Today I find myself thinking about the approximately 85 percent of adults who have ADHD but don’t know it. To feel outside the mainstream, unlike your peers, and to have no explanation can leave you feeling like a wanderer in uncharted wilderness.
To be criticized and looked down on by others for being different can lead to low self-worth and a general sense of inferiority. We all need to feel appreciated and understood. For many adults who have lived with ADHD for decades, feeling understood and valued is not a familiar experience. If they don’t know about their ADHD, they think there is something wrong with them — a moral failing, a defect, whatever.
Neil and I were in that place for the first thirty-five years of our marriage. We could find no explanation for some of the ways that Neil functioned that made life extremely challenging. After seeking help from psychologists and educators and anyone else we could think of, we eventually stumbled upon the correct diagnosis on our own when Neil was over sixty years old.
We were in a restaurant. Our conversation, as it often did, went to our distress over how challenging our lives were. Suddenly the word “attention” popped into my head as being related to something Neil had done (or perhaps had not done!). One of us remembered having heard of something called “attention deficit disorder,” though neither of us knew anything about it. We quickly left the restaurant and headed home to our computer.
Right away we located information about ADHD and screening tests for Neil to take. We chose one of the screeners, and as I read off each description Neil checked every single box. Not one characteristic was foreign to our lives. At the same time that we found our unofficial diagnosis, we also found our tribe. We had a name for what Neil had been living with for over sixty years and because there was a name, we knew other people were living with the same challenges.
Shortly after that evening, Neil was diagnosed with ADHD and began seeing a psychologist who was experienced with ADHD. Several medications were prescribed by a psychiatrist, one after the other, but none seemed to help him. (We now know that for about 20 percent of people with ADHD, there is not a drug that is effective.) We began attending CHADD support groups in our area. We began reading about ADHD. I began seeing the same psychologist because the impact of ADHD is not confined to just the ADHDer.
Even though at times our progress has seemed much slower than I would have liked, we have lived the last dozen years of our life together differently from the first thirty-five, because we have a name for one of our biggest challenges and because we began to know other members of the ADHD tribe. We didn’t feel so isolated, confused, or ashamed.
Today we learn from our ADHD friends and mentors and are supported by them. We also reach out to offer support to others who are much like we were when we rushed home from the restaurant to check out our latest theory. If you or someone you know thinks ADHD might be affecting them, I encourage you or them to boldly reach out to a professional who really understands ADHD. It’s never too late!
There is no blood test, so a lot of questions need to be asked about your life experience, sometimes even involving family members who can attest to your childhood behaviors. Each ADHDer is unique, so you won’t find anyone else exactly like you, but you will find a tribe of enthusiastic, creative, bright, supportive people who have walked in shoes very much like yours, and you’ll start marching out of the wilderness. It’s quite a wonderful feeling!
Linda Williams Swanson is a partner in Free To Be Coaching, LLC, in Warrenton, VA. Her website is freetobecoaching.com; visit the site and contact her or her husband, Neil, for a complimentary exploratory session. They are presently accepting new clients from age 13-90. (Linda and Neil do most of their coaching either in person, or by phone, Skype, or FaceTime. High school students are usually coached in person.)