Where should I begin?
I’m laughing here, because … I really should answer my own question about my adult ADHD diagnosis story with “at birth.” Honestly though, I don’t think the ADHD right in front of my face would have ever been discovered without the particular set of circumstances in my life that led to it’s unearthing in my 44th year. You see, the thing that’s so startlingly odd about a late diagnosis is that I’m only just now, in hindsight, really realizing how all the signs that were there all along. And it’s even more disturbing (read “freaks me out”) to think I could’ve gone the rest of my life not knowing or ever understanding why I’m the way I am.
ADHD is misunderstood.
Despite all its publicity, ADHD is still widely misunderstood due to stereotypes.
The common stereotype of the ‘naughty, uncontrollable child,’ still prevails among many people.
The signs and symptoms were there. I just didn’t see them (nor did anyone else). The shy, wallflower of a girl that I was didn’t look like the stereotypical “willful, hyper, out-of-control little boy running around the room with his hair on fire making trouble.” The unsettling truth is we all use and rely on unfair, biased and often completely inaccurate generalizations and stereotypes — even without knowing it — for all sorts of mental short cuts, and defining ADHD is no exception.
Unfortunately ADHD symptoms in girls are way too often completely missed. They can be harder to pick up on; harder to decipher. In fact, boys are diagnosed at a significantly higher rate than girls, though research in adulthood suggests almost equal balance between men and women… with women being the fastest growing diagnosed group today.
Back in the day …
Growing up, I was fairly successful in school. I consistently made good grades. I was the only one in my class who held claim to making math team all 6 years straight. I was a “good girl.” Certainly, my school performance did not present as problematic.
If anything, my friends would be jealous that I’d consistently score a few points higher than them, but they also had no idea how hard I’d worked for it. I guarantee I invested way more time to attain my grades than they theirs. They didn’t know how many times I had to read and reread and reread my homework, because I couldn’t remember what I’d read the first time. They didn’t know how hard tests were for me to take when anyone was clicking a pen, or coughing, or if someone was wagging their crossed leg in the aisle across from me. Any kind of repetitive noise or visual stimuli would throw me off track and kill my concentration.
My closest friends knew stuff like that got on my nerves, so they’d smack their gum and tap their pencils to get a rise, but they didn’t know how HARD it made it for me when it really mattered … when I needed to concentrate. They thought it was so funny to watch me squirm. I was terribly hard on myself, was extremely sensitive, anxious, and super creative (all characteristic of ADHD). I was always one of the slowest readers, because it was always so hard to follow the text and keep my mind from wandering. I carried extras of everything around with me to guard against constant forgetfulness. I even remember winning this silly creativity contest in a high school chemistry class to see who could come up most alternative uses for a paperclip … I came up with 19. MacGyver would be SO jealous! The irony is, despite how I felt I personally struggled, I still graduated third in my class and was voted “Most Intellectual.”
To College and Beyond!
Though still nowhere near being uncovered, I think my ADHD really started showing its ugly mug and wreaking havoc with me once I cleared high school and headed toward the land of adulthood and college. (It seems, the same happens for a lot of people). College was hard. Really hard, especially for someone at the top of my class — it just shouldn’t have been that hard. The difficulties of self-imposed structure required from college life away from home had me reeling and by the end of the first 2 years, I’d lost my scholarship.
After screwing up yet another year at another college (college #2 was a community college this time), I took a year away from school, got married at 21, took on 2 jobs (working 11 days straight / 3 days off — one of those jobs required 12 hour shifts) … until I just couldn’t handle … and had myself a serious acute bout of depression. (Need I say 21 is too young to get married? It is. It really is, ADHD or not.)
On the other side of depression, I picked up my boots, their straps, moved, changed my major and my life goals, signed up for college #3 and sailed straight into 4 more years of navigating without a compass until the inevitable crash and burn of the previously mentioned marriage coinciding with the onset of anxiety and panic attacks, and finally earning my 4 year degree. It only took me 3 colleges and 8 years to get it. (Have you noticed a propensity for run-on sentences, much?)
A couple years post-grad, as a full grown indisputable adult at this point, I married my best friend. Then a “quick” (I jest) 7 years later, came our son just after I turned “advanced maternal age” — such a delightfully horrible term for giving birth anywhere near the proximity or past your mid 30’s “they” shouldn’t be allowed to use. But bringing my focus back to where I’d intended …
Maintaining successful enduring relationships (much like maintaining our focus) can be especially difficult for ADHDers. Though my husband and I have certainly had our challenges, our roller coasters, and yes our marriage has absolutely been tested … this one is a keeper. Thankfully, the love of my life is the perfectly matched partner — I can’t express how hugely important that is. It’s not easy, but to have someone who can hold the full story of who you are and believe in you when you are questioning everything about yourself — well, it’s invaluable.
And now I’m crying.
Yes, the signs were all there, I just didn’t see them. Throughout life, I wrote off so many “symptoms” as traits of a creative-type, or I would judge myself harshly as just too sensitive and in some way weaker than others. I felt different. It was embarrassing. I’d try extra hard to fit in, try to be the real me… into adulthood even, but inevitably I always felt like I was socially off-step, and that I walked with an emotional limp. I felt like an impostor trying to look like I could handle life like “regular” people, and that one day I’d be found out.
To Be Continued …
It wasn’t until last year, after spending time fostering children who had ADHD that I started catching on to what was going on with me. Please check back soon for the continuation of my not-so-short adult ADHD diagnosis story.