Embracing an ADHD Diagnosis

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Embracing an ADHD diagnosis
Photo by Tara Winstead on Pexels

Embracing an ADHD diagnosis may not be your first response. A late-in-life ADHD diagnosis can bring with it a flood of complex emotions with a new light cast on old memories. Resentment for the often sexist stereotypes that let so many people miss the diagnosis. Anger at realizing how much of your life has been harder than it needed to be. Betrayal by all the people who made accusations of laziness with little sympathy for your struggles. Sadness over how many relationships you struggled with because of ADHD-related behaviors. There’s often mourning over the realization we may not actually be able to do everything we wanted to in life.

But there are also moments of brightness backpacked onto your new set of baggage. Having a diagnosis can not only improve your relationships with your loved ones but with yourself as well. Additionally, after years of confusion, you’ll likely experience waves of relief to finally have some answers. To help you in your journey to embracing an ADHD diagnosis, I’ve put together some positive spicy takes on your new personality* diagnosis.

Framework, Fabulous Framework.

Prior to my ADHD diagnosis, I spent a lot of time wondering what was wrong with me. I knew I had things I should do. I knew I had things I needed to do. But sometimes I just could not get myself to do them, no matter how hard I tried. This inability to get going affected my schoolwork, jobs, and relationships (both romantic and friendly.) I knew some of it was social anxiety but that didn’t seem to be the entire answer. Depression just didn’t seem like the right fit either so I floundered for a while.

Once diagnosed, I realized that I had really misunderstood ADHD. It wasn’t just about hyper kids who couldn’t sit still, but a neurotransmitter imbalance. This imbalance means that the stuff we want to do, we really want to do, to an all-consuming degree sometimes. And the stuff we don’t want to do, even when we know it needs doing? The signal our brain sends to our body telling it to do those tasks just becomes an undeliverable message, leaving us stuck in the meantime.

Benefits of Having ADHD Framework

Simply figuring that out about myself was wildly enlightening but here are a few other ways having the ADHD framework has helped me:

  • I’m easier on myself.
    Learning about executive dysfunction has helped me be (a bit) easier on myself. Ultimately, this has also allowed me to make more progress in areas I’m working on. When you don’t understand why you can’t get yourself to complete necessary tasks, you tend to beat yourself up. You lay there, stuck in a stress cycle. Internally screaming at yourself to just. get. up. and do the stupid task. You ask yourself what’s wrong with you. Perplexed over why you’re so lazy and how broken you are that you can’t manage simple tasks. All of that stress and anxiety just further floods your brain that’s already struggling with sorting through either too many or not enough various neurotransmitters. Now that I understand what executive dysfunction is, I can recognize when it’s happening. By recognizing it in action, I can try to make adjustments rather than berating myself.
  • I can laugh at myself more.
    ADHD can lead to some interesting moments. You’re often finding things in unusual places. Surrounded by incomplete tasks, you can end up with some quirky-looking living spaces. We often operate like ping pong balls. We just bounce between places until we get lost somewhere. Forgotten in a corner and wondering how we got there and what we were looking for over in the corner. We do nonsensical things like noticing the toilet paper roll needs changing while brushing our teeth. Only we don’t change the toilet paper after we finish brushing our teeth as an arguably normal person would. No, we will absolutely try and do it all at once. For some unknown reason (JK, the answer is because our neurotransmitters are soaked in spice), at that moment we are absolutely convinced we can continue to brush our teeth properly while also removing and replacing the toilet paper roll. This never goes to plan. It almost always makes a mess and definitely takes three times longer than it would have the normal way. I used to wonder if these memory lapses and impulses were something of concern to talk to my doctor about. Ends up they were, just not the stroke or early-onset dementia my anxiety-ridden brain had considered. Now when I catch myself doing these things I can just laugh about it and ride them out rather than wondering if I have that zombie fungus.
  • I understand myself better.
    Sounds repetitive, I know but there’s more to embracing an ADHD diagnosis than how you manage tasks. I’m talking about things such as:
    • Rejection sensitivity
      Almost 100% of people with ADHD experience intense levels of emotional pain as a result of feeling rejected or failing. For me, this often results in me coming off as defensive or argumentative. It can also be triggered by frustratingly arbitrary things on occasion. Regarding life trajectory, I’ve always been extremely averse to trying things I don’t think I will be good at. Now I understand why.
    • Angry outbursts:
      ADHD can make anger feel more intense. Sometimes the smallest things can set someone with ADHD off in ways that seem disproportionate. We, unfortunately, go a bit hand-in-hand with emotional outbursts. My biggest rage-inducer is probably technology. I swear, I am close to researching if neurodivergent people emit some kind of different signal because technology hates me. The TVs randomly don’t start up right. Bluetooth speakers just disconnect at whim. Remotes just stop unpair themselves and it is infuriating. I will try fixing it for a bit before asking for help. Then my fiance will waltz in, do the exact same thing I tried multiple times, and suddenly things will work. Thus, it is frequently a miracle I resist the urge and do not break more of these items. Because I’d really, really like to.
    • Eating habits:
      Most of the information you come across about diets, nutrition, and exercise is aimed at the neurotypical. Some of it simply does not work or make any kind of sense for neurodivergent people. Giving myself that grace and understanding has improved my relationship with food. My issues with food didn’t magically go away with a diagnosis. However, I knew I had some rather disordered eating habits that I didn’t quite understand. Embracing an ADHD diagnosis and learning how it can cause problems with food helped me fill some of those gaps.
    • Self-Medicating:
      Many neurodivergent people turn to self-medicating with alcohol, marijuana, and/or other drugs. Without putting too much about myself out there for the public, it’s useful to have a neurodivergent framework to work from when considering your habits and why you use what you use, in which settings, and how much of it you’re using.

Adjusting for ADHD

Embracing an ADHD diagnosis allowed me to make some relevant life adjustments. I started approaching exercise, food, work, and socializing differently. I think each of these could be its own post and likely will be at some point in the future. With that in mind, I’ll keep things general for now.

  • Exercise: I stopped trying to force myself to do workouts I didn’t actually want to do. Instead of mentally fighting myself all day about a workout, I listened to what my body wanted to do. Some days it’s only ten minutes of yoga, sometimes it’s an hour. Some days I really don’t get myself to do anything. Not ideal but we’re aiming for transparency here. I have phases of being into kettlebells or resistance bands but don’t do anything much harder these days. Generally, I just allow myself to float between things based on what I actually feel like doing that day. Ultimately it’s led to me getting more exercise more consistently with less drastic weight fluctuations and few joint flare-ups.
  • Food: ADHD can lead to dopamine-chasing through snacking, picky eating, and forgetting to eat (or drink.) This often leads to an evening of binge eating. I’ve admittedly been really struggling with food lately so I’m not a bastion of knowledge on this one. However, understanding the way my neurodivergencies are connected to food issues gives me a healthier approach and better tools to try and manage it.
  • Work: I stopped trying to work in offices and aligned my interests with things I could do as a job. When I was first diagnosed, I was in the process of opening my own at-home daycare. Childcare is no simple task but working with infants had neurodivergent benefits. I didn’t have to deal with office hierarchies. Drop-off and pick-up times kept small talk confined to specific times. Overall, there was minimal socializing with other adults so I could mask less. Kids like exaggerated facial expressions and echolalia, things many neurodivergent people are prone to. Kids are also funny little dopamine boosters. With their silly antics, sweet moments, and exciting milestones; reasons many neurodivergent people work in childcare. These days, I am a freelance writer who largely works at home with my dogs and it’s fantastic. (Reminder that I am also autistic so my work needs may be very different from yours.)
  • Socializing: I started to realize I was more over-stimulated by social settings than I had truly realized. This also added more awareness around my self-medicating habits as well. Pre-diagnosis I was always trying to come up with believable excuses for bailing on things, which I admittedly did too often. Since my ADHD diagnosis, I try to avoid committing myself to too many obligations. I spent too many years spreading myself too thin. Now, I try to be clear if I need plans to be tentative. I also aim to be more honest about when I’m simply too drained and need a weekend of nothing. I think it’s helped me be more present for my friends when I do have the spoons to socialize. I’ve also noticed I’m less irritable about plans changing and alcohol-induced dramas.

Let’s Talk ADHD Meds

Part of embracing an ADHD diagnosis involves talking meds. Hopefully, I’m not the one to break it to you that there is no cure for ADHD. Medication can be helpful for some people while others don’t like the side effects they can bring. In my humble opinion, I think a lot of people diagnosed as kids were thrown on one medication and didn’t like how it made them feel and so they don’t want to try them again in the future. That experience is what many people tend to associate with ADHD medications but everyone reacts to meds a little differently and there are numerous options you can try in an attempt to find out what works best for you.

Due to my anxiety, there are limits to which ADHD medications I can take. They are typically stimulants that can increase your heart rate so aren’t a great combo. After sampling my way through a few options and dosages, I prefer (what is essentially) extended-release Adderall. In Israel, it’s called mixed amphetamines so I’m trying to work in recognizable names. Suckily, there’s been a shortage of extended-release and I haven’t been able to fill my prescription since June. In its place, I have prescriptions for both 10mg and 20mg non-extended release and I play a chess game of trying to match dosages to deadlines and hormone cycles.

If you’ve been diagnosed recently, navigating ADHD meds can be overwhelming. Keep in mind that when I first started my now preferred medication, I wasn’t sure I liked it for the first two weeks. After that, I settled into it and couldn’t believe how productive I was and more regulated I felt. If you’re going to try medication, my advice is to give it a couple of weeks to settle into it and if you still don’t like it, ask your doctor to try something else. It may take a few tries and a little bit of time to figure out what works best for you. Some people decide medication isn’t for them or have health concerns that prevent them from taking them. I’ll try to do a post in the future on ways to improve ADHD without medication.

Pro-Tip: Don’t take your ADHD medicine with anything that’s high in Vitamin C or citric acid, it breaks down the medicine before it can be absorbed. Speaking from personal experience, it also increases your chances of a nausea-filled morning. Avoid juice, vitamin C supplements, and sodas for a few hours after taking your medication.

In the intro to this post, I put a strikethrough and an asterisk next to the word personality. This was my own little joke regarding an experience you are very likely to soon face if you have been freshly diagnosed with ADHD. All those little personality quirks you think make you your unique self? ADHD. The reason you know all the song lyrics to songs you learned when you were in middle school? ADHD. Prone to disliking overheard lights and bursts of goofy impulsivity? Sorry but your whole personality is ADHD now.

While your quirks may have a different label now, you are still uniquely, you. With your own personal spice blend, you always have a way of surprising your loved ones and you’re likely to love them fiercely. By embracing an ADHD diagnosis, you can welcome the differences your brain has to offer and use your interests to your hyper-focused advantage. If you’ve made it to adulthood before being diagnosed, enjoy your new game of “who else in my family has gone undiagnosed?” Take the time to explain to your friends and family how your ADHD affects you and ask for their patience and understanding.

Most importantly, have patience and understanding with yourself. Accept that you will probably never get a 100-day, unbroken streak on anything and that is perfectly okay. You will have ups and downs that others don’t seem to have but with a diagnosis, you also have a community. You suddenly have a label for your experiences and can connect with others dealing with the same things you are. Embrace your spicy brain and welcome to a community of people who absolutely *get it.*

How about you? How have you struggled with embracing an ADHD diagnosis? What was hardest about it for you? What was the best part of getting a diagnosis? Leave me your thoughts in the comments!

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