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Stumbling onto the Spectrum

Updated: Feb 4, 2023

Towards the end of February, I got told a piece of information that explained parts of my human experience that I thought were just side effects of watching too many early 2000s Cartoon Network shows and consuming now-banned E numbers in counterfeit Haribo.

I, Fred Zikry - a whole-ass adult - got told at 23 years old that I had ADHD. My mother was in disbelief, my father was doubtful, but my friends were not at all surprised. They had seen me in my natural state, warts and all, telling jokes no one apart from myself thought were funny or comprehensible, and spacing out mid-monologue to think about why trees have a circular cross-section. But personally, I was simultaneously in a state of relief and fear in equal measure.

This flipped my world upside down - not in a good way like upside down cake or a bad way like a pizza blowing over on a windy walk home - but in a neutral way like an hourglass. It put my entire life into colour. Looking back, my childhood seemed to be scattered with endless clues that should have led to a diagnosis at an earlier date. But with all the connections becoming so clear in the microscopic spotlight of retrospection I had one question: how could I and my family have missed it for so long?

I believe that it was a combination of denial and misinformation. As a child I had often been told that, because I performed well at school (refer to my LinkedIn for evidence, I would doubt me too), there was nothing ‘wrong’ with me. I was just a kid, I needed to ‘learn how to fit in’, and I would ‘grow out of my childish behaviour’, ‘boisterousness’, and ‘disruptiveness‘. Not to flex on you all but those are direct quotes from my teachers and school reports.

It was also tough to see that there was a problem on my side because I had no idea that my experience was any different to anyone else’s. At least on the surface, that is. We all had trouble with studying and procrastination. We all were irritable. We were all teenagers.

There was also the misconception that people with ADHD cannot focus on any topic at all. While I did have many days like this, this incorrect preconception is the main point that caused my case to evade detection. I was able to devote all my time and energy to whatever I wanted to work on at that time; I just had absolutely no control over what that activity would be.

If I was particularly enjoying my GCSE Physics syllabus that morning, I might teach myself the whole course in one day and neglect all other activities. If I saw a YouTube video on how to build mechanical keyboards or electric guitars or computers, I might watch every video I can find on it, learn all the history on the topic, order the parts using all the money in my account and then refresh the page until the parts arrive. These are all things that actually happened. My family, friends and Monzo account can vouch for the veracity of these statements. It has resulted in many parts, paraphernalia, and cardboard boxes full of springs and other disorganised detritus being scattered across my room, and often spilling over to the rest of the home. I should take this opportunity to apologise to, and show appreciation for, my flatmates Sophia and Dean, who have always been very patient with me and helped to remind me to clean up when I get swept up in something. I will move the dismembered guitar neck, fanny pack full of Halloween candy, and soldering iron soon. I promise. Maybe. Eventually.

This part of my brain and my penchant for hyper-fixations has led me to achieve lots of things and learn information that has been very useful in my life (mainly in correcting YouTube comments in niche hobbyist circles). However, it is very fatiguing and unpredictable. I can sometimes fall completely out of love with a passion I just devoted a lot of time and money to just as quickly as I fell into it. This caused quite a bit of turbulence in my life, primarily financially but also psychologically. I find it difficult now to trust that my passions now will be there in the future. This causes me to not pursue them fully as I complacently believe that a whole new, shinier, better passion will sweep me off my feet. It also feels demoralising to not be able to control what I put my time and energy into. It feels like I’m being forced to do it sometimes.

Let me bring your focus back to the main story. A week after my diagnosis was official, I sat in my bedroom - for some reason trouser-less - holding my first ever pill of Methylphenidate Hydrochloride. This is otherwise known as Ritalin or Concerta if you had the dosh to swing the name brand stuff, or ‘meth’ if you’re like me and think you’re funny. After some nervous waiting and internal deliberation, I took the pill and waited for my brain to start working properly. I sat for a while noodling around on my guitar, trying to make my barre chord sound less like a loose screw in a V8 engine and more like music. Around 20 minutes into this ordeal I took a break and my jaw dropped. I could hear it. Not a nice barre chord, that was still bad. My brain had slowed down enough so that I could hear something I hadn’t heard in what felt like a decade and a half. Peace.

I could hear the soft, reserved pink noise of the breeze whistling through the unseasonably barren early spring streets of Edinburgh. It was punctuated by the baritone rumble of diesel engines from garbage trucks and the aloof, pretentious droning of a Tesla meandering by. Joining them was the occasional ringing of a bicycle bell and the chirp of laughter. In that moment, I felt for the first time that I was truly connected to the world and was free of anxiety. I didn’t feel the need to change anything or even to do anything.

For what felt like hours I sat there noodling away on my guitar, listening to my shoddy post-AM Alex Turner impression in the foreground and the orchestra of everyday urban life in the background. For the first time in years there was no royal-rumble-cage-match-of-thoughts fighting for my attention in my brain. No bouts of ‘do the laundry!’ getting hit with a steel chair by ‘you’re going to die alone’. No sweaty, steroid-fuelled tussles between ‘wait when was my doctor’s appointment again?’ and ‘is Morgan Freeman still alive? He was in Shawshank right?’. I was able to just be. Not a single thought in my head. It was so beautiful I shed a single tear like a Disney princess.

From my understanding of ADHD, the treatment functions based on the principle of dopamine regulation. The stimulants in the medication assist your brain’s executive function (prioritising, organising, time management blahblahblah boring), making it easier to do the dishes or laundry without wanting to die (Seay & Ratey 2022). This changed everything about how I was able to maintain some semblance of functionality pre-treatment. With my dopamine in a ‘normal place’ it felt like I was literally a different person. I had no anxiety to send me into fight-or-flight mode to clean my room as my date was walking up the stairs. I had no all-encompassing fear and relentless overthinking to fuel my self-directed virtual learning.

I also had to completely change the way I ate. One of the ways in which ADHD affected me the most was through my appetite. My theory is that the anxiety and stress made me feel hungry all the time, making me a bottomless pit for food. My friends have seen me have seen me eat family size bags of raw spinach with half a dozen egg whites on the side as a snack. The food I ate to prevent my weight from ballooning, all whilst keeping my insatiable furnace-reminiscent hunger at bay pre-medication, would make present-day Fred gag. I think that’s a sign that my brain is now much closer to working like a normal person’s brain. I now eat like a normal university student: badly. But thankfully, I’m not hungry all the time now and I can eat nice things like Nutella or ice cream without the fear that my ravenous cravings will take hold of me and consume the entire container, gold foil and/or wooden spoon in one.

I am extremely lucky to have had professional support throughout my adjustment process. It has been a months-long ordeal of teaching myself to do things without adrenaline coursing through my veins. I also had the support of my parents and my amazing friends through tough times like the medication supply shortages that occurred over the summer (the worst of which caused me to go without medication cold turkey for a month and a half just after I had reached a stable dosage). I’m not going to lie to you, it was rough. They distracted me and spent time with me as I went through the withdrawals and celebrated with me when I finally got my precious pills back.

While the process was not at all the linear path to unlimited success I once hoped for it to be, I can say with total certainty that today I am happier, calmer, and - most importantly - sexier than I ever have been. Going through this process was scary and confirmed something that I always suspected, which is that I was different. And while this was isolating, the silver lining of knowing that information is that I gain control over the situation. I cease to be a victim of my own brain chemistry. I now can appreciate that my ‘Fred-isms’ are me, not something to ‘grow out of’ or to be changed, unless I think it would make my life better. I did feel isolated initially, but over time I have picked up a couple of new friends and worked on my old relationships resulting in a support network that I feel truly safe and accepted in. Also, I now can sleep without listening to music or a YouTube video about the history of Basketball which is nice.

My closing message of this rambling sprawl is try to take control of your situation if you can. Talk to a friend, a doctor, anyone who cares about you and/or you think can help. I echo the sentiments of Cody from The Suite Life of Zack & Cody who said, ‘You are the pilot of your own life’. Take action. I hope, more than anything, that there is a way to make your situation better. You deserve to feel peace and be happy. Just as I do today.

Special thank you to Oscar, Hannah, Ariel, Jack, Henry, Astoria, Dean and Sophia. I owe you all many a lasagne in the future.

Seay, Bob & Ratey, Nancy. 2022. Additude Online. [Available from:]


Fred Zikry is an amateur electric guitar technician/enthusiast, village cricketer (all-rounder, like Ben Stokes except brown and without the hair transplant), and a final year Mechanical Engineering student at the University of Edinburgh. In that order. If they’re not rambling about the history of the Gibson Les Paul or how some modern reissues of vintage Stratocasters have the wrong fretboard radius, they’re soldering together a new guitar pedal or trying to figure out how to play anything that isn’t the minor pentatonic scale. In Fred’s final semester of university, they will be seeking gainful employment and also writing a dissertation on Replacing English Willow in Cricket Bats with Composite Materials with the goal of reducing cost and reducing transport emissions. Feel free to reach out to Fred on Instagram (@fzizzle) or LinkedIn to discuss anything Cricket, Music (preferably featuring the electric guitar and/or Korean people), Basketball, Materials/Engineering, and finally, Mental Health.

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