I think I have ADHD. Now what?
On thriving after your diagnosis
My friend Ellen (not her real name) is a strategy and ops consultant and designer. She was recently telling me about her realization that she’s probably been living with undiagnosed ADHD for a very long time.
As we bonded about both having children with ADD/ADHD, I saw that her years of coping have made her an expert on dealing with the challenges of having to function in a world where your brain doesn’t seem to work the same way as others’ do. So, of course, I asked for some tips 🙂
T: I’m so glad we’ve met on Groove! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what made you start to see that you probably have undiagnosed ADHD?
E: I am someone who is known for always doing “something.” While I was a teenager and I started volunteering, I ended up doing work in 5 NGO’s at the same time. I have a veritable collection of creative hobbies I’ve learned and abandoned, leaving my house full of art supplies, fabrics and an assortment of random stuff. My husband, who’s been with me for half of my life, has always joked that when I’m reading the house could burn around me and I wouldn’t notice. My worst nightmare has always been “chill time” without some sort of activity.
I like interacting and connecting with people, but it drains me of energy because I notice and overthink every little thing. So I came to the conclusion that I must be an introverted over-thinker, somehow different from everybody, but never being able to put my finger on “what” makes me so different.
Day-to-day life has never been easy and I’ve always felt like I had to put in so much more effort than most to get some pretty basic stuff done, and that led me to having to-do lists and systems for everything.
When I had my daughter and saw she is so much like me, it made me freak out a little about her maybe having similar struggles in life. At the same time, nothing really seemed “off” because in my family, this is our “normal” so I just thought this was a family quirk.
Then, my daughter started having a prolonged period of being very intense with her emotional reactions, spacing out all the time, saying she is bored even though her usual schedule is extremely packed with activities anyway, being “extra” with everything, it was like someone turned the dial to her usual self all the way up.
We tackled different situations that we thought were the problem (like school bullying, more one-on-one time with us, more engaging and complex activities to focus on) but there was very slight improvement.
So, I did what I do best, I googled until I found something that matched every little thing that was suddenly “too much.” Even the fact that she recently turned 7 matched, since ADHD traits are more intense between the ages of 7–8 and that’s why most kids get diagnosed then. While reading on the list of what it looks like in adult women who are left undiagnosed as kids I discovered a list of issues I struggle with no matter how much I tried making them better. It was like finding a map to all the points that did not make sense about me and finally connecting them to see a clear picture.
T: What was it like growing up with this kind of brain that you have? Any fun or frustrating stories? Or, anything that you love or appreciate about having this kind of brain?
E: I don’t “read” as being ADHD. When I asked friends who’ve known me a long time, they said “Well, we knew you had something, but you don’t seem to be ADHD.”
I think because we have inadvertently used some of my coping mechanisms while raising my daughter, she might not “read” ADHD to other people either. But I know how much effort we put in and with what specific issues and they match 100% with a diagnosis of ADHD in girls.
That being said, there are so many things I like that seem to be directly related to being ADHD. I can find even the most obscure and unfindable information about something, I have so much passion for so many topics, I can learn almost any skill in a short time if I find it interesting enough.
I can see connections and trends in various industries around 2 years before they hit mainstream. There are so many good and wonderful things that come with this, along with the not so nice parts, which is mainly that I can’t seem to have the consistency to use my skills to my advantage.
T: I love how you said you feel that you have so many professional and creative skills but it’s very hard to be able to use them when you find it’s impossible to focus. Can you share with us a few of your favorite coping or focus tips?
E: These are some of my workarounds for having my brain that likes to go tangents while working:
1. Take a pause and write your errant thoughts on a notebook, in a notes app, or on a to-do list as they come. Don’t try to organize them. Just dump your brain onto the page. When you need to think about one of those specific topics, refer to your list. It’s a good way of externalizing your thoughts.
2. I also have stopped planning into the distance future. I get easily overwhelmed when I think of what I need to do and how few hours there are in the day. So I prioritize activities based on urgency. That way I know the most important stuff gets done and is not lost in the chaos of my head.
3. Listening to the The Good Life Radio x Sensual Musique live radio music channel when I can’t focus my thoughts is a lifesaver. I don’t need to choose the next music to listen to, my mind is not worrying about creating the perfect music list to match what I am doing, and part of my thoughts are channeled working on something. It also gives me the little energy boost of having already made a decision so now I can tackle what I should do next easier.
T: What have been some of the unique challenges of being able to focus during the pandemic years? What’s it been like to use Groove during this time?
E: The pandemic years have been tough for me. I gave birth to my son in the first month of the pandemic and we also had to deal with homeschooling and helping our daughter with schoolwork in a language I barely speak, since we had moved to the Netherlands just 6 months before.
My perceived loss of control and constant interruptions while working did a number on me. I had several anxiety attacks, but overall, I am happy to say I got through it — and — I started a business.
Discovering Groove has helped me take some really big steps forward in growing my business. I Groove when I need to tackle projects that I am overthinking or procrastinating the most on. That dedicated 50 minutes of focusing on one task (that I told other Groovers I was going to finish) is working great with my need for outside accountability and taking small steps towards big goals. Breaking overwhelming projects into 50 minute tasks gives me the small wins I need to keep going.
T: Do you think it will be hard for you to be able to say that you have ADHD if you are diagnosed? Are there still stigmas attached to being an adult with ADHD?
E: I’m having trouble sharing this new information. It has helped me in so many ways to find out about it, in the way I think about myself, in how I work, in how I interact with my family. But I have told a couple of friends and family and the reaction was somewhat weird. Like, they knew me and who I am, and now suddenly with this label they see me as being “less than”, flawed. It’s the usual reaction when people talk about mental health.
I’ve had someone tell me that depression is not real and to just think positive thoughts, and now someone told me they don’t believe ADHD is real! I am still in the middle of all the feelings and reconsidering some of my life experiences seen through the knowledge that I seem to have ADHD, so I am still too raw to go shouting it from the rooftops and dealing with a**holes. At least at this point in my life when I already have quite good coping mechanisms and I know how I can help my daughter.
T: Wow — what. a. story. Hopefully others will be able to learn from these experiences and know that they aren’t alone in dealing with stigma. Thanks so much for sharing.