When You Realize You Have ADHD

There are several people in my life who have ADHD. It manifests for them in different ways and each of them have a variety of coping skills, so it's not like when you meet them, the ADHD is obvious. Perhaps that is why it never occurred to me that I too have ADHD, until one day it did.

I have been praised for living an adventurous life. I studied abroad in Moscow, Copenhagen, and London to end up living in London for seven years. I have a list of hobbies a mile long including woodworking, crocheting, sewing, long distance running, triathlon, open water swimming, photography, gardening, telescope making, tiny house living, short story writing, watercolor painting, cello, ham radio, camping, hiking, whitewater kayaking, waterskiing, snowboarding, and flamenco dancing.

Once, a co-worker shared this image with me, before memes were a thing. I laughed and never thought of it as a problem. I'm outgoing, adventurous, spontaneous, curious... Those are all good things, right?

But I'm also impulsive and I hyper focus. That means I invest a large amount of energy, time, and money on whatever has captured my attention, leaving most everything else forgotten. Like the time I built multiple large raised garden beds to grow rare vegetables as a person who hates to cook...

It also means I have changed career goals frequently and started several business and never stuck with any of them for long. It means I get bored easily. It means internally I feel like I don't make progress and my life is the sum of many distractions and restarts.

On the outside, I am a professional. I have received praise in almost all of my endeavors. I'm smart. I work well with others. I create value. I am well compensated. But on the inside I have this nagging feeling that I have enormous potential and can not sit still long enough to realize even a fraction of it. It haunts me constantly.

There are other signs I missed. My children call me Dory from finding Nemo because I forget everything. Phrases such as "Will you remind me of x tomorrow?" come out of my mouth often. I have rules that I can not leave the kitchen when I am cooking otherwise the smoke alarm will remind me that dinner was done a while ago... And meal planning, shopping for food, making food are so overwhelming that I avoid them as much as possible.

Photo by Jiří Mikoláš

Historically my organizational skills were zero. I reasoned that it made sense because I was never taught organizational skills growing up. My girl friend once came over and showed me how to organize my closet, the Spark Joy craze showed me how to fold my clothes, and thanks to others who were excited about Every Day Carry (EDC), drawer organizers, and bag organizers I have some systems in my life where I feel acceptable.

When it comes to planning my work and personal life, I have bought every kind of planner imaginable only to drop them like a hot potato 1-2 weeks later. Paper planners, digital planners, bullet journals... my method of remembering things was simply to forget until something reminded me and then to act on it, or to forget and repeat the process. Sometimes browser tabs left opened reminded me, rereading emails, or something someone said... somehow I made it work mostly.

All of this is to say, I find it amazing that one can live their life simply adapting but never seeing the the connections and bigger picture. I find it amazing that no one in my life ever suggested it to me, even though I've been in therapy, I've been coached, and people have often insinuated I'm an odd duck.

If you're reading this and you have experience with ADHD, I will go out on a limb and say everything I wrote above screams ADHD. The lack of focus, easily bored, impulsivity, forgetfulness, etc.

In some ways, knowing you have ADHD changes nothing. These attributes are still a part of your daily life and they are not going away. However knowing you have ADHD allows you to consciously manage rather than unconsciously deny, excuse, avoid, or cope with something not quite understood. You have awareness which gives way to better understanding and better choices. And conscious choice is power.

Later I'll write about the grief I experienced and the weight of realizing I have ADHD when all the coping mechanisms of denial/delusion left the stage of my mind. It's not all roses. Ignorance can be a kind of bliss, but ignorance can never be power because you are not truly in charge. With the gift of awareness comes the responsibility of deciding what now? What do I need to thrive? What has to change? What kind of support do I need? Then comes the part about taking action and starting on a long journey of the next chapter.

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