Support & Stories

The Moment I Knew It Was ADHD

When did the fog clear and a bright light clearly illuminate your personal challenges and characteristics as symptoms of ADHD? What was your “Aha” moment? Here, ADDitude readers share some of theirs.

Person holding two puzzle pieces to the sky signifying finding the right specialist for your child with ADHD
Person holding two puzzle pieces to the sky signifying finding the right specialist for your child with ADHD

Whether diagnosed at 6 or 60, most adults with ADHD remember the distinct moment when a lifetime of idiosyncrasies and challenges clearly came into focus as symptoms of attention deficit disorder. Maybe this “Aha” moment came in the office of a guidance counselor or therapist who finally recognized that you are neither lazy nor careless. Or maybe during your own child’s diagnosis. Or maybe right this instant.

Here are a handful of “Aha” moments submitted by ADDitude readers in our recent relaunch sweepstakes and hand-selected by our editors. Anything sound familiar here?

Signs at Work

“My moment came after yet another ‘project pile’ I left behind on my desk came tumbling down. I sat there and looked at the other piles that had taken up residence at various positions of my desk, floor and drawers. Each of them had provided a new stimulus. I spent every waking moment researching and reading up on them, only to drop them when something new came along.” — mongo2001

“I realized it was ADHD when my boss suggested hiring a time-management consultant to study my work habits and devise a plan that would help me be more efficient.” —Diane051117

“I was 28 and worked as a field technician for HVAC controls. I was sitting in my work van and I was paralyzed. I think I may have been a little late for something and I was trying to think of a reason to justify my tardiness. I remember I had to make a phone call, and I couldn’t do it. I was having a hard time breathing, and I think I was having a panic attack. I said to myself, ‘My God, this can’t be normal — having to deal with these feelings and thoughts everyday. I don’t know what to do. I need help.’” — GentleDefender

[Self-Test: Could You Have Adult ADHD?]

Signs at School

“My ‘Aha’ moment was right after I transferred from a 2-year to a 4-year college. In community college I had a 4.0, but suddenly I found myself unable to pick up a book and read it, despite my interest in the subject matter. I would re-read the same passage over and over and would get nothing from it. My first semester yielded Bs and Cs — and for a perfectionist that was utter failure. I was desperate for some insight and Googled everything under the sun. Luckily, someone who lived in my building has ADHD; she happened to be talking about her issues and her stories set off alarms in my head. She recommended I get evaluated, and that’s where my journey began!” — sy88012

“My ‘Aha’ moment was starting a Ph.D. program. I couldn’t concentrate while reading, analyzing, or writing. It was a big wake-up call.” — JackyJ

“The lecturer of my Speech Pathology class had handed out a set of notes on ADHD. As she read through the list of features of ADHD, I found myself making little tick marks beside each one I felt was applicable to me. After the lecture was through, I made an appointment to speak to her and she confirmed that she agreed with my tick marks. She told me that she could see that what I was capable of answering in the classroom did not correlate with what she saw in my test and assignment results. She kindly arranged for me to see an occupational therapist on campus. After the occupational therapist had assessed me, I qualified for extra time on my exams. That lecturer was a blessing in my life!” — NicoleRandall

A Family Matter

“I realized that I had ADHD after my child had been diagnosed with it. I started attending lectures and reading books to learn all I could about the condition. I immediately recognized myself in the stories of people who have ADHD. I knew then that I had to learn how to help myself handle the challenges, in addition to helping my child.” — grace0650

[You Think You’ve Got Adult ADHD – What To Know]

“I discovered my ADHD when my son was tested. Our issues mirrored each other. He was in college, and I was 38.” —Cherie3453

“I was at a bookstore and I saw a book on a shelf titled Driven to Distraction by John Ratey and Ned Hallowell. I grew up hearing my mother saying to me, ‘You are absolutely driving me to distraction!’ As I had a son who was doing the same thing to me, I absolutely had to have the book — even though I knew only what it said on the cover about something called ADHD. That weekend I took it to the beach by myself and sat down and read it. I highlighted practically the first 2/3 of the book as it described my son perfectly — and then cried through the last 1/3 of the book as it described my life virtually to the last detail. It was 1994; my son was 10 and I was 42. It changed my life forever.” — charmain

When Other Diagnoses Didn’t Fit

“The same doctor who (successfully) treated me for my major depression and social phobia since I was a teenager tested me as an adolescent, because many of my struggles persisted without the typical symptoms of depression. Without knowing what the screening was about at first, I filled out the form. He then revealed the result: I probably have ADHD. I hesitantly sneered at him with a cheeky smile, even whispering ‘…no…’ in disbelief. In the same evening, I researched as much as I could, only to realize: ‘Yup, I totally have ADHD… and it basically explains everything.’ And it still does!” — Pathanoid

“My ‘Aha’ moment was when I was being treated for anxiety and depression by my PA, and nothing was helping. I’ve always suspected ADHD; I was even tested in high school, but my mom didn’t pursue the doctor’s suggestion of having me further tested. At 38, I saw my doctor and he diagnosed me. I was so happy I cried.” — Gillett1123

[The ADHD Symptoms We Misdiagnose]

“From as early as I can remember, I knew I was different. I was treated for bipolar disorder, but it never felt right. Finally my GP, about 4 years ago, convinced me to go and see a psychiatrist, as she couldn’t help me anymore. I’ve struggled with many things for a long time, so I agreed. The psychiatrist had read my file, and after 5 minutes of talking to me he said those magic words: ‘I believe you have ADHD.’” — sian.padgham

Where You Least Expect It

“When I read a Buzzfeed article showing 17 illustrations that are ‘way too real for people with ADHD’ — and so they were for me!” — AddingUp

“I was already in my 50s and in training to be a life coach. I’d already tried being a massage therapist, hypnotherapist, dream group leader, and several other personal growth-oriented ideas. One day, another student came to class and shared, with great enthusiasm, his recent diagnosis of attention deficit disorder. ‘What is attention deficit disorder?’ I asked, not knowing much or anything about it. As he explained it, my eyes grew wide, my jaw dropped and I was stunned. ‘This explains my whole life,’ I shouted. I immediately went to get diagnosed. Sure enough — ADHD, full blown. What a relief.” — sydneym

“I realized I was the only person who could understand a particular songwriter’s lyrics — no one else could! He had ADHD, so I thought — hmmm, maybe I do also. (The lyrics are very picture oriented, rather than straightforward. But easy for me!)”
Odile Lee

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  1. I knew when my son was 2 years old that I was looking at ADHD. The verbal diarrhea combined with the body always in motion and not sleeping well were dead giveaways. I tried to convince the pediatrician to no avail. I spent the next 4 years saying “none of my tricks work on him”. I was at work one day when I overheard a co-workers literally saying “none of our tricks work on her”. When I asked what he was referring to, he recounted his daughter’s recent diagnosis of ADHD. I got the teachers on my side and finally convinced the pediatrician of what I had known for eons.

  2. Like sian.padgham, I too was being treated for bipolar disorder and felt it wasn’t quite right either. In 2002 I became a mother of a 9 month old daughter adopted in China, and my personality changed when we got home, even though she is the best thing that’s ever happened to me and my husband! The disorder runs in my family so it made sense then. But I wonder now how many of the symptoms that I was experiencing at that time were more ADHD (for which I was diagnosed not long after the diagnosis for bipolar).

  3. I’m 33, and throughout my school career, as well as my proper career, I procrastinated on every single project, scraping by at the last minute on a wave of panic. This behavior finally had consequences when, the day before a job interview, I was in too deep of a brain fog to focus on preparing my presentation. By the time I realized it was trash, it was too late to fix it, and presenting it was dreadfully embarrassing.

    Luckily, I had an appointment with my psychiatrist two days after the interview. I described my frustrations with short-term memory, inability to get things done, and general mental slogging, wondering if perhaps they had something to do with my depression meds. She immediately said, “No, that all sounds like ADHD stuff!” We were both laughing as I filled out the questionnaire – every single thing was an issue I had struggled with all my life, but I always assumed that a lazy airhead was just who I was as a person!

    It’s only been a few days since I started Adderall, and they have been some of the best days of my life. I feel as though I’ve been slogging through a snowstorm, and now I can just… walk. The snowstorm is gone, and now, I have a shovel! Knowing that I don’t have to resign myself to life as a space cadet, and that there is something concrete I can do about it, is indescribably uplifting.

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