Talking About ADHD

Relief, Grief, and More Raw Reactions to an Adult ADHD Diagnosis

Receiving an ADHD diagnosis in adulthood can evoke a range of emotions. Common feelings include relief over finally understanding life-long challenges, anger over not getting help sooner, and grief over the lost years and opportunities. In a recent ADDitude survey, adults with ADHD shared their first thoughts and emotions upon receiving their diagnosis.

A diagnosis — of any kind, at any time — is seldom a good thing. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) is one of a few notable exceptions to this rule.

When delivered in adulthood, especially, an ADHD diagnosis is a mixed bag of emotions. Patients often feel a range of conflicting, simultaneous emotions ranging from relief and optimism to anger and sadness.

Many describe the “A ha!” of an adult ADHD diagnosis as a moment of finally understanding a lifetime of challenges related to time management, organization, working memory, productivity, and relationships. This enlightenment is often countered by resentment and grief over the years spent struggling without help. But then there is the hope that comes with knowing ADHD treatment is reliably effective — and the future can be different.

In a recent ADDitude survey, adults with ADHD shared their first thoughts and primary emotions upon receiving their diagnosis. Below are some of the comments that stood out to us as emblematic of the complicated, conflicted emotions felt by so many.

Adult ADHD Diagnosis Reactions

“I was elated to know what my problem was. I became calmer knowing there was a name for my personality. I felt I could learn more about it to understand myself. I knew I wasn’t responsible for my ‘failings.’” — Carol

“I felt broken. Although it helped to explain so much, it felt like I had so much to fix and no idea how to do it. Somehow it was harder to accept that my brain is wired differently. A year later, I still struggle with that.” — Kristen, Florida

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“I was so relieved that I wasn’t just stupid. I had gone 30 years of my life thinking I was dumb. I had to work so much harder than my sisters just to get passing grades in school; I was convinced it was because I was stupid.” — Valorie, United States

“There’s a reason I am the way I am! For so much of my life, I (and often those around me) have been so frustrated at how easily I get stressed, that I can’t stop talking, my forgetfulness, observation skills, inability to focus. My diagnosis brought tremendous comfort.” — Chloe, Massachusetts

“I saw a parade of embarrassing or shameful memories through the lens of the diagnosis. I felt overwhelming forgiveness for my younger self and grief for lost opportunities.” — Johanna, Florida

’What?!? I’m 65 years old, why am I just being diagnosed now?’ Those were my first thoughts. Then, as I did some research on ADHD, things began to make sense. Now that I know what the problem is, I can work toward “solving” it.” — Rhonda, Nebraska

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“I was so relieved. I always felt like I’ve tried so hard my whole life, but so often everything would just crumble and I never knew why. Why was life so hard? Now I have an explanation that makes sense and, while my brain may never work the way I’d like it to, I am making my peace with the way it does work.” — Amy, Wisconsin

“At first, anger, because my view at that time was that ADHD was a mental disorder or defect. That was soon replaced by a sense of relief and thanksgiving because I now had a reason to understand and explain some of my thoughts and behaviors.” — Jim, Montana

“Realizing there is a reason why I think the way I do and fail at things the way I do was frightening but also enlightening.” — Mark, United Kingdom

“I felt so validated and almost relieved! I always suspected I had ADHD (it runs in my family), but because I seem ‘high functioning’ it wasn’t obvious, and I didn’t think anyone would believe me. My diagnosis started me on a path of life changing medication and a deeper understanding of what makes me tick.” — Reilly, Washington, D.C.

“I could finally put a name to something that had been ruining parts of my life. I could explain things that I felt were out of my control but ‘shouldn’t have been’ and over which I berated and criticized myself relentlessly. I was able to give myself a lot more grace afterward. But the diagnosis also helped me see why I always felt I was ‘different,’ why I was able to do things that others thought was ‘crazy’ (my hyperfocus and ability to juggle multiple jobs), and why I could think creatively and make connections that neurotypical people were unable to. It explained my depression because of all the failures I had had and how hard I was on myself. It explained my anxiety about transitions. Once these things could be named, I have been able to have greater power over them.” — Tina, Canada

“Pure, unadulterated relief. Finally I could seek help to accomplish my goals. It didn’t come down to the elusive need for me to ‘try harder.’” — Mabel, Virginia

“Relief and grief. It was only through treatment for long-term anxiety, shame, and low self-esteem that I even realized I had ADHD with the help of a therapist. Relief that there was a reason I struggled and the realization that I was not a defective woman who changes her mind too often, gets bored, procrastinates like her life depends on it, and has the hardest time keeping a clean home.” — Lauren, Ohio

Anger that I had spent almost 50 years being treated for mental illnesses I didn’t have and wondering how my life could have been.” — Jennie, Oregon

Indignation. I thought it was an obvious misdiagnosis. I did not fit my mental image of someone who had ADHD. Then the more I read, the more I realized the symptoms described my whole life experience from childhood to the present.” — Sheila, Ohio

“Relief. The heaviness of the world lifted off of my shoulders. But then extreme anger, because if anyone had paid attention and helped me when I was younger, everything would have been different.” — Anonymous

“It was overwhelming and confusing having an actual reason for doing what I do and trying to not use it as an excuse, while at the same time trying to understand this new aspect of me.” — Anonymous

Relief. I’m not lazy, insufficient, or as incapable as I have repeatedly been told. There’s a reason and I can do something about it.” — Shannon, Indiana

Adult ADHD Diagnosis: Next Steps

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