Guest Blogs

“My ADHD Was Hidden Beneath Layers of Success — Until It Wasn’t.”

I’d like for our young generation of vehicles to catch flat tires and other problems, long before — like me — a blow-out does the revealing.

I don’t twiddle my pencil. I’m not hyper. I don’t engage in reckless behaviors. I am a full-grown woman. And, yes, I have ADHD.

It took me three years to figure out I had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Actually, 35, if you start from the very beginning. And then six more (and counting) to know what to do with it.

It started when my mind, generally a pretty likable place, where you might find birds chirping and lots of plants in brightly painted pots, became unrecognizable. It became a place I wanted to avoid.

I became perpetually nervous. I was struggling to get through my workdays, uncertain of how much longer I’d be able to fake it. I wasn’t getting much sleep, and since my body was constantly worked up, my appetite waned; eating became forced.

[Self Test: ADHD Symptoms in Women and Girls]

Everything was hard. Even figuring out how to spend my time became this big goliath of a task. I was wilting and scared — paranoid that I was getting further away from the life I once knew.

Now that you have a handle on what led to my ADHD diagnosis, I’m going to start at the beginning.

The Hidden Signs of ADHD

I was fortunate enough to thrive in the classic, straightforward classroom as a child. There was never a moment for me when school felt dreadful. My report cards revealed my school ease; I was an Honor Roll sort of gal.

It was more of the same in college, except that I became an epic procrastinator, pulling 11th hour victories. I’d almost always abandon my work at first opportunity to socialize in whispers with fellow distractors. As a result, I relied almost entirely on charged bolts of inspiration to file assignments within hours of deadlines. And I almost always struck gold.

[Self Test: Do I Have Inattentive ADHD?]

After graduation, I was still rocking through life, except now with a demanding job, I started feeling like I had half a brain. It was taking me way longer to do stuff compared to my coworkers. I couldn’t help but feel wildly inefficient, even though I was paddling underwater twice as fast.

Then came the speeding tickets. I got ticketed however many times it takes to be within an inch of having your license revoked, and earned a seat in a tutorial driving class. I watched an instructional DVD and passed the test, but had to pay for a replacement DVD because I lost the copy.

My life is filled with these moments that I know now scream ADHD. Despite a degree in math, for example, my checkbook-balancing deficiencies had me pleading regularly with bank representatives to waive overdraft fees. In a short-lived job as a waitress, I’d forget the day’s specials. I’d forget about clothes souring in the washing machine, and would be forced to repeat the wash. I also once towed my car to a mechanic because it wouldn’t start, only to find out that I had simply run out of gas.

But while these realities were going on in the background, the foreground of my life had been very affirming: I was a woman who was educated, employed, married, and even keeping a small child alive.

So what happened to me? Why was life suddenly so hard and unrecognizable?

Driving with Flat Tires

In retrospect, I would say the trigger was the second kid and then definitely the third kid (and then most definitely the fourth). Doing the wife thing and the house management thing and the working thing and the one kid thing was what my neurological makeup could handle.

After layering in additional kiddos, my “engine– despite its strength – couldn’t pull the weight of life any longer with all those flat tires.” (The words of the specialist who diagnosed me.)

And for me, it wasn’t just that my vehicle’s speed slowed. And it wasn’t just that it was protesting with grunts, sputters, and grumbles.

It fully blew out.

My interior world went with it… to that overwhelmed, panicky, scary place. There was a growing disparity between what was required of me and what I was capable of, and fear was more than eager to fill the space. Not surprisingly, my feelings of competency, confidence, and self-reliance hit the road, too. I doubted myself, resorted to hiding, and became smaller and smaller.

But I had no knowledge then that this breakdown was all due to undiagnosed ADHD, anxiety, and other issues.

Breakdowns can have several sources, however. I know because I explored every possible contributor factor with therapists. We poked around for trauma, dabbled with the possibility of post-partum symptoms, or of grief from some losses in my life. We even tried to make Acute Adjustment Disorder fit due to several cross-country moves in a short period of time.

But one therapist at last heard the quiet whispers of ADHD through all my squabbling. Though I stubbornly resisted her suggestion for an ADHD screening (“No way! I did great in school! I was never out of control!), She nudged me away from denial and imprinted upon me that my neurological deficits might be exactly what was painting the dark picture of my days.

Moving Forward with ADHD

Since I was diagnosed with inattentive ADHD (the kind without the hyperactivity – more nuanced and difficult to uncover), I’ve committed to learning about it like a PhD student. I have books and articles all around my house (and I’d show you, if only I could find them). My brain and I have become incredibly well-acquainted. I’ve devised, executed, and abandoned at different times innumerable systems and strategies for organization, time management, managing distractions … you name it.

I’ve tried, stopped, and went back on ADHD medications. I’ve sharpened the fine art of self-care, waxing and waning the frequency of my massages, naps, meditations, outsourced house cleanings, journaling, babysitters, and exercise based on how my engine is handling my tires. I’ve seen therapists and ADHD life coaches and attended local CHADD chapter meetings. And I’ve definitely prayed.

And I’m happy to say that, though new, I recognize my life again.

It’s also certainly not perfect. But knowing that these feelings – whenever they show up again – are byproducts of my cognitive challenges has helped tremendously.

I’m still in disbelief that it took me this long to truly learn about myself. How could I have had the same brain my whole life and with only major complications until recently?

It certainly makes me want to be what that therapist who correctly reasoned that I had ADHD was for me. It makes me want to crack open every youngster’s head and expose any invisible learning disabilities lingering in there. It makes me want to educate all teachers, parents, coaches, and relatives about all the ways ADHD can look like.

I’d like for our young generation of vehicles to catch flat tires and other problems, long before — like me — a blow-out does the revealing.

[Free Download: Your In-Depth Guide to Inattentive ADHD]