Finding out I had ADHD changed my life
Ever been told you weren’t living up to your potential? Been called a space cadet, lazy, or ditzy? Told you should try harder? Struggling to finish things but feeling overwhelmed by everything?
And been told it was just anxiety?
For years, I was treated for anxiety. I tried different medications and different therapies, but nothing helped.
It was frustrating. I was constantly asked, “What are you so anxious about?” But I never had a solid response.
“Nothing? I just feel anxious.”
In retrospect, perhaps that should have been a warning sign.
Sure, there are the occasional things I worry about but when the majority of the “anxiety” a person experiences is purely physical with very little rhyme or reason to what’s provoking it?
Yeah, I see it now. But I didn’t then. Then, I thought it was just anxiety because that’s what it seemed like. I realize now that restlessness and anxiety feel very similar but aren’t necessarily the same thing.
Related: Take the ADHD Test for Women!
ADHD Women are Seen as Lazy, not trying, and not living up to their potential
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been a dreamer.
I was the super sensitive kid who cried if you looked at her, seemed to stay in her own little world most of the time, and somehow couldn’t notice very obvious things.
I mean, a tree fell in our driveway once. A REALLY big tree that was, quite literally, right in front of where we parked our car.
I even heard my parents talking about it–for DAYS. It still somehow didn’t register what they were talking about. On day THREE, I finally noticed the tree. That’s what I mean by missing obvious things…
I can’t follow directions to save my life.
I get lost on a straight road. My parents should have just recorded their voices telling me that I’d “lose my head if it wasn’t attached” for all the times they felt the need to say it.
As a kid, I lost my homework on a regular basis.
I completed all my projects and assignments the night before or the morning of, and never could study for a test. BUT, I was a good student. Somehow…
I struggled to find ways to minimize ADHD damages and live up to my potential.
I became really good at finding things and a very creative problem solver. So I flew under the radar in school; No one thought “hey this kid has ADHD.”
Not even when they had to call my name 50 times while standing right in front of me before I noticed they were there.
I always knew something was off. Most of my life I called it anxiety.
I mean, a challenge by any other name, right? It took me 6 months to figure out how to get to work without using the GPS because I apparently drive in my own little world too.
Owning my own business meant a lot of really boring, time consuming paperwork needing ample amounts of concentration and I fell so far behind in that it almost ruined me.
Heck, at tax time, I lost 4 out of 5 necessary documents to file my taxes
And I had a meltdown trying to figure out how to replace them at the last second. The busier I got, the more responsibilities I took on, the worse it got.
Because of this, ADHD women are viewed as lazy, ditzy, dumb, overly sensitive, spacey, stupid, lost, and destined to never “live up to her potential.”
At 28 years old, while panicking about my tax situation, a doctor finally thought to assess me for ADHD.
Getting that diagnosis, taking medication, and learning more about it has been life changing.
▶I stay mostly caught up on my to do list and paperwork now. Here’s How!
▶I’m MUCH less overwhelmed, so I feel better and I get more done.
Related: How to be More Productive with ADHD
▶ I can have a conversation where I don’t drift off and have to develop creative strategies to figure out what we’re talking about without the other person realizing that I wasn’t paying attention.
▶ I pay attention while I’m driving now. It’s a miracle I was never in a car accident before I started taking medication.
It was common place for me to take a 30 minute drive and have little to no memory of the drive. I’m a safer driver now (and the whole town breathes a sigh of relief).
▶ My house is not nearly as messy.
Related: Here’s how to Conquer the Clutter when you have ADHD.
▶ This year, I’m TWO MONTHS AHEAD of the tax filing deadline and almost ready to file. I haven’t lost a single tax document. Crazy, right?
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, really.
It bothers me when people talk about ADHD being a “made up” disorder or tell us we just need to “try harder.”
It’s easy to say that when you watch from the sidelines. It probably does seem fishy that I can’t seem to get my paperwork done but I can sit and research medical diseases for hours.
When people see a kid who can’t sit still in class but they can become absorbed for hours in a video game, they assume the worst. They assume it’s intentional.
They think women with these struggles are lazy, crazy, ditzy, dumb, overly emotional, lost, stupid…
And destined to never live up to her potential.
“She must not care.”
Related: Is ADHD Real?
ADHD is a neurocognitive disorder like Autism is a neurocognitive disorder.
It drives me bonkers when the response to ADHD is “If you’re ever going to be successful in the real world you’re going to have to do better.”
We’re aware of that, thank you, but it’s helpful to stop assuming that we’re lazy and don’t care that we can’t seem to adult well.
I promise you it’s not for lack of trying.
ADHDers give more effort than anyone they are compared to but still get much less accomplished.
We’re trying–but we have executive functioning issues. We share those challenges with individuals who have Autism.
Imagine this: you had something terrible happen a few days ago and because of that you haven’t slept at all in the last several nights. You haven’t eaten in days and you keep getting calls and texts from people asking you what happened.
▶▶ How hard would it be to focus, concentrate, or get anything done on a day like this?
Your attention would be all over the place, you’d probably have to re-read everything 50 times to half way understand what you’re doing, you’d probably forget a ton of really important things and misplace even more.
That kind of uphill battle is what it’s like to try to function when you have ADHD.
Except it’s unrelated to what circumstances we are facing and is just a daily battle.
Our brain doesn’t regulate dopamine well enough in the prefrontal cortex so we have major challenges with executive functioning skills (concentration, memory, organization, planning, etc..).
We really are trying just as you would on a horrible day like the one I described. It’s just an uphill battle.
That’s why we may not be living up to our potential. And why we may look like we just aren’t trying hard enough.
ADHD by any other name…
It’s a misnomer to call it Attention Deficit. Instead, it should be called Attention Dysregulation.
Basically, we ADHDers have a hard time regulating what we pay attention to. It causes us great stress to get behind on something important or to lose things that will have big consequences.
Who would choose that kind of stress? But, the ADHD brain has an interest based nervous system that gives greater priority to things we are interested in to the exclusion of anything else.
It’s not as fun as it sounds.
For me, that also means that when I experience criticism or I feel like I’ve acted awkward in a situation, I have a really hard time shifting my attention from that experience.
I can go days continuing to ruminate about that experience because my interest based nervous system has decided that’s all I should focus on.
Related: When You Think it’s Anxiety, but it’s Really ADHD
We have a bad habit of assuming that everyone has the same experience we have.
So if you can get your paperwork done, the one who struggles with it is just lazy.
If you don’t struggle with depression, the one who does needs to just snap out of it.
If you don’t have anxiety, those who do just need to just stop worrying.
If it were that easy, mental illness wouldn’t exist.
No one chooses to be miserable; instead, we become trapped by it. Who wouldn’t choose to be living up to their potential?
If you can’t relate to that, count your blessings. But don’t shame those of us who struggle.
Ok, I’ll step off of my soapbox now.
Ever Wondered if YOU might have ADHD?
Keep in mind, everyone struggles with these things to some degree but a person with ADHD is constantly struggling with them.
Everyone loses their keys every once in a while and struggles to concentrate if they didn’t get enough sleep last night or they have something really stressful going on in life.
An ADHD person’s attention is gone well before they even notice it’s gone. Before they figure out what they missed, it’s gone again. And it’s been that way ever since they can remember
Hence the “not living up to their potential” thing.
So, while everyone can relate to these challenges sometimes, for someone with ADHD it’s an ALL THE TIME kind of thing.
Common ADHD Assessment Questions
- When you have a task that requires a lot of thought, how often do you delay or avoid getting started?
- How often does you fidget or squirm with your hands and feet when you have to sit for long periods of time?
- How often do you make careless mistakes when you have to work on a boring or difficult project?
- How often do you have difficulty paying attention, even when you’re directly spoken to?
- How often do you have difficulty maintaining attention when doing boring or repetitive work?
- How often are you distracted by noise or activity around you?
- How often do you interrupt others when they are busy?
- When involved in a conversation, how often do you try to finish other people’s sentences before they have a chance to finish it themselves?
- How often do you leave your seat in situations when remaining seated is required?
- How often do you misplace or have difficulty finding things?
This is a sample of the questions that are often asked in an ADHD assessment. In mine, I had to rate myself and my husband was asked to rate them as well to get a more objective view point.
Other ADHD things to know
ADHD has a lot in common with a few other mental health related disorders and even some physical problems, too.
That’s why an assessment with a trained professional is so important.
Finding a clinician that’s really familiar with ADHD, especially in women, can be a huge challenge.
That’s why I created the Patient/Doctor’s Guide to Diagnosing ADHD in Adults. I designed it to help you have the conversation with your doctor.
It takes you through a more thorough questionnaire and helps you find a knowledgeable doctor.
It also gives good information to which ever clinician you end up seeing just in case they aren’t as familiar with ADHD as they seemed.
I hope you find it helpful!
Related: How to Practice Mindfulness When You Have ADHD
I’d love to hear your story. Been diagnosed? Tried and struggled? I want to hear from you. Drop me a comment.
You are lucky to have been diagnosed so young! I had the same experience in school and college…no problem, it interested me.
I was 60 when I was finally diagnosed. No wonder none of the dozens of self-help books and courses didn’t work! I was relieved and angry. So much wasted time, so much frustration, guilt, depression and self-recrimination.
Now I am able to accept my differences (though I still need them pointed out!) and work with my strengths.
The one painful difficulty I encounter is that most of my friends and my coworkers dismiss my ADHD with comments like,”I’m often late, that’s not ADHD” Or , ” you just need to…(insert ” regular brain ” advice here)”
Thank you for sharing your story; as you well know, it is good to hear from members of our unruly tribe!
Tia Michelle says
Oh, the “help” people like to offer. I’ve been told there’s no way I have ADHD. I’ve also been told I don’t really have celiac and that I’m dumb if I think flour tortillas contain gluten…? My favorite was being told there’s no way I could have ulcers because I’d be “in a lot more pain” if I did. My sister got similar “help” with having fibromyalgia. I wish people could understand that invisible does not mean made up. And “help” is ignorance that hurts other people. Sorry for the things you’ve heard. And that it took so long to get diagnosed. I hope, hope, hope that we can begin to help providers recognize this sooner for people. We shouldn’t have to wait until we’re adults with children or grandchildren before we can find our tribe. That unruly tribe ?
Ah, the “don’t really have celiac.” I gave up gluten a decade ago, ended up losing almost a hundred pounds and felt ever so much better. Went to the doctor about three months into this transformation, and she said I don’t test positive for celiac, since there wasn’t anything there anymore that would be activating celiac disease. But I could take up gluten again for a month and retest! Being as how the only real treatment for a card carrying celiac is lifelong abstinence from gluten, this seemed a tad silly.
Anyway, I have been following your writings for just the past few days. Even though I am not a card carrying ADHDer either, I have been heeding some of your advice, and have had some amazing results. I thank you for that.
Tia Cantrell says
Glad you’re finding it helpful! And yeah, that gluten challenge sounds like a nightmare. Sheesh!
I was just diagnosed at 38 with severe adult ADHD! Inattentive and hyperactive..that’s me! Even on medication the Energizer bunny has nothing on me! My friends tell me they wished they could be more like me, but the truth is…relaxing enough to watch a movie with my kids would be an awesome thing for me to experiment!
Tia Michelle says
Yes! Sounds like you need some strategies for calming the hyperactive piece 🙂 I’ll be getting to that in the not too distant future 😉
Glad you’re here!
We had very similar school experiences! I was always very smart and had supportive parents, I was never “allowed” to fail. I fell through the cracks. It wasn’t until my daughter was diagnosed that I put the clues together, this is why I can never find my purse or my car and desk look the way they do! Thank you for sharing! I often feel there is a stigma that I am just lazy!
Tia Michelle says
Yes! I’ve often *mostly jokingly* called myself inherently lazy. Now, I realize!
I can’t tell you the number of times other therapists and doctors have said to me that smart people can’t have ADHD. It blows my mind. ADHD has nothing to do with intelligence. Sure, we are more likely to perform under our potential but that doesn’t necessarily mean we fail and it definitely doesn’t mean we’re dumb. I think to myself sometimes, if I was able to maintain good grades despite these challenges, I wonder what would have happened if I’d had treatment for the challenges back then? But mostly, these days I think, how can I educate these providers who are still really in the dark?
Jessica Hogg says
You’re correct in saying that ADHD has nothing to do with intelligence. We are intelligent. We just do things a bit different than a typical student/employee/person would. I was never good at taking tests. I knew the material like the back of my hand, but the questions were never presented to me in a way that allowed me to recall the information. Therefore, I was labeled a “bad student”. I wasn’t diagnosed until grade 10, because a teacher who truly care for her students finally spoke up. She suggested that my parents take me for an assessment. She changed my life. Many teachers don’t understand that in these cases it’s not the student that needs to change the way they behave in class – it’s the teacher who needs to try changing the way they teach. They need to look at all the students as individuals with strengths. They need to incorporate different methods of teaching to cater to everyone. This is the same for authority figures in any setting, whether it’s work, or just life in general.
I love your blog! I’m in my 50’s and known I was ADHD for a long time because I’m a teacher and took trainings in it … finally the family is convinced (my mom still in denial) . I’ve been to two psychs , and both were very quick appointments with a prescription. One told me she wanted to take care of my anxiety first after visiting with me. And I told her that I felt it was the other way around, and that my anxiety was caused by my ADHD because I was surrounded by a bunch of left brain teachers, and I was the crazy disorganized, cluttered teacher between them – and that causes you to constantly look at yourself and criticize yourself . I have tried almost every prescription on the market, but I never found a psych would try a combo or took the time to do anything besides a 30 minute appointment with a new prescription . So how did you find one who actually spent hours with you ?
Thanks for your help,
Tia Michelle says
I’m so glad to hear you love the blog! I’m so glad to be helpful.
It’s really frustrating to me the way doctors don’t really understand ADHD and how to treat it–I was just complaining about that to a doctor friend recently. I found my doctor by looking for an ADHD specialist. It took some digging but I finally found a doctor near me who only treats ADHD. It was nice because I didn’t have to explain anything to him–he understood that what I called anxiety was mostly ADHD and I’m thankful for that. Unfortunately, not every city has someone who ONLY treats ADHD but that doesn’t mean that your city doesn’t have someone more knowledgeable. I put together a resource on getting the right diagnosis but part of that includes resources on how to find an ADHD aware doctor. It also goes through information to give your doctor if you find yourself, despite your best efforts, in an appointment with someone who doesn’t get it. It’s in the side bar on this blog. I hope you find it helpful!
I’m so happy I found your blog! I think I saw it on the Facebook group for adult ADHD. I’m gonna bookmark it and shared it on my Insta account @thescatteredacademic. Struggling through gradschool and motherhood was what led to my diagnosis. I’m so glad it did but also still hold some resentment about it. Finding more people like me helps a lot! <3
Tia Michelle says
I’m so glad you found me too! And thanks for sharing! I hope to help as many women as possible discover if ADHD fits for them and to help those who already know they have it to learn how to work with it. And you are totally right–finding your tribe is necessary!
It is nice to read something I can totally relate to. I just wish I knew how to make people understand that my messy desk isn’t intentional, it is my process. If I am “forgetful” it isn’t that I don’t care. Thank you for sharing your experience, it is good to know I am not alone!
Tia Michelle says
Definitely not alone and I’m so glad that I can help!
I appreciate you writing this so much! I was diagnosed with ADD a couple years back, and even still, I’ve let others’ opinions of ADHD/ADD tell me that I don’t actually have it. It’s funny because I KNOW from reading the symptoms and the medication working for me that I truly have it. But reading a story that sounds extremely similar to my own, especially the part of not having difficulty in school (in the sense of still getting good grades), is relieving to me.
Marie Baker says
Thank you so much for this! I struggled my entire life and never knew why, I always thought I was just damaged. I happened across your post on Pinterest and I prompted me to go to a different doctor that was educated in ADHD and at 47 years old I now have a diagnosis of ADHD. Things make so much sense now. Thank you from the bottom of my heart! You have made a difference!
This is why I do this. This right here. You made my day sharing this with me. Thank you! I’m so glad you were able to get what you need. <3
I have never related to something so spot on are being able to explain it ! I was diagnosed dyslexic in like 3rd grade in the 80’s! Left handed on top of that. ( not sure if that matters but sure is noticeable) also fibromyalgia & I never know what’s symptoms are what! Or if I’ll m just crazy & in my head! Add the thought of ADD for ADHD and I don’t know if that’s helpful for more confusing but I did enjoy your blog! I can’t believe how closely I related! Deftly something to look into more.
Tia Michelle says
Glad it’s given you some food for thought! Happy to be helpful 🙂
I was diagnosed at 28 also. Like with you and the tree, I have bought a bag of oranges and set them on the counter. My husband then put the oranges in a basket on the counter, a foot from where I set them. But I don’t see them.
And I forget I bought them. And they rot. Isn’t that crazy? Haha
I’m “lazy” too.. I see dirty dishes but some reason it doesn’t register. And then I have nothing to cook with/ eat from. And then I’m paralyzed. I can’t function bc I’m overwhelmed.
So I have an app called sectograph. It is free. And you plug in the events you need to remember (dishes, feed the kids, SHOWERING lol) and it can remind you every day at whatever time you want. It’s helped me get stuff done… For a few months anyway until I get used to that routine or notification ringtone. Then I don’t pay attention (lol) and I have to change up the schedule to keep me on my toes
Tia Michelle says
I feel you! ALLLLLLL This! Ahhh, at least we’re in this together 😛
Patty Mamrot says
I am so glad I found you on Pinterest. I am 65, I’ve always known something was wrong. (Can’t finish any project, always interrupting others to finish their sentences, my house is always a reck). Sometimes I just sit and cry, because I am so overwhelmed. The Dr. Keeps telling me I’m depressed! I can’t seam to get anything done. I ask my daughters to come help me, just sit with me it helps me stay on task. But, they are busy with their own lives. I just don’t know what to do anymore. It’s good to know I’m not alone. I reached out to a therapist, I have an apt. toward the end of the month. I will discuss this with her.
Thank you for opening this conversation!!
Tia Michelle says
Hi Patty! I’m so glad to help you open the conversation to finding the source of the struggle! Good luck!
I’m a 26 year old woman that’s married and has a 3 year old. I was diagnosed with clinic anxiety and depression since I was 17, but no matter what medication I never feel any better and have many of the symptoms and problems you’ve listed. I never looked into ADHD because I’ve always been more slow than the typical bouncing off the walls I attribute to ADHD. Now, I wonder if I should be tested, but I’m honestly terrified because I don’t think I could handle someone looking at me and telling me I’m fine or it’s just my anxiety.
Tia Cantrell says
I get that fear. For me, the key to being able to face it has been finding a doctor or therapist that I really trust and I know what to expect from them. That way I know that even if it’s not what I think it is, they aren’t going to dismiss me or make me feel like I’m just being “dramatic.” I created the guide to an accurate diagnosis that helps you find someone knowledgeable. I’d encourage you to check it out! It’s in the side bar on any page. I really hope you find someone you can explore this with <3
Hi Tia, totally agree with you post. Im 29 and I am been diagnosed months ago. Now I understand way i been like that all my life and I feel like I’m not crazy or lazy or stupid i just have ADD. Im stil trying hard to get things done. my head is messy all the time..
now I’m trying with memory+focus vitamins, cognitive conductual behaviour therapy and have a daily notes and a big calendar to keep things in track but every day something happens… thank you for your words!
Tia Cantrell says
Hi Linda! I’m so happy to be helpful. Living with ADHD is tough sometimes and it’s helpful to have ideas from people who get the struggle. And it’s sometimes even more helpful to just have a place where other people get it. Like REALLY get it. You know?
I struggled throughout my academic years. In the 4th grade my parents received the suggestion of Ritalin to help me focus in school. Sadly they declined. I don’t fault them. I’m sure they didn’t know enough about the drug and probably didn’t want the stigma that might have accompanied a medicated child (if there was one). Flash forward to today. I’m 41 and still unmedicated. I suffer on the daily and I think it’s coming to the point where my brain might be crying out for help. I tell my husband all the time something isn’t right. It’s time to call the doctor to officially get the help I have been deprived of for all these years. Im just really nervous and honestly don’t know what to say to get the diagnosis and help that I need. Is there anything specific I should say? Any suggestions are greatly appreciated.
Tia Cantrell says
Hi Kelly! It’s often scary to try to pursue a diagnosis because getting with a professional who’s not as up-to-date on ADHD means we are more likely to get dismissed. I have a resource in the side bar of this website. The orange picture that talks about getting an accurate assessment. It takes you to a resource that really helps with this. It goes over a questionnaire you can use to help show symptoms, how to find a more ADHD knowledgeable doctor, and resources to address common myths about ADHD. I hope it’s helpful and Good Luck!!
Jeane Melendy says
I am 72 years old, too old to have been diagnosed with anything. I have been obsessed with diagnosing myself. I have multiple issues. But, I am grateful to have never been labeled because that would have been a recipe for failure, an excuse.
When the IQ results came out in 3rd grade I overheard mom tell dad that she guessed I would never amount to anything. The people that I encountered in my life, as well as circumstances caused me to develop an ‘I’ll show you’ attitude, and I did. I’m not proud of of some of the things that I did and got by with along the way, but if I hadn’t had the spunk to try, I might have ended up living in poverty, on the streets or having to have been cared for by someone. My ungrateful sister wouldn’t be where she is today if it weren’t for me. I suffered terrible emotional and psychological abuse from my parents and my sister. Till the day they died my parents never understood what I was going through or what they had done to me psychologically. However, miraculous things happened along the way, and I attribute and give the glory to God for all of the blessings he has poured upon me in my life. It is truly unbelievable.
I’m really struggling at the moment. I’m quite academic and intelligent and was doing quite well when quarantine happened. You can probably imagine how much more difficult independent learning is. Hours and hours of long tasks, no structure, no discussion. I’m trying so so hard and eventually I thought this cannot be what it’s like for my peers. I’m beginning to suspect adhd but I’m not assuming anything yet. It’s funny really, for the past couple of years we called it anxiety. Not being able to focus, forgetting anything and everything, never handing in homework. And of course the panic attacks. I have such high standards of myself, and I know I can reach them, I know I’m capable. But it’s so so so so so difficult. Especially at the moment. And I have no idea how to make it easier.
Emily Uhls says
Your blogs have helped me so much! I’ve always felt different, and I’ve always known that my brain didn’t work like other kids. My dad and brother have ADHD, but where I always did well in school (grade wise at least) no one ever thought to have me evaluated. Now, as a 20 year old college student, I’m finally taking the steps to get a diagnosis for something that I’ve suspected for a very long time.
However, I do have a question. Has medication for ADHD caused you to lose a sense of creativity? I’m an actress and a writer. It’s who I am, what I do, and even what I’m getting my degree in. My biggest concern is that a diagnosis and medication could stifle my creative abilities. This concern has made me very nervous about seeking a diagnosis, but at this point it’s so hard to concentrate in order to write that medication can’t do any more damage to my writing than my inability to focus has.Thanks again for telling your story! I always thought I was alone in the things I experience!
Tia Cantrell says
I wouldn’t say meds have taken away my creativity. I do think it’s changed my creativity somewhat. Not better or worse, just a little different. I’m a combined type and without meds I can be goofier and more random, which often leads to some creativity. On medication, I’m bit less goofy and a bit less random, but able to do more with the ideas that I have than I was without meds. Sometimes I take breaks from my medication to see if it helps me come up with any out of the box ideas and that can be somewhat helpful. I make sure to write them down lol and when I take my meds again, I can follow up on the creative ideas that I had (assuming I had any). I’m still creative on my medication–it didn’t take it away. I think the difference is on medication I’m a little less random which means I can follow through on my ideas better but maybe don’t get quite as “out of the box” as I do without my medication.
That’s just what I’ve noticed for myself. Hope it helps!
I once called the doctors because I thought that I had adhd and I was told that I had to be disruptive in school, so I wasn’t put through to an actual doctor. I have started to wonder what adhd medication would do for me.
I cried reading this entire post, at 2am because I couldn’t sleep, because friends keep postin Fb on their OWN FB walls about ADHD in women and I was starting to wonder if maybe that’s what my problem/difficulty with “adulting” has been my whole life.
Every. Single. Thing you described has been my own struggle, and there is both relief and frustration to finally figure out why I’ve struggled so much, but also, why couldn’t I have found this out sooner?
I’ll definitely be seeking testing and diagnosis soon, and reading more of your writing.
Thank you for giving me hope when I honesty had come to believe that I was nothing but a hopeless failure.