ADHD Adult Diagnosis

What It’s Like to Be Diagnosed with ADHD As An Adult

After years of therapy, counselling, medication for depression, psychologist appointments, and finally 18 months of psychiatric treatment, including trialing different medication for depression, and then for anxiety, I was diagnosed with ADHD. This was both a shock – I’ve always considered myself to be very organised and efficient – and also a relief – something could finally explain my struggles and help me better manage my life.

That diagnosis happened over four years ago now. Life is not settled. I am still struggling, despite the medication and despite the treatments I am having.  But I think – slowly but surely – I am finding a way through. Part of my difficulty is knowing whether or not to talk about it, and when I do, how to explain it. But if I could, this is what I wish I could say:

Yes, ADHD is a real condition that can impact adults too, and yes, I really do have it

Many people think ADHD impacts kids only, and more often, boys.  They think you can spot someone with ADHD because of how they act – they’ll be very hyperactive (hence the ‘H” in ADHD), they may struggle at school academically or in terms of disruption to others (again, the reason for the disorder in the name).

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I understand that. I thought the same. After all, I did manage to do reasonably well at school and following this with uni degrees and post graduate qualifications, and my working career. I work in a reasonably demanding job, with the commitments that go along with being a partner and parent. So how can I turn around and say I have ADHD?

It comes down to how I managed my life and at what cost.

ADHD impacts the way we process information, tasks, priorities and interactions with others. It makes it harder to focus. I’ve managed, and continue to, get through most of the important things, but it takes a huge amount of effort and I most of the time I’m distracted throughout.  Even if my body is still, my mind is hyperactive. I’ve struggled to suppress this, and I’ve struggled – a lot – with time management.

My ADHD affects my social confidence

ADHD has always impacted how I connect (or don’t) with other people. Having a mind filled with a running list of actions, and timelines, and important things to remember really detracts from my ability to focus on other people and their needs. In my case, my fear of missing important social cues has contributed to low self-esteem and social shyness. Even though I know I’ve been a harsher critic than anyone about how well I’m relating to others (this is apparently common for those of us who’ve dealt with ADHD by just working harder, and drawing inward, rather than showing their ADHD in a more extraverted way).

Growing up like this has been a lonely process. Even with the support of my husband and friends, I’ve never been able to explain why daily activities were so hard for me. Mostly, I could manage – until I couldn’t.

The extra complexity of looking after a family, including the interruptions to my train of thought, which are part and parcel (and often a joy – well, sometimes) of having kids, pushed my ability to cope over the edge. That’s when I went through a lengthy process to find out what was wrong with me. I haven’t developed ADHD as an adult, but I am no longer able to live life around it.

I now need to live life in a way that doesn’t work against my mind but with it.

A label isn’t a cure – but neither is it a life sentence

Now you know I have ADHD. That’s actually only the start for me. Knowing I have a condition is not the same as knowing how to manage (or, hopefully, enjoy) living with it. Yes, I have a diagnosis. Great. I know how I’ve been feeling my whole life is not something I’ve dreamed up. Now what? I’m still working it out. I’m not ‘cured’.

I’m still learning how to accept this diagnosis without being defined by it. I am more than someone with ADHD, but at the same time, I have to recognise that ADHD has an impact on me. I’m learning to balance being kind to myself when I try and fail, while not using my diagnosis as justification for giving up too easily.

At a practical level, I am learning what approach works most effectively. It’s a combined approach:

  • The right combination of medication;
  • Making and maintaining lifestyle changes such as improved diet, exercise and sleep;
  • Daily management approaches such as coaching, processes to organise daily routines, using different types of reminders, and tackling tasks in different ways to minimise the muddles I’d usually find myself in

It’s also undoing a lifetime of coping mechanisms – for instance, I developed a bad procrastination habit as doing things in a panic at the last minute was often the only way I could break through my fear of doing things wrong. I find this and other behavioural changes so hard to make as they have been my crutch for so long. There is security in knowing my process, no matter how weird and ultimately damaging it may be. Letting go is hard.

Please don’t mistake my patterns to manage life with a preference or talent for it

I am constantly trying to create structure in my life. I am trying to work to schedules, set appointments, create timeframes. I am trying to create predictability at work and home. I don’t do this because I enjoy it. I do it because I know how easy I miss commitments or lose things I need, and how losing one piece of my routine throws me completely.

It’s hard to run a family when I need my structure so much but find it hard to help others with their own processes. Adding additional obligations and responsibilities for other people’s items (or lost keys, or missing homework) just adds so much to my stress levels.

Luckily, I am slowly learning that I don’t always need to be the one responsible. I can be brave enough to explain this to my family, and to just say no.

Image: Getty

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