My ADD Wake-Up Call

Carolyn O'Neal cried when she was diagnosed with ADD at age 53 -- until the news turned out good for her family.


Filed Under: Adult ADD: Late Diagnosis,
Late Adult ADD/ADHD Diagnosis ADDitude Magazine Carolyn O'Neal, diagnosed with ADD at age 53

I felt I was struggling more than other people - like I was pedaling a bike but getting nowhere.

Carolyn O'Neal, diagnosed with ADD at age 53

A diagnosis of ADD can transform an entire family. Just ask Carolyn O'Neal, a retired school principal in Elgin, Illinois. Her diagnosis strengthened her marriage and helped two of her three adult children realize that they, too, had ADD. Treatment gave her the focus to earn a doctorate in education and made her more sensitive to the needs of kids who struggle with ADD at school.

Carolyn: I first heard about adult ADD in 1996. A woman in my building told me she had it, and talked about being forgetful and disorganized. I said, "If you have ADD, I do, too." She said, "I know you do." After a comprehensive evaluation, I received a diagnosis.

Knowing there was a name for what I had was an enormous relief, but I felt worse before I felt better. I cried a lot, thinking, "I spent 53 years suffering from ADD, and it could have been treated." I had always been successful, but felt I was struggling more than other people - like I was pedaling a bike but getting nowhere.

I had always wondered why I couldn't meet deadlines or keep track of appointments. The fact that no one was aware of my difficulty only added to my frustration.

Ron O'Neal [Carolyn's husband]: Carolyn and I were childhood sweethearts, and we've been together all our lives. You'd think that if something was wrong, I'd be able to tell. But she never said a word, and I didn't know.

Carolyn: Counseling helped a lot. Medication helps me stay on task, but it wouldn't have done it alone. In counseling, I didn't have to feel embarrassed, and I was open to what my psychologist had to say. The best advice he ever gave me was to focus on what I do well, and ask for assistance, or find an alternative, with the rest. Now I ask myself, "Does every little thing have to be perfect?"

Ron: I had a hard time believing in Carolyn's ADD. I associated ADD with hyperactive kids who didn't do well in school. But Carolyn graduated first in her high school class. She was forgetful, but everyone is forgetful sometimes. She'd also impulsively spend money on stuff we didn't need, but all married couples argue about money.

My wake-up call came at a CHADD conference she talked me into attending. In a session for spouses, people talked about how stressful their marriages were because of ADD. A lot of them were divorced, and I didn't want to be in their shoes. I figured I'd better start coming around.

Carolyn: Knowing I had ADD really helped me at work. For one thing, it allowed me to understand kids with ADD better. I could approach parents and say, "Your child is showing signs of ADD. It doesn't mean he can't succeed - I myself have it."

I also began to understand how frustrating it was for Ron to live with me, and I became more sensitive to him.

Not long after my diagnosis, I began to suspect that my two older children also had ADD. All three of my kids are bright, but Ron, Jr., and Traci complained about school a lot, and we battled constantly over homework. Both were diagnosed with ADD.


This article comes from the August/September 2006 issue of ADDitude.

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