My late diagnosis of ADHD - Marie's story
For Disability Pride Month, Marie from our Campaigns and Communications team shares her thoughts and reflections on being diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) in her late thirties. Though she has experienced stigma associated with her condition, Marie is now on the pathway towards self-compassion and acceptance.
Back in May I was diagnosed with ADHD. I had suspected it for a while, but there is so much stigma around it. It was never a condition I had really identified with before until my son was diagnosed and I looked into it to help him. I noticed the similarities with my life and things throughout my life started to make more sense.
I don’t fit the ’normal profile’ of someone with ADHD:
- I can sit still, though I’ve always been one to doodle whilst in classes at school / university
- I am a 38 year old woman who can hold down a job.
- I basically look like I have my stuff together - at least from the outside looking in!
- I was a quiet and well-behaved shy child – teachers always told me to ‘speak up’ that I needed to apply myself more, lazy.
- I can finish a book, though I have a reading pile of many unfinished books, but have recently found audiobooks and podcasts.
I can see people raising their eyebrows when I tell them about the diagnosis, as I don’t fit what we stereotypically associate with ADHD, that is a young or teenage boy causing havoc at school. Though there seems to be quite a movement happening at the moment, with many women of a similar age also being diagnosed – being missed until now because we don’t display how it normally shows up.
What I have learnt so far is that I have combined type ADHD. This manifests as:
- Struggling to see self-worth / people pleasing
- Rushing things
- Issues with short term memory (forgetfulness)
- Often losing / misplacing things
- Struggling keeping to a schedule
- Feeling trapped within myself
- Burn out / fatigue
- Symptoms of chronic anxiety / depression
- Insomnia, broken sleep, lucid dreams
- Exacerbated PMT symptoms (hello hot flushes and mood swings!)
- Talk over people and share too much
- Always find similarities with what other people are saying and can appear to turn conversations to be about me (this is to show I understand)
Whilst many people may struggle with some of these symptoms, having all of them combined and really recognising the impact they have had on me emotionally and in the way I live my day-to-day life has been really eye-opening.
Part of the path to acceptance is realising that being different isn’t a bad thing.
Things I was intuitively doing to work WITH my ADHD, not against it:
With ADHD, there is a well-known technique called ’Body Doubling’ where just the presence of another person can help you focus on the task at hand. I have always sought out ways to be around people when working.
I struggled to pay attention at school – often I would be looking or working on something else other than what the teacher was instructing us on - though I looked like I was working and learnt to effectively mask my inattention. I would always fill pages and pages with doodles. My favourite doodling patterns consisted of many conjoined stars or organic plant-like patterns.
Well before I even considered investigating the ADHD route, I recognised my tendency to burn out and over-working. My early work career was within communications design where we had to take on client amends and turn around work really quickly. (I’m still in the same career). Late nights and long hours were expected. Leaving on time was frowned upon and wouldn’t have helped my career progression at the time.
Being diagnosed with ADHD as an adult can be a complex journey. Oftentimes when ADHD is undetected, undiagnosed, or untreated in childhood, it doesn’t occur to a person that it could be the root of certain challenges in adulthood. Rather, I find that people tend to blame themselves and create a narrative that if they could “just try harder” or “be more disciplined”, then the struggles they face due to undiagnosed or untreated ADHD would just go away.
I wish it were that simple. Research, as well as podcasts has helped me understand myself and how I can be and be kinder to myself as they tell us that the diagnostic journey is not simple at all.
Over the past few years, adults with ADHD have started sharing their personal stories of struggle, awareness, and growth as it relates to their experience with ADHD. As I read article after article, I see a common pattern: each person found him/herself struggling significantly, to the point of failing (or almost), sometimes catastrophically.
This set each of them on a course to understand why – why were they struggling so much? Why did they have certain patterns in their life? Why did they find certain tasks so much more difficult than others seemed to? Eventually, their quest to understand why led them to an answer: being diagnosed with ADHD.
These stories about adults being diagnosed in adulthood with ADHD can provide validation to others who are struggling with similar challenges. Each of them shares important lessons that can help make the journey of adult ADHD a bit more manageable, especially when you learn that you’re not alone on the path.
My ADHD diagnosis has been the starting point for learning, self-discovery and growth.
Adult ADHD looks different than Childhood ADHD
One of the key realisations for me when diagnosed with ADHD as an adult is that my ADHD doesn’t “look” like the ADHD we tend to think of. For example, adults with ADHD might find themselves struggling more with being forgetful, difficulty concentrating, and inattention, while hyperactivity may be one of the main symptoms for children with ADHD.
In these instances, each person was faced with a choice to make – continue down the path they were struggling so much on or find help. And once they found help, they found answers. But the answers weren’t always easily accepted.
For me, my diagnosis was the first time I realised that I finally knew ‘what was wrong’ with me. I wasn’t lazy and I didn’t lack motivation. I wasn’t undisciplined or stubborn. I was just different. And part of the path to acceptance is realising that being different isn’t a bad thing.
Receiving my ADHD diagnosis has been a mixed bag. It doesn’t make everything go away and I've found myself still struggling with shame and self-judgment at times. For me, getting a diagnosis hasn’t all been wonderful though. There has also been some heartache and mourning… grieving for what could have been if I knew earlier.
Moving forward with acceptance
My ADHD diagnosis has been the starting point for learning, self-discovery, and growth. After my diagnosis I begin to really understand how my brain works. This means learning what helps me be successful and what holds me back, realising how I can adjust my environment to increase my performance, and changing my habits and behaviours to maximise my productivity.
This also means appreciating the positive aspects of me having ADHD – things like spontaneity and a natural curiosity, creativity, unique problem-solving skills, and an ability to “think outside the box”.