The Emotional Side

I Have ADHD. Now What?

Relief. Sadness. Anger. Regret. All of these emotions — simultaneously colliding in your brain — are normal following an ADHD / ADD diagnosis in adulthood. So is feeling overwhelmed. This 11-step plan is designed to help you move forward one step at a time.

A man looks into the distance at sunrise and thinks, "I think I have ADHD."
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1. Recognize That ADD Is Not Your Fault

You have attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD). This is not the most tremendous news. But, in some ways, a diagnosis can bring relief. Now you know what's been going on all these years!

Maybe you've grown up with people calling you lazy, sloppy, or unmotivated. Maybe you've spent your whole life feeling like you weren't living up to your potential, or you could only function when you were doing something you enjoyed. You beat yourself up about not following through on details. Now, a diagnosis is proof that what you're experiencing is a biological, brain-based condition – not a moral failing on your part.

A chevron road sign, a metaphor for coping with unexpected twists and turns when you think you have ADHD.
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2. Don't Expect a Quick ADD Fix

After an ADHD diagnosis, you may get excited by the prospect of finally conquering life. You figure that if you go to a doctor, you will get medication and start to feel better right away. It doesn't quite work that way. It will probably take a while to figure out what works for you. You might have to try several doses of ADD medication, or different pairings of medication. There is no quick fix. Sometimes you can't get an appointment. Or the first person you see gives you bad advice. If you know this going in, you won't be disappointed.

A closeup of a stethoscope. If it's important to see a doctor if you've mused, "I think I have ADHD."
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3. Be Persistent

When seeking the right physician, don't be afraid to advocate for yourself. Check with more than one specialist to find a good fit. Remember that you are the expert on yourself, and too many medical professionals don't understand ADHD. Use ADDitude's directory to find a qualified professional. If something doesn't feel right, or you feel like they are not listening, maybe it's time to find a new professional. Don't limit yourself to just one specialist. You might want a physician who can prescribe medications, and a coach who can help you with behavior management.

[Use This Checklist to Assess ADHD Doctors and Clinicians]

A pair of glasses on the floor, a metaphor for how adjusting ADHD medication is like finding the right glasses prescription. glasses prescription.
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4. Optimize Your ADHD Medication

Finding the right ADHD medication dosage is like finding the right pair of glasses. Your doctor will adjust the lens and say, "How's this?" You'll try it, and say, "No, it's all blurry." And you'll keep going like that until you find the optimal dose. You can help this process along by downloading an ADHD checklist, and bringing it to your doctor. Say, "I've improved in these areas. I am still struggling here." It's not a magic bullet, and once you find the right dose, you'll still need to learn coping skills to complement the pills.

Woman showing signs of autism in adults sits alone on a bench feeling emotional because she worries "I think I have ADHD."
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5. Grieve, The Move On

It's natural to think, "So this is why school was always so hard." "If only I had known, my marriage wouldn't be falling apart" Sometimes there is even anger, "Why didn't someone pick up on my ADHD earlier?" It's normal to grieve avoidable mistakes of the past. But then you have to move on. Ruminating won't help you deal with your ADHD. Often, once people start to find where they shine, the bad feelings that come with a diagnosis start to lift. If not, you might need to seek treatment for a related condition like anxiety or a mood disorder.

A woman on a balcony looks into the distance and realizes, "I think I have ADHD."
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6. Pursue Your Strengths

What are you uniquely wired to do? Often people with ADHD can think outside the box, problem-solve creatively, bring a different perspective to the table, or are good at sales. Figure out which is your wheelhouse, and then maximize it. Turn it into something you can use to make up for areas of weakness. Remember that if fish were judged for how well they climb trees, they would all be failures. If they were judged for swimming, they would come out on top.

A man sits at a laptop and writes a list in a notebook called, "Reasons I Think I Have ADHD."
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7. Address Your Challenges Head On

Learn to understand how your ADHD brain works, and find solutions for your unique way of thinking. Think about what is difficult for you, and who can help. If you're struggling at work, how can you do better? Is it a medication issue? A coaching issue? A change to the environment issue? Think about what resources you can use. Outsource, barter, or trade when you can. Be creative!

[Self-Test: Could You Have an Executive Function Deficit?]

Two women stand and look into the distance while one confides, "I think I have ADHD."
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8. Invest In Your Relationships

The people you spend time with can give you valuable insights into how you can improve — if you just listen. Think about what you have been told by others. You talk to much... daydream too much... don't follow through... are inattentive in conversations. Improve your relationship skills by working with your loved ones on solutions to the challenges they've identified. Use the Novotni social skills checklist to help. And try not to take it personally.

A cup of coffee next to a laptop owned by a person who thinks she has ADHD.
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9. Explain ADHD Behavior

Share your strategies for managing those nagging ADHD symptoms, and the people around you will be less likely to mislabel your behavior as rude, lazy, or ditzy. At work, you don't need to call it ADHD. You can say:

  • "I work best when..."
  • "If I wear a headset, it helps me get more work done."
  • "Can I run by you the three take-aways I had from the meeting to make sure we're on the same page?"
  • "Would it be OK if I come in an hour before anyone else to start work? I get a lot done then."
A person uses a smartphone to search, "I think I have ADHD, now what?"
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10. Rely on Outside Help

Coaches, physicians, technology, and things can help you manage your ADHD. Use all of the resources available to you. Apps can help you stay focused and organized or manage your time. Support groups can help you feel connected to people who understand what you're going through. Read up on celebrities who have ADHD. Surround yourself with people and systems that you can be open and honest with, and trust to help you manage your ADHD.

A black and white photo of a person jogging at the beach, a reminder that when you think you have ADHD it's a marathon, not a sprint.
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11. Pace Yourself

Successfully managing ADHD is a marathon, not a sprint. You are in this for the long haul, so keep things in perspective. Pace yourself. You have run in to brick walls again and again and haven't known why. Now, you're on the road to learning strategies, structures, and supports that will help you manage the condition for life.

[How ADHD Ignites Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria]

Michele Novotni, Ph.D., is a member of the ADDitude ADHD Specialist Panel.

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