“Oh my gosh, that is totally me!”: My late ADHD diagnosis
Updated: Oct 25, 2021
I have a confession to make.
Most of my life, I have felt like a contradiction.
On one hand, I am highly organized and meticulous in my work. I pride myself on my attention to detail and I’m always prepared with plan A-Z (Ok, maybe A-D). I thrive under pressure, I am a problem solver and I “get the job done”.
On the other hand, without a visual reminder I can easily miss personal appointments even if I remembered the day before (My chiropractor can attest to that, sorry Mikaël!). If I don’t hang my keys up where they belong, I end up on a scavenger hunt to find them the next time I need to go somewhere. If you lend me a Tupperware container, I’m so sorry, but you will probably NEVER see it again, but I will think about giving it back to you every time I see it (Honourable mention goes out to my parents. Thanks for all the containers!). And my personal favourite is that when I vigorously clean the house, the dog goes to sit at the door because she has been conditioned to think that means someone will be coming over soon (I find this hilarious!)
I also learned this year, at 43, that I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
I am among a growing percentage of women who go undiagnosed until after their child receives a diagnosis of ADHD. There are likely many reasons for this, but one may be that the traits of ADHD in women often present as inattentive, as opposed to hyperactive. Some examples of this are: absent-mindedness, distractedness, difficulty staying organized or following through on a task. As adults, these symptoms can be chalked up to our heavy mental loads, raising a family, juggling work and home, etc. However, ADHD is a life long condition, and many women internalize or perceive their symptoms as character flaws as they are growing up and are trying to manage them. Many of us end up working “harder” to compensate; burning the candle at both ends. Like others, I thought “I should be able to DO IT ALL. I just needed to try harder” (Let’s take a minute to chuckle at the irony of a self-judging therapist).
Here’s the thing. If I were diabetic, would I judge my pancreas for not regulating my sugar levels properly or for “not doing better”? Not a chance! The pancreas is an organ doing the best that it can…and so is my brain. The reality is that the brains of those diagnosed with ADHD lack Dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter in charge of things I have a harder time with. For example: completing mundane tasks that are not enjoyable to me (laundry, dishes…need I say more?); working memory (still looking for those keys!); difficulty regulating attention (getting really involved in my work and forgetting to eat, oops).
My diagnosis has helped me be gentler on myself. I know now that my brain does things to stimulate the production of dopamine or it does things because it doesn’t have enough dopamine. For example, when I move on to the “next task” before I am completely done the first one, I now know that it is in part because starting a new task produces more dopamine than finishing a task. I know that when I have been concentrating on a task for a long time, I am probably having a hard time regulating my attention because low dopamine makes it hard for my brain to “shift gears”. In that moment, it is best for me to take a break, even if I don’t feel like it. I know that when I forget an appointment until the last minute, it’s because my brain sometimes has blinders on and dopamine gets released at the “11th hour” which is why I remember in that moment.
I also know to “just go ahead” and set reminders for myself because my INTENTION to remember and my ACTUALLY remembering are two different things! I have to admit, sometimes I still think “I don’t have to set a reminder. I’ll remember” and then me and my ADHD laugh and laugh as I scramble to make it somewhere on time.
Importantly, We ADHDers also tend to develop some amazing skills that we otherwise may not have! We tend to notice details that others don’t. We are creative problem solvers because we’ve learned to find work-arounds in the face of our own personal challenges. We chase the dopamine by doing things that stimulate us (and our dopamine production); we chase it into jobs we love and into hobbies that we are passionate about. We work great under pressure and thrive on deadlines because guess what neurotransmitter is being released in those moments? You guessed it---dopamine!
The bottom line: Awareness of why something is happening can help us accept it and then address it without judgment. We are not flawed (that voice is the stigma talking!). We are just humans that have an executive function issue that affects our brain’s ability to easily manage information and attention. We are also resilient and capable. If you relate to this blog, know that you are not alone. I see you. You don’t need to “do better”. You are actually pretty awesome and full of strengths. Receiving tools and support that have been developed for how your brain is wired can help manage symptoms and stress more effectively. I know it has definitely helped me.
P.S: Seriously though...have you seen my keys? I know they're here somewhere!