Guest Blogs

“When I Look Back, It Is Hard Not to Feel Like I Was Failed.”

“We don’t talk enough about the heartache that comes with seemingly unrealized potential. Knowing I couldn’t live up to dreams and expectations that were set out for me, because the deck was stacked against me, hurts. Who could I have been now if I had only known sooner?”

I was recently diagnosed with ADHD – and I’m grieving.

Others who received and grieved an ADHD diagnosis in adulthood will tell you not to dwell on the past or to assign blame. But I’m finding this aspect particularly hard to reconcile. Why? Because it shouldn’t have happened to me. Growing up, I was surrounded by educators, and by people whose job it was to identify and understand ADHD and other learning difficulties.

When I look back, it is hard not to feel like I was failed — that I deserved more understanding and compassion than I was given.

I struggled a lot in school, but not in the typical ways. My teachers thought I had dyslexia or reading problems, but since my test results came back surprisingly normal, those suspicions were left at that. I was then referred for psycho-educational assessments. These tests showed that I was “a bright child” with a varying degree of abilities – puzzling everyone around me. They also revealed weaknesses in my executive functioning and working memory. But again, it was left at that.

This struggle, of course, continued into adulthood. At my first professional job after college, I was a pure disaster. Prioritizing was extremely difficult for me, and I couldn’t make sense of what my boss wanted from me. The person before me had made the position look so simple – why couldn’t I just be like her?! What was wrong with me?

[Click to Read: “What It Feels Like Living with Undiagnosed ADHD”]

I’d find myself distracting others or getting lost in my own daydreams instead of helping clients. I’d often go to the washroom and cry, fearing that I would be fired at any second. I eventually left that job, but I vowed not to let the experience hold me back. Instead, I took a major leap and actually started my own business.

Some time later, I stumbled upon some videos about ADHD – and it was like a light switched on in my head. The world finally made sense to me. The diagnosis was initially an amazing and terrifying turning point. Then the anger came.

How could I have gone this long without being diagnosed?

My behaviors and problems in school – unmistakably ADHD symptoms – were pointed out many times and documented in report cards since the first grade. Rushing to finish work, trouble paying attention, disorganization – it was there the whole time. How can I not feel jilted, especially when the answer was to put me down instead of finding solutions? What’s more, I was often told there was no way I could have ADHD!

[Related Reading: ADHD Looks Different in Women. Here’s How — and Why.]

We don’t talk enough about the heartache that comes with seemingly unrealized potential. Knowing I couldn’t live up to the dreams and expectations that were set out for me, because the deck was stacked against me, hurts. Who could I be now if I had only known sooner? What would school have been like? Would I even be the same person?

We don’t talk enough about the shame and humiliation that comes with constantly being told your behavior needs to change. The pain associated with feeling that the way you feel, think, and see the world isn’t good enough. That you’ve failed at “normal” and at conforming to the functionality and views of those around you.

As the quote often attributed to Einstein goes, “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live it’s whole life believing it is stupid.” A fish was not made for climbing trees, but for swimming. And that’s where I feel like I was robbed – I was and am that fish, expected to climb the neurotypical education-and-work tree. I’ve wasted so many years trying to climb, when instead I could have been swimming and growing to my full potential.

I believe I can only let go and finally start swimming when I know that the other “fish” (i.e. girls with ADHD) won’t have to go through what I went through. That somewhere in all my frustration, heartbreak, and pain there is a valuable lesson that may benefit others. That this wasn’t pointless.

Before I and others can freely swim into the unknown, we need to build more awareness around ADHD in girls and their unique experiences. Beyond that, we need to uplift and celebrate the many types of brains that make our world vibrant and beautiful.

Grief After ADHD Diagnosis: Next Steps

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7 Comments & Reviews

  1. I’m a 33yo woman who was diagnosed last year, and I still struggle with this. So many doctors, therapists, and teachers missed it because I was “smart.” But I struggled significantly with jobs and relationships. No one was looking at the whole picture. I refuse to let another child go undiagnosed and suffer the way I did!

  2. I was also recently diagnosed with ADHD (following an ASD diagnosis a few years ago). I’ve been through different stages of “grief” with both diagnoses, althought the ADHD one was easier. This included a period of “if only” when I thought about things I might have done if only I’d had a diagnosis at an earlier age.

    But I didn’t know. So who knows what might or might not have happened. I am now much more positive about myself – I know why I do things and I know which things are difficult and easy for me.

    I’m also cautious about putting too much responsibility or pressure on myself to change things. We have to be realistic about what we, as neurodiverse individuals, can do. We won’t stop all other children “suffering”, but we can help some with our experience and support. That’s why I’ve now set up my All Aboard Club social enterprise. I know that some children either can’t get to our play sessions or can’t afford my mentoring – but I can’t change that.

    Now, I am an openly neurodiverse person. It has taken its toll on my marriage (soon to end) and my mental health, but there is a way forward for me.

  3. Omg! Really thought there was something wrong because this is truly how I feel. Diagnosed a year ago and my world fell apart and was operating on a quarter of a wheel. On top of that I am a line manager of 34 staff in a very corporate environment. So needless to say are too out of the box, too loud, too distracted, too late, too blank, too emotionally dysregulated, too blunt, too forward. The list goes on and on.

    People will tell me a family member died and I always use to think what the hell is wrong with me that I can’t sympathize. Refused to attend funerals as a young adult because of this. Matriculated 1999, and for the first time 22 years after I know where I fit in and what I actually want to do. I am going to apply to study Law at 39.5.
    I was angry in the beginning, where could I have been, what could I have achieved, I could’ve won the nobel prize for heaven sake…. Then I come to my senses and think well would I then have met the people I have on my journey, the people that impacted my life, the roots, the branches, the leaves. I truly believe that we are where we are in a moment in time because we must be there. But regardless of this wonderful thought, I still feel disappointed in how I was labeled as lazy, naughty, highly hyperactive, disruptive etc… Made me feel worthless, and that sticks for life no matter how I try to fight against it. I am better now because I know its not my fault that the wires cross when it must not. I wonder sometimes what part of me did it, the adhd or the true me. The second Dr treating me said he honestly thought I am totally bonkers. By adjusting my meds continues ly from 36mg couldn’t believe the change. Apparently have bad Adhd with sever hyperactivity. I am currently on 90mg contramyl and sincerely hope it to be my last stop. And I wonder how I can not be fired as yet. How have I coped all along? I suppose that’s a question my coworkers must answer. Some of my staff said I am nuts and must be referred to out work psycologist, they felt there was definately something wrong with me. I felt so relieved when reading this article because it seems as if it was my own thoughts. I feel so much better knowing there is others like me. When I asked my Dr how do I know if my personality or the adhd is repsonsible? He said, your adhd is part of your personality, to move on you need to accept it as a part of you. I am now Erica2.0 and a proud owner of a awesome adhd hyperactive neuro diverse brain and I will claim it, and i deserve my spot in a dull world full of neurotypical brain. ‘In a world where you can be anything, I choose to be a neuro diverse kinda, kind’

  4. I was diagnosed young. As a teenager. I don’t know if that was exactly helpful, either. I used to try and advocate for myself and AS SOON AS I would tell people I had ADHD, I was treated like I was the problem. It was like this every time: people (adults or educators) were trying to figure out how they could help me because they would notice something was off. I would inform them it was because I had ADHD and would benefit from xyz to make that thing go smoother. All of a sudden, everything would go from “Ok, but…” to “you’re the problem, get out of the way, you’re useless…no one wants to deal with an ADHD brain like you. Shape up or ship out!” Sometimes I feel like I would have rather not known because the shame from being treated that way, with the knowledge that there was an answer and people could have helped me but used my diagnosis as an opportunity to berate me and take advantage of my vulnerability with such emotional abuse makes it very hard for me to trust that providers actually have my best interest today and I often feel as if I have nowhere to turn.

  5. My daughter was diagnosed as dyslexic through school at age 10, my son who is 6 years younger at age 5, a further request from school when my son was 7 to test him for ADHD concluded he was not ADHD. near 20 years later age 55 I was diagnosed as ADHD.. that was 3 years ago and I now know how blatantly obvious both my childrens undiagnosed ADHD is, my son especially suffered so much at the hands of the school, with the teacher who suggested he may be ADHD haven being proven wrong, leaving the school with the belief that my boy was indeed just a bad kid.. how can I not feel angry? Grrrrrr

  6. I discovered I had ADHD recently, just last year. Due to complications, I haven’t been able to get officially diagnosed. However, when I first discovered what ADHD actually was, I was outraged at the fact. The very textbook definition was like looking at a mirror image of myself. I was a “gifted child” when I was young, the kind that would get straight As and be reading college-level books at age ten, but as soon as I hit middle school, my motivation to learn in any sort of academic capacity tanked abysmally. I’m still incredibly annoyed at the fact that I had to struggle through my schoolwork for years, unable to focus or actually learn anything, working twice as hard as any of my peers, thinking that I was just stupid, or that something was very, very wrong with me, when it’s just how my brain works (and that so many people go through the same thing). The fact that everyone in my life, my teachers and my parents, either ignored my symptoms or brushed them off as insignificant, left me fuming when I first discovered that I had ADHD, but now, I’m just disappointed in both them and the fact that the current societal idea of ADHD is so skewed compared to the real thing.

  7. Hi Abigail,

    I was moved to tears by your guest blog: “When I Look Back, It Is Hard Not to Feel Like I Was Failed.” When I was growing up nobody knew about ADHD – my parents were told that my handwriting was terrible because my brain worked faster than my hands. I’ve just been diagnosed at the age of 62 and look back on my life and see how different it could have been. I’ve been trying to remember that ‘it’s better late than never’ and looking forward instead of backwards. It’s hard but its a work in progress.

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