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I Struggled. I Cried. I Failed. Then, I Was Diagnosed – and Reborn

When I suddenly couldn’t function at work or at home, adult ADHD was the last thing on my mind, until my therapist saw what I didn’t and gave me a diagnosis.

It was 2010, and I was working for one of the largest health insurers in Pennsylvania. My productivity was suffering: I couldn’t concentrate, work was stacking up to the point that I was afraid for my job, and I had no idea why. At first I did the logical things I could think of to improve the situation: I tried harder. I stopped talking with coworkers. I stopped taking breaks and lunches, but even then I couldn’t produce. The work pile grew taller.

At the same time, waking up each morning (never my strong point) was all at once impossible: I couldn’t fall asleep at night, and once I did, I couldn’t wake up. I kept thinking that if I could just go to sleep sooner that it would get easier but it never did, and I couldn’t understand why. I tossed and turned, then suffered waking up for an hour-long commute to a place that seemed less and less like employment and more like incarceration.

My head ached; my eyes swam with tears at the drop of a hat; I was irritable with people I didn’t mean to be irritable with. I saw my family doctor and left with a prescription for anti-depressants. I obviously needed to begin them as soon as possible to start getting better. At her recommendation, I found a therapist and scheduled an appointment. In the ensuing month, things kept getting worse.

One day on my way home from my then-boyfriend-now-husband’s house, I broke. Weeks of frustration and struggle, plus the futility of it all crashed over me all at once. I wanted to lay down somewhere and just . . . stop. Stop working, stop moving, stop breathing. I had to pull over because my tears were blinding me.

That’s when I got scared. I took a sabbatical from work. I went to the therapist weekly, met with my family doctor bi-weekly to monitor things. My family tried, but it didn’t know how to reach me. Family members looked at me with sideways glances and tip-toed around me. Well-meaning advice like, “Everybody gets sad sometimes” and, “You’re strong. You’ve just got to be tough and pull yourself out of this,” was served up, reheated, and served up again. Nothing worked.

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One day, as I was picking over the bones of my childhood again for the therapist, I saw her eyes light up for the first time. All I said was that I had been diagnosed with ADHD as a youngster and my mom pretty much vetoed the idea. My mother believed that people were trying to drug up minority children, that this ADHD thing was the excuse to do it, and that was the end of it.

My therapist interrupted me mid-sentence, referred me to another doctor in her practice who would “talk things over” with me, and ended the day’s session. After relaying what I thought was useless information, I got the first hint that help may be on the horizon. A week later, I had an ADHD diagnosis and a prescription in my hand.

I was certain the doctors must be wrong. ADHD couldn’t be the answer. Yet I filled the prescription and agreed to give it a try – on the condition that I wouldn’t have to wait six to eight weeks to see results like I did with the anti-depressants. My doctors assured me I would know within an hour – two at most– if the prescription was working.

What happened next still amazes me. I felt like my brain “switched on.” I became the most productive I could remember being ever in my life. Within three hours, I turned my bedroom, a place that could kindly be called cluttered but at its worst really looked more like an episode of “Hoarders,” into an organized and neat living space. I made phone calls and handled business I had put off for years. As a story teller, people expect me to exaggerate a bit, but when I tell you I accomplished two years worth of work that day, it is the truth: Two years of procrastinated tasks were done in three hours, and I had a plan in place for anything that was left. Then, I did what any mature adult would do: I called my mother and told her everything.

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That day, for the first time I realized that I finally knew “what was wrong” with me. I wasn’t lazy and I didn’t lack motivation. I wasn’t undisciplined or stubborn. I was just different.

Like a convert to a new religion, I told EVERYBODY about my diagnosis. I drove my relatives bonkers describing how, “People with ADHD are more likely to have credit problems, or lose their licenses.” I made them listen while I described my experience with the medication as if I were recollecting a chance encounter with the blessed Virgin.

Even though they were annoyed, I kept drilling it into them. Why? Because I was elated. I was overjoyed. I was FURIOUS. I was 25 years old, and my original diagnosis took place 14 years earlier. For fourteen years, I had struggled to apply myself to tasks in a way that was NEVER going to produce results for me. I was ashamed of my past failings. I was embarrassed about my poor grades, my lack of responsibility, and what I always believed was a lack of willpower when it came to changing. After fourteen years, I found out that I was wrong, and from there I was reborn.

[Read This Next: “There’s No Way I Could Have ADHD, Right?!?”]

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5 Comments & Reviews

  1. Such a relevant article. I can truly relate to the feelings expressed by her. I have followed Renee Brooks of Black Girl Lost Keys for awhile now and have to say, I was disappointed with the image selected to represent this article. It is of a Caucasian woman with red hair. I understand that sometimes there is not much thought that goes into the selection of an image, but it can represent so much. It can highlight how universal ADHD is and how it transcends Race, it can be just another image of a woman with adhd, or it can be a beacon of hope for women of color who are often underrepresented in the arena of mental health. The amazing writer of this article is a woman of color that has adhd. I for one would have loved to see that reflected in the image selected.

  2. Yay, Stroney!

    I’m a photojournalist, and love to see articles and photos properly matched up. So, good for Anni and ADDitude for making this right.

    That said, the stigma needs to GO! So many of my African American and Black fiends (British, Ethiopian and from the NL) say there is still a HUGE stigma within their communities against anything wrong “in the head” and we need to change this, so everyone can get the help they need. One of my friends I am sure is bipolar. He brags about only needing three or four hours of sleep per night, and being so productive…for about three months, before he crashes, loses another job, and sleeps for weeks at a time in a deep depression. There are such good studies now, and drugs that WORK.

    René Brooks is one of my heroes now, and I hope she continues to write about these things and inspire others. My ADHD wasn’t diagnosed until I was 46, so most of my life I thought I was on the wrong planet. My first time medicated (I had to “borrow” Ritalin and try it myself with my husband watching me carefully to see if I did anything crazy) was very much like hers. Sadly, it did not continue as well as the first time, and my house is still a wreck.

  3. I had the same reaction when I took my meds!I have not been the same since. I suffered too long with ADHD! Diagnosed at 47 and I was a total mess! I will never go off my meds!

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