I’m one of the many women who wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until adulthood: I got the diagnosis just 2 weeks after I turned 41 earlier this year. As you may know, a later-in-life diagnosis doesn’t mean that I “caught” ADHD recently or that I didn’t have it until my 40s. Rather, I’ve been living with it my entire life but didn’t know it until recently.
Many people my age realize their ADHD diagnosis only after having their child evaluated for it -- they recognize their own symptoms as they listen to questions posed by their child’s medical practitioner. I’m child-free, so this wasn’t how I discovered my ADHD.
Reader, it was far more mundane. It was an Instagram comment that spurred my questioning.
In early March 2021, I posted a photo of my home office, paired with a long caption outlining how I’m similar to a toddler who gets every toy out of the box and then ends up playing with something else entirely. I talked about starting 10 projects and finishing one. About how I can mess up a freshly-tidied room by piling stacks of work organized in a way only I can understand. Stuff like that.
My acquaintance E. commented, “Have you been evaluated for ADHD? ‘Cause this sounds like a textbook case!”
I smiled, and not for one second did I think that could be true. I studied creativity in grad school and know that many hallmarks of creativity overlap with the symptoms of ADHD. I figured my behaviors were related to my being a highly creative person; ADHD didn’t cross my mind. But E.’s question kept niggling at me.
I asked E. for some tips, and within a few hours my jaw was practically on the floor. It was like a formerly dark corner of my brain was suddenly illuminated -- lamps in every direction shining light on something that had been there all along.
You can’t diagnose yourself with ADHD, of course. But as luck would have it, I had a therapy appointment and a checkup with my new general practitioner (GP) the following week.
On the phone with my therapist, I told him I had quite a story to share and that I sought his opinion. After explaining how Instagram works (he’s not a social media guy), I told him about my photo and the accompanying caption. Before I even mentioned E.’s comment, my therapist said, “Wait. Let me guess. All the ADHDers commented.”
My therapist isn’t a psychiatrist and doesn’t provide medical diagnoses, but he himself has ADHD and a copy of the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-V -- the reference book doctors use to diagnose mental health issues. He took it down from the bookshelf and began asking me the diagnostic questions. If all signs (or most!) pointed to ADHD, he would recommend I see a doctor with expertise in the condition.
After the questions were done, my therapist said, “Yep. You have ADHD.” He said it appears I have combination inattentive and hyperactive type but that I’d created masking behaviors and systems to minimize the fallout.
I still had so many questions. For example, if I really did have ADHD, how had he -- someone with the same diagnosis who knew me intimately -- missed it?
My therapist said it’s common for even experienced practitioners not to detect ADHD in academically successful or accomplished people. He said he hadn’t noticed the signs himself because I was adept at creating systems to minimize ADHD’s impact on my life. He also said that a significant percentage of adults living with ADHD are entrepreneurs -- this made sense to me.
My GP assessed me for ADHD later that same week. He would be a worthy poker adversary: his demeanor revealed nothing as he went through a diagnostic questionnaire and listened to my responses. I had no idea what he would say at the end. He took a beat and then said, “Yep. You definitely have ADHD.” To my surprise, I’d found a second expert who not only recognized the ADHD I’d never suspected until recently, but who also shared the diagnosis.
Many people suspect they have ADHD and spend years finding a practitioner who has the expertise to diagnose them. My case was flipped -- the ADHD diagnosis came within days of my initial suspicion. I’m lucky in that way, but there is a trade-off: I lived for 4 decades without knowing about my ADHD and issues with executive functioning.
On occasion, I wonder if I would’ve learned to be kinder to myself (or if I would’ve had fewer bouts of imposter syndrome) had I known earlier. But mostly I’m glad to have learned when I did and am eager to see how I can incorporate the new tools and treatments I have into a life that -- I hope! -- will be less stressful for me.
Photo Credit: oatawa via Getty Images