'I lost a lot of years thinking I was broken': Mum-of-three opens up about life with ADHD

Photo: Kate Page and her family. Supplied
Photo: Kate Page and her family. Supplied 

Kate Page always enjoyed school, but was acutely aware she was 'different' to her friends. 

The Melbourne mum was never able to stay quiet, struggled to follow directions and had trouble getting her work done. 

Her report cards always said the same thing: 'Kate has great potential, is brilliant at English, but she talks too much'.

Photo: Kate always felt 'different'
Photo: Kate always felt 'different' Photo: Supplied

"It was a huge blow for my self-confidence," she tells Essential Kids. "I would look around and see all my peers getting praised. I always struggled and never understood why." 

When Kate reached Year 11 and 12, things escalated. 

"My challenges around meeting deadlines became more difficult to manage," the 34-year-old explains. "I started working really hard to put on a front that I was on top of it all, but I wasn't. I would cover up my feelings with humour and silliness. And I started lying."

Kate was 'masking' - a common technique used by adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to hide their condition. 

'Out of control'

The year Kate started university, her impulsivity and masking worsened. She started fixating on certain objects or articles (hyperfocus), and staying up all night playing video games. 

"I had to sleep all day. All of the deficits and behaviours really came to surface," she admits. "I was out of control and I didn't know why."

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Kate's mum took her to a doctor and at 19, she was diagnosed with ADHD - and she started taking Dexy-amphetamine

It finally all made sense.

"It was like someone hit the reset button on my brain," Kate reveals. "I suddenly saw the world through a person's eyes who could think clearly. I got my uni work done, held down a part-time job and my hair was always done. 

Photo: Supplied
Photo: Supplied 

"It was amazing."

Unfortunately, Kate's happiness was short-lived. 

After six months on the medication, the mum-of-three realised part of her was 'missing.'

Photo: Kate and her family. Supplied
Photo: Kate and her family. Supplied 

"I felt like the Kate was taken out of Kate," she explains. "I used to be full of bravado, I could make people laugh and talk to anyone, I was creative, I could make a room feel alive - and suddenly I was no longer able to do that.

"I was no longer me," she said. "As I said to my psychiatrist, 'I'm boring now'. And I have to stop taking it."

The hardest part of being a mum with ADHD

Not long after deciding to wean herself off the medication, Kate met her husband Jamie - who has been an incredible source support over the past 10 years while she has grappled with her mental health. 

The couple have three children together, Kaia, 8, Adeline, 5 and Asher, 10 months, and Kate has found the courage to talk candidly about how difficult is to parent when you have ADHD. 

"The toughest part is that I feel like I'm letting them down," she reveals through tears. "It's an eternal cycle of feeling like 'I've got this, I've got my calendar' to not even a day later realising I've forgotten something - and dealing with the fallout of that.

"It's the broken promises, losing track of time and only half-completing tasks that should be easy as a mum - doing the washing, keeping the house tidy, managing their emotions without being reactive. Its so hard"

"It really is a constant state of chaos and that can lead to a really unhealthy cycles of self-hate. You just feel like you let everyone down on a regular basis." 

"I love my kids so much," she adds. "And I want them to have everything. And I feel like I can't give it to them as I am." 

Kate believes its important to be as open as possible with her kids about her condition, while still ensuring it doesn't confuse them.

"I always make sure I own it," she says candidly. "I put the accountability back on myself and tell them things like 'I made that mistake' or 'mummy has a bad memory'."

Kate recently discovered her youngest daughter, Adeline, has ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). 

"It breaks my heart to see the struggles I had being reinvented in her and I feel tremendous guilt," Kate admits. "I want to be open with her about her diagnosis even though she is only five. I want her to know that even though she has a 'different' brain she isn't broken."

"No one told me that and I wish they did. I really suffered as a result. I lost a lot of years thinking I was broken. And I just wish someone had told me 'It's okay. Your fine'."

'Don't be afraid'

Kate is a deeply passionate teacher and currently works with kids who are disengaged and at risk.

"These kids come to us with a lot of behaviours and trauma... and I see myself in them in many ways," she explains.

"What I've come to realise is that, as a whol,e I had no teachers advocating for me and trying to help me. They dismissed me because I was a girl - and there was this idea that 'only boys can have ADHD'.

So that's why I put my heart and soul into never overlooking these kids and guiding them through their last years of school." 

Kate's message for any parent who may be grappling with the possibility they have ADHD is clear. 

"Get a diagnosis," she says. "It's with that knowledge, that you can finally start knowing who you are. Even at my lowest point of letting people down and being late, I tell myself 'You're not broken, you're just different and that's okay'."

"Don't be afraid."

You can hear more from Kate and others on experiencing ADHD as an adult at 8.30pm on SBS Insight on March 16.