Guest Blogs

“Learning to Let Go of ADHD What-Ifs and Regrets”

“Though this post-diagnosis introspection was insightful, I knew it best not to get stuck in a rabbit hole of regret.”

Man sitting alone looking at the sunset

It was by happenstance that I learned of my ADHD.

I was going through a rough patch, and I called my therapist’s office to schedule an appointment. I had just turned 49 and was filled with existential angst knowing what was around the corner. I had also recently moved to a new neighborhood — 30 miles from my familiar surroundings. Then, just as I was getting acclimated, the pandemic hit.

The line to the therapist’s office rang and rang, but I was unable to get ahold of anyone. Finally, after some hemming and hawing, the receptionist revealed that my therapist was on leave and asked if I was open to seeing someone else.

I usually conduct extensive research when choosing a medical professional, but I begrudgingly said yes.

The new therapist reviewed my file and asked perfunctory questions on the day of the appointment. I spoke incessantly about my recent experiences and about feeling anxious. I said, almost as an aside, “I just feel restless.”

I was surprised that the therapist wanted me to expound upon this revelation. “Tell me more about feeling restless.” “When did you start feeling this way?” “How long have you felt that way in life?”

[Take This Self-Test: ADHD Symptoms in Adults]

With each question, I fought a floodgate of tears. I answered as if I was meeting myself for the first time. After numerous follow-up questions, my new therapist diagnosed me with ADHD.

Becoming Acquainted with My Brain

I could not figure out how I had been so successful in my current line of work — office administration — with ADHD. I am required to stay on top of my own things, but I’m also tasked with keeping others organized: executives, presidents, board members, etc.

Initially, I was more embarrassed than surprised by the diagnosis. I have an MA in psychology, but I knew next-to-nothing about ADHD. I remember it discussed only briefly in my psychopharmacology class. Little did I know how prescient that discussion would be!

The first thing my practitioner actually “prescribed” after my diagnosis was Dr. Russell Barkley’s ADHD: Essential Ideas for Parents lecture. On my own, I read numerous articles, listened to podcasts by Dr. Samuel Dismond and Sandra Coral, and purchased Dr. Barkley’s Taking Charge of Adult ADHD (#CommissionsEarned).

[Read: I Think I Have ADHD: Adult Symptom & Diagnosis Guide]

After this deep-dive research, I felt lucky to even know I had ADHD, given that many adults are misdiagnosed and so many Black children are underdiagnosed and untreated. Though I was also one of those Black kids “left behind,” I was grateful to know, however late.

Still, I experienced intense grief in the couple of months after my diagnosis, an emotional deep dive that intensified when my mother died and I learned that she also had ADHD. A treasure trove of what-ifs, discoveries, and regrets flooded my mind. I received clarity around many of my life-long struggles, which brought more anguish than closure.

Learning to Forgive My Unique Chemistry

I also learned about rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD), which could explain why I often felt like I was walking on a high wire in my acting career (another aspect of my life). In spite of the joy it brings, acting always was psychologically draining, especially after auditions and acting classes. Even after stage performances, I would sneak out of the theater to avoid the audience. This intense fear of negative, constructive, or even positive criticism also made it challenging to build both professional and personal relationships.

While I was not at fault for every breakdown or breakup, there were many occasions where my emotional impulsivity caused me to make mountains out of molehills — the bitingly accusatory message I sent to a boyfriend who was slow to respond to my text; the defiantly confrontational email I sent to a boss (and copied their bosses) after they criticized me for going home sick; or when I unscrupulously cut off all contact with a longtime friend after they sucker-punched a bar patron during a blackout binge.

Though this post-diagnosis introspection was insightful, I knew it best not to get stuck in a rabbit hole of regret. I found a great practitioner to help me determine the best treatment options. I also have a wonderful therapist to work through my RSD and other areas of difficulty. (I’m grateful for the wealth of behavioral modifications in my toolbox.)

I’ve learned that there are many positives to ADHD. I’ve also developed a sense of humor about it. The other day, my best friend, Tonye, texted me to ask what I was doing. I replied, “Tidying up around the house, taking out the trash, watching Dateline episodes, and shopping on Amazon. Typical ADHD stuff!”

A close friend of mine with ADHD told me something about her recent therapy session that stuck with me. The therapist explained to my friend that her anxiety is triggered by her brain being in constant “fight or flight” mode, as if she’s a deer running from a tiger. The therapist’s advice? Do your best to remember that there is no tiger.

How to Let Things Go: Next Steps

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