Adult ADHD Diagnosis: Now What?
As our understanding of ADHD and neurodiversity expands, more and more people are receiving an adult ADHD diagnosis. It can feel overwhelming, upsetting, relieving, and so many other complex emotions. If you’re wondering what to do after an adult ADHD diagnosis, I’m here to help.
There are so many misperceptions about ADHD that an adult diagnosis can be incredibly jarring. Everyone’s experience with it is, of course, different but I’ve noticed a theme throughout the adult ADHD diagnosis stories of my neurospicy friends. That theme is how little we’re told about it, even after we’ve received a diagnosis.
What Doctors Should Tell You After an Adult ADHD Diagnosis
When I got my ADHD diagnosis, I had to take a computer-based test that tested my focus and reaction times while unmedicated and then again after taking 5mg of Ritalin. If having ADHD is passing, then I indeed passed but what those test results didn’t factor in was the fact the loud volume and overstimulating nature of it made me cry. And that was my first introduction to how lacking people’s understanding of ADHD is. Sure, this test showed a measurable difference in my ability to focus but what it didn’t consider was the other behavioral and emotional issues related to ADHD that aren’t related to one’s ability to focus.
Basic Info They Should Tell You When You Get an Adult ADHD Diagnosis
Since then, I’ve read a lot, been targeted by the algorithm a lot, and generally special-interested out a lot. Here are some basic aspects of ADHD I wish I had known years sooner.
ADHD is not a focus issue, it is a regulation issue.
There are multiple types of ADHD, one of them being hyperactive. While arguably all of us struggle to sit still, this is merely a single symptom of ADHD. Another symptom of ADHD is our ability to hyperfocus. If something interests us, we can do it for hours with no awareness of how much time has passed. On the other end of the spectrum, if something doesn’t interest us it can be close to impossible for us to stay focused on it for very long. When you have ADHD, it can feel like your body and your brain are doing two different things sometimes. Your body seems to act by motor before your brain has time to catch up.
I’ll give an (entirely arbitrary) example to elaborate on what that means. The other day I was making pasta for myself and had to open a new box. In my head, I was thinking about how this perforated, allegedly easy-open flap was misleading while reminding myself to not ADHD-hulk-out because I needed to be able to close the box again. Meanwhile, my body was just casually ripping all of the flaps off in one go, making it impossible to ever close the box again. My husband watched me, laughing, and asked why the hell I did that. I told him it was wild because it was like I was telling myself not to do it but the message just didn’t get to my hands in time.
Yes, this is just a story about a stupid pasta box. But consider it in the framework of ADHD kids often being labeled as bad for acting without thinking.
So why does that happen?
Those difficulties regulating are because ADHD is related to a neurotransmitter imbalance.
The ADHD brain is different from a neurotypical brain in a few ways. One of those differences is lower levels of norepinephrine and dopamine. When dopamine transmission is imbalanced, it can impact inattention, impulsivity, and other symptoms of ADHD. Experts also believe this disrupts the dopamine reward pathway, which alters how someone with ADHD perceives pleasure and reward.
Gender Differences in ADHD
ADHD symptoms tend to present differently in men and women. Generally, boys are more likely to have hyperactive disorder which is why they tend to get diagnosed earlier than girls. Girls tend to have inattentive ADHD which involves more internalized symptoms. In clinical samples, boys are diagnosed at a rate of 3:1; a ratio that doesn’t hold for population samples which implies the existence of gender bias in the diagnostic process.
It’s important to understand these gender differences because there are implications for other disorders. Males with ADHD are more likely to develop substance abuse disorders, conduct disorders, and antisocial personality disorders. Females with ADHD are also vulnerable to substance abuse and are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, bulimia, and somatic symptom disorders. Women with ADHD are also likely to experience worsened symptoms in relation to their hormone cycles.
Things to Know if You Decide to Start ADHD Medication
I have multiple friends who, upon receiving their ADHD diagnosis, had their doctor tell them there was nothing they could do about it other than medicate and find a supportive partner. Do you think they give the same advice to men with ADHD or just women? Many doctors just casually throw you on a stimulant and don’t tell you much about it. That’s incredibly problematic so here are some things I wish my doctor told me about ADHD medication.
Sample through a few different ADHD medications before deciding what to take regularly.
Everyone with ADHD is different so ADHD medications are going to feel different to each person. While a lot of people prefer stimulants, there are non-stimulant options available too. If you have anxiety, there are some you shouldn’t take so ask your doctor which to avoid. Commit to taking each one for at least two weeks to give yourself time to settle into it. Obviously, you know yourself best and if you’re really hating it, trust your gut that it’s not right for you. Personally, I didn’t like my current meds at all until about day 10 and now I’ve been on the same one for the last four years. Even within the same brand, I notice a huge difference between extended-release and non-extended-release so that’s also worth considering.
Try journaling or keeping a symptom tracker while you’re sampling through. Be mindful not to only focus on how much you got done. Note how your stomach and heart rate felt, what your mood was like, how you handled interruptions, and whether you had a big crash in the evening.
Don’t take your meds with vitamin C or anything with ascorbic acid.
I did not know this until a friend sent me a Reddit post where someone found this tidbit buried in the ADHD hellscape that is medication inserts. Because I didn’t know this, I took my vitamin C supplements at the same time as my ADHD meds and then wondered why my meds didn’t work consistently while throwing up an average of one morning per week. Take your supplements at night and avoid juices and sodas with ascorbic acid for a couple of hours after taking meds. Not only does it hurt your stomach but it prevents your medication from being absorbed into your bloodstream.
Appetite & ADHD Medications
We’re ADHD people, we’re probably skipping breakfast. However, that can have a big impact on how your meds are affecting you. When you first start ADHD meds, you will likely struggle with a lack of appetite. This tends to lessen after the first couple of weeks and continues to get better over time, in my experience. Make a point of eating breakfast before taking your meds so you can get some nutrients in your system before the appetite suppressant kicks in. This will help you feel stronger and less irritable throughout the day while avoiding a hard crash or binge eating in the evening.
ADHD Solutions: Meds Aren’t the Only Solution
Despite what those doctors told my friends, medication isn’t your only option. Studies have found behavior therapy, executive function coaching, music therapy, assistive technology, exercise, diet, and supplements to have varying levels of success in improving ADHD symptoms. Can you get rid of your ADHD symptoms completely? No, but medications can’t do that either. It’s about getting to know your brain within this new framework so you can find new ways to manage things better.
Coping With an Adult ADHD Diagnosis
- Don’t try and fit yourself into a box.
It’s not going to work, and you will be exhausted and burnt out. Your brain works differently. Rather than trying to force yourself into neurotypical expectations, readjust your expectations of yourself. Spend less time beating yourself up for not meeting neurotypical expectations and put more time into figuring out systems that will actually work for you. I promise, once you start doing that, your whole world will open up and get a bit brighter.
- Recognize the way ADHD and emotional regulation impact you.
People with ADHD take in a lot more stimuli than we often realize. This can lead to us being reactive without even knowing why. We struggle to manage the smallest of disappointments because everything feels so big and urgent to us. Our struggles with executive function can drain our energy levels and cause difficulties communicating with others. Learning how to emotionally regulate better and recognizing what makes you reactive can help you cope better and feel more in control of your life and less ruled by the ADHD.
Positive Things About ADHD
Having ADHD makes your life more difficult, there’s no sugarcoating it. But that doesn’t mean it’s all bad. Many people with ADHD harness their interests and hyperfocus into successful careers in science, tech, entrepreneurship, and many other areas. People with ADHD tend to be empathetic, generous, and resilient with a strong sense of fairness. Our wacky brains think in wacky and creative ways. Spontaneous and usually willing to take a risk, we love an adventure and a laugh. As soon as you think you’ve figured us out and know our habits, the ADHD adds some new spice to the mix. We tend to be stubbornly persistent and full of random knowledge.
By looking at the positive things about ADHD, you can harness it to your benefit. Instead of fighting yourself and subjecting yourself to more anxiety and depression, build systems and coping mechanisms that support your weak spots so you can thrive. Remember, you have the ADHD; the ADHD doesn’t have you.