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“How a Few Great Books Ended My ADHD Shame Spiral”

“My adult ADHD diagnosis shamed me. I thought of Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter, whose penance for adultery was to wear a bright ‘A’ on her chest. I imagined I bore my shame with ‘ADHD’ for all to see.”

Young woman with hovering hair holds open book. Dreaming Girl sits on the floor and reads a book. Flat character vector illustration
Young woman with hovering hair holds open book. Dreaming Girl sits on the floor and reads a book. Flat character vector illustration

Thirty years ago, I was blithely living my life when I noticed a truth that ultimately changed the trajectory of my life: Some of my behaviors were similar to those of my son, who had been diagnosed with inattentive ADHD.

“Am I just like Brian?”

I stored the thought in the back of my mind and pondered it every now and again. Then, during an evaluation, my supervisor mentioned a few issues with my work habits, and a bell sounded in my head.

“Ding! Dong! This sounds like ADHD!”

I think I have ADHD,” I told my supervisor.

“I think so, too,” she said. She had a grandson with ADHD and was familiar with the symptoms.

I told the pediatrician during my son’s check-in appointment, “I think I have ADHD.”

He replied, “You do!”

It was disconcerting that the doctor had only observed me at short routine appointments, yet had made this conclusion. What signs of ADHD did he see in me? What did other people notice?

My Unwelcome Adult ADHD Diagnosis

To be frank, receiving my adult ADHD diagnosis was devastating. Many people are grateful for a diagnosis after wondering, sometimes for years, “What is wrong with me?” Their ADHD diagnosis finally provides some answers.

I felt gobsmacked by my diagnosis — though not totally unexpected, it was unequivocally unwanted. Yes, I always felt a bit different from my friends and classmates. But I wasn’t so outside the norm that I stood out or heard people comment that I was lazy or disorganized. I got by. I never questioned what made me different or thought I was exceptionally unusual. My husband of more than 20 years even had trouble accepting my ADHD diagnosis. He thought I was just me.

[The ADHD Symptom Test for Women]

In effect, my adult ADHD diagnosis shamed me. I felt exposed and believed everyone could tell that something was wrong with me, that I was damaged goods. I thought of Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book, The Scarlet Letter, whose penance for adultery was to wear a bright “A” on her clothing. I imagined I bore my shame with the letters “ADHD” for all to see.

Accepting My Adult ADHD Diagnosis

After hearing Dr. Edward Hallowell say he was never ashamed of having ADHD, I began to heal. I wanted to end my shame spiral and be equally unashamed of having ADHD.

In 1992, when I was diagnosed, there was little awareness that adults had ADHD and was often mistaken for a moral failure. ADHD resources were very limited. So, I scoured non-ADHD sources for any helpful information I could find. Three books were crucial to my healing and acceptance of my ADHD diagnosis. I highlight them below as I believe they still hold value for adults with ADHD today.

Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life(#CommissionsEarned)
By Martin E.P. Seligman
This book taught me that what we say to ourselves significantly impacts our self-image. I also learned that focusing on what went wrong is not beneficial and damages our self-esteem. It’s essential to avoid self-criticism and negative self-talk when we fail to perform a task to the desired level. And we need to stop ruminating about what we did wrong. Instead, we should think about what we can control and what we will do differently next time to succeed.

[Get This List: The All-Time Best Books on ADHD]

When we are successful, it’s important to take appropriate personal credit and celebrate our achievements. For example, if a project went well, think about why: “I had good ideas,” “I got the right people involved,” and “I inspired my co-workers to give their best effort.”

The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change(#CommissionsEarned)
By Stephen R. Covey
I incorporated all the valuable information from this book into my life. Most importantly, it inspired me to write my personal mission statement. After I learned that people with ADHD function best when pursuing a passion, I understood the value of defining a mission statement. It crystallized my passion for educating people about ADHD and guiding them on their path to a rewarding life.

StrengthsFinder 2.0(#CommissionsEarned)
By Tom Rath
This book details how our strengths benefit the groups to which we belong. (Be sure to buy a new copy of this book to receive the code for the online quiz to determine your five greatest strengths.)

My top strength is ideation, which means I am fascinated by ideas and find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena. Confidence in the value of my thoughts was another strength. Previously, I felt compelled to share my ideas, though I was anxious that they wouldn’t be well received. So, I presented my thoughts with an aggressive edge in my voice. Once I learned that ideation was a strength, I became more willing to share my ideas in group settings with confidence and calm.

It made a difference. Instead of rejection, my teammates gave me compliments such as, “You have a lot of good ideas,” “That’s a good suggestion,” and “Thank you for bringing it up.” I basked in their praise.

With practice, I learned to focus on positive self-talk, pursue my interests, and stick to my strengths. These were the breakthroughs that transformed my shame spiral into ADHD empowerment.

NOTE: Please note that all names, models, prices, links, and specifications were accurate and items were in stock at the time of this article’s last update on June 6, 2022.

Adult ADHD Books and Diagnosis Resources: Next Steps

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#CommissionsEarned As an Amazon Associate, ADDitude earns a commission from qualifying purchases made by ADDitude readers on the affiliate links we share. However, all products linked in the ADDitude Store have been independently selected by our editors and/or recommended by our readers. Prices are accurate and items in stock as of time of publication.