In Discovery: An Attorney Cross Examines His ADHD Symptoms — and Wins the Case
For years, a successful lawyer privately wondered, “What is wrong with me?” After starting ADHD medication, he asks, “Is there anything I can’t accomplish?”
“What is wrong with me?”
I can’t count how many times I said this to myself before I was diagnosed with ADHD. The best way to describe the first 27 years and 7 months of my life is to say that it felt like living in a fog. I knew my potential, but I was never able to reach it to the fullest. I was an outwardly successful person with crippling self-doubt and I knew inside that I should be capable of more. I tried countless times to improve my habits, thinking that was the source of my problems, but I hardly ever followed through.
I was aware of my challenges, but as a young attorney with good people skills, I coasted. Then, one day, my boss said: “This doesn’t seem to be working out. I think there might be something wrong with you.”
Soon after, I no longer was working for the firm. My performance was befuddling to my co-workers. I am smart and have a pleasant demeanor. My clients always remark how kind and enjoyable I am to them. I have a strong sense of morality and I am positive about life. Unfortunately, I lacked certain skills: time management, task completion, normal schedule keeping, and attention to detail.
When I was in school, my study and note-taking habits were atrocious. I procrastinated. Still, I always achieved just enough academically, which is probably why I was never diagnosed. Midway through my senior year of high school, one of my favorite teachers remarked to me, “[Dan], if you had focused you could have been the valedictorian. The way you work, you might as well not go to college. It’s going to be wasted money.” Despite all of these red flags, I didn’t consider the possibility of ADHD. I believed that some people are detail-oriented, and some are not.
My wife was the first person who thought I should be evaluated. We met in college. She had a good idea that I had ADHD early on in our relationship. I disregarded her opinion. In hindsight, it’s obvious that denial and poor self-evaluation skills added to my fog.
“What have I done?”
These words ran through my mind between my diagnosis and starting treatment. The issue of mental health in America has always been a touchy subject. It was easy for me to view ADHD and other mental illnesses as a sign of weakness. I am self-reliant and an independent thinker. It is not in my nature to consider that I am weak. The uncomfortable feeling of admitting that I might have a problem prevented me from confronting it. External pressure from my boss was the only reason I was evaluated.
A couple weeks after my boss dropped the bombshell, I was diagnosed with ADHD. To say the diagnosis changed my life is an understatement.
My first ADHD medication trial was scheduled for a week after my diagnosis. The four days between my diagnosis and starting medication allowed for self-reflection.
The person in the world I love the most — my wife — was the one who suffered the most from my disorder. She knew from the start of our relationship that I have ADHD. She helped me task-manage to no avail. She reminded me of basic household chores that were either half-completed or never started. She supported me when I made silly mistakes that were (at least partially) due to my inability to focus and follow-through. Yet I never reciprocated her love, loyalty, and trust by accepting what she had to say.
I was cautioned that the toughest ADHD symptoms are the feeling that you have let people down, the self-doubt, the emotional sensitivity. I had at times experienced each of these. The realization that I had hurt my wife is difficult to cope with. Though I deeply regret any pain that I have caused her, it was her love and loyalty that led me to pursue change. My outlook now, after diagnosis and treatment, is very hopeful.
“What am I capable of?”
Before my diagnosis, I didn’t I believe I could achieve great things. I always knew I had great potential, but I didn’t fulfill it. After my diagnosis and treatment, the fog lifted for the first time in my life. Fifteen minutes after I took my first dose of medication, I had a newfound clarity. I was tested again at the doctor’s office a couple of weeks later to measure the differences in my cognitive functions after taking medication.
When I asked myself, “What am I capable of?” I suddenly felt optimistic about the possibilities. I got organized. I retained information. I communicated effectively. I re-opened my own law office. I loved and respected my wife, and showed it. I dedicated myself to reaching my potential.
I have now started a law firm with two other attorneys. I no longer act impulsively. I’m much better at weighing the costs and benefits of action. There is still much uncertainty as I continue down this path. Identifying the problem itself, and not just the symptoms, has allowed me the ability to reach my desired goals.
As a friend put it, “You’ve been driving a Lamborghini in first gear all this time. Now you can go as fast as you want, but you still have to decide where you’re heading.” A diagnosis does not guarantee success. It does not solve every bad habit. It will not pay my bills. It cannot create ambition. It does allow me the ability to get there. Now, the quote that runs through my mind is “I am capable of anything.”