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ADHD: Adult Diagnosis

I'm going to take a little detour from my usual blog posts for the next few weeks and discuss my adult diagnosis of ADHD. Whenever I talk about it on social media, I get a lot of response from other women who suspect they have it but haven't been diagnosed, so I feel it's worth the space here. There's an aspect of the diagnosis that impacts my faith and relationship with God, so I'll get to that, too. But first...


All of my life, I've been the one who's failed to live up to expectations (or finally gotten there, very late). There were a few years as a teenager when I fervently tried to be and do all the things, but it took every ounce of energy I had. Nothing I tried was ever enough, and I felt like I was trying to be SuperWoman. It was exhausting. I took off the cape and laid it down. It was never going to work anyway.


I did well in school as long as I had my mom to help me. She'd study with me for hours, make sure my assignments were done on time, and make sure I understood things I hadn't gotten in class. When I went to college and didn't have anyone there to make sure I succeeded, it was a different story. I remember how all the other kids went out and did fun things on the weekends, but I had to stay in and study. I had a scholarship to maintain.


My 8am Spanish class undid me though. The professor didn't really speak English or teach, so I'd sit in class and think what a waste of time it was. My 18-year-old brain decided it wasn't worth it. I could sleep in, study on my own and learn the material, so that's what I did. I rarely showed up for class besides for tests. Academically, I had a B+, or maybe even an A-, but the professor had a clause in his syllabus that said if you missed so many classes, you failed. He never bothered to tell me I'd failed the class, but let me keep coming and taking tests. When I went to him to protest my grade, he shrugged and said, "too bad." It never occurred to me to go to anyone in administration or ask my parents for help. I just hung my head in shame and made sure I paid attention to the attendance requirements in classes from then on. That semester I made all A's and one F, and I lost my scholarship.


College was a struggle all the way through. I changed schools and kept going, but a bad breakup put me over the edge. My parents had no idea what to do with me. Their once shining star of a daughter was overweight, depressed, sleeping through classes, and barely hanging on. I somehow pulled it off and graduated with maybe a 2.6 GPA. You had to have a 2.5, and I regularly woke up in sweats for years afterwards, dreaming I didn't graduate.


My entry into the workforce was rough too. I couldn't get myself to work on time. I often called in sick, overwhelmed by the requirement to be there every day, 5-days-a-week, with no end in sight. I struggled with assignments related to numbers. My boss was so gracious with me. I did really good work when I was there, so she gave me the best reviews possible, only noting my attendance issues as a problem. During that time, I also nannied several nights a week through an agency that sent me to different homes. The parents were supposed to give me directions to their house, but with no GPS and no cell phone, I was constantly lost in the metro Nashville area. My sense of direction is abysmal. I was great with kids though, so the parents almost always forgave my harried arrival.


For as long as I can remember, I've never able to get it all right. I can do great in one or two areas if I really try, but then the other areas are mediocre at best. It's a constant source of frustration, and I regularly hear, "If you'd just buckle down, you could do this." and "You have so much potential, but not much motivation."


I felt like such a failure. If I could just get my ideal self to show up and stay put, I could change the world! But my ideal self was an impossible standard who didn't exist.


At the age of 45, recurrent health issues sent me running to my doctor in frustration. She'd tried to help me herself, and she was fed up with me. She sent me to a specialist. That specialist diagnosed me with Binge Eating Disorder and put me on an appetite suppressant called Vyvanse. Medicine to soothe the ravenous hunger that was never, ever satisfied? Yes, please!


It turns out Vyvanse is actually a medicine developed to help ADHD patients, and I returned to the doctor a month later to report that I couldn't believe how it affected me. The thoughts that seemed to always float around my head like fireflies were actually in my head and accessible to me. I didn't have to stop and look for the right one. I was doing amazing things like remembering to pick my kids up from school, paying bills on time, returning phone calls, and making supper regularly. The most shocking thing was that I regularly thought through what I'd already eaten in a day and logistically planned healthy, balanced meals. That had never happened before! She looked at me kindly and asked, "What other treatments have you tried for your ADHD?"


Shocked, I replied, "I don't have ADHD!"


She laughed out loud and said, "Yeah, you do. The medicine wouldn't affect you that way if you didn't. A lot of women receive a late adult diagnosis of ADHD because we're good at masking it."


Confused, I told her I figured Vyvanse would help anyone focus better. She explained that she prescribed Vyvanse to patients all day long and only two other patients had ever come back and told her what I'd said. Both of them were later diagnosed with ADHD. She noted that Binge Eating Disorder is often just untreated ADHD (impulse control problems) and suggested I talk to my primary doctor.


"But I did well in school, and I'm not hyperactive. I'm sedentary! I'm a writer!"


She explained that ADHD presents differently in women, and depending on the kind of supports I had, school could've been easier or harder for me. (I remembered college. Oh, yeah.) She also explained that a person's mind can be hyperactive, and she pointed to my shaking leg and said, "Sometimes hyperactivity is constant fidgeting."


I tried one more time, "But I have a master's degree!"


"Good for you! You can hyper-focus." she said. "Now, go see your doctor about an adult diagnosis of ADHD."


I went home and started researching ADHD in women. I followed accounts on Instagram and read books. I talked to my counselor about it. It took an entire year to go get diagnosed officially, and I only did it then because insurance won't cover ADHD meds without an official diagnosis. The psychologist explained that I may have made good grades, but I was working significantly harder than my peers to make those grades. She also explained how trauma can make the symptoms worsen as we age and how ADHD can mask itself as anxiety and/or depression in women.


My diagnosis is combined presentation - both hyperactivity and inattention. My hyperactivity manifests in a brain that never shuts off and constant fidgeting. My inattention shows up in time-blindness, which is why I was always late. I was also diagnosed as "twice exceptional," or 2e, which means academically gifted with ADHD. Understanding that diagnosis helped explained my childhood. I could interact with adults on a wide range of topics, leading people to believe I was much older than I was, but then get into big trouble for treating my family poorly when I was overstimulated. (More on that in the next post.)


It was LIFE CHANGING to learn my brain works differently than most. Even better? There's a wealth of resources out there to help understand and deal with it effectively!


At first, I felt very frustrated that I hadn't been diagnosed earlier. What could I have accomplished by this age if I'd known and had the proper supports? But because I didn't know, I was forced to think very creatively and work extra hard. Those two things prepared me well for being the mother of a son with Down syndrome and medical complications. Knowing how to work hard and be creative are really good skills to have, so I've decided just to be thankful.


This is getting long, so in my next blog, I will share some of the things that have helped me manage my ADHD well. I'll also share about the spiritual side of things and what God's taught me through it.


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