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“There’s No Way I Could Have ADHD, Right?!?”

Who would I be today had I gotten my ADHD diagnosis in elementary school? High school? College, even? How would life be different?

“When you live in total squalor — cookies in your pants drawer, pants in your cookies drawer, and nickels, dresses, old New Yorkers, and apple seeds in your bed — it’s hard to know where to look when you lose your keys,” writes Maria Yagoda in The Atlantic.

I don’t know what prompted me to open the link, except that the story was in The Atlantic, and I love to read well-written articles. It was a piece about women with ADHD, and, based on my ability to sit still and keep quiet, I thought I had nothing to concern myself with. But I clicked anyway, and there was something about that first line that made my heart sink into my stomach. That sounds so much like me, I thought.

I often worry about dying unexpectedly. Thinking about the look of disgust burrowing under my husband’s beard as he pokes through my underwear drawer and finds candy wrappers, stray change, the decade-old diaphragm that never fit, receipts from 2010, and the newborn-sized diaper that hasn’t fit our daughter in almost five years makes my anxiety blow through the roof because I’ll have been exposed. And, yes, I’ll be dead if that happens, but I try to keep my scattered, disorderly habits hidden as best I can. Even if I am dead I still don’t want him to ever see that side of me.

If I’m completely honest with myself, he sees that side of me daily: the vacuum that has been sitting in the middle of the doorway for a week, the cabinet shelves that I never remember to close, the pens in the bathroom, the bar of soap in the guest bedroom, the laundry basket with a smattering of clean and dirty clothes, headphones, stuffed animals, and unpaid bills. And the plants, my plants, scattering their dead leaves as if to say, “Why? Why couldn’t you have taken just 10 spare seconds to keep us alive?”

I was supposed to be getting dinner started, but I had to see what this woman was talking about in her article, which was reading a little too much like an autobiography. There’s no way I could have ADHD, right?!? This has to be a coincidence. But the more I read, the more anxious I got.

[Self-Test: ADHD Symptoms in Women and Girls]

Anxious isn’t quite the term I’m looking for. Perhaps “excitedly nervous” describes what I was feeling — a feeling akin to being a few pieces away from finishing a 5,000-piece puzzle that’s been mucking up the table for a month and not knowing if you still have all the pieces.

“Women with the disorder tend to be less hyperactive and impulsive, more disorganized, scattered, forgetful, and introverted. They’ve alternately been anxious or struggling with a mood disorder for years,” says Dr. Ellen Littman, author of Understanding Girls With ADHD. “It’s this sense of not being able to hold everything together.’”

Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. And absolutely, positively, check.

So this sounded like me, but I’ve always had the ability to self-diagnose just about anything, and I wasn’t about to let my hypochondria get the best of me this time. Besides, how embarrassed would I feel to have ADHD, not only due to the stigma that surrounds the disorder but also due to the fact that I was a 35-year-old woman. A grown woman absolutely, positively could not have ADHD.

[“12 Things You Don’t Know About Me and My ADHD”]

I dug a little deeper. Dinner would be late, but I didn’t notice the time and the empty table until my husband came home. I was too focused on all this new information, so I certainly couldn’t have a deficit in my attention.

A quick Google search for “ADHD symptoms in adults” made me question all that I had believed about myself for the past 35 years. Everything that Dr. Littman had said in Yagoda’s article was mirrored in the dozens of authoritative sites that I visited over the next hour.

All those quirks about myself that I despised — from being unable to keep a clean room as a child, finish large school projects as a teenager, and losing the twist tie moments after opening a loaf of bread. Everything was suddenly so vivid. Could it be that all those seemingly unconnected flaws were always a part of a larger problem?

As I poured over the information, my husband opened the door, home from work. I startled, closed the computer, and said, “Honey, we’re ordering a pizza tonight.”

I wasn’t ready to share my discovery with anyone yet.

In fact, it wasn’t until six months later that I was finally sitting in the psychiatrist’s office to get my official diagnosis. I wasn’t sure what I thought about ADHD and its rampant overdiagnosis, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a part of that statistic. I cautiously handed her a list of all the things I had thought about over the past six months (an extremely organized list, at that), and waited for the questions. She spoke with me for an hour before setting down her notebook and looking me in the eye. “Well, I can tell that we are not going to come away with just one diagnosis, but this much is clear. You have off-the-charts ADHD. You were never diagnosed with this before?”

We spoke for another two hours. I walked out the door with four “new” disorders. Many of them had been clear to me for a long time, but I was too afraid to put a name to them. Too afraid to open up to someone else. Too afraid to ask for help. Most of all, I was too afraid to become someone I no longer recognized. What if medication turned me into a zombie? What if I lost my passion for making music? For writing? Who would I become?

Who would I be if I weren’t the woman that spent an hour a day looking for her phone? What would my husband and I have to joke about if I simply put the twist tie back on the loaf of bread when I was finished with it before I lost the damn thing?

As of now, I am not being treated for ADHD because some of the other disorders were higher on the list in my treatment plan. This is not abnormal. Many adults with untreated ADHD have comorbid diagnoses, and I was no exception.

In the meantime, some of my medications make my ADHD symptoms easier to manage. I’m learning to slow down a bit, and there are days when I lie down in bed for the night and think, “I didn’t lose my phone even once today. It’s a miracle.”

Being diagnosed, but not treated, for ADHD has been a wonderful learning experience. I’ve read lots of books on the disorder, joined online support groups, and learned different techniques for coping with my struggles. For instance, for the first time in my life, I use a planner (and stick with it) after doing a Google search and discovering “planner pads,” which have been reviewed by many people with ADHD.

Above all, I’m learning to not be so hard on myself. I’ve spent my life feeling bad about myself. From being late to daydreaming to losing things, I was always telling myself that I was a failure. Stupid. Worthless. An ADHD diagnosis has added a key piece of the puzzle that has helped me realize that there’s a reason behind these behaviors, and there are ways to cope with these behaviors, both with and without medication.

I only wish I had known sooner. Much sooner. Who would I be today had I gotten a diagnosis in elementary school? High school? College, even? How would life be different?

I’ll never know. But I do know this: My future looks much brighter.

[Wonder Women: 6 Inspiring ADHD Success Stories]

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  1. I can defenitely relate to the author in the article. To be honest, I was a bit reluctant at first. When I first recieved my diagnosis, I had mixed emotions. On one side, I was happy to know why I struggled when it came to organization & time management. But on the other side, it was a combination of both anger and frustration. It didn’t help that I was also diagnosed with a learning disability. How do you handle being diagnosed with both ADHD & LD at the age of 27? You just do. I started reflecting on my time in high school: getting kicked out because of grades, attending summer school and completing take home projects in order to avoid repeating the 9th Grade at my new school, and scoring low on both the PSAT & SAT. Even though I graduated high school on time, college presented a new set of problems: taking notes, studying for tests, and completing assignments. After three semesters, I made a drastic change that would forever change my life: I joined the Army. To this day, I see it as the best descision I have ever made. The regimented system helped supress my ADHD symptoms and simplified tasks made learning less daunting. It also helped me with develop coping mechanisms when it came to completing assignments. The majority of my time in the service was part time, which made it possible to go back to school and get a job. School was still a struggle but working, for some reason, wasn’t. My employment was the first time I had consistensy in my life. It’s hard for an adult to accept that he/she slipped through the cracks when it comes to both attention and learning issues. And I still having diffulty looking past setbacks that took place in my life. Hopefully, I won’t have to wonder how my life would have been different if I knew sooner. But I realized that I wouldn’t be the man that I am now.

  2. I was diagnosed at 56, I am a male….Not knowing what was going on for so many years is an anger to me..I think the one thing right now, that I have to get over…I’m angry everyday… I know when I get up, no matter what I do ADHD is going to steal time from me, time that I want to use differently and won’t have a choice….everybody waste’s time, the difference is, it’s their choice. And then realizing over all the years all the time that was stolen from me, that I could have used…and didn’t get the chance.
    I need to find a way to use my extreme hyper focus to my benefit, and the prescription I am on is now creating OCD tendencies, which is really creating an odd mix(mess)…Its Ground Hogs Day everyday!

    1. gph: I was diagnosed just over 4 years ago, at age 66. I was angry for a very long time — correction, I was more than angry, I was enraged; furthermore, I *wanted* to be angry, I did NOT want to be “happy” w/ ADHD. It’s not that I didn’t want to follow the common behavioral recommendations — lists, schedules, calculate travel time, add 15 minutes for getting ready and and then add 15 minutes more minutes just because; add clocks to your decor and always wear a watch. I did follow them, and even they made me angry, because they became either more occasions for failure, or experiences that made me more aware of my symptoms. Sometimes I couldn’t tell if trying to understand the rage and the anger was helping, or whether it reinforced it.

      I can totally relate to your reactions to the “lost time” you experience. It’s not just the time that is lost due to distractions or hyperfocus or daydreaming or poor organization; it’s the reality that, even when we learn to manage those symptoms better, everything we do seems more difficult for us to take longer than it does for most neurotypicals. It was very frustrating, not being accomplish as much as I would like, as much as I imagine others doing. That deficit is very real. But precisely because it’s a deficit, it occurred to me a while back that I *am* doing as much as other people — I am, alas, doing different things, like needing more time to get ready to leave the house.

      I also felt a bit put off when I read other adults’ accounts of their late diagnosis and what a relief it was for them. I certainly wasn’t feeling anything like relief!! I scoured books and online articles for any acknowledgement of the anger and grief that an adult diagnosis can bring; I finally see more on an adult diagnosis grieving experience during the past couple years, but 4 years ago that wasn’t the case.

      So here are some simple tips/suggestions:
      1. Recognize that you are grieving and let yourself grieve Don’t hide from it, and ignore people who think you should be able to “snap out of it.” I personally believe that grief has a natural timetable; as a friend told me, “There will come a time when your body will want to let go of the pain. When that time comes, don’t fight it, just let it go.”

      2. Take time to identify exactly what it is you are grieving — how,, exactly, do you think your ADHD affected your earlier life? If you are able to write it up, and/or share your story w/ someone you trust, so much the better.

      3. Be patient, be compassionate with yourself. Check that negative self talk and try to convert them into messages of understanding and encouragement.

      I personally have found it helpful to have a therapist to talk with.

      4a. Read, read, READ!!! Learn as much as you can.
      4b. Feel free to ignore all those “gift of ADHD” or “benefits of ADHD” articles. I still avoid them. If you , unlike myself, feel drawn to them for encouragement or inspiration, you’ll probably notice that any gifts or advantages that might come with ADHD, come with ADHD that is treated. So even if you are inclined to find them, it will probably take a while, so be patient.

      Finally — remember that although ADHD is a real disability, it’s not a death sentence. You will have choices in your life, your gifts are still your gifts, and they have already survived a lifetime of undiagnosed ADHD!! Accepting, and then coping with, ADHD is work, it takes time, but it’s do-able. Sometimes I wonder if I really want to keep trying, I think maybe I’ll just give up and spend my time just sitting in front of the TV, nitting (which is more difficult for me, because I make so many mistakes) and getting fat. But then I also think, if I have 10 more years to live, then I still have time to set and accomplish a modified goal that still expresses my gifts, and I can’t bear the thought of dying with the knowledge that I could have done at least that much.

      Sorry this is so long — no time to go back and edit! I hope you find something in here that is helpful.

      1. ADDme, Thank you so much for sharing this! I was also angry with my diagnosis. I was very angry and ashamed. As a Soldier(17yrs now), mother, wife, society makes you think that you should be able to keep it together ALL the time. I found myself trying to be perfect to try and hide my symptoms. I felt like an imposter and the shame was damn near crippling. I’m finally learned to accept that I will never be perfect and it’s okay to not function like everyone else.

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