Emotions & Shame

“So This Is What ‘Normal’ Feels Like.”

“After half a lifetime of struggling at home and at work, I feel as though a new me has been born with my adult ADHD diagnosis.” One woman’s story of loss, awakening, and renewed hope on a road back to ‘normal.’

Mother and child with ADHD outside

I’m sitting in the tiny nurses’ station, staring at neat piles of completed paperwork. It’s only 1:30 a.m. and I’m done already. Work that used to have me scrambling to finish before the day-shift nurse came in at 7 a.m. is finished. Not just finished: done right, with a clear focus.

I smile, leaning back in my chair. “So this is what ‘normal’ feels like,” I think, amazed.

All my life, I had struggled with a vague sense that something was different about me. I felt inferior, inadequate, undisciplined, and hopelessly disorganized — all feelings that have been, at one time or another, reinforced by others in my life. What I couldn’t figure out was how to feel ‘normal’.

“Donna, can’t you ever be on time?”

“I couldn’t live in this clutter.”

“How can you not know where your daughters’ birth certificates are?”

“Maybe you’re just one of those people who can’t stay organized.”

I had gotten used to feeling tired before I even got out of bed, of dreading the new day and its various obligations. I was exhausted, struggling at work and at home with my kids. It took every ounce of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual strength to live my life — until I finally met someone who listened to my story and gave me a chance to do something about it.

He didn’t hand me a planner or a book on organization. He didn’t lecture me on slothfulness or give me parenting advice. He handed me a prescription.

[Get This Free Download: Yes! There Are People Like You]

“Take this and see what happens,” he said. “I think you have adult ADHD.” He was the first person ever to believe me when I said that there was something wrong beyond a mood disorder or a fundamentally disorganized personality. I had always sensed that there was a part of me that could be structured, that could be organized, that could function with ease. I just didn’t know where it was or how to access it.

A New Mom

As we pulled into a gas station the other day, another car pulled in front of us. The driver was shouting and cursing. At the station, I walked over to her. “Hey, I’m sorry if I irritated you,” I said. “I’m taking my kids to school, we were talking, and maybe I didn’t give you enough space.”

The woman calmed down noticeably and shook her head. “No, it’s my fault,” she said. “I’m tired this morning and I got mad. Don’t worry about it.” As I got back in our car, my oldest daughter, Zoë, stared at me, eyes wide open.

“Mama,” she said eagerly, “I can’t believe how nice you were!” (How embarrassing to realize what a jerk your kids thought you were, in the throes of daily ADHD-related irritability.) I grinned. “You’ve got a new mama, girls!” I said as we continued on our way.

[Do I Have ADHD? Take This Test to Find Out]

In the past, a situation like that would have caused me to erupt. I’d fuss and fume and blare my horn. I used to think I had a problem with anger. Now I know that my nerves were just stretched to their limits, and things that rolled off other peoples’ backs were intolerable to me.

Our life has slowed down at home. We eat in more often, and my girls actually enjoy my cooking. I’m not trying to do 15 other things while making dinner any more, so I don’t end up burning it. I’ve also come up with my own system to organize my cabinets — and it works!

Because I now understand that I have a disorder that requires me to do things a little differently, I do them without feeling that I’m stupid or lazy. What I’ve discovered about myself is just the opposite: I can be highly organized and disciplined if I let myself be. My medicine has calmed something down inside of me, allowed me to take a deep breath and live at a slower pace.

I Can Do This!

I actually enjoy being a mother for the first time in 11 years of motherhood. Don’t get me wrong: I love my girls and am totally committed to them. But I used to wonder why parenting left me so frustrated. By the time they went to bed, I was often near tears.

Life was hard that way for 44 years. When I look at old photos of myself, I’m shocked: I look drained and pinched, even when I was smiling for the camera. I never used to have fun, even on vacations. The simple act of packing for trips used to make me sad and low.

But since I’ve been treated for ADHD, I’m surprised over and over by how easy life can be. It’s no big deal to a person without ADHD to help a second-grader read for 15 minutes every night, or to sit through an entire movie without getting up five times to “check on something. But for me, it’s a different world, and I love it!

The only thing that bothers me about adult ADHD is that so many people — even doctors — still think it’s a myth. Years ago, I actually suggested to a doctor that I might have it, but I was told that if I had done well in elementary school, there was no way that I could. I was never hyper or aggressive or disruptive at school, but I cried in my bedroom nearly every night because each tiny decision felt like a giant hurdle. Deciding how to put my hair up could leave me in tears.

Since I’ve been diagnosed, I have the same responsibilities as before. I’m still a single mom working full-time to support three daughters. I still live paycheck to paycheck, drive my same old station wagon, and, sometimes, I still get frustrated when things don’t go my way. The difference is that nothing seems overwhelming anymore. If the car breaks down, I can handle it. Without hysteria. If the money’s short, I figure out how to get by. Without breaking down. Things don’t have to be black or white any more. I’ve learned to see and live with gray.

Come to my house for a cup of coffee, hot chocolate, or tea; I’ll know where the cups, spoons, tea bags, and cocoa are. You can sit in a chair that does not have piles of laundry on it, waiting to be put away. You can talk to me and I will listen, instead of chattering non-stop about myself. And while you’re talking, I won’t jump up to take care of something I forgot to do earlier. Mostly, I’ll have fun being with you, which means you’ll have fun too.

My life works for me now, instead of me having to work for my life. And that’s worth the world to me.

[Read This Next: “Once I Accepted My ADHD, Life Began to Change”]

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16 Comments & Reviews

  1. Donna, your pre-diagnosis life sounds just like mine! thanks so much for sharing. i think i really need to get to those meds! was it mainly the meds that helped you?

  2. I wish I could have a treatment success story like that. In the over 20 years since my diagnosis, I have yet to find anything that really helps. My post-diagnosis life is more like Donna’s pre-diagnosis life. I wonder how common this kind of treatment response really is?

  3. Donna, thank you soooo much for sharing your story; so similar to my husband’s. He has just been diagnosed at the age of 49, and after 12 years together, suddenly everything has fallen into place for us in pretty much every aspect of our lives together (and even separately!). We call this post-diagnostic time a ‘recovery’ of sorts. We realise we’ve been putting in lots of strategies to manage it all these years, without knowing what we were actually dealing with. Live is good again, and knowledge is indeed power!

  4. This article is from 2005?!? Is anyone (from Additude or Donna) going to comment here?
    This is quite a succes story. I wanted to ask which medicine(s) Donna uses that helped this miracle to happen. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Like 2weelz, I’d like to know how common this type of response is and how long it persists. This article reads like an adult ADHD fantasy and so sounds more like a drug ad, especially when it’s over 10 years old. The comments back this up, with people wanting to try them as a result. I suggest further research.

  6. I’d like to know if the writer lives in a large metro area or in a smaller population area? I live in an area with a max of one million people spread out over 5 counties and we just don’t seem to have support for adults with ADHD.

  7. I’ve never been able to get past the anxiety of having work piles and endless chores. Medication helps me get through the work day, and stops me from getting myself fired. There is an underlying condition (I’m sure of it). Just don’t know what yet. I’ve gone through the various LDs and mental conditions. In therapy. Not sure what else I can do except hope the therapy works…

  8. Hi
    This was so encouraging to me. But after getting treated with low dose aderral, shifted to higher then had palpitations with higher doses, short acting once usually forgot the last dose. SHIFTED to vyanse now but the aha moment if last yr after diagnosis, is now again a everstruggling chaotic life, balancing wth lots of efforts… Just can Donna or ADDitude reply the ways she did it along wth meds, which meds, what doses, whether tht covered her entire waking up period.
    Will be greatful. Hope, all like me get the guidance as i strongly beleive, let’s make the life of each one as effortless & joyful !

  9. If it was 2005 it was likely either Adderall, Ritalin, or Strattera (Atomoxetine). This woman likely had a great response to medication largely because it was the first answer she had ever gotten. Maybe to her it felt like a miracle because prior to medication she didn’t even know she had a diagnosis. Everyone responds differently to medication, and it’s possible that unlike many of us she doesn’t have any of the Comorbidities that can make prescribing more complicated. I would also be willing to bet that this article was written during a “honeymoon” period with the drug. It reads like something I would’ve written when I was taking Adderal the first time. I was virtually euphoric; which is both a side affect of the drug itself, and a side affect of finally finding some relief after years of struggling with ADHD. If she is like most of us, I’d also be willing to bet that this honeymoon period has since worn off and that she is either on a different treatment plan now, is struggling in silence again, or has found that she did in fact need (more realistically) cognitive therapy in addition to medication to continue the level of success she initially experienced when she first started taking Adderall the wonder drug… Another important point for you to consider dear reader is this: she never mentions getting tested for ADHD… she was handed a script and it worked—that style of diagnosis for an issue as complex as ADHD is dangerous and now antiquated. You know who is disorganized and down on themselves for not being able to keep up the many demands of modern life??? …most single mothers of three… …especially those working the night shift, who therefore are sleep deprived with a disrupted sleep cycle… if a prescription for Adderall ACTUALLY magically “fixed” this woman’s ADHD like a tap-tap-tap from Miss Poppin’s umbrella I would argue that without proper diagnosis this writer is more than likely NOT an ADHD person, but more likely just a great example of a severely stressed, sleep deprived person who felt great relief with the assistance of a drug like amphemtamine salts to help her through her night shift life. PLEASE do not take her story as the norm. What you and I are dealing with is rarely fixed that easily, and more often than not takes an incredible amount of diligence and life-long learning to survive. I actually think ADDitude should consider taking this article down, making way for more current, informative material. False hope is the last thing you or I need.

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