For as long as I can remember, I have felt different, though I could never put my finger on the reasons why. Tasks, jobs, projects, school, friendships — these were all difficult for me. No one around me seemed to stumble in the same ways I did, but I chalked it up to just me being me, and devised the work-arounds and life hacks I needed to survive. I wondered: do I have ADHD?
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How Could I Have Missed It?
At age 37, I was absolutely blindsided by an ADHD diagnosis. I didn’t see it coming. But once the diagnosis was made, so many quirks and idiosyncrasies began to make sense. I admonished myself for not seeing my symptoms for what they were, and seeking help earlier. Until I realized I’d been blinded — maybe even duped – by a lifetime of experiences and emotions that tricked me into thinking it was all my fault. In retrospect, I can see that these are the 9 reasons I really waited so long to get help.
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1. Embarrassment and Shame
I feared and hid from the social stigma of seeking mental-health counseling. Not to mention the personal stigma. (Would seeking help mean there really was something seriously wrong with me?) I worried about who would see me walking into the mental health clinic or notice my car parked there. What would they think? Paranoia and insecurity took up residence in my brain at a young age, and they stayed with me well into adulthood.
After decades of disappointment, I thought pessimism was just in my DNA. I believed I was destined to live a life filled with negative thoughts and emotions. I came to feel I could never make myself happy and that my happiness was the responsibility of other people. And we all know that doesn’t end well.
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For so many years, I trained myself to just keep quiet, for fear of revealing any part of my personality that might embarrass me. I learned this the hard way through years of humiliation and teasing. I felt ashamed that I didn’t act, speak or think like my peers. I could try to reduce the chances of being rejected or being made fun by keeping quiet, but it also made classmates openly question, “Why won’t you talk to us? You need to open up.” My self-defense mechanism made life very lonely, and made it even less likely that someone else might recognize my ADHD symptoms and offer help.
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Voicing my problems out loud made them more real, and it made them uniquely mine. I did not want to be identified with my problems, in large part because I was beginning to fear there really might be something wrong with me. If I just kept everything a secret, I reasoned, I could deal with my problems on my own without risk of embarrassment. Except that it was much easier to not deal with them at all. Denial was less healthy, but also less scary than facing the truth.
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I thought about seeking mental health counseling for years. The idea gained momentum when I became a Mom, moved to a new town further away from friends and family, and left my job to be a stay-at-home parent. That was the time I needed counseling most, but I told myself I was too busy. My boys’ needs were immediate; counseling could wait indefinitely. What I didn’t acknowledge is that family health hinges directly on maternal health, and mine was not good.
I attended my first counseling session at age 10. It was a family session and it was humiliating. Talking about personal family affairs in front of a room full of strangers, staring at each of us and judging. It was awful. I don’t recall us going back again. That was my enduring impression of counseling, and I did nothing to correct it.
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Sometimes, sadness consumed me. It’s clear to me now that these were periods of depression. At the time, I thought I was just feeling sad. Typically, these phases of depression sapped me of my drive and energy, but lasted just a few days. I assumed everyone thought, felt, and lived like this. In the meantime, any desire to seek treatment vanished once my sadness was gone. This cycle would repeat itself a few times a year.
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8. The Nag
I could never shake ‘The Nag’ – that incessant inner voice telling me that no one liked me, I wasn’t smart or creative, and I wasn’t worthy of having good things happen to me. She would belittle me for saying or doing something “stupid,” and then replay those moments over and over. She never let anything go and was completely unforgiving. She was my subconscious and she was harder on me than anyone else. She had me convinced that I didn’t deserve to feel better; I was living my only fate.
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Procrastination has always been a way of life for me. I wait until the last minute (and then some) to get out of bed, leave for a meeting, send a bill, and even call to schedule an appointment. These were stress-inducing chores for me, and time was never on my side. No matter what I did, I could never grasp enough time to tackle my whole to-do list, so how was I ever going to find ‘extra’ time to deal with my mental health?
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I Finally Asked for Help
My life changed dramatically when one of those sad periods didn’t go away for weeks. I had a thousand reasons to be happy, but I physically could not do it. That’s when I knew I needed help and I could not wait any longer. I was connected with a great team of mental health professionals who helped me realize I am worth so much more than I previously believed. I feel I am now connecting with the vibrant, confident, loving woman who was hiding so very deep down for so very long.