“‘What’s Wrong with Me?’ The Toll of 34 Years with Undiagnosed ADHD”
“College was terrible. I dropped out twice – once running away to a tiny Island in New Zealand, but that’s another story. I used alcohol, pot, and cigarettes at varying times to drown out my despair. The turmoil and failure of my undergraduate career further eroded my sense of self.”
If you told me seven years ago that I would be writing this article, I never would have believed you. That’s because I was broke, divorced, and earning minimum wage.
At 33 years old, I moved into a shared house with four acquaintances. I was upstairs, unpacking my post-divorce suitcase when a body flopped down on my king-sized bed and startled me. It was Billy, a 26-year-old tech support agent from Vietnam, and he seemed awfully comfortable.
And that’s when it hit me: He hadn’t flopped down on my king-sized bed, but rather his half of our king-sized bed. Because renting half a bed was all I could afford at that time.
How I Got There
Let me tell you a little bit about how I got to that low point — my story of enduring more than 30 years with undiagnosed ADHD.
Elementary, middle school, and high school all started well enough. I was a naturally good test-taker and I had a social structure that supported me.
Still, I struggled throughout school with legendary levels of procrastination and last-minute saves. I never completed a book from cover to cover, earning me the nickname “Cliff’s Notes Aron.”
[Get This Free Download: How Is ADHD Diagnosed?]
“What’s wrong with me?” The question played like a broken record in my head.
My mom was quick to supply the answer: “Aron’s just arrogant. He thinks he doesn’t have to do the work.”
This answer confused me, though, because I wanted to do the work. I hated the minor heart attack I experienced every time a deadline drew near. The adrenaline boost kicked me into action, but it left me drained physically and emotionally.
Despite all of this, I managed to graduate #1 in my high school class and — sound the trumpets! — get admitted to Harvard.
On My Own
Harvard was supposed to signify the beginning of my successful life. Instead, it kicked off 15 years of failure.
I dropped out twice – once running away to a tiny Island in New Zealand, but that’s another story. I used alcohol, pot, and cigarettes at varying times to drown out my despair, and I managed to graduate by the skin of my teeth.
This turmoil and failure of my undergraduate career further eroded my sense of self. But I had a Harvard degree going into the job market and things got better…
Nah, I’m just kidding.
[Read: “What It Feels Like Living with Undiagnosed ADHD”]
I lasted six months at my first job out of college. I failed at my first seven jobs and businesses. I worked nights and weekends to catch up because my undiagnosed ADHD distracted me during the work day, but this began to affect my marriage.
“What’s wrong with me?” There’s that stinking question again!
My Introduction to Coaching Psychology
Then, in my early 30s, I did what anyone with a career in shambles considers doing: I went to graduate school.
There, I got a master’s degree in coaching psychology. I told my mom I wanted to be a life coach — which was true — but deep down, I wanted to help myself.
And in many ways, I did. I got help from peer coaches and started applying the science of motivation, habit formation, and change to my life.
I began to fantasize about how I would use my newfound skills to get out of my minimum wage job… and finally fulfill my potential.
And then “the bombshell weekend” happened. My wife told me she was unhappy — and had been having an affair.
I Hit Rock Bottom
All of this brings us back to the room with Billy, where I was broke, divorced, and earning minimum wage.
It was there that my brain kicked into action, and shortly after sleeping in that king-sized bed I managed to find a higher-paying job. Then, after 7 months, I switched companies for an even better job.
My life was finally starting to work!
And then… history repeated itself.
The Failure That Changed Everything
Three months into my new role, my boss told me that my work the past few months was not up to par, and that I would have to stay late to redo all of It. Terrified I would lose yet another job, I pressured a friend to lend me some Adderall to get through a week of late nights at the office.
When I took the Adderall — which was a first for me — I entered a parallel universe where I could direct my attention on command. I could do work that wasn’t fun just because I needed to do it.
OHHHH, this is what people meant when they said “Aron, just sit down and work on your assignment,” assuming my brain could do that at will.
It was as if a blind person suddenly got to experience sight and said “Oh, this is what people mean when they’ve been saying purple”…
I saw a psychiatrist immediately afterward. And got diagnosed. Overnight, I went from being an underachiever to an average and then an above-average performer.
Over the next seven years, I completely rebuilt my life. I got remarried, I got promoted four times, I worked my way up to a senior manager position at an $8 billion Fortune 500 company… Doot, dooh, dooh! (That’s my trumpet impression.)
Diagnosis and Medication Helped But Didn’t Fix Everything
While getting diagnosed was life-changing, that summary glosses over the bumps and wrong turns on my real path.
In my first two years post-diagnosis, I thought that holding down a job was the peak of my potential. So I patted myself on the back for going to work every day, and then I smoked weed, ate SweetTarts, and played video games every night.
It took me two years to realize that the peak of my potential wasn’t just lasting more than 12 months in a job.
I realized that “pills don’t teach skills” and, if I wanted to do more with my life, I needed to do more than medicate away my symptoms for a few hours.
That’s when I fell down a different rabbit hole, studying how our ADHD brains process things differently than neurotypicals.
Breaking Through the Fog
Once I understood this, I understood why popular productivity systems had always failed me. I mixed, matched, and modified leading approaches to develop a simplified system that only relied on focusing for 8% of the day. And that opened the floodgates of productivity for me.
Last year, I published more than 25 articles, read more than 75 books, filmed more than 50 YouTube videos, and grew my social media following to more than 100,000 people. All while working my full-time job. All of this groundwork enabled me to quit a few months ago and launch a successful coaching business.
In my journey, I discovered that there was something wrong with my systems. And my strategies were far from perfect. But the greatest discovery was that, in the end, there was nothing wrong with me.
Undiagnosed ADHD: Next Steps
- Free Download: Your Ultimate ADHD Diagnosis Guide
- Self-Test: Do I Have ADHD? Symptom Test For Adults
- Read: After the Diagnosis — The 5 Phases of ADHD Realization
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