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“I Believed I Was Fundamentally Flawed. In Fact, the Blemish Was on Society.”

“Living with undiagnosed ADHD is like having a combination padlock inside your brain. You think you know the code to access your potential, but the closer you get to cracking it, the more addled you become.”

two heart combination locks
Two red heart shape combination padlock linked to each other

“Have you always felt different?” my psychiatrist asked, looking me straight in the eye. No one had ever asked me this.

“Always,” I uttered, feeling an immense heaviness lift off my shoulders.

Translating my perspective as someone with ADHD sometimes feels like tiptoeing through a minefield. I progress slowly, cautiously — bracing for an explosion of confusing thoughts. Words spoken too quickly. Explosive, unanticipated anger. I feel contrarian — but also dogmatic — in my views, thought processes, and daily habits. I am a living contradiction, and that is painfully isolating — in no small part because my feelings are so impossible to explain and, therefore, frequently invalidated through a lack of understanding.

Before I was finally diagnosed with ADHD in my early 20s, I did not think of myself as a victim, yet I always felt different. Not necessarily in a bad way but certainly in a disconnected way that led me to a deep sense of covert loneliness.

I complained to my mum and dad regularly that I could “never think a thought straight.” The grey cloud inside my head made simple, everyday tasks — ones that everyone around me completed effortlessly — arduous and unmanageable. Getting from the house to my car without forgetting my keys (yes, every single time!) or putting away laundry felt daunting. Clothes remained folded on my bed for days before ending up on the floor — or thrown in the washing basket again — so I wouldn’t have to deal with putting them in my wardrobe!

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Inside my head is like a scribble. Remember the black and white ones you’d draw as a kid and fill in with different colors? When my thoughts aren’t managed, they get jumbled like overlapping scribbles. By the end of the day, I’m left with a big messy mash of ideas. Medication usually helps minimize my symptoms so I can focus and complete projects. When that happens, I become a clear, bright rainbow with a tiny bit of gold at the end.

7 Classic but Invisible Symptoms of ADHD

1. Anxiety: By the time an individual with ADHD turns 12, they have received 20,000 more negative messages than someone without the condition. For me, this triggered anxiety coupled with bouts of low mood that became more prevalent as I moved from childhood to adolescence and young adulthood. I struggled to find relief, but no solution did more than scratch the surface because my ADHD remained undiagnosed. Unable to develop a routine to help me function as a ‘normal’ young adult became a self-perpetuating loop of anxiety.

2. Self-Resentment: All that criticism (both internal and external) fills the teenage years with extra torture. As I struggled to understand myself, like other teens coming of age, self-resentment grew and somehow found a way to fester despite all the noise. Trying to keep up with the conversations going on in your head — at least eight! — but thinking of nothing no matter how hard you try, is beyond exhausting and infuriating.

[Click to Read: You Are Not The Sum of Your Challenges]

3. Disorganization: Poor organization was consistent throughout my life, but no one connected the dots. Remarks like ‘clever, but unorganized’; ‘capable but struggles to finish work’ were written on lots of school reports. Interactions with children my age were challenging and made me angry. I was most comfortable with my parents and preferred their company.

4. Unfinished Projects: Despite my many difficulties, I was driven to achieve big things. It’s common for ADHD minds to see a clear beginning and end. It’s the middle part — the place where the invisible hurdles lurk — that’s muddy. The more I tried to reach my goals, the harder they became to attain. It was like having a combination padlock inside my brain. I think I know the code to access my potential, but the closer I get to cracking it, the more addled I become.

5. Unattainable Goals: Another ADHD tendency to which I fell victim is believing that the best way forward is to set bigger goals without achieving smaller ones first. Time and again, I’d become fixated on a goal, and either lose interest in it or fail to achieve it because I couldn’t successfully map out a plan… no matter how many different routes I tried.

6. Low Self-Confidence: I couldn’t stop the self-sabotage and continued to set unrealistically high expectations. Achievement anxiety crept in and undermined my confidence even more as this self-destructive pattern perpetuated and took a toll on my mental health.

7. Emotional Dysregulation: This has always been my biggest struggle. My low frustration levels triggered anger and fear (sadness, too, in the aftermath) confusingly juxtaposed with my happy and very go-lucky side. If I upset someone close to me, I could never really understand why. I lacked empathy. My opinions were one dimensional — offered with no thought about how they could damage another person. This seriously impacted my relationships with my parents and friends. How could I be so calm and relaxed while also so anxious and intolerant? No one could understand me and I couldn’t understand myself.

A Very Bright Light at the End of the Tunnel

But my story has a happy ending. Without realizing it, I did a lot of good things to manage my symptoms pre-diagnosis. I eat a healthy diet and take care of my body with yoga and other forms of regular exercise. This regime has given me moments of clarity, but the combination of a diagnosis and medication helped me to really thrive. It was the additional support I needed.

Despite my challenges, plus being behind my classmates academically, I received a scholarship and graduated from an American university — a dream I had held since childhood. (I’m a British citizen and grew up in the UK.) Had I been diagnosed earlier, I most certainly would have performed better in school but I’m living proof that anything is possible.

I’m living proof that, with the right love and support, you can do great things and become the person you are destined to be. In 2019, I earned a bachelor’s degree in International Studies. In the end, this wasn’t my biggest achievement. Overcoming obstacles to my own mental health was the game-changer, the real accomplishment of a lifetime. And it’s only just begun.

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