructive. I’ve lived through that too. 

I read in Dr Gabor Matè’s book Scattered Minds, that ADHD is hereditary, but it isn’t always activated in everyone, even if it’s in your genetic makeup. But childhood trauma or other factors can trigger it. The problem is, there’s just not tonnes of research, although it’s getting better. One thing the people in the know do agree on, is that it presents differently in women than in men. 

I definitely wasn’t the naughty kid in school. I was very confident, extremely empathetic, fun and asked lots of questions. But I knew when was enough and when I could push my urge to interrupt so it was acceptable. I now know that’s called masking. I always looked brave because I’d volunteer to try anything new first: the school play, reading aloud, playing an instrument. I took risks and was always extremely good at reading people’s emotions. It was like a sixth sense that I thought everyone had. As a teenager I went through a phase of being convinced I was psychic as I just seemed to know stuff about people. Turns out that was ADHD too, sadly (finds the nearest bin for my tarot cards). 

It’s taken me two years to begin to process this being part of me and still I’m embarrassed to be different and nervous about exposing myself by writing this. Only some close friends and family know about my diagnosis. Some fall into the ADHD denier category, the “we’re all a bit on the spectrum or have a bit of ADHD” – wondering why I need a label. 

It’s one I’d rather not have to be honest, but it explains almost everything. The way I look at it, knowledge is power and I’m sure some Greek wise guy once said something about knowing thyself? Plus I need something to explain/justify the multitude of parking tickets that litter my car. 

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I also genuinely don’t think I’d be able to do my job without it. I have the ability to multitask very successfully and to be able to talk to anyone about anything – and that’s handy. I like my risk taking and I’m one of the best problem solvers I know. My motto is “there’s always a way”. 

But now I know, what happens next? I, like many people, don’t want to be medicated and developing skills to help with forgetting things is honestly pointless for me. I’m going to forget my phone, bank card or keys going out of the house at least once daily. It’s annoying, but I’ve come this far doing it. 

But there must be other things that can be done to help. There are early studies on the impact of fish oils and certain foods, on the importance of exercise and meditation (handy these were all an obsession of mine at one point). But there’s nothing concrete. I feel like it’s my mission to use my journalistic skills with a sprinkling of ADHD to find out. Watch this space. 

Ps: If you’ve got ADHD, well done for getting to the end. 

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

Connie McLaughlin is a broadcast journalist and presenter

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