12 Mar 2024

Anna Pillay: On ADHD

From It's Personal with Anika Moa, 5:00 am on 12 March 2024

Anna Pillay was 50 when she was diagnosed with ADHD, Anika was nearly 40 when she received her diagnosis. The two reflect on what having the condition has meant for them.

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Anna Pillay

Anna Pillay talks ADHD Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Anna's life with undiagnosed ADHD

"I found it hard to make friends. I found it hard to relate to people. I had loads of social anxiety. I had a really great childhood, but I had lots of kind of little sad internal feelings going on. I was a bit kind of attention seeking. I was a real little liar, I was a fantasist when I was a little kid. So that was probably quite a sign.

"I cruised through school to a certain level and then I got to a point where I had to really be able to remember things and perform in exams and I just couldn't do it. And so I would panic. I would not do the work and I wouldn't retain the information. Then I would just absolutely freak out. And then I just screwed them all up."

"I just thought that I was a bit shit and a bit of an underachiever. People would be like, 'Oh, you're so bright. How come you're doing this? Why haven't you done this? Why didn't you go to university?'

"From looking at my son and from learning about his autism and from learning about Lola's stuff, that was when it started going, 'Oh, hang on a minute. I wonder, if there's something going on with me'. And then I started reading about ADHD and there were all of these things that I thought were just dumb shit that I did and thought that actually other people seemed to think in the same way. And so that's when I thought, right, I'm going to make an appointment."

Anna Pillay

Anna just thought she was an underachiever Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

What ADHD looks like for Anna

When I was explaining it to the psychiatrist, I said it was like I always have 50 tabs open on my computer in my brain and I can't focus on which one I'm going to do next and I don't know which one to click and I'm noticing all notifications coming at me from everything and then I just freeze."

"I buy ridiculous things in the middle of the night and then I have to phone shops and beg them to cancel my purchase. I ordered 200 individually wrapped things of mints. Like, I was in a shop. And then, like, strange trousers that were one size fits all trousers and I didn't even know what was arriving. 500 individual sachets of coconut sugar arrived one day.

"I blurt things out. I was misdiagnosed as having anxiety and depression which are related to ADHD. And so I'd been medicated for that for a really long time. I am either really full on or I want to hide away and be completely by myself and just sit in my own little brain thinking about things."

"My main thing was avoidance and frozenness. I would wake up in the morning and even if I only had three perfectly reasonable things that any normal person would be able to do, I'd wake up in the morning and it felt insurmountable. And then instead of just getting on with things, sometimes I would just freeze and want to just stay in bed or just go and do something completely different. But the guilt and the knowing that I'm not doing what I'm supposed to be doing is full on the whole time. So it's not fun. Avoidance."

Anna Pillay

The worst thing for Anna is the loser/failure feelings. Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

"I think that the big thing was the loser failure thing. And so I think that knowing that there's a reason for why you think the way that you do and the way that your brain works and that it's not just you, that's been the most powerful, useful thing for me. I think with this diagnosis and the medication, for sure. I felt very alone in my own head for 50 years. It's quite a long time to feel like nobody quite understands you and you're having to do a slightly fake personality, an edited personality for each different situation that you're in."

Parenting neurodiverse children, when she also has ADHD

"In some ways, it's fantastic. I'm fun, and stuff, but I beat myself up. But I hate doing the housework, cooking, cleaning. So I am not a great mother in terms of making sure people have got their lunches and things. So I see all these other mothers and they are going camping and they are preparing things and they are organizing stuff and they're taking their kids to all of these different activities. And for me, I'm like, if I have to do more than my job, which is just part time and quite a simple job, get the kids to school and back and things and to maybe have a couple of activities a week. And one thing in the weekend is almost too much as it is. I think that other people sometimes think that I'm a bit ridiculous or a bit pathetic"

"I am really good at the emotional stuff with the kids. And it works quite well because my husband is really practical, but when someone's having an absolute meltdown, he doesn't know what to do with that. And I can spend an hour talking to somebody and trying to work out what's going on in their mind."

Anna Pillay

Anna's advice is don't be afraid of a label. Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Anna's ADHD advice

"Trust your instincts and if you think that there's something unusual about your child, or yourself, go and find the right kind of specialists, if you can. I think you want to know what you're dealing with. Don't be scared of feeling like there's going to be a label or you're going to have a label, because I think it's more important to know who you are.

"I spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not I should tell my children that they were autistic or that they had anything different. And in the end, I did. And it's been really good for them because Charlie, who had real difficulties at school last year, he's been doing better this year. But he would have just thought, why am I this angry kid who finds it really hard to make friends compared to the other kids? And then once he knew that there was a reason why he would be having those difficulties and why things would be different, that really helped him?"

"Read stuff about it, because even if you find stuff online and you read stuff that other people with ADHD have written and you find those things familiar, that's really nice. It's really nice reading something from somebody completely different and you go, 'Oh, my God, I thought that that was just me. That is a really weird, random thing to do. And actually it's a thing'. And there's all these other people who are in bed in the morning on their phones wondering about how they're possibly going to do three things. That was really calming and made me feel so much better in general.


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