How Getting My ADHD Diagnosis as an Adult Changed My Life
“Shannon, clean your room,” was my mother’s mantra when I was growing up. She told me this so often that if we had a parrot, it would have latched onto the phrase within weeks. My room was (and occasionally still is) very messy. It was never dirty, but my possessions always found their way to my floor. Clothes were strewn across the room, both clean and dirty, and only a sniff could determine what was wearable. My collection of books would be piled in corners (or occasionally in the middle of the room) despite the lonely bookcase in the corner that had become a residence for partially filled water glasses and empty water bottles.
As my room got messier, the mess would slowly trickle to other parts of the house. When this happened, my mom would help me clean my room, she would provide direction and motivation, but I would often become distracted by a book or my long forgotten rock collection. Insistent that the room get clean, my mom would remind me to keep working. Despite how much I wanted to keep my room clean, my efforts were fruitless and within days, if not hours, my room would be in shambles again. My dad would sometimes come into my room and exclaim “Hurricane Shannon hit again!”
Feeling overwhelmed by a task and not knowing where to start is a common obstacle faced by those of us with ADHD. Not having been tested or diagnosed until I was in my 20s, situations like this often left me feeling foolish and incapable. My self-esteem was low and I wondered why I failed to keep up with the most basic tasks time and time again. My intelligence masked my ADHD as a child, and up until grad school my tactic of putting myself under extreme pressure by procrastinating until the last minute worked. When it stopped working and my grades began to slip significantly, I repeatedly asked my therapist to initiate the testing process for ADHD. Already struggling with severe depression, anxiety and an eating disorder, he resisted my pleas until I was stable enough that my other problems wouldn’t affect the test.
Once I had finished the testing process and received a diagnosis, my psychiatrist placed me on ADHD meds. Some effects were noticeable immediately, such as improved focus, the ability to direct my focus on my choice of tasks and finally being able to keep up with my brain. After a few weeks there were also improvements in other aspects of my life. My mood was more stable, I had a more positive outlook, I was sleeping better and on a consistent schedule, and my family and friends applauded my ability to stay on topic during conversations.
I would love to say the medication was magic and everything was fixed by one pill, but that would be disingenuous. My life improved with the addition of medication, but therapy helped tremendously as well. I still have trouble with mild depression and anxiety, and I still find guilt and shame popping up when I fail to do something I “should” be able to do. I grieve the lost opportunities I could have had if I had gotten diagnosed earlier, and it is hard to let go of the “what ifs” and “if onlys” that sometimes keep me up at night.
I don’t see my ADHD as a gift because to me it isn’t one, but I can see how my struggle has made me more compassionate and self-aware. The diagnosis gives me a name and a voice for my struggles, and that helps me be a better advocate for myself and others. With therapy, I have learned no one goes through life alone and everyone needs help with something. I have built myself a support system that offers me guidance when I am overwhelmed by a task and don’t know where to start. I have a life filled with compassionate friends who reassure me that I am neither lazy nor “stupid” when I cannot complete a task in the same way others might. ADHD will always provide me with mountains to climb, but I know the journey will teach me to be the best version of myself.
“In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.”
— “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley
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Thinkstock photo by Valzhina.