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Viewpoint: Sara on ADHD, perimenopause and setting up a support group in Stroud

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After researching sleep difficulties for my daughter, I spoke to a friend whose children had similar problems and who had recently been diagnosed with ADHD – their characteristics were similar to my daughter’s.

She then told me that ADHD is hereditary and gave examples of her own symptoms – I recognised myself in all of them. This started my path of research which led me to many online ADHD resources and then on to reading Gabor Mate’s book Scattered Minds – it was like reading a book about myself!

As a single parent to two children, trying to build my therapy business during a pandemic and having recently recognised that I had started early perimenopause, I realised that my usual coping mechanisms weren’t working and my mental health divebombed. Despite reducing all unnecessary stress, I was becoming incredibly overwhelmed, increasingly irritable, losing focus easily and becoming depressed. Whilst these are symptoms of perimenopause, they are also traits of mismanaged ADHD.

The awareness that I may have ADHD gave me such a greater understanding of myself, my childhood and my past struggles. I realised how I had learned coping mechanisms (not all healthy ones) to compensate for my ADHD symptoms. My biggest light bulb moment was recognising that during the times of hormonal imbalance – puberty, postnatal and perimenopause – was where I struggled the most in my life with anxiety, self-abuse and depression. 

I started the process for myself and my daughter to get an assessment for ADHD through the doctors in February 2021. The waiting list for Adult ADHD assessment through the NHS is currently between 2-7 years. I discovered through an ADHD Facebook support group that if you are based in England under the NHS you now have a legal right to choose your mental healthcare provider and your choice of mental healthcare team. By pursuing this route with Psychiatry-UK, I was eventually assessed by a qualified psychiatrist in August and diagnosed with having ADHD.

For children however, there isn’t an NHS Right to Choose contract with any healthcare provider – only private. So, my daughter remains undiagnosed still, despite being in the system since February last year. However, due to many online resources, I have been able to help improve my daughter’s sleep and general mental health (healing my own mental health undoubtedly having a factor in her improvement too.) Since liaising with the SENCO, my daughter’s class teachers at Randwick School are fantastic and have helped her manage her emotional dysregulation and attention so that she is so much happier at school. 

I do not seek out a label for my child, I want the equity for her that I didn’t have. The chance for her to reach her full potential, to love her differences and to not grow up berating herself to the detriment of her mental health. I want this for all people and so want to help in any way I can. By being vulnerable by announcing my diagnosis to friends and on Facebook I have been approached by at least a dozen people questioning their possible neurodivergence and helping them find the resources that they need. 

There are only a few face-to-face peer support groups around the country, the closest one in Bristol has been closed since the beginning of the pandemic. I decided to create one in Stroud because of the aloneness I felt during the diagnosis process, and the grief felt afterward for the life I never had. I wanted to find local people whose brains worked like mine, who would understand the difficulties I faced every day – as someone with ADHD, but also parenting a neurodivergent child. 

To raise awareness of this potential group and to seek collaboration I attended the Stroud Neurodiversity Awareness seminar, held at the Stroud Sub Rooms last October, led by the ADHD Foundation to promote to the SENCOs of local schools the Stroud Neurodiversity Project – funded by Jane Roberts, in memory of her son who had struggled with ADHD and sadly later took his own life. 

This seminar spurred me on and I immediately created the Facebook group called Stroud District Adults with ADHD – Support and Social Group – through which I am grateful to have since found friendship and support from members who became volunteer admins for the group page, who are also in the process of getting an ADHD assessment. All the weeks of our hard work up to now have been voluntary and run by a passion for spreading awareness of Neurodivergence.

We have monthly Peer Support groups beginning in February, being held twice a month – one on a Monday evening and another on a Saturday morning to hopefully accommodate for all. The meetings will take place at Ownzone on Lansdown, which the Owner Sarah Holden has generously offered to fund the first session. 

In March, I am planning a social meet up walk for our members and their children. In the future we are also looking to hold an exhibition of artwork by people with ADHD, whilst another member of the group is looking to create an outlet for our creativity with music. 

At the seminar I met Zaphira Cormack, from Cheltenham, who shared my vision and with her wealth of experience she is currently in the process of bidding for additional funding for the upcoming Support Groups in Gloucestershire (Stroud, and very soon Cheltenham) to help pay for the group meeting room hire and resources.

Jane Roberts of The Stroud Neurodiversity Project is also providing funding for the support groups – and we also are in the initial stages of planning an event for Parents of ADHD children; with talks and information, and the opportunity to gain feedback from parents in Gloucestershire on how best they can be supported.

I encourage anyone who recognises that they have ADHD, pre or post-diagnosis, to join the Facebook group where you will find links to resources and more information about the upcoming Stroud Peer Support Group. Or alternatively, you can email me separately for further information at stroudadhd@gmail.com

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