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ADHD Isn't a Label for Me, It's a Diagnosis of Hope

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I have gone through my life not really understanding why I am the way I am. Why can’t I seem to stay organized, focused, or stick with projects? Constantly disappointed with my shortcomings, insecurity took center stage and literally stunted my growth as fear of failure paralyzed me. I didn’t know myself and I was hurting because of it, but this past summer I began the road to healing. This summer I finally came to the eye-opening realization that I likely have ADHD. Later, I was diagnosed.

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My journey to self-discovery began when I started researching ADHD for a family member. A quick google search turned into a pivotal moment and I was shocked to see that most of my struggles were a direct fit with the symptoms of ADHD. It’s like someone wrote a description of me and stuck it on the diagnosis page. To some degree, I had always thought I had ADHD, but my understanding of it was seriously lacking. I thought of it simply as hyperactive behavior, and though that certainly described me in my childhood, I am much more subdued now. If I have ADHD, I’ve got it under control, I thought. Until that bright summer day when I casually scanned the list of symptoms. Interrupts others. Struggles with time management and motivation. Forgetful. Distracted. Me.

The realization was both startling and reassuring at the same time. I wasn’t broken, I was just different. And it turns out there are a lot of people like me. Where before I felt alone, now I had a community who understood me. So that’s where I turned, to my people. I found solace in countless online groups and with friends and family who could relate. People who knew firsthand the constant battle with our self-worth. Who are all too familiar with the shame that typically comes when you struggle with everyday things like cleaning, focusing on a conversation, and finishing tasks. I finally found a safe space among like-minded friends who were figuring out how to do daily life in new ways. I understood them and they understood me. I was inspired.

Each day, I soaked up every bit of information I could. With each article, video, and conversation I began to understand how my brain works and tips to work with it, not against it. I felt peace, like I was finally getting to know and accept myself.

But I knew my work wasn’t done, so after 33 years of struggling to understand myself and feeling broken, I called up my doctor and asked for a referral to a psychiatrist. Thankfully my husband was in full support of anything that would help me function better in life, but many others were confused. They wondered, why now? Or why on earth would I want to label myself?

Here’s the thing. I, like so many other ADHDers, have already been labeled. Our whole lives, we’ve heard painful words like lazy, ditzy, and troubled. We rarely get painted in a good light. People write us off because we struggle to do things that come so easily to everyone else and we are hyper-aware of these negative labels. They feed our inner shame and eat away at our self-esteem. For people who already struggle with motivation, these heavy words can make a difficult task seem almost impossible. So we fight these labels and in some cases, we eventually lose hope.

Sure, most people struggle with self-esteem at some point, but it’s tougher for most of us with ADHD. For us, negative labels start from early childhood, and it’s true the effects are very damaging. The words seem to define us and we feel as though we are measured by our shortcomings. Our struggles overshadow our victories, and the resulting labels often make our futures seem bleak. But a diagnosis is not a label, it’s a chance. An opportunity to acknowledge that we need help. To find community with others and identify our strengths. Most importantly, it’s our chance to grow.

We don’t operate the way most people do, and diagnosis or not it brings a lot of judgment, stigma, and pain. To the outside world, we often don’t meet expectations or do things the same as everyone else. What an ADHD diagnosis does is bring us hope to find a way to thrive in life. It gives us the chance to fully understand and accept ourselves and shed the negative labels of our past for new positive ones. Creative. Smart. Capable. Achiever.

A diagnosis means we aren’t broken, so here I wait for an appointment with a little fear, but also great anticipation and hope, because that’s what a diagnosis would mean to me. Hope to break free of all the labels that have kept me down.

Getty image by Lily Roadstones.

Originally published: September 13, 2022
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