Emotions & Shame

Diaries of “Adulting” (or Not) with ADHD

Adulthood officially begins at age 18, but feeling like one may come much later — if at all. Here, readers share when (and if) they mastered “adulting” with ADHD.

Earning a degree. Buying a house. Starting a family. Becoming an adult brings many exciting milestones — or dreaded expectations. The difference in perspective sometimes hinges on ADHD.

Executive function challenges play no small part in how we view and approach “adulting.” EFs affect our ability to plan, prioritize, motivate, regulate, and problem solve. While EF challenges begin in early development, they often trail into adulthood. And big life events may be delayed or missed entirely as a result.

Here, ADDitude readers tell us when they felt like they reached adulthood; a milestone that signified that achievement; or if they’re still working on the whole “adult” thing. Leave a comment at the link above if you can relate.

“Adulting” with ADHD

“I didn’t graduate college until six years after my peers, thanks to missed or dropped classes, school transfers, and alcohol abuse. I didn’t get married until I was 33. I didn’t have kids until 36 (they call that geriatric in pregnancy terms). I didn’t get diagnosed with ADHD until I was 40. I would say the road to adulthood started when I quit drinking at age 25, but I didn’t truly feel like an adult until after I was diagnosed with ADHD. I started getting my life together and forgiving myself for not doing anything ‘right’ or ‘on time.’ Now 46, I probably feel how most people do at 26 or 36.” — Beth, Colorado

“I’m 69 and still feel ‘behind’ my peers. Never mind that I’ve had three successful, intellectually demanding careers and many similar hobbies. While I’m very good at those skills, anything that requires executive function (like paying bills and balancing a checkbook) is beyond me. It’s embarrassing. I am truly fearful of the possibility of my husband dying before me; that is the ultimate example of ‘overwhelm’ in my mind.” — An ADDitude reader

[ADDitude Directory: Find an ADHD Specialist]

“I’m not working toward [adulthood], I don’t want to, and I don’t think I ever will — that wouldn’t be me anymore. It doesn’t look attractive; it looks boring. I’m glad that I’m old enough not to care about being judged any more. I get satisfaction in telling others that I’m not interested in reaching normal milestones.” — Ally, UK

“At almost 44, I’m certainly not a grown up. What people see is a person with a reasonably successful career, a lovely husband, and a good home in a nice place. What I am is very different. I’m barely capable of looking after myself and, if it weren’t for my extraordinarily supportive husband, I wouldn’t remember to eat, wash, clean, or function. In order to just about cope with a career that would afford the trappings of a normal-looking life, I had to forgo having children and that kills me.” — Katy, UK

“I grew up in a wonderful, loving family that had little wealth. My parents worked nights, so in some ways, I’ve been ‘adulting’ since I was in middle school. I feel it more keenly now, in my late 40s; my friends have progressed in their careers, whereas I’m still doing the same job 15 years later. Somehow, they manage successful careers, children, volunteer work, and a social life. I’m childless and can barely manage a household of two people and two dogs! I don’t feel professional; I’m just doing a job.” — An ADDitude reader

“At 43, I am still working to attain ‘adulthood.’ My idea of successful adulting is equivalent to financial stability, or at least a version where I’m not dependent on my mother to pay my rent!” — Susan

[Read: The ADHD Guide to Saving Money]

“I’m 55 and still trying. Comorbid conditions probably impact this. I think that, as mothers, we always struggle not to compare ourselves to other moms that are neurotypical and seem to have everything together.” — An ADDitude reader

“I am always surprised when people are disappointed in me. I am nearly 50, but still feel like an awkward teenager when it comes to money, chores, and relationships.” — An ADDitude reader

“It wasn’t until I was in my mid-30s that I finally felt I had reached ‘adulthood,’ which was when I was diagnosed with ADHD and started medication management. I was finally paying my student loans on time, finishing projects at work on time, and feeling significantly less anxiety and self-doubt.” — Kara, Arkansas

“I am almost 59 years old and still amazed when I am included in ‘adult’ things. I’ve recently come to the realization that I’m probably going to feel like a kid until I take my last breath.— Emkay

“I was recently diagnosed at 51. It was a relief since I think I’ve always been striving to be an adult in the societally expected definition. It helps explain so much about my struggles and life trajectory. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword because I’m trying to see my daily actions from a completely different lens, but I fall back on ‘you’re a failure’ more often than not.” — Michelle

“I am 60, married for 25 years, have two sons, and am still working on it! As a child, I was ahead mentally but always behind socially. Not much has changed in that respect.” — Julie

“I am 52 and was diagnosed two years ago. Chronologically, I feel like I am transitioning towards becoming a more aware and responsible adult… In reality, I am still seeing the world through the wondrous (sometimes anxious) eyes of a two-year-old. I completely burnt out at 48. I had to relearn how to function physically at a very basic level and undertook a lot of therapy to support body-mind connection. Plus, I am most likely perimenopausal now, which definitely impacts a woman with ADHD. It is complex for sure but now that I have a diagnosis, I wouldn’t change it for the world! I love the unique perspective I have.” — Jules, UK

ADHD in Adulthood: Next Steps

Thank you for reading ADDitude. To support our mission of providing ADHD education and support, please consider subscribing. Your readership and support help make our content and outreach possible. Thank you.