Middle-Aged Woman Gets Diagnosed w/ADHD: Epiphanies Ensue

FYI: This post was inspired by this comic. It succinctly sums up everything I’m going to ramble on about

For years I joked about having ADHD. On some level I knew it was true. Life was so hard all the time. But, y’know, I had a messy kidhood fulla trauma. Shit was gonna be harder as an adult, right? The burden of the abuse victim and all that?|

I had no idea what to do about it. People say “go get diagnosed & get meds” yet when I googled and searched for HOW, there was no clear answers. Do I go to my regular doctor (whom I innately distrust because medical fatphobia is a real obstacle)? A psychiatrist? A therapist? Start with an online test? When I couldn’t find the answers easily, or even with moderate searching, I would move on and promptly forget about getting diagnosed, til I was reminded again how hard my life was because of my “quirks.”

In hindsight, there are so many factors that delayed my diagnosis. The highlights:

~I approached a close friend who was trained in special ed with my fears that I was autistic/neurodiverse because I had many of the symptoms (fyi, ADHD and autism have a HUGE overlap in behaviors.) She shut me down so harshly, made it clear I COULDN’T have autism/ND and how dare…! I never felt safe going to anyone else with my concerns, because if a special ed teacher who was also my friend couldn’t find the compassion to listen without making me feel like a complete idiot, who could I go to?

~ADHD is – to this day – couched as a male affliction. Women are not less afflicted, we’re just underdiagnosed because medical misogyny is a huge obstacle we face.

~ever since I tried to kill myself with pills as a teen, and the hospital went out of their way to make my treatment as painful as possible so I wouldn’t try it again, I’ve had a phobia about pills.

~I saw it as a point of pride to manage and improve my mental illness w/o meds.

~2nd husband repeatedly expressed fear of me taking psych medicine because “what if it changes you into a different person and you/I don’t love each other anymore.”

~I defined my personality by my mental illness “quirks”. The boisterous laughs, the wackadoo shit I say, falling in love at the first sign Emotional Intimacy was possible, being “too much”, feeling “too much”, etc. Even though I’ve spent the last 9 years reducing my self-hate, internalized misogyny/fatphobia, etc., I was afraid of losing who I was as a result. Would I still be funny? Whimsical? Interesting? Loveable?

~I was always called “lazy” by my teachers, parents, etc. It never occurred to them to look into WHY. I believed them, so I stopped trying. I accepted I wasn’t meant to live a full life because even if I could fix my “crazy” and educate my “stupid”, how could I overcome this constant internal screaming and fear paralysis when I was too lazy to just…not be this way?

I could go on but ultimately – I let a lot of things stop me from pursuing diagnosis and treatment. A kinder and equally true view is I couldn’t navigate a lot of the things stopping me, no matter how I tried. That’s the crux of ADHD. It stops you from doing the things you need to do to make dealing with ADHD better. You wanna fix yourself, or get help and your brain is like “NOPE.” And you have no idea what to do next.

But after a year of seeing increasingly (and alarmingly) relevant memes, tweets, blogs, and TY videos about ADHD, I couldn’t deny it anymore. THIS WAS ME.

The breaking point was a brief situationship with a fellow ADHDer who was medicating and handling their shit. Seeing how much I was struggling and how much they were not was eye-opening (as was their disdain for my “cutesy whimsical quirks” which had charmed so many other, duller men.) I suspect this person saw me for what I was – someone with wildly uncontrolled ADHD who was pretending like she had it together. The final straw was being strung along, then dumped. Seeing all my coping mechanisms fail as I struggled to deal with the fallout made it clear how badly ADHD had/was/is affecting me. Especially when I realized my “quirks” (read: wildly inadequate behaviors) had likely driven this person away. Knowing I never wanted to let someone’s rejection & shoddy treatment destroy me like that – ever again.

And it was everything other realization which came after I finally recognized how untreated ADHD was fucking up my life. How much I’d sacrificed to make my marriages work and my spouses feel secure – entirely at my own expense. How many friendships I wanted to cultivate but let fall by the wayside because I only had a limited amount of energy for friends (because I wouldn’t stop overdoing and overperforming and confusing friendship with emotional intimacy.) It was my Trauma along with my ADHD/OCD/PTSD screaming I was never going to stop FUCKING UP if I didn’t do something.
It was my Higher Self, who’s voice has been getting stronger and more sure with every year that passed, every therapist, every self-help book I integrated, finally stepping in and saying “We’re not doing this anymore. It hurts too much. Let’s find another way. “

“Aren’t you tired?”

So I started with my therapist, who gave me a brief test which confirmed I had ADHD traits (among other things.) Then I made an appointment with a medical manager (a nurse practitioner w/a specialty in psych meds to be exact) for thorough diagnosis and medication. While waiting for the appointment with the nurse, I had to go to my GP for meds to help with the severe depression & anxiety because simply existing was so painful.

That was six months ago.

I’ve had several medication adjustments, and one switch. I’m only on Adderall now because Ritalin was great, but if Adderall could be better, I wanna know. No more missing out. NOMO.

I’d like to say getting on meds magically changed everything – it did and it didn’t. It took two months just to get an appointment. I used that time to work on my co-dependence, my ability to love myself; I learned non-violent communication and how to stop dissociating. I learned why I kept choosing partners who never came through for me like I did for them, why I put myself down to raise others up, why I treated every relationship like a transactional exchange instead of trusting I was someone worth liking, even loving, just as I was. I learned how to value myself, and put me first.

Then my appointment came – and so did the meds. The change was incredible. The internal screaming I’d lived with my entire life was quieter, even absent. My brain, which never ran slower than a Blue Angel, became…less frantic. I no longer lived in a constant state of panic. I inserted compassion into every aspect of my self-care and interactions with others. I accepted that in the midst of a global pandemic, climate destruction, and living in a fatphobic proto-fascist society, I had done my best. I was doing my best. I am doing my best.
When I look back to a year ago, or even 9 months ago, I wish it hadn’t been so shitty. I wish I could have been the me I am today. I wish I’d treated my ADHD years ago, and given Past Me the life we knew we always wanted and could have if only….

The only power I have about it now is to change Present Self so my Future Self will continue to be someone I’m proud of. That means treating my ADHD, learning about it instead of being afraid of it, and accepting the losses along the way.

I look at the people I’ve lost who I wanted to keep because of my unmanaged mental illness behaviors.
The people who should have been let go, but were kept because of my rampant co-dependence, and anxious attachment.
The marriages that went long after their due date because I thought it was my job as WIFE to hold everything together.

I look at years lost. The college I flunked out of twice. The life experiences I refused because I knew I couldn’t handle them with “how I was.” The grief one feels after seeing the life they could have had, had they known and gotten treatment sooner….it’s real. I’m grieving Who I Could Have Been. It’s not wrong for me to feel sadness, anger, betrayal at all the things that kept me from living. Especially when I see how the world is set up for neurotypicals to have that life, which means it is very specifically not set up for people like me. Often, it’s set up to keep people like me OUT and that’s bullshit.

But between the grief and the hard work of learning to manage all these new things I can do – is joy. Happiness. Passion renewed. Hope. Realio, trulio hope.

I know there’s a lot of heartbreak in my future, a lot more struggle, and a lot more work as I pick up the pieces of who I was and recreate myself into who I’ve always wanted to be. But this summer has been more fruitful, more exciting, more of Everything than I ever thought my life could be.

When I started this year, I was a traumatized, hopeless, heartbroken, helpful people-pleaser desperate for anyone to love her.

I’m not her anymore. I thanked her for her efforts and have sent her home to rest. Permanently.

I’m almost ten months in, and while it’s not all roses, there’s bloom. I could bemoan what was lost. And I do. I can also chase every dream, whim, opportunity, and aspiration from here til death. No more binary living or thinking. No more letting fear rule the roost. No more missing out. NOMO.

I never thought I’d be happy to be alive when I was 8 and tried to yeet myself for the first time. I never thought I’d make it to my 30s in my 20s, and my 40s in my 30s. I’m ready to let that thought cycle go. I’m here til I’m not and I’m gonna make as much of it count as I can.

I still read ADHD memes and tweets and tumblrs and say ‘Oh yeah that’s me.’ But now I also say ‘oh yeah, that used to be me.’

That’s everything.

Published by Manplow

Writing to heal. Writing to feel. Writing to deal. Just writing and writing and writing.....

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