Get to Know and Love Your ADHD Brain

Life Before My ADHD Diagnosis

Life Before My ADHD Diagnosis

I only began taking my ADHD seriously about a year ago. I’m now 28 years old and was diagnosed over 10 years ago. As much as I regret neglecting my mental health for so long, I can’t blame myself entirely. It’s difficult to remember life before my ADHD diagnosis, but one thing’s for sure, I was immature.

In addition, there has been little education around ADHD treatment in the medical world. In the U.S., treatment has maintained one name: stimulants.

Photo by Christine Sandu on Unsplash

Did you know that around 6.1 million children and adults take prescription medication for ADHD? Now, that’s quite a high number compared to other countries like Japan or France. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, medication can be a life-changing treatment for some people. I am currently taking stimulants and am grateful that they have helped me improve multiple areas of my life. However, it is just one option. Unfortunately, there’s a lack of education and conversation about alternative treatment in most societies today. 

Flawed Systems

It’s valid to feel frustrated with the doctor(s) that misdiagnosed us or even disregarded our symptoms. However, we have to look at the larger constructs, which, in this case, are the for-profit insurance systems that leave many Americans with high healthcare bills and little power over the decisions they make regarding their health. 

Speaking from experience, it certainly doesn’t make living with ADHD any easier.

To be honest, it’s not easy to thrive, let alone survive, as someone with ADHD in a neurotypical world. And unfortunately, societal systems are set up for people who usually get by without the consistent challenges of poor time management, getting overwhelmed easily with tedious tasks like paperwork, and forgetfulness, just to name a few. 

Life Before My ADHD Diagnosis
Photo by Uday Mittal on Unsplash

You can find other systematic issues in the professional sphere. For example, most companies don’t offer written job outlines of duties and procedures for new hires. This could benefit the type of people who struggle to process and retain verbal instructions and prefer something they can refer back to at any time.

In most public schools, students are expected to learn a curriculum in the same way and at the same pace as their peers. It can be hard to keep up, especially when your brain takes in and analyzes information much differently than your friend’s neurotypical brain does. This was definitely one of my experiences!

We can go on and on about the deeply flawed healthcare system in the U.S. and elsewhere and how arduous it can be to navigate, especially when you have a brain difference like ADHD. (Side note: If you’re not from the U.S. or living there, I’m curious to know what you love/hate about your country’s healthcare system.)

Instead, I’d like to give you a little more background on life leading up to my diagnosis and what my challenges looked like before and after consulting with doctors.

Hopefully, you can either relate to or glean from what it’s like to live with ADHD or support someone with ADHD.

ADHD Symptoms in Childhood

Growing up, I was a creative and pretty reserved kid. My mom described me as a daydreamer, always playing out scenarios and stories in my head. I wasn’t hyperactive or the kid who constantly asked those follow-up “But, why?!” questions. I left that to my little sis. But, like those curious kiddos, I was inquisitive. Just not so much in a verbal manner. 

To put it simply, I did not fit your classic (and dated) ADHD description of:

  • Being constantly disruptive
  • Bouncing off the wall
  • Having zero concentration

Oh, and I wasn’t a boy. 

To my knowledge, these were all reasons why my first doctor didn’t see it necessary to have me tested for ADHD, even after my mom brought up her concerns.

You may be thinking how negligent and unprofessional this seems. But, to be fair, not many doctors at that time were educated and aware of the wide range of symptoms in ADHD that are amplified in research today. They were also not trained to recognize the “invisible” signs more commonly found in girls and women with ADHD. As a result, it was common for symptoms such as disorganization and forgetfulness to be overlooked or, worse yet, labeled as laziness. 

ADHD Internal Conflicts

Even though I appeared to be an excellent student on paper, I struggled to get things done and on time. Not only was I a perfectionist (and still am), but finishing assignments for subjects I had little interest in took hours to complete. I was constantly losing focus on my homework and directing it towards more interesting stimuli like Myspace. RIP. 😆

I don’t have many clear memories of grade school, yet I can recall the constant sense of feeling behind. I felt too shy and ashamed to speak up and ask for further explanation. Too often, my brain missed valuable information when it was preoccupied with other thoughts or stimuli.

Honestly, I would have suffered a lot more if it wasn’t for my mom’s support and willingness to stay up with me to complete my daily assignments. Without her, I sure wouldn’t have made straight A’s, let alone been able to deliver the salutatorian speech at graduation! 

Aside from my struggles in school, I’ve always been sensitive. I experience emotions intensely, but I don’t always have a name for them. It’s common for people with ADHD to have difficulty identifying and explaining their own feelings, a condition known as alexithymia.

Early in my childhood, I learned to view my sensitive side as a weakness. Somewhere along the way, I started to believe that showing my negative emotions caused problems for others, and to prevent that, I had to mask my true feelings. So, for as long as I can remember, protecting other peoples’ feelings took priority over being honest with my own.

Photo by Brock Wegner on Unsplash

I didn’t realize how much these tendencies truly impacted me until I married Juan in 2020. It’s incredible how much a relationship can teach you about yourself

I’m still trying to understand and work on this unhealthy mindset in therapy, but I’m relieved to finally have some awareness around them.

Had I known about ADHD and its related traits back then, maybe I could have learned to be more open and accepting of my own feelings earlier on. But things happen for a reason, and if they didn’t pan out as they did, I might not be writing this blog post!

And lucky for me, I hit the jackpot with having supportive and nurturing parents. My mom didn’t give up on finding the help she believed her daughter needed and deserved and eventually booked me my first ADHD evaluation.

But for the sake of keeping this post short(ish), you’ll get the rest of the story in part II next time.

Thanks for sticking with me, my friend! What struggles did you face earlier in your life? How did they impact you academically, socially, or emotionally?

I look forward to hearing from you. See you soon!

Love,

Wendy

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