This reply was originally posted by user ADD me in ADDitude’s now-retired community.
Molls—No, indeed, you are not the only one.
I was diagnosed 3 1/2 years ago, at age 65, and I raged off and on for about 2 years, and dealt with other grief symptoms for another year after that. I hated being like this, I hated living like this—in all the clutter, being late all the time, etc.
My diagnosis made me more symptomatic, oddly enough, It was as if the diagnosis, under all that anger, was a kind of relief—I didn’t have to try and be like everyone else anymore. Or try and PRETEND to be like everyone else. I could admit that I felt “little”—overwhelmed and at sea—in settings where everyone else seemed to “get it” in ways that I didn’t.
Worse—I had returned to graduate school and made a midlife career change; the new field felt like a perfect fit, and everyone who knew me agreed it was. However, the available jobs in my new field were not such a perfect fit, due to my undiagnosed and un-coached ADHD, and I took an early retirement offer to avoid more serious consequences.
And one of the things that really TICKED ME OFF was people telling me about the gifts or the benefits or the upsides of having ADHD. RUBBISH!!!!
Seriously, I believe the grief associated w/ a later in life diagnosis is woefully under appreciated, at least in the reading I have done, where that aspect of it is treated with not much depth or understanding, if it is treated at all.
Look, ADHD is a global thing, it affects pretty much everything we do. The building block of adult life is deciding to do something and then doing it—which is exactly what we struggle to do. Throw in a weak sense of time, and it gets even harder. Plus, if you are around people with high executive functions who think all that is natural, easy —well, it certainly is a lot easier for them than it is for an adult with ADHD.
Standard adult talk therapy is geared in part to building up self esteem and self confidence, so I had learned to live with those reassurances and downplayed the effect of my symptoms; I had no idea I was struggling so much more than other people.
I think it was an Ari Tuckman book that suggested newly diagnosed adults re-tell the story of their life, from the perspective of undiagnosed ADHD. I found that very helpful. My experience was that I was pretty much remodeling my entire self image. It wasn’t always easy, but it helped bring me peace.
Living undiagnosed can sure make for one ginormous pile of negativity in one’s mental landscape—it’s almost a sure thing that some kind of depressive state has been formed by all the negative feedback we have had our entire lives. And it might not all be at school—I was in many ways the perfect little girl in school; I loved school—and who knew that my enthusiastic hand waving and my hyper reactive facial expressions loud voice and social style were all ways that girls can be hyperactive?
Learn the various strategies and start using them: lists, schedules, day planners, clocks, post it notes, whatever helps. You will get better at them with time, although you will never be 100%. So learn to rejoice in small victories. Some of them will seem very small—like things that NT middle schoolers seem to learn automatically, as if by osmosis. But our brains didn’t do that, so we need to learn them now—because they’re not optional, we NEED them.
Your brain is your brain; it is what it is. Managing an ADHD brain requires help and it requires a lot of learning.
Don’t let anyone tell you you “should” feel something you don’t; everyone’s grief is different, and it has its own rhythm. Be open to the possibility that you might have a clinical depression, too.
But last of all and first of all and most of all, be compassionate toward yourself. You have struggled your whole life, sometimes without being aware. Remember that pretty much everything you do will take more time and be more difficult for you. Then finally be open to discovering that it is time to let go of the grief; you don’t have to be happy with your ADHD, but your only chance for happiness is to be happy as a person who has ADHD. Accept that, accept yourself, be gentle with yourself, and you’ll do fine.