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'I thought I had Alzheimer's': Classic FM's Katie Breathwick on her ADHD diagnosis

When Classic FM presenter Katie Breathwick, 51, from Marlow, started forgetting to meet friends, she was scared she might have Alzheimer's disease, but the reality was quite different – it turned out she had ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

Presenter and mum-of-two Katie Breathwick says her memory was so bad she'd stand friends up, forgetting she'd ever arranged to meet them. (Supplied)
Presenter and mum-of-two Katie Breathwick says her memory was so bad she'd stand friends up, forgetting she'd ever arranged to meet them. (Supplied)

As my younger son sat at the dining table and chatted excitedly about something that had happened at school, I couldn't help smiling at his enthusiasm.

"Oh my goodness, what happened next?" I asked.

"What do you mean, Mum?" my son frowned. "I told you all about this yesterday."

As I scoured my brain for the memory, my son’s face fell. He looked crushed, and I felt a pang in my chest as I realised what he was thinking: that I hadn’t listened and wasn’t interested in his life. It couldn’t have been further from the truth – I care about my boys, who are 17 and 19, and my husband, Robert, 51, passionately, and I love hearing every detail of their lives.

But that evening, I simply couldn’t remember what my son had told me, no matter how hard I tried.

I felt a stab of worry. Was my memory getting worse? That wasn’t my only moment of forgetfulness over the years. One time, I’d been wandering happily around Nottingham when my friend called me from a bar in London. "Where are you?" she asked, frustrated. "I’ve been waiting for ages. Are you nearly here?"

I frowned, then gasped as I dimly remembered that we’d arranged to meet up for drinks. Another time, I left a friend sitting alone in the cinema, having completely forgotten we’d planned to see a film together. Through the years, I’ve tried writing things down, but I’d always manage to lose my diary or digital device, or forget to look at it.

I’d always had a bad memory, but in recent years it had deteriorated, to the extent that some of my friendships had gradually faded away.

Katie Breathwick jumped to the conclusion she had Alzheimer's as her father has the condition. (Supplied)
Katie Breathwick jumped to the conclusion she had Alzheimer's as her father has the condition. (Supplied)

Was it perimenopause?

Like so many middle-aged women, I had a huge amount of responsibility on my shoulders, both at home and at work, but lately I’d been dropping balls left, right and centre, to the extent that I worried I was going mad – and now, I decided I had to do something about it.

The worst thing was that I was fairly sure I knew what was happening. My father suffers from dementia and I recognised the symptoms. I was obviously suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s, and all I could do was protect my family from that fact for as long as possible – so without telling my husband, I made an appointment to see my GP.

I’d been dropping balls left, right and centre – I was worried I was going mad.

When I saw my doctor, she handed me some information about the perimenopause and memory loss, which explained that the two can go hand in hand. But it didn’t explain why my symptoms were as bad as they were – why I had to write any plans down on a whiteboard in my kitchen the moment they were made, because if I didn’t I’d forget just a few moments later.

Adjusting my diet and exercise helped to an extent, but not as much as I’d hoped. And it wasn’t until a few years later that I found out exactly why I’d struggled so much with my memory.

Katie Breathwick (pictured with her husband Robert) admits her ADHD has made her tricky to live with at times. (Supplied)
Katie Breathwick (pictured with her husband Robert) admits her ADHD has made her tricky to live with at times. (Supplied)

My son's ADHD diagnosis

In 2021, my older son was studying for his final year of his International Baccalaureate, but although he was a top student, he was struggling with his coursework. Worried, Robert and I met up with his teacher, who told us, "I think your son might have ADHD."

I had a close family member with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, so it made sense to me that our son might have the same thing. When we saw a private GP and he was formally diagnosed, we were thrilled that he could finally be helped. But I also experienced another lightbulb moment. As the doctor listed the signs of ADHD, I realised he could have been describing me, as well as my son.

I’d always had a bad memory, but in recent years it had deteriorated, to the extent that some of my friendships had faded away.

I recognised all the challenges and difficulties I’d faced throughout my life: the forgetfulness, the inability to concentrate or sit still, struggles with emotional dysregulation and talking without thinking. So I went back to the clinic, and was given my own diagnosis, which was both a revelation and a huge relief.

Knowing why I behaved in a certain way gave me a renewed feeling of confidence, as well as a sense of my own limitations and the ability to be honest about them. It also explained a lot of things about my past that until now, I hadn’t fully understood.

Katie Breathwick's husband Robert has always accepted her ADHD traits. (Supplied)
Katie Breathwick's husband Robert has always accepted her ADHD traits. (Supplied)

Opposites attract

Like lots of people with ADHD, I’ve gone through life thinking I’m just a bit too much. I tend to get very excited and enthusiastic about things, which some people find annoying to be around. As a child, I felt different from the other girls at school, and was a complete tomboy. Sitting still having conversations drove me mad.

Knowing why I behaved in a certain way gave me a renewed confidence. It explained a lot of things about my past that until now, I hadn’t fully understood.

I was just seven years old when I asked my parents if I could go to the same school as one of my friends – a local boys’ school in Leicester. Not because I felt I was a boy, but because I knew I’d be allowed to be messy, loud and energetic.

Katie Breathwick says she's the opposite of her husband Robert, who is very organised and likes peace and quiet. (Supplied)
Katie Breathwick says she's the opposite of her husband Robert, who is very organised and likes peace and quiet. (Supplied)

Speaking with no filter

Luckily, the school accepted a handful of girls each year – mostly, like me, square pegs who failed to fit into round holes – and I absolutely loved it there. Then, when I moved to a new school for the sixth form, I met my future husband, Robert.

We quickly realised that we’re on opposite ends of the spectrum: he’s very organised, likes peace and quiet, and can sometimes find it difficult to negotiate relationships, whereas I’m the complete opposite. We rely on each other for our different skills, which makes for a great partnership.

As well as being forgetful, I’ve always been very blunt. When I was a talk-show presenter on LBC, that was a very useful trait, but not so much when it came to my friends.

But that’s not to say ADHD hasn’t caused clashes in my relationships over the years. As well as being forgetful, I’ve always been very blunt. When I was a talk-show presenter on LBC, that was a very useful trait, but not so much when it came to my friends.

Although I’m an empathetic person, I’d say the things people were thinking, but would never say out loud, like, "The reason you’re having marriage trouble is because your husband is awful." I didn’t even realise I'd overstepped the mark until I saw people’s horrified faces, and some friends found that very tough to deal with.

Katie Breathwick says getting her ADHD diagnosis in August 2022 was a relief and helped her understand herself better. (Supplied)
Katie Breathwick says getting her ADHD diagnosis in August 2022 was a relief and helped her understand herself better. (Supplied)

Life finally made sense

So when I finally received a diagnosis, I could see that ADHD had affected my life in ways I hadn’t even realised. I began taking medication that regulates symptoms of ADHD, and I saw the positive effects within hours.

ADHD can be exhausting – you can burn so bright with enthusiasm and be on the go for hours at a stretch, but then the next day you might crash and have to spend the day in bed. But suddenly, I was able to moderate my lifestyle.

Like lots of people with ADHD, I’ve gone through life thinking I’m just a bit too much. I tend to get very excited and enthusiastic about things.

Medication also put a stop to my chronic overeating. Previously, Robert would go to bed and I’d stay up late watching TV – another side effect of ADHD. I’d grab a packet of biscuits and finish the whole lot without even thinking. The sugar would keep me awake until the early hours of the morning, and it became a bit of a running joke that Robert would wake up to find the snacks had disappeared.

I was lucky he was so understanding, but I felt guilty about it, and didn’t understand why it was happening. After having my first child, I’d never managed to lose the baby weight, which I knew wasn’t good for my health, but I couldn’t help myself.

Since my diagnosis in August 2022, the overeating and late nights have stopped, and my excess weight has gradually fallen away. I’ve lost 23 pounds (10.5kg) since then – partly because I’m able to exercise more now I’m better at planning my life and partly because the chocolate stays in the cupboard, which for me feels extraordinary.

Bonding over ADHD

Some people feel that ADHD is currently being overdiagnosed, but it’s because of experiences like mine that I’d argue we’re nowhere near the numbers we should be. Eight and a half million people are on antidepressants in the UK – but how many of those actually have ADHD and could be helped with the right diagnosis?

Some people feel that ADHD is currently being over-diagnosed, but it’s because of experiences like mine that I’d argue we’re nowhere near the numbers we should be.

The charity ADHD UK has discovered that some children in the UK are waiting up to five years for a diagnosis, while adults can wait over 10 years – and some of those people will commit suicide while they wait. Using the word 'underdiagnosis' is a distraction from the real problem.

Since my own diagnosis, I’ve become passionate about helping people to understand ADHD. My colleague Sam Pittis, who also hosts a show at Classic FM, was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult and we’ve had so many useful conversations about how it affects our lives and relationships.

Presenters Katie Breathwick and Sam Pittis launched a podcast following their diagnosis of ADHD to raise awareness. (Supplied)
Presenters Katie Breathwick and Sam Pittis launched a podcast following their diagnosis of ADHD to raise awareness. (Supplied)

Raising awareness of ADHD

We thought those discussions might be useful for other people with ADHD to hear, so we’ve started a podcast, You’re Wrong About ADHD. We don’t know how many people are out there who are at the end of their tether, scared, lonely and losing control of their lives. We want to build a community for those people and give them an opportunity to find out more about ADHD.

People think ADHD is about naughty boys who can’t sit still, but as my story shows, it’s about so much more than that.

You’re Wrong About ADHD, a new podcast with Katie Breathwick and Sam Pittis, is available every Monday on GlobalPlayer.com and other platforms.

Watch: Lily Allen reveals she has been diagnosed with ADHD