“It was 5 days into my medication, and I thought, ‘Wow, so this is how normal people feel.’” A woman who worked for me shared that reaction; she was diagnosed with ADHD in her early 20s.
Mildly interested, I asked, “Really? So what were some of your symptoms?” I suspected ADHD was some sort of bullshit diagnosis for parents who didn’t want to reprimand their children. After all, it seemed like an easy cop out to shirk their responsibilities to authorities when their kids were acting out. But my employee went on to describe her perpetual anxiety, an inability to regulate her reactions, and her fierce impatience.
Weird. She was describing me… right down to a sensitivity to fabrics and noise. Lord knows don’t ever try to eat an apple in front of me.
I’m intense. This intensity concurrently has been my superpower and my kryptonite. I struggled in school, and when I say “struggled,” it was more like I annoyed others until they’d physically pummel me into submission. In my freshman year art class, I mouthed off to a senior football player who had an affection for steroids. He decided to “roid rage” on me, and–back–then, teachers and parents didn’t get involved with such things. Or perhaps they simply decided I deserved his wrath. Either way, he smashed a clay sculpture into my head and knocked me to the ground, and it was painful. Ah, yes, you gotta love an old-school parochial education. While this was one of the earlier “stand out moments” from my youth, there were countless other times I was bullied because of my mouthiness.
When ADD first came fashionable, I was in my 20s. Suddenly, every kid was on Ritalin. I just didn’t get it. Yeah, kids are out of control, but isn’t that a prerequisite? They run around like savages grabbing for the conch. Hasn’t anyone read Lord of the Flies? I was in the dark about all of the specifics on ADD because, well, they didn’t hold my attention.
But I knew this: I had struggled with anxiety my entire life. It peaked about five years ago, with a relentless grip. I had started my own business. Suddenly, I needed to focus. And more than focus, I need to manage scenarios that typically would send my anxiety skyrocketing within seconds. Insomnia, which plagued me since my youth, was unbearable. I’d sleep a few hours and then be up all night thinking, thinking, thinking.
I finally sought medical help because the anxiety-lack of sleep combination led me to feel physically sick. My doctor prescribed an anti-anxiety medication, which made life somewhat more serene. Okay, “serene” is stretching it, but I was finally somewhat more comfortable. We adjusted the prescription over the following five years, but I never felt right. I recall my doctor asking me, “Do you ever feel tired during the day?” Nope. I never lacked energy, but my creativity was suffering.
Entrepreneurs always joke about having ADHD, and research shows that those with ADHD always test boundaries and see opportunity when others stop looking. Even I’d joke about it. When my employee shared her story, though, I felt compelled to ask my mother if she thought I might have ADHD. Her response? “Of course! Your father even raised the notion when you were in your 20s!” Huh. Maybe there’s something to this. So I chose to pursue it with a new doctor, who gave me 10 pages of questions about the history of heart disease, diabetes, and all the usual “medical snooping,” which irked me. After all, I was there because of my inability to process information, not because of freaking familial diseases!
When the doctor called me in, she wanted to know what brought me there. I offered a steady stream of consciousness, ending with my employee’s story and wondering if maybe, just maybe, I too had ADHD. She listened patiently because that’s what she’s paid to do, but she started annoyingly looking through my forms about halfway through my verbal vomit, and she appeared especially smug that I listed “poison ivy” as an allergy.
She said there’s no real test for ADHD, but that — based on what I described — it seemed viable. In fact, my medical history showed it could be possible. Really? How did my mom’s breast cancer drive to that conclusion? She held up the clipboard and flipped through the pages. The first page was neat, the second not quite as much, the third was littered with scrawling penmanship. Each page appeared increasingly illegible as I raced to finish the annoying list of questions. She told me that we could certainly try something to help: a stimulant. I was surprised; I didn’t need more energy and had concerns about my inability to sleep. She assured me that if I did indeed have ADHD, I wouldn’t have an issue as mentally and physically I would finally find a balance because the dopamine levels would level off. Cool.
I won’t kid you. I felt like a cat on a hot tin roof for the first few days… but as hyper as I was, I was actually happy. I’ve always struggled with keeping emotions in check (fight or flight, baby!), but I suddenly felt rather normal by day five — just like my employee described. I went through some learning curves over the next several months, mostly adjusting to looking at life through a different lens. I was suddenly feeling a lot — emotions and reactions unencumbered by anti-anxiety medication — but not in a crazy manic way. Today, I feel so good about who I am and what I now know about myself, and that’s why I feel compelled to share this with the world, or the .0000001% of the global population who reads it.
I’m an imperfect middle-aged woman with a late diagnosis of ADHD. I live a better life through outside means because the chemistry set God gave me was shit. It could be worse: I could have a nut allergy. Instead, I just felt nutty for 44 years.
*A great article on what ADHD looks like can be found here 20 Things to Remember If You Love a Person with ADD