7 Realizations after Being Diagnosed with ADHD as an Adult

Being diagnosed with ADHD or any disorder is never on the top of anyone’s to-do list. Yes, I wanted an explanation for so many questions I’ve had about myself and my life; but still, an incurable neurological condition is hardly something anyone ever really … wants.

I mean, it’s not like catching a cold. It’s forever. You can’t go back. You have to accept that this is the way you are for better or worse. It’s a big pill to swallow. That said, getting diagnosed with ADHD isn’t the worst thing that could happen. It has its up-sides.

1. “Finally! Everything Makes Sense!”

After the initial shock of being diagnosed with ADHD and the denial dissipates, massive relief floods in. At least, it did for me. I remember feeling like John Nash in “A Beautiful Mind” when he gazes at those walls full of numbers until he decodes the emerging patterns. I started making connections left and right. So many things lit up and stood out from my memories and finally made so much … sense.

It was all just such relief … a wave of forgiveness — a feeling of permission. And like it wasn’t all my fault. For the first time, it felt like it might be okay … to be … me. The “why” behind who I am and behind the way I am … finally became clear.

My mental restlessness, distractibility, impulsivity, forgetfulness, heightened sensory and emotional sensitivities and trouble with sleep all fit the description. I could finally see how the way I always felt out of step from everyone around me … didn’t mean I was crazy.

Through the ADHD lens, the fact that the mere thought of a typical 9-to-5 job makes me nearly hyperventilate — makes sense — and doesn’t mean “I’m just weak.”

There was finally an explanation for how I could completely lose track of time so often (even though I thought I was good at managing time). Likewise, there was an explanation for why I always felt so scattered and disorganized (when I thought I was great at planning and organization). And it felt so redeeming to realize that maybe I’m not lazy or inept even though I could never seem to accomplish the most important things on my never-ending to-do list.

2. “Crap! What If It’s Not ADHD?”

Following that first glow of redemption came a barrage of questions and mixed emotions. Once I realized how meaningful the diagnosis could be, the fear of a potentially wrong diagnosis hit and it was almost overwhelming.

Thoughts would race through my head: What if it’s not ADHD? What else could it possibly be? If it’s not ADHD, what is wrong with me? Nothing else makes sense, unless I’m really just a lazy, inept jerk.

I’d spent so much of my life being self-critical for never measuring up, for never meeting my potential, etc. I didn’t want to let go of the hope that being diagnosed with ADHD held for me. I didn’t want to go back to thinking I was lazy, slow, disorganized, selfish, defective and insufficient. But I couldn’t help worrying, what if my therapist, my doctor, and I got it wrong? I remember being completely nauseated over it.

And then there were so many more “what ifs” that followed: What if it is ADHD after all … but what if that’s a bad thing and not a good thing? What if my symptoms don’t ever improve? How will medicine affect me? What if it doesn’t work for me? Will it change me for the better or worse? Who do I share this with? What if people view me differently after they find out? Who can I trust with this? What if our best friends, Clark and Cheyenne, vaporize and suddenly don’t have time for us anymore once I tell them?

Just in Case

Be prepared that those closest to you, including a spouse, or parent may initially reject that you were diagnosed with ADHD despite the relief you might feel. They might be angry with you or with the diagnosis. Just try to remember the anger is really just an indication of the intensity of their love. Deep down they really just want the best for you, so make sure you do your best to educate them and encourage them to learn along side you on this journey.

It happened with us — my Indy got angry following my first long weekend getting to feel relief for the first time in a long time. Thankfully, we were able to talk it through to a really good place in the end, but while we were roller-coastering over it, it was painful — for both of us.

The thing is, he really didn’t fully understand what being diagnosed with ADHD was and what all this meant. Fortunately, I was able to quash a lot of his negative feelings and fears by dispelling some myths and misperceptions about what having ADHD means. And that’s the key — educating yourself that you might educate others.

3. “I Must Learn Everything ADHD — Now!”

Subsequent to all those questions (in number 2 above), came the insatiable desire to study every little thing about ADHD I could. I had already been researching ADHD from the moment it was a real possibility (the day Monique suggested it), but after realizing what a difference enlightening Indy made, the quest was seriously “on like Donkey Kong.”

This phase has been really good for me. It’s really helped in terms of reconstruction of my self image, and it’s helped me work through the process of discovering who I am through the ADHD lens. I have more of a sure footing now, because it’s helped me feel more secure about the diagnosis. The more I learn about ADHD, it’s like unearthing more proof, more evidence of who I am.

As much as I’m loving this pursuit of information, Rick Green (founder of TotallyADD) made an excellent point recently in is webinar discussion at this year’s ADHD Women’s Palooza titled: “Danger! Knowing Everything Changes Nothing.” In the interview-styled webinar session, Rick discusses with Linda Roggli (founder of the ADDiva Network and co-founder of the ADHD Women’s Palooza) how knowing everything about ADHD isn’t the really “the answer.”

He wasn’t saying knowledge wasn’t power but rather it’s the potential for power. See, we ADHDers can get carried away and overdo things … including absorbing knowledge while simultaneously missing the point. Yes, knowledge is the first step, but if we don’t take the time to apply what we’re learning and take the time to work through systems and strategies to bring about the change we’re looking for then the knowledge isn’t very helpful.

4. “If Only I’d Known Sooner.”

And so followed my path of expansion and contraction after being diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. After broadening my knowledge base, … regret, sadness, and a sense of loss took my focus. Even though I had a name for all my symptoms, I still asked: Why did I have to struggle for so many years not knowing what this was? If only I’d known sooner. Why didn’t someone see this before now? If only there had been more ADHD awareness back then. But there really wasn’t! If only there were more ADHD awareness …now! Heck, I feel like I only barely found out by chance. What if I hadn’t? What if I went my whole life without knowing?

Luckily, I think that last one snapped me out of this thought zone fairly quickly. Because, yeah, regardless of any ‘What If’ or ‘If Only’ … finding out now is better than later and certainly better than never. I realized I needed to let go of yesterday, to let go of the ‘might haves if only’ … and recognize that all that kind of thinking is purely hypothetical anyway. What is – is what is. And really, I need to focus on being grateful I found out at all.

5. “I Have Secret Superpowers!”

After accepting that a late diagnosis is better than never knowing, came the realization that the flip side of having an invisible disability is … having invisible superpowers! ADHDers are known for their creativity, imagination, empathy, tenacity, ability to multitask, and for their entrepreneurial energy.

Creativity is the silver lining of impulsivity. A brain that hastily refuses to follow the rules can reach outside the box for divergent, unique solutions to tricky situations. Boom — add problem solving to the list. ADHDers are great at finding innovative ways to connect differing ideas regardless of how unrelated they seem. (The real trick is putting those great ideas to work consistently).

Being “different” makes many of us with ADHD compassionate and more accepting of differences in others. We root for the underdog and share our unconditional love with others who are struggling. We’re often more connected and intuitive to the feelings of those around us. We can also smell lies from across the room and have a keen sense of observation. Paying attention to everything all at once, we often notice things others might miss.

We are resilient. Building determination as we keep trying until we succeed, ADHDers often have to work twice as hard as our neurotypical peers to achieve the impossible. And though studies say multitasking can be ineffective, many with ADHD thrive and are more productive, when doing more than one thing at once (which why so many of us fidget).

Perhaps one of the coolest superpowers of them all is the flip side of distractibility – the ultimate superpower of hyperfocus. Being able to harness deep and intense laser-sharp focus on things of interest to us to the point of becoming oblivious to the world around us. When we’re really invested in something we can draw upon boundless energy for it and really zone into the flow.

6. “Omg. It’s Everywhere.”

Despite all the positives and silver linings, the realization of how pervasive the negative symptoms are in my every day life is still shocking. Yes, I was able to look back through the ADHD lens and see these signs littered across my past and yes I knew I was struggling still today, but even so, I really had no idea how often I struggle ev-er-y single day. And to think I thought I was great at self-assessment. It’s kinda laughable now.

And oh good gravy! Do I have days where the impatience to want to be already be in a better place is out of control!?! I find myself asking: Is my ADHD actually getting worse? Luckily, Indy still claims to see improvement. It’s really important if you are in my shoes that you set yourself up with a solid support team with people you can trust around you to give you feedback on your progress. Self-assessment is flawed for the ADHDer.

7. “The Struggle Is Real, but Obi-Wan Is Not My Only Hope!”

The struggle really is real and it’s important to manage your expectations. Try not to expect too much too soon, or for things to be perfect. This is a constant process of forgiveness. According to Dr. Hallowell, your whole first year after diagnosis is filled with confusing hard work.

an image of a girl hanging out of a washing machine to represent the emotional turmoil following ADHD diagnosis

After being diagnosed with ADHD, I went through a number of conflicting thoughts and a mixed bag of strong emotions — from joy to regret, from anger to forgiveness. I’m sure it was akin to any process of grief for what was and the transition to what is. Some people go through this process in a linear fashion, for me it has been more like a washing machine.

And the truth is, I’m not necessarily out of the wash yet. I was diagnosed with ADHD only 4 months ago, and so it’s all still pretty new. I have so much yet to learn and understand and forgive, but in the end I have so much hope that this diagnosis really can change my life for the better. And that is serious fuel for motivation right there.

What are your thoughts?

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