During an appointment at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee – for which he turned up 20 minutes late – Jim Dunbar, 57, learned that his abysmal timekeeping is at least in part due to a form of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Mr Dunbar’s doctors told him that his condition, which affects the same part of the brain as the more “usual” form of ADHD, meant that he cannot properly gauge the passing of time or determine how long it takes to do things.
The diagnosis came as a relief to Mr Dunbar, from Forfar, who has gone through life chastising himself for his inability to be anywhere on time.
“I blamed myself and thought, ‘Why can’t I be on time?’,” he said. “I lost a lot of jobs. I can understand people’s reaction and why they don’t believe me.
“It’s depressing sometimes. I can’t overstate how much it helped to say it was a condition.”
To illustrate his problem, Mr Dunbar cited a recent example where he gave himself 11 hours to get ready to see a film at the Dundee Contemporary Arts centre, but still managed to be late.
“I got up at 8:15am to go to a David Bowie film at the DCA [Dundee Contemporary Arts centre] that started at seven o’clock [at night]. That gave me 11 hours to get ready. I knew I was going there – and I was 20 minutes late,” he said.
“I get down about it and it’s disturbing for other folk when you arrive late.”
On another occasion, Mr Dunbar was due to pick up a friend to go on holiday, but they ended up missing a ferry because he was late.
“I arranged to pick my friend up at midday to go on holiday and was four hours late. He was furious because we had booked the ferry and everything,” Mr Dunbar said.
Over the years he has also had to slip into the back of funeral services as he was running late, frustrated his friends by turning up three hours late for a dinner party and failed to make it on time for first dates.
Mr Dunbar said he wanted to speak out about his condition – which emerged at the age of five, when he was persistently late for school – to help other sufferers.
“The reason I want it out in the open is that there has got to be other folk out there with it and they don’t realise that it’s not their fault,” he said.
He said he could not overcome his problem, despite having a special clock in his home that uses radio frequencies tuned to a national transmitter to ensure the time displayed is accurate down to the nearest second.
He also wore a watch and set other clocks in his house fast to trick himself into being on time, but his efforts ended in failure.
“My family don’t believe it and think I’m making excuses,” he said. “It has affected my entire life.”
Yesterday, Andrea Bilbow, chief executive of Addiss, the national Attention Deficit Disorder Information and Support Service, said: “Chronic lateness is a consequence, not a symptom, of an underlying condition, possibly ADHD or an executive function deficit.
“These conditions may affect a person’s time management.
“They can’t organise time or they have trouble understanding the passage of time or actually don’t feel the passage of time.
“A phone conversation which has lasted two hours may feel like just 15 minutes to them.”
The website HealthCentral.com reports that one of the biggest issues about adults with ADHD is their chronic tardiness.
“Being late for work can cause you to lose jobs, being late for family events can cause embarrassment and being late to pick up your children creates guilt,” the site stated.
“It seems that no matter the consequences, no matter how many times you promise yourself you will do better next time, many adults with ADHD still will arrive late.”