Something that I never thought would happen has completely changed my life recently: I received my official diagnosis for adult ADHD last year. After going to many different therapists and several psychiatrists over the years - each one recommending different treatments and medications - I finally decided to take a recommendation and get tested for ADHD. It is one of the best decisions I have ever made.
I met with a friend recently who encouraged me to want to write about this and put it out there. Something about sharing life experiences feels like a weight is lifted off of me. I hope it can help encourage someone else too.
My life has always felt like it is in a constant state of chaos. All I ever wanted was for everything to be sane, calm, and normal, but instead everything always felt out of control. I wanted to be like everyone else, but a 'normal' existence felt out of reach.
There are so many struggles that I've always had: from small things like not being able to fill out all the boxes in a form in order and having to get special help to fill out bubble sheets at school, to always losing everything, locking myself out of my house or car, and not being able to manage my time or organize my life. I was always the most impulsive, least focused person that I knew.
I have many stories about this that I could tell about how I couldn't focus without zoning out or daydreaming, the time that I locked my keys in my car twice in the same day (within a few hours time period), about losing my phone, forgetting where I was going, and leaving my wallet at home all at once. My friends used to ask me how I get through life like this. I still don't really know, but read to the end and you can see it's gotten a lot better anyway.
I always struggled with reading. I would feel a lot of stress and be overwhelmed looking at a page with too many words on it. I was so embarrassed about this problem when I was younger that I would pretend to read if I was around someone or in class and then, later, try to listen to an audio version or pick someone else's brain about the reading. I didn't learn to read well until my 20s, when I took classes and practiced techniques to help me focus and parse the lines of text.
My whole life I have had a real problem with longevity and consistency. I get excited about one thing after another, then bored with each of them after a few days, weeks, or months. I feel the need for constant novelty and adrenaline rewards in my life. Over and over again, I built up to a burnout state and then wanted to quit everything and move to a new place and start over.
Other major problems were procrastination, time management, and organization. Friends would get very frustrated with me and always tell me that I don't start getting ready until it's already past the time to leave. I have missed a lot of opportunities over the years because of this issue.
So many people have told me things like "Why can't you just do it?" or "Just get in a routine.", etc. I think most people don't know what it feels like to really feel helplessly unable to function like a regular person.
I was homeschooled my whole life until almost the end of high school, and when I finally went to a school where I had to sit in a chair in a classroom, I couldn't pay attention to save my life unless I was really interested in the topic. Fortunately, high school in the US (from my experience) is pretty easy, so I was able to do well without much effort.
Where I really struggled was college. I failed miserably in college. I would sit down to study and then get so distracted that hours would go by and I wouldn't have gotten anything done. I couldn't manage my schedule or plan properly for assignments. I would pull all-nighters before every test or project; sometimes starting so late that I had almost no time to do anything. It really felt like I had some mental block that prevented me from working on something until the very last minute. Watching other kids show up to class on time and get their work done made me feel like something was really wrong with me. I really felt like I was too stupid for college. I felt like I wasn't able to get my life together no matter how much I wanted to.
For many years while I was younger, I used substances to cope with the mental and social stresses. I also had a terrible eating disorder, Bulimia, which got progressively worse in college with an unlimited eating plan and no one watching me eat. This led to a cycle of depression and losing hope for the future.
I think if I had had more support or structure and people checking in on me, maybe I could have fared better in college. At the same time, looking back, I don't think I was mature or stable enough to cope with the environment. I really wish there had been someone to tell me that going to college right away was not necessary; that it might be better to work and explore and mature a little bit first. I am actually back in school now – a decade after dropping out of college the first time – and I feel like only now I am finally able to manage my schoolwork and life properly.
Fortunately, I have been able to meet and be around people who have helped me develop a growth mindset (even before I read this excellent book on the topic by Carol Dweck). Little by little, this has helped me to strive for self-improvement and come to live a mostly stable, adult life now.
Learning and practicing productivity techniques has helped me tremendously over the years. I use the Getting Things Done method, block scheduling, several apps and tools for blocking distractions, and strict routines with checklists. I do frequently get off track, but I have routine check-ins with people about tasks and projects so I can stay on task and keep moving forward. I've written a few articles on productivity and staying focused with book recommendations if you are interested.
Another thing that I have been privileged to be able to do as a tech worker is hire services to help manage my life. This was recommended to me by a therapist and it's been life-changing. I have help to clean and organize my house, do my laundry, take care of my bills so I can just pay one lump sum for everything, and manage my schedule to some extent. I also have an amazing social media manager who helps keep me on track and focused with content that I want to create. By the way, I recommend the book, The Guide to ADHD Coaching by Alan R. Graham for advice on how to find the best person or people to help you.
Getting a Diagnosis
I think the biggest things that a diagnosis did for me were:
- Make me feel like I wasn't just stupid and incapable.
- Realize that I wasn't the only person struggling with these things.
It was very vindicating for me after so many years to realize that I wasn't stupid and that I also wasn't alone. I wasn't the only 'different' one. I have since joined communities, read books. and subscribed to YouTube channels that talk about these issues. While I still feel like I live in mental chaos, it's at least manageable chaos now and the situation continues to get better.
I still wish I was normal sometimes; that I could just live a chaos-free, calm life. At the same time, I realize that everything I have gone through has made me a better, stronger, more compassionate person today.
I just want to say that I really appreciate the many people who have helped me over the years; who have supported me and encouraged me. I couldn't have made it here without them. If you are one of them, thank you.
It's still not perfect – I'm not perfect – but things are much better now than they ever were. My next step is trying out medication to see if that helps me focus and function better in my day to day life.
Feel free to comment or reach out to me privately if you have some advice, or for any other reason. Have a great week 😁