As I sat in the doctor's office waiting for confirmation of my test results, my heart pounded in my chest. I had taken extra time to answer the multitudes of questions honestly. I really thought about the truth of my current life and my life experiences leading up to this day. For, quite possibly, the first time in my life, I had decided to answer the questions from a place of complete transparency without a thought of what people would think. I answered honestly about having to heavily rely on people in my life (mostly my husband) to remind me of details and to complete simple tasks at home. With a shaking hand, I checked the box of "VERY OFTEN" beside the question of how often I am distracted by activity or noise around me. I answered the questions with complete honesty and the results came in...ADHD.
I had known for a long time that something was different about me. Growing up, I was the kid who always "kind of" fit in but didn't. I was always on the periphery. I had masterfully found ways to seem "normal". Smile, keep your mouth shut, wear the same clothes as everyone else, pretend to understand people, pretend to enjoy parties and loud clubs, pretend to enjoy socializing, pretend to be smart, pretend to have it all together, pretend to like the same music. Pretend, pretend, pretend. I had been brilliant at reading the room and sussing out who thought what and what was acceptable and I molded myself according to whatever and whoever was in the room.
I morphed and changed like an amazing chameleon. I was a rainbow of personalities depending on who I was with. Looking back, I was quite adept and I perfected the art of burying my real self in response to whoever I was with at the time.
To the unbelievably sad point where I had no idea who my real self was. I decided that I would make people like me and love me by selflessly giving and giving and giving forgetting myself completely in the process. I gave things, I gave time, I gave my heart, I even gave my soul in some instances.
I decided that I would make people like me and love me by selflessly giving and giving and giving forgetting myself completely in the process.
Even though I had no idea who I was, I always knew that whoever I was was different. What I didn't know was why. I had my suspicions, though. I thought maybe it was because I was the child of immigrant parents. I thought maybe it was a product of my upbringing. Or, maybe it was just the fact that I was broken. In the years leading up to this day, I had explained to my husband that I was just "broken". I sympathized with him apologizing to him about the fact that he had chosen a broken person. He never understood it but I did. Broken was the best way to describe my experience. Everyone else always seemed so put together. Broken was my truth.
Until the day the results came in. Suddenly, the "broken" descriptor didn't quite fit. Suddenly, I had a reason for my experience. Suddenly, I had an explanation for the way that I was that wasn't my fault. Suddenly, I wasn't broken.
The words that I had spent years saying to my students with ADHD now applied to me. "You're not broken, your brain is wired differently." The words I had offered as a soothing balm to my students were now words I could tell myself. And yet? I broke down in tears. In the weeks following the confirmation, I grieved so deeply. I felt incredible grief at the lost time, lost opportunities, lost connections. I grieved
for so much loss. I grieved for the lost possibilities. What would it have been like if had known this as a kid? Who might I have been? Knowing the truth unlocked a cage of some sort for me. I was now able to shed the shackles of "broken" that hung around my ankles and was free to embrace who I was. But, oh no! WHO WAS I underneath all of the pretending and all of the masking?
Broken was my truth.
Along with the deep sense of grief, I also had a massive feeling of relief. Relief that there was finally an explanation for my experience. Relief that I would no longer have to apologize for my brokenness and relief that I had A REASON. And, dare I say, I even experienced a strange sense of gratitude for finally having a name and a reason for it all.
For years, I had felt like I was failing, walking through life as an empty shell. Changing my colours based on other's opinions. Perpetually worried that I would disappoint people or do something to make them mad at me. The constant impending doom I felt when I thought someone would reject me was real and I felt it daily. I struggled with procrastination, forgetfulness, and impulsivity. On the outside, it appeared that I had it all together. I made sure my house was clean and tidy when people came over. When they weren't there? Chaos. I would always get my projects done on time but behind the scenes, I left things to the last minute and got them done through a flood of temper tantrums and tears. I made appointments for myself and kept them but often woke up in the middle of the night worrying that I forgot something, never remembering to put my appointments in the calendar or setting reminders for myself. In the constant search for dopamine rushes, I would soothe myself by online shopping and buying things that I didn't need and sometimes didn't even really want. All for the excitement of buying the thing and waiting for it to arrive. I couldn't understand why I had these unbelievably incredible moments of super focus where I could achieve boundless creativity when working on a project. People had called me "random and scattered" because I had so many interests and had pursued and considered so many different career options. I started books and never finished them. I started shows and never finished them. I started hobbies and never pursued them beyond the first couple of tries. It all didn't make much sense until my diagnosis. It all felt broken. And then? Suddenly, it all had a name and a reason. As I continued to experience all of the same things, I saw them through a different lens. One by one, each trait was a puzzle piece falling into place.
So, now I am faced with the question of how to navigate a late ADHD diagnosis? Unaware of my ADHD, six months ago I had signed up for an ADHD Life Coaching certification in order to gain skills to support my students and other potential clients with a diagnosis of ADHD. Oh, the irony! So, as I began the course, I then received my diagnosis. A perfect storm. The things I am now learning as a person with ADHD and as an ADHD Life Coach trainee are life-changing. Not only am I learning to be a coach who is present with their ADHD clients, I am also learning to be present with myself. I am learning to see all of my quirky traits simply as traits...not as faults and to meet them with a softness rather than frustration. I no longer scold myself so much when I mess up or neglect to finish something I started. I am learning to be gentle with myself when I notice myself doing something that is indicative of my ADHD. This couldn't be a greater gift and it's a gift that I get to give myself again and again. My husband now has a deeper understanding of the person he signed up to live with and I think I can say that he would tell you that it has been a relief for him as well.
The greatest challenge in all of this, though, has and continues to be the unmasking. The peeling back of the layers and layers of personalities that I have created in the name of fitting in and being accepted. I am still on this journey and it's a gut-wrenching process filled with fear and apprehension. Why? Because what if? What if the people in my life don't like the person underneath the layers? What if they leave? What if I get rejected? The "what ifs" are abundant! I am still navigating this path and am learning who my support people are and strengthening my support team with new people who understand what it means to have an ADHD diagnosis and unmask. I am learning to connect with people on an honest heart-level and ask for help. I am learning that it's OK to reach out. I am learning that I am not an island and that I am not broken.
And so, the learning continues. Just when you think you are too old to learn something new or that you've got things figured out, a new perspective rolls in and joins the party and shows you that things can be different. What you thought was your truth may just be an old story that you've been telling yourself your entire life.
I am learning that it's OK to reach out.
So, consider this my ADHD coming out story. Not everyone in my life knows it yet but they do now, I guess? It's scary to put it out there but I do this in hopes of giving others who may be struggling with symptoms the permission to seek out answers for themselves. It's ok, no matter what your age, to seek answers. It's ok, no matter what your age, to learn to adapt and change. It's ok, no matter what your age, to choose new perspectives and grow. IT'S OK! And it's Ok because it's never, ever too late. And I will fly my freak flag and say that I hope to be peeling back the layers and discovering things about myself right up until the day I pass. I will embrace my ADHD self and pursue interests and drop them in a hot minute if I decide to because I love to learn. I will embrace my down days when I can't get off the couch and I will relish in the days when I am a jackass doing stuff that is weird and ridiculous. I don't have a choice...it's in my veins, it's in my soul and I'm OK with that.
There's no denying that getting an ADHD diagnosis mid-life is a rollercoaster of emotions. But it's also a HUGE opportunity for growth and self-discovery. I'm still figuring out how to navigate this new chapter in my life, but I'm excited to see what the future holds. I'm old but I am not finished. In fact, I feel like in some ways I have only just begun.