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I was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult - here's what I've learnt

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Non-binary adult standing outside looking serious and calm

Like many others, Jynx learned they had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (or ADHD) as an adult. Their new diagnosis and getting connected with others who have ADHD helped them understand they are simply 'wired differently'.

For much of my young life, I felt a deep sense of confusion at my inability to 'reach my full potential.' I also struggled to understand why I experienced such intense emotional responses to seemingly minor incidents, and could only conclude that I was somehow weak, incompetent, and unable to cope with life.  

I've always been a bit scattered, a daydreamer, clumsy and fidgety, and, well, a bit weird. The path to self-acceptance has been a long one, but getting diagnosed with ADHD was an enormously significant turning point in helping pave the way.  

What was the process to get a diagnosis of ADHD as an adult?  

I found out about my ADHD because I had always used games on my phone to help me 'listen better' during lectures and even while watching tv. My lecturer told me to put away my phone during class one time, even though I said it helped me stay engaged in the content. My friend (whom I knew to have ADHD) silently leaned across and handed me her shiny, flippy-sequin pencil case to fidget with, as though she knew exactly what I needed!  

The process of getting a diagnosis was not too terrible. I filled out some questionnaires and got a referral to a specialist psychiatrist.

The eight-month wait was a bit rough, where the ever-pressing weight of imposter syndrome was quite gnarly. I have spoken to many of my friends who have ADHD, who all talk about this feeling (turns out most of my friends also have ADHD, and quite a few were also undiagnosed… funny that!). Unfortunately, most of us have spent the majority of our lives being told we're just lazy and incompetent, so a part of me continued to believe that this was just some excuse to try to get medication to 'cheat at life'.  

How did you feel about this new diagnosis? 

Having professional psychiatric confirmation has been enough to dispel the notion of being 'weaker, lazier, and bad at life' - and has also given context and understanding to a large majority of struggles across my life. It was, in most ways, a huge relief. 

A friend of mine once said, "One of the first things you'll get from diagnosis is outrage".  

Learning so many of your life struggles could potentially have been mitigated by an earlier diagnosis is a process to get through! It's natural to feel a sense of grief about what could have been. 

What are some common misconceptions about ADHD? 

One of the reasons it took me until the age of 27 to get diagnosed is because I believed the stereotype – that ADHD is for young boys who are rowdy and disruptive in school.  

It is now very clear to me that ADHD was named for what it appears like to others, rather than how it is experienced. ADHD is not a deficit of attention – it is an inability to regulate attention… and emotion, and motivation. 

One experience that we in the community refer to as 'hyperfocus' is something that prevented one of my friends from seeking diagnosis for many years. How could she have attention deficit disorder when she could sit and focus on something for hours at a time, sometimes to the point where she'd forget to eat or go to the bathroom? 

What are the positives of having ADHD? 

I once had a GP explain that before the advent of agriculture, there may have been a much higher ratio of folks with ADHD, as it is more suited to a hunter-gatherer life. Being easily distracted makes it easier to spot threats by focusing on movement, or colour – which also makes it easier to spot food like berries. Being compelled to be constantly on the move is much more suited to persistence predation, the primary way humans used to hunt.  

So, when it became more lucrative to be able to sit around waiting for crops, and to be able to plan months ahead to know when to reap and sew, is it any wonder the 'neurotypical' type brains (brains that process and behave in a way that's considered typical) became more abundant, as they had more access to food and resources? 

As such, I am great at spotting wild animals, relish going on spontaneous adventures, and have the ability to 'keep my cool' in emergencies. I also tend to 'think outside the box,' and often develop creative solutions to problems.  

I also seem to flourish in chaos! 

What are the main challenges you face? 

Where to start? Because we exist in a world built by and for neurotypical brains, many aspects of daily life can be quite challenging. Making and keeping appointments, planning and scheduling, filling out forms (and basically all bureaucracy), remembering plans with friends, having the willpower to keep a diary to help organise my life, tidying up my house, paying bills on time, remembering to pay rent… 

Plus, I also have trouble building and maintaining social connections. This is due to a number of things, like time blindness (forgetting birthdays, being late to dates or catch-ups, etc.) or being seen as rude for interrupting (if I don't say this thing, I'll forget it, and so I must say it now or I will explode).  

I also struggle with the 'object permanence' concept in relationships, which means. I may literally forget about the existence of someone I care about – not because I no longer care about them, but because of the difficulties in memory and recall. Thus, I may not contact them for months or even years, leaving them to assume I no longer care about them, despite this being far from the truth.     

What are some tips or strategies for managing your ADHD? 

Above all, I remind myself – our brains are simply wired differently! There's nothing wrong with me. I'm not broken or weak and especially not lazy! For way more tips than I could ever collate into a succinct passage, the best resource I have found is the Youtube channel, How to ADHD. It is honestly a lifesaver! 

For anyone with ADHD reading this, I hope you can find some connections with other ADHDers who are more likely to accept you for who you are. And also, there's been so much growing awareness lately, I hope that we will become far less stigmatised and move into a world where people will understand our lived experience far better.  

If you think you might have ADHD, talking to a local or trusted GP is a good place to start. You can also connect with a safe and anonymous online community on the SANE Forums.  

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