Image Credit: Getty Images/ Thurtell

ADHD: Me Before And After My Diagnosis

Reading time | 5 min

I don’t have a “before and after” for ADHD; I just have a before and after diagnosis. My brain has always been the same ADHD brain. The diagnosis part, though, has been key to understanding myself and embracing the fact that I see life differently.

Once I was diagnosed and learned more about ADHD, I discovered many aspects of myself that I struggled with connected to the disorder.

Here’s what I realized about myself and my ADHD once I received a diagnosis, and the changes I made in my life in order to adjust.

(Dis)organization


I’ve had trouble finding my own things for as far back as I can remember.

Even at 26, my mom still frequently finds items for me. I’ve put things in a “safe spot” so many times, just to be unable to find that safe spot again. I haven’t figured out a solution for this one yet!


I also struggle to remember dates, deadlines, phone numbers, and passwords. Google Calendar, a bullet journal, an iPhone, and LastPass (a password management service) handle those things for me now.

Emotional regulation


ADHD can cause difficulties with emotional regulation. We may struggle to regulate our emotions to be appropriate for the circumstances we’re in. This is why people with ADHD can be prone to “losing their tempers” easily, or getting in somewhat needless arguments. We tend to navigate life with our hearts rather than our heads at times!



I’ve learned a few strategies for dealing with this. The mindfulness practice of observing rather than judging feelings can sometimes help me keep things under control. Grounding exercises when I’m getting frustrated can help me distract myself and think more clearly. There are many variants, but I usually try looking around my environment to find an item of every color of the rainbow. Journaling can often help me process things, but can’t always be done in the moment. Medication helps with this, too.



Since learning that issues with emotional regulation are linked to ADHD, though, I try to be more patient with myself in these moments. Getting frustrated at myself for getting more upset than necessary with something ridiculous, or exploding at one of my parents, isn’t going to help me feel better, either.

Academics


Focusing on things with ADHD is tough — that’s why it’s called attention deficit, of course. It’s even worse when those things are lengthy or bo-ring! (Yes, yell that in your head like Homer Simpson!)

My ability to float effortlessly through school (with the exception of math) caught up with me in university when I failed two of three classes I took one term, and had already failed one of those before. 
Learning I had ADHD allowed me to access academic accommodations, including extra test time (for my markedly slow processing speed), alternate test formats, and more.

Learning issues


Often, ADHD and learning disabilities go hand in hand. I’ve always had above-average reading abilities, but my reading comprehension skills have never been great. This was assessed when I was younger, but I guess I did alright and got by. It turns out, my ability to acquire information visually — which includes reading — is in the first percentile!


Since identifying this, I’ve learned to access books and longer written text by audio, eText, or text-to-speech. I retain a lot more of what I’ve read, and can sometimes focus better since I can read and do certain tasks simultaneously. (Bonus!)

Sensory issues

Sensory issues can be a part of ADHD.
 If you can imagine a 7-year-old, non-adventurous vegetarian eater, that’s me. A lot of it comes down to food textures and flavors. As for the clothes I wear, you’ll typically see me in jeans or shorts and hoodies and t-shirts, but nothing with any sort of “weird” texture.

I’ve learned how to navigate fancy meals with my food aversions, and I’ve figured out things I can wear comfortably even if I have to dress up. I put earphones in most of the time to block out too many sounds.
 I’ve learned to navigate sensory issues as an adult even though I didn’t know what they were, or that they’re linked to ADHD.

I haven’t found solutions for all of these things, but having a diagnosis and better self-understanding (and patience) makes these challenges a bit easier to cope with.

There’s nothing I would change

Do I wish I were diagnosed earlier and had acquired that self-understanding and academic support before I was 21? Absolutely. Do I wish my story was different? Absolutely not!

I’ve only gained by being diagnosed with ADHD. I have new resources, new tools, and new supports, all with the same “different” way of seeing the world. I’ve chosen to embrace my ADHD as a part of me that’s inseparable from myself. I understand myself better because of my diagnosis. I’m more able to forgive myself (sometimes) for mistakes, or be patient with myself when I’m struggling (also sometimes). I’m far from perfect, and far from having it all figured out!

Having undiagnosed ADHD is extremely frustrating. I knew there was something different about me, but I couldn’t figure out what or why. I don’t miss that frustration. I don’t miss how not understanding the ways ADHD affects me led to not just frustration, but also significant amounts of self-doubt. Many of my emotional “rough patches” in the past were likely at least partly attributable to undiagnosed and untreated ADHD.

I try not to use my ADHD as an excuse, but it does explain why some things are the way they are. Understanding how ADHD is woven into my life helps me to know who I am better, and which things are truly me, and which are the intersection of ADHD and me. Differentiating these two things allows me to explain certain things to myself, like unexpected emotional responses. It also allows me to practice self-care and remind myself that I see life differently, and that’s OK.

The takeaway

Since I’ve always had ADHD, being diagnosed didn’t change me. But it changed many of my thought processes because my ADHD diagnosis made those things make sense in me. My brain is my brain — understanding it means I can coexist with it. Understanding my ADHD helps me understand my “quirks” better, and more fully embrace that motto of “seeing life differently.”

 

Article resources

 

ADHD-US-NP-00019 JUNE 2018