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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.

[Take This 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(#CommissionsEarned). “It’s this sense of not being able to hold everything together.’”

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

[Read:”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 pored 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 adult ADHD 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 conditions, 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.

[Read This Next: Stop the Cycle of Shame for Girls with ADHD]

#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.

9 Comments & Reviews

  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.

      2. ADDme, my first reaction to learning I had it was relief since I had felt that I was different and couldn’t explain it, I thought that something was wrong with me and like a child who feels shame I felt that I was wrong and bad. But, even as a person who tends to be pretty mild about expressing anger, I felt it too. I’m younger so I don’t feel so much of the time stolen from me (although I can relate, I’ve felt it before with other things, just not with this, at least, not enough to really feel more than a twinge now and then) but, I felt the frustration that I still have problems and even after struggling through life (also having dealt with an abusive home life) I would have to keep struggling through life still. Even when I was tired, I can never give up because if I stopped swimming I would sink when others can float. But I’ve also done a lot of healing over the past two years (before I realized I had ADHD) and your advice is so on point. I realized pretty quickly that I was grieving a bit and I’ve recently realized that I suck at actually letting myself do that because I want to continue on to the part where I’m not sad and angry, those feelings feel uncomfortable. They can be heavy and weigh me down when I don’t want to deal with them. Luckily, since I had processed this before hand, I was able to recognize it and allow myself to feel and sort through those feelings while also doing what I can to learn more and take advantages of the gifts that ADHD gives me that others don’t have. To the original poster, GPH, ADDme is right, right now you’re angry but it’s a part of the grieving process, if you can accept it and use it to process your emotions you can move on to doing what you can with what you have. It will take time and sometimes the grieving stages repeat themselves but we ADHDers are resilient and so I believe you’ll get through it in time.

  3. That’s pretty much how it happened for me a few months back. I came across an article on a women’s magazine site, something like 7 signs you have ADD, I thought ‘let’s read this and see all the things that people with ADHD have that I don’t.’ But instead of dismissing them all, I was ticking them all off. It was a very surreal moment and I found it difficult to sleep that night. I’m now on a waiting list for a proper diagnosis after going to the Doctor with my symptoms. I’m 38. I can’t believe my life has been passing me by, I’m sad for all my underachievements. I do have one thing I’m really proud of, getting my degree. Problem is I got that in 2012 and I’ve been too scared to push myself to do anything with it properly. I wish I believed in myself more.

    1. Hi BeccaM, I can relate. I’ve always had so much ‘potential’ but never seem to be able to do anything with it. I struggle a lot with self doubt and anxiety over failure. Especially with so many choices it can be scary choosing just one thing but, I hope that you find the right path for you. I think for people with ADHD that path looks very different than for most people. I’m trying to find my way through all this as well. I hope you know that you aren’t alone and that with time and knowledge you can find a life that makes you happy. I know that learning about positive cognitive behavioral therapy and self-care has helped me to become more confident. I realize I have a lot of anxiety and using cognitive behavioral therapy can help a lot with that. I wish us both the best as we struggle through life and these difficult times.

  4. There were times when I was younger when I would wonder if I had ADHD. Mostly I thought of it as day dreaming, drifting off in thought and just wondering about the possibility but, I didn’t seem to have all the symptoms of ADHD. It didn’t quite seem to fit me at any point. My roommate pointed out a book about organizing with ADHD since she had started to suspect that I might have it. Looking it up led me here. I started reading through others’s descriptions of what it was like to have ADHD. I started crying with relief just as I started crying reading your article. I thought, this explains it. This explains me. It explains why I’ve always felt different than others and why I felt like such a failure and like so many things were hard that everyone else found easy. I still did those things often, I was stubborn, determined and intelligent but, I felt exhausted in a way I couldn’t explain at some of the simplest things when it seemed that I always had energy for the things I wanted to do. I looked at my more successful siblings and wondered why I couldn’t do what they did, why it felt so hard for me. Now I know it was more of a mental fatigue, often like hitting a wall in some places and just light fighting to pull myself up out of the water by rope for other things that everyone else was just walking up a set of stairs for. Thank you for sharing your experience and realization. Without things like this, I would always have felt like I didn’t belong and would always be inadequate.

  5. I have just been diagnosed at 22 years old and tried elvanse for the first time today. The results were great from the meds my leg wasnt jumping constantly and I could sit at my desk at work for more than a hour without feeling like I have to get up, everything felt quieter and calmer too. However now I’m at home I’m still thinking to myself I dont have ADHD, how can I tell I have ADHD? Like how my mind is it’s normal for me, would meds have a differant effect if I didnt have ADHD? Iv been told all my life I have so much energy and people have always brought up ADHD and in one part of my brain I know I have ADHD but the other side of my brain just doesnt believe it, anyone got any tips?

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