“What Happens Now?” Moving On After an ADHD Diagnosis
Ned Hallowell explains how to move ahead after you’ve received an ADHD diagnosis as an adult.
Receiving a diagnosis of ADHD can change your life for the better. It can also trigger strong, polar emotions — everything from joy to sadness, anger to forgiveness. You are happy: “I finally have a name for all of those symptoms.” You are sad: “Why did I have to struggle for so many years not knowing what I had?”
Go ahead and grieve! It is sad that you struggled, particularly because knowledge about ADHD is the first step in controlling its symptoms. You may also feel anger — at doctors, parents, or yourself — for not figuring it out sooner. Those emotions are an important part of moving forward. Once you acknowledge your pain — and that you did the best you could at the time — you can create a bright future.
As you fashion your new life, realize that the first year after diagnosis is confusing and hard work. So it is important to keep the following advice in mind.
Ask your spouse, partner, doctor, or coach to track how you are doing. It isn’t always easy for you to assess how well treatment is working.
One of my patients takes medication that he can “barely feel,” yet his wife and coworkers report that he no longer has outbursts of anger, is more focused, and is better able to start and finish projects. Honest feedback can keep you focused on treatment and give you the determination to try a new ADHD medication if the old one isn’t working.
Look to a supportive spouse or insightful coach to help you find your hidden treasures, which may have been overshadowed by your ADHD symptoms. What do you do best? What do you love most? One of the most exhilarating, and perhaps scariest, parts of treating ADHD is reorganizing your life around your strengths, rather than your weaknesses. If you look back at your life, you’ll notice that it has often been defined by what you can’t do. But what happens when your life is defined by what you do well?
Be aware that your spouse may initially reject your diagnosis of ADHD. “Your ADD is just an excuse for not doing what you’re supposed to be doing!” she might say. She may be angry about your not following through on chores or being too distracted to focus on her and her needs. Learning all about ADHD, along with gradual changes in your own behavior, can convince her that your diagnosis is indeed accurate. She will learn to separate you from your symptoms, becoming more patient and empathetic as you search for the best treatment.
While medication can help manage symptoms, it won’t immediately turn around your life. ADHD medication helps alleviate some of the most aggravating symptoms — the inability to initiate, focus on, or complete tasks. But just because you’re better able to focus doesn’t mean you have the skill set to stay organized! People who have had ADHD all their lives usually haven’t learned skills that their non-ADHD counterparts take for granted — organizational or social skills, for example. It takes time, practice, perhaps a coach, and a sense of humor to master these. Medication alone won’t do it.
Getting impatient with treatment is normal. The question almost everyone asks is: “Why aren’t my symptoms going away?” You may need to try different medications, at different dosages, to see which works best. You may need to look into complementary therapies as well. Learn how aerobic exercise or nutrition can work with medication to manage symptoms.
When it comes to the job, the newly diagnosed often wonder, “Whom should I tell?” and “What should I say?” It’s probably best to tell no one. Get your symptoms under control at home and see whether that solves some of the problems you’re having at work. Not everyone is positive, or knowledgeable, about ADHD, and you don’t want your boss thinking you are making excuses. Instead, look at your work challenges through the lens of your ADHD diagnosis. Have you left projects uncompleted or missed meetings?
Now that you know ADHD is playing a role, hire a coach or personal assistant or lobby for assignments at which you can excel. You can do all of these things without raising the topic of ADHD.
Treating ADHD will transform your outlook on life. With your diagnosis comes hope. Remember that treatment can be one step forward, two steps back. Keep at it, though, and you may well find the rainbow after the storm has passed!