Emotions & Shame

Adults with ADHD Are Happier & More Satisfied After 60 (Despite Their Messy Closets)

Becoming a senior citizen might sneak up on ADHD adults who always have their minds on something else. Here’s what to expect.

A woman meditates to relieve her anxiety
A woman meditates to relieve her anxiety

I was a chubby kid. That’s not a put-down, but it is a statement of fact. Back in elementary school, I wore “Chubbies.” I needed extra fabric to cover my tummy bulges.

Shopping for clothes was less than exhilarating. I couldn’t find cool clothes like the other kids wore-no smocked dresses or flouncy party attire, just practical, boring Chubbies. There was rarely a choice about what I would buy. If it fit, we bought it. Done.

In the fall I entered 7th grade, I needed school clothes again, so my mother and I beelined for the Chubbies department. A snooty sales clerk intercepted us. She muttered under her breath to my mother and we veered to new territory: Juniors.

There were dozens of dresses on the racks. With the clerk’s guidance, I picked out a gorgeous olive green sheath dress with red stitching and a red triangle handkerchief peeking out of the pocket on the bodice. But I was secretly discouraged: I knew these pretty clothes would never fit my stout little body.

In the dressing room, I stepped into the sheath and my mother zipped up the back. The dress actually fit! I was delighted but dumbfounded. Like magic, my childish body had transformed into an hourglass figure. I had been clueless; it had happened so fast. I was a kid one day, the next, I was a “Junior.” My guess is that my ADHD brain had been distracted by a million other (more important) things that I had failed to pay attention to my body.

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That early metamorphosis might well have been a rehearsal for my quick-as-lightning transition from middle age to senior status (though I claim neither title willingly). Yesterday my hair was thick and glossy. Suddenly my thinning “ponytail” barely supports the rubber band. Last week, I could easily read the directions on the back of the rice pilaf box; now I’m hunting down a pair of readers.

As the TV commercial says: “Life comes at you fast.” No kidding. While my ADHD was preoccupied with mortgage payments, work deadlines, dog training, and episodes of The Good Wife, my body was slithering downhill. Wrinkles pop up overnight. For the first time, I’m going to physical therapy because my left shoulder argues when I reach back to hook my bra.

My ADHD and I are not happy about this change. We have enough to manage without adding on a bunch of new to-do’s. These days it’s vitamin pills, neck cream, doctor’s appointments, Pilates for “core” and weights for strength, and getting up to pee three times a night. All that extra stuff takes time. I was already filling up my days and nights, thank you very much. I’ve come full circle: I need a little bonus fabric (and Spandex) to accommodate my newly acquired tummy bulges. How can I weigh the same but look so different?

The bottom line is that it takes a lot of effort to get old…er…older. And since adults with ADHD spend a little more time doing all the regular things regular people do (although we insist that we can do them faster than everyone else because we’re in a hurry), we do the aging agenda even slower. That can spawn a brand new rash of self-recrimination, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

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Expect (and accept) that you’ll have more trouble remembering to take your meds, so slot in an enhanced reminder system to jog your memory (an extra phone alarm or placing the meds in the shower so you’ll see it first thing in the morning). It’s OK (yet frustrating) to multi-task fewer projects at once. They will get done. Eventually. Or some will fall off your radar as being unimportant.

Step back and take a look at your deep-down values. A woman in my private Facebook group reports that she opted out of holiday decorations in favor of peace, quiet, and calm. Bravo! Another courageous ADHD adult was tired of travel and stayed home, connecting with family via Skype. Researchers report that adults with ADHD over 60 are less obsessed with deadlines and keeping up appearances. They are happier, more centered and satisfied with their lives, regardless of their messy closets.

Perhaps our ADHD is a blessing in disguise for happier living as we age. We are accustomed to making accommodations for ourselves, almost automatically. The rest of the aging population is learning our ADHD-derived lesson the hard way-through experience. Yes, you now have a double-dipped cone of distractibility and forgetfulness, but remember to be gentle with yourself. The name of your grandson will come to mind if you give it a beat or two. And you’ll learn to live inside this new reality gracefully and fully.

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