by Cynthia Hammer, MSW, ACSW – Founder of the non-profit ADD Resources
It Seemed So Easy for Others
Are wondering if you might have ADHD? Will it be immediately clear to you that you have ADHD so you’re able to set about getting diagnosed and treated? Is it the eureka moment that we so often hear about? Can it be as simple as a parent takes their child in to be diagnosed for ADHD, recognizes it in themselves, bursts into tears, is diagnosed and treated, and experiences a dramatic improvement in their life?
It Took Me Years
This was not my journey of awareness and acceptance of having ADHD. It took me over a year after learning about ADHD to realize I had this disorder and another year in treatment to develop a positive attitude. For any of you who may be reluctant to start your journey, I assure you that learning to accept and manage your ADHD will bring you more satisfaction and contentment with your life than you have ever experienced.
I Was So Sure It Was the Fault of My Poor Parenting
Although my brother and nephew were diagnosed with ADHD years ago, no bells went off in my head when we started to have problems with two of our children. Russell Barkley, Ph.D, says 40% of children diagnosed with ADHD have a parent with the same disorder while Ted Mandelkorn, MD, says that over 90% of those diagnosed with ADHD have a relative somewhere in the immediate or extended family who also has the condition. I knew there was a familial connection to the condition but thought what our children were exhibiting was plain, old-fashioned misbehavior. If we could only parent better, they would behave better.
And So It Went
Off and on I had read library books about ADHD. Sometimes I would think it described one or another of my sons, but then again, it did not sound quite like them. So it went for several years. Then my husband heard a pediatrician talk on ADHD. He came home convinced it described one son. We took him to be diagnosed and started him in treatment. After a year of attending treatment sessions with my son, along with more reading and attending CHADD meetings, I tentatively told the pediatrician treating my son that I thought I had ADHD as well and he readily agreed!
My Denial Pushed Back Help
The prime reason it took so long to help my children and myself is denial. No one wants to admit there is something the matter. They don’t want to have any impairment. They don’t want to be different from normal people. The condition is called a disorder, such a hopeless sounding label. My relatives with ADHD were having major problems in their lives. I was reluctant to associate my children with the same condition. Wasn’t this consigning them to a bleak future? Wouldn’t it be more hopeful to keep working on better parenting skills than to say they had this disorder? I thought ADHD was a handicapping condition that would be diagnosed and that would be it. I focused on denying the disorder, instead of on how treatment could bring benefit and improvement.
Accepting the Diagnosis for Others But Not for Me
After accepting the diagnosis and treatment for my sons, why did it take so long to see the condition in myself? Denial, along with two other factors, was at work. ADHD is difficult to self-identify because of its complexity and the lack of clarity in the description of the symptoms. One author would stress certain features or describe them in a way that I could relate to. I would say, “Yes, that’s me!” Another author would describe other features and it wouldn’t sound like me! I should have paid more attention to the wording that introduces a list of characteristics, where it says, for example, “will demonstrate 8 of the following 20 characteristics.” I didn’t need to have all the characteristics to have the condition, but the characteristics had to be of a degree and pervasiveness that they caused significant turmoil in my life.
Lack of Self-Awareness Made It So Hard
The other factor that makes self-identification difficult is related to an ADHD characteristic, a lack of self-awareness. For example, I could feel I had offended a coworker, but I had no insight or understanding of how or why. I was too fearful of what they might say to ask them. ADHDers do not realize how they come across to others. (This is why it is helpful to have outside evaluations of your behaviors from people closely associated with you.) In many ways, people with ADHD delude themselves that they are doing just fine; it’s the others that they work with or associate with who have the problems. ADHDers always have good reasons to justify why they did something the way they did, and they do not understand why others might have a problem with that.
My Son Helped
My lack of self-awareness made me unable to examine my own actions and say to myself, “This is typical ADHD behavior.” However, I was able to look at my son’s troublesome behaviors and recognize that I did similar things. What he did (or did not do) that annoyed me were things that I did! As I analyzed my son’s annoying behaviors, I began to have some understanding of how I annoyed and frustrated others.
My Supervisor Helped
Another factor in my developing awareness was my supervisor. Her grandson recently had been diagnosed with ADHD, and she had read about the condition. She knew my two children had been diagnosed, and we sometimes would share information. During my annual evaluation, she brought up some points about my work that could use improvement, e.g., my inability to be a team player; my penchant for getting excited about a new project, but dropping it when only partly finished, blithely expecting someone to finish it because I had moved on to other things; and my not prioritizing my work so that the most important things got done. She said I was a mixed bag and that made it hard to evaluate me. I did some things very, very well and other things inadequately. I recognized these behavior patterns as common to ADHD. When I mentioned that I thought I might have ADHD (again my tentativeness), she said she thought so too.
Treatment Brought Me Relief
After getting diagnosed by a knowledgeable physician, I entered treatment, and like the condition itself, my emotions became very complicated. Of course, I felt relief, mentally saying over and over again, “So that explains it!” After starting on medicine, I immediately noticed improvements in my functioning and relationships. The education and counseling I received helped me learn which behaviors were related to ADHD, and I instituted techniques for managing or minimizing their disruptive influence. So it surprised me, when almost a year after being diagnosed, I blurted out, “I’ve been in a grieving process.” I hadn’t been aware of feeling this way until the words came out of my mouth.
Yet, I Grieved for the Loss of My Individuality
Why is there grief! I have two explanations. To accept the diagnosis and treatment, I had a loss in my self-image. Prior to knowing I had ADHD, I knew I was an individual. I did some things, maybe many things, differently than others, but I had a pride in most of my characteristics and abilities. Now I was learning that those characteristics that made me special are a disorder. Even though I had not seen the connection, my special characteristics had made my life more difficult than it is for normal people.
I Felt Disabled, Ashamed and Embarrassed
I felt like a disabled person. As I became more aware of how I came across to others, I felt shame and embarrassment. There was something the matter with me. Others could see it. Often they were reacting negatively to me because of how I acted. Even though part of me could see that my relationships were improving because of treatment, another part of me withdrew from relationships. I felt awkward and self-conscious, feeling that I was less than others.
I Grieved for the Life I’d Lost
The second reason for grief was a realization that my whole life had been less than it could have been. If only someone had only known about my ADHD years ago…. If only I had been diagnosed and treated years earlier…. Much in my life would have been better. These thoughts kept going through my mind. I reflected on the inappropriate actions I had taken, the people I had offended, the mistakes I had made. I felt ADD was accountable for all that had been bad in my life.
I Found Others Who Were Angry Instead
Many ADD adults, in addition to grief, experience anger as they recall their life experiences. They have so many unhappy memories of being demeaned, berated, and made to feel inadequate. Now they wonder why no one knew there was something wrong. They wonder why they weren’t treated with more kindness, patience, understanding, and love. It would have made such a difference!
Now, I Am All That I Was and More
With treatment, both grief and anger subside and resolve. I came to realize that knowing I have ADHD did not make me a new person. I stayed the person I was, my unique, special self. Only now I can better control the kind of person I am, and I am better at perceiving how I come across to others so I can adjust my behavior accordingly. Knowing about my ADHD and getting treatment for it did not make me less, as I initially thought. I am all that I was, and now I have the potential to be even more. In this context, I like to think of the American advertising slogan, New and Improved. While I am not a new model, I am an improved one! Life is a continuing adventure.
*About the Author
Cynthia Hammer, MSW, ACSW, an adult with ADHD and the parent of three sons, two with ADHD. At age 49, she learned that she had ADHD and realized she knew very little about the disorder. Cynthia founded ADD Resources in 1994 and went on to become a nationally recognized advocate for the understanding of ADHD among both those who have it and those who treated it. Cynthia is now retired and lives in Tacoma with her husband.
“Photo courtesy of Vlado-Free Digital Photo.net” – Modified on Canva