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What I Wish My Parents Knew About My Undiagnosed ADHD

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Getting a diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at age 26 triggered an overwhelming flood of emotions and thoughts.

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In some ways, it has been incredibly relieving. I’m able to understand myself more deeply, I can acknowledge that I am actually different and not just “failing” at things others seem to be able to do with ease and that some of my favorite parts about myself — hi, creativity — are due to it.

But looking inside this relief, it’s clear I feel this way because I have a lot of emotional baggage to sort through from over two decades of being misunderstood by myself and others. Part of this journey has been unpacking some of the challenges I faced growing up and the ones I still face to this day.

Something I have been thinking about and working through lately is how different my relationship with my parents could have been had we all known I had ADHD. While I know I can’t change the past, there are some things I wish I could have told my parents growing up (and to be honest, these are conversations I still need to have with them) that I didn’t have the words for before.

1. “I’m not trying to be a bad kid, but I don’t remember you telling me about that.”

I often would get in trouble for being forgetful, but the reality is I struggle with auditory memory. Your auditory memory is responsible for the information you hear, so when I was told to do a chore or was interrupted in the middle of a thought or another activity, that information did not store properly in my brain. When you asked me about it later, I wouldn’t remember, and it’s not because I was intentionally trying to avoid the task; I just have no recollection of being told about it.

As an adult, I accommodate this by asking for things in writing or writing them down myself. Even having a visual cue to remind me of that information can do amazing things to help my memory.

Did you grow up with ADHD? What do you wish your parents had known?

2. “I’m not being ‘overly emotional’ for attention; my brain processed that information differently than you may have meant.”

One of the symptoms associated with ADHD is called rejection sensitive dysphoria. This means we’re more likely to get upset, angry or anxious if we feel like we’ve been rejected or criticized, even when it’s not the case. It all has to do with how the brain takes in and processes what it hears.

This is something I only learned about recently, but this is one of the reasons my anxiety and depression are so prevalent in my life now. I grew up thinking I was a failure more often than I was confident in what I was doing because of this perceived rejection. Now that I’m aware of it, I’m able to recognize it when it happens and hold myself accountable. It’s important to have open communication on how this affects someone living with ADHD so both parties can better accommodate how each other’s brains work.

3. “ADHD does affect everything I do. It is the lens I experience and perceive the world through.”

ADHD is not an excuse to be “lazy,” a “bad person” or any number of things I’ve been called when I can’t perform up to neurotypical standards because I’m not neurotypical. When you hold me to those standards, it makes me feel like a failure and that I can’t trust sharing my feelings and thoughts with you for fear of being told I’m doing something wrong for simply being myself.

By praising my curiosity and creativity in some ways and disciplining it in others, it makes it clear I’m not being understood. And when I make attempts to explain, it comes across as excuses instead of what it really is: a different way of thinking. I have to navigate life so cautiously because I don’t know which parts of my personality will be considered “flaws” and it’s exhausting.

This one is still a huge struggle for me and I’m working through how to have a productive conversation about it. There is no one “right” way to live and I find this conversation to be difficult when the other person is set in their own ideals and perspective of how everything should work. I hope people can remove the societal lens they live under to find the value in other people’s perspectives instead of just immediately perceiving behaviors as flaws.

I am working on rebuilding my self-worth in the wake of these misunderstandings and every day is a chance to continue growing and learning. I hope by sharing the impact on my own life, I can help other parents understand their children a little bit better, or even help children find ways to communicate similar concepts to their parents, as ADHD is a unique experience for everyone who lives with it. While I wish some things had unfolded differently, I’m so proud of who I am and how my brain works today, and I do have ADHD and some of these challenges to thank for that.

Photo by Andrew Wagner on Unsplash

Originally published: August 5, 2021
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