How it feels to be diagnosed with ADHD as an adult

How does it feel to be diagnosed with ADHD as an adult? So I guess that sometimes life can be a bit unexpected, and this year for sure has bought some surprises that I certainly hadn’t anticipated. Nothing more so then sitting in a psychiatrist’s office on the 18th April twitching and stimming nervously whilst getting a formal diagnosis of adult ADHD to confirm what I already suspected. 

At the age of 47 this certainly wasn’t something that I was expecting. 

My journey to that psychiatrist’s office started about six months before the appointment when I was out drinking with an old friend. She mentioned to me that she thought she might have ADHD or some other form of neurodiversity, and I laughed and asked if that wasn’t just one of these labels that the kids like to throw about these days, to which she stared at me quite intensely before stating something along the lines of, “Simon, you do realise you’re ADHD as fuck, right?” You can be quite sure that I didn’t realise that. My first reaction was to reject this outright, and even I felt quite irritated that she would put this label that I didn’t want on me. She pointed out that neurodivergent people tend to feel more comfortable around and be more likely to socialise with other neurodivergent people. Over time I think it was probably the second statement that drew me in, as I was quite aware that I like to hang around with people that are a little ‘different’, I’ve never had much interest in ‘normal’ people.

Suspicions that I might have ADHD

So time passed, 2021 became 2022 and that conversation still stuck in my head, and I started to read about what it is (turns out it was very different to what I thought it was) if I saw a news article I would read it, if I saw some post on social media I would scroll through the hash tag, eventually I started to google to find more information. Like many other people that are diagnosed later in life it was like reading things and stories that were specifically written about me, articles clearly describing my behaviour patterns, my weird habits, and notable crossovers with certain struggles I have had throughout my life. By the time my Birthday came in February I had pretty much self diagnosed. 

At first, I thought a formal diagnosis wasn’t necessary, but there was a niggling doubt in the back of my head, maybe I am wrong, maybe I don’t have ADHD, and if I do then maybe I should get some advice about what exactly I am supposed to do about it. It was these thoughts and doubts that led me to see a psychiatrist and get a formal diagnosis. The process was quite simple, an hour and a half long consultation to discuss my personal history in depth, some diagnostic questions to check for comorbidities, and some screening questionnaires to see if I met the diagnostic criteria. If we consider it like an exam, then I passed with flying colours. 

Post adult ADHD diagnosis

Now, leaving that psychiatrist’s office with a diagnosis and a prescription for Ritalin, what I hadn’t considered was how I would feel, or how it would affect me. So my reactions came as a surprise. Initially a little drained, and overwhelmed, and then that feeling of dread at the prospect of having awkward conversations with people that I am close to. But underneath all of that I realised I was feeling extremely angry, a sort of all consuming rage burning inside of me. I contacted the psychiatrist to ask if this was normal and was told it is a common reaction in adults, and that I was in the first two stages of grief.

Denial and anger. This made sense to me, it was as if I was grieving myself. Although I of course hadn’t changed, my understanding of myself suddenly had. Everything about me, every part of my life I now felt the need to look at through a new lens. This was initially a source of anger, how could I understand what is my personality and what is symptomatic behaviour? How is it possible that no one noticed before? What would my life have been like if I discovered this earlier? It reminded me of the infamous Johnny Rotten line, “Do you ever feel like you’ve been cheated?” Yes Johnny, I do sometimes feel like I’ve been cheated. 

Another source of anger was being told that I have ‘an incurable disorder of the brain’ or that it’s ‘a serious condition’, whilst simultaneously hearing quite the opposite from society as a whole, ‘it’s just an excuse for being lazy’…..”Oh, isn’t that just for hyperactive children.” etc, etc. Ad nauseum. 

Before the adult ADHD diagnosis I had already overcome significant psychological issues, since my early twenties I had struggled with anxiety and depression and later panic attacks and PTSD. It was a source of some pride that I had managed to overcome these things (I haven’t had a serious depressive episode, or panic attack since 2018) largely in a vacuum without the support of health services which I couldn’t afford to access. So to then discover after overcoming all these issues that I still have a condition that has quite a drastic effect on my psychology and day to day life, was more than a bit disappointing. 

All these things combined running through my head, it wasn’t the easiest of times for sure.

ADHD Community

Suddenly it seems I am part of a club, part of a group of people who have some similarities with me. But this was something I never wanted, I have my whole life been quite used to being a little weird, or a bit of an outsider, and then I discover unexpectedly, these are your people over here. It felt weird to be labelled and grouped, and instinctively I initially rejected it.

Of course, since then I have calmed a little, it’s actually been quite useful to speak with other people that have ADHD and compare notes, or ask advice. In many ways it’s a massive relief to be able to talk about such things and have another human totally understand and relate to what I am saying. I think there are lots of useful support networks out there, and lots of places where you can find free advice from people who have maybe had similar experiences. 

Having said that I do think some of the ADHD social media pages can be a little patronising, if not downright infantilising. I may work a little bit differently but I’m still a functional adult able to take responsibility for myself. 

ADHD and Art

Unsurprisingly this neurological condition has a considerable effect on my art, although I didn’t realise it before. It turns out that hyper focus (a common symptomatic behaviour in people with ADHD) has played a massive role in both my writing and painting. My habit of losing time and staying up all night, forgetting to eat or drink, whilst I write something or paint something is I guess some kind of a blessing. It’s double sided though because it also explains the endless trail of unfinished projects. I can focus on something for hours and be massively productive in a relatively short amount of time, but when my interest goes so does my ability to finish whatever I am working on. Hence the pile of unfinished novels and half written stories. Artistic endeavours I started but never finished. 

Accepting adult ADHD

Ultimately, this journey is one towards self acceptance. The last stage of grief is acceptance, and I’m not quite there yet. getting an adult ADHD diagnosis, takes some adjusting to. Some days I still feel quite irritated about it, particularly when I find myself exhibiting some classic ADHD behavioural trait, going to a room to complete some simple task three times in a row, getting distracted and involved in some other random task and forgetting the original task. This kind of thing has always been irritating, but is somehow more irritating now I know what it is. At least I no longer have to worry that I have early onset senile dementia. 

But I do think I am on the verge, and I have a feeling that in the long run having a better understanding of how my brain works can only be a good thing, even if I can’t change it.

I don’t have any interest in being constantly medicated, I have tried the medicine, I’ve even found it quite useful, but it’s not for every day. I don’t have the money to afford any of the coaches or councillors that people suggest, and I’m not interested to pathologize every part of my existence. So I guess this is a journey I will continue on my own, which is fine, I’m used to thinking outside of the box (I don’t think I was ever in one) and solving my own problems. In fact this creative thinking and an individual approach to problem solving, is in itself a common trait of ADHD folk, so maybe that there is another silver lining. 

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