Emotional support for recent ADHD diagnosis
March 4, 2021 9:46 PM   Subscribe

I recently found out I have ADHD, and while I thought I’d run the gamut of hypothetical self-diagnoses I really didn’t expect this one. I’m feeling kind of down about it and hoping others will be able to buoy my spirit.

Since I was at least a teenager, I’ve had a lot of (what I now know to be) the typical signs: hyperfocus alternating with periods of NO focus, “OCD tendencies” (to compensate for the ADHD), fidgety-ness (which I always thought was just high energy), a love-hate relationship with caffeine, emotional reactivity, impulsiveness and impaired long-term memory. (I’ve seen layman’s resources saying long-term memory isn’t affected by ADHD, but scholarly articles claiming it is. Not sure how clear the evidence is.) Because I masked well as a child, I never felt ADHD was really a possibility— I was not overtly physical and was OK at being still in school, though I found it very difficult to listen to lectures. I still struggle to understand and retain information given orally, and find it much easier to learn from written resources.

This constellation of traits made me very good at depth-y analysis (when I can finally entice myself to focus), not so good at breadth. I’ve always felt like kind of an impostor— good at (for instance) writing an argumentative essay that I can iterate on over and over, but terrible at recalling any of the information or argumentation of the essay later. Good at understanding a mathematical concept deeply, but incapable of recalling how to use it later or analyzing a problem on the fly. (See: good at abstract math, at least until I forget the theorems, terrible at computational math due to errors and long-term memory holes re: formulae, etc.). Now that I know this is a sort of “fixed” part of how my brain works, rather than my own laziness or failure to apply myself, I feel quite discouraged. I compare myself to people I really admire— philosophers, mathematicians, etc.— and feel I could never have anything to contribute even modestly in those fields because these “brain holes” make me fundamentally a con artist of some kind, who just pulls things off because I have the hyperfocus superpower.

Basically, I could use counterexamples or a reframe! Some additional info/musings:

Back when it was a diagnosis, I considered that I might have Asperger’s, but it never felt quite right because I had poor long-term information recall when it came to facts and information. (Then again, I tend to have good recall about certain topics, like global food/wine culture, but this is not really one of the stereotypical “autistic” special interests so I possibly discount it.) I also felt that I was good at picking up on irony, sarcasm, and other non-literal information. On the other hand, at work I struggle to understand directions unless they’re very clear and specific (I’ve considered I would be a good technical writer). I’ve always struggled socially, which seems like an area of overlap between ASD/Asperger’s/ADHD. I feel quite “sloppy” compared to others, intellectually, socially and physically.

I also have excellent recall of things like song lyrics, quotes, even pieces of dialogue from movies or TV shows. As a very young child, I keep a notebook with me where I’d write down jokes I heard on TV so I wouldn’t forget them (of course, I never read these journals, I was just a bit obsessive about collecting them). I was always a very fast reader, read constantly, learned new vocabulary quickly, and have gotten perfect scores on many tests of verbal reasoning. (Less so on the math side, though I do well in math classes.) I sort of conceptualized this as being “hyperverbal,” and I still wonder if it has anything to do with either ADHD or some other cognitive profile (like Asperger’s) but I haven’t seen any indication that’s the case. Again, I’ve always felt like an impostor because while I was good at speed reading, comprehension & vocabulary, I wasn’t particularly “talented” at anything outside of argumentative essay writing and documentation. Other people I knew who were skilled verbally were talented socially, good public speakers or great fiction writers, unlike me. (I did come to enjoy poetry and specialized in it in college, but enjoyed writing it more than reading it, which made me feel even more like a fake. Actually, I was great at things like analyzing meter but terrible at using it in my own poetry, and enjoyed meaning-making in my own poetry but struggled to interpret the poems of others, outside of a narrow band of poets that were meaningful to me. So it felt like my skills were sort of scattershot and never hung together very well.)

A professor of mine encouraged me to go to law school, but I knew that while I’d probably be good at the analytical work, my lack of robust social skills (and difficulty networking) would hold me back.

Anyway, these are just some self-centered musings because I feel like I struggle to fit my strengths/weaknesses into a profile that would make me feel proud, rather than duplicitous or ashamed. I could really use other people’s thoughts and perspectives, as I find myself feeling put into a box and pessimistic about my place in the world. Thanks in advance. <3
posted by stoneandstar to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should also say I work in tech, and find that the hyperfocus is great for getting into a powerful flow state, but when it comes to discussing work socially in more shallow/breadthy terms I feel like a complete airhead. I also feel like the hyperfocus/flow is so intense that at times I almost feel physically avoidant of it, because I know I’ll get sucked in and have a hard time climbing out, become workaholic, etc. Feels like trying to get myself to touch a hot stove at times. Just feels upsetting that being at my most “powerful” also feels so dysfunctional.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:12 PM on March 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It's not a handicap. It just means you have quirks you have to both to take advantage of... and cope with.

When you are in the flow (OCD on the job itself) you don't want to be interrupted, so organized your stuff into shorter segments with more immediate goals.

When you are in a bit of a funk, wanting to focus on something else, you have to divide your attention on multiple things so your productivity doesn't fall that far off and you get NOTHING done whatsoever.

This sort of coping strategy, basically. Little life hacks for yourself.

I don't socialize well at all, never have. I cope well enough, but it's not my forte. I cope by writing, studying, and staying behind the keyboard (like now).
posted by kschang at 10:41 PM on March 4, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I myself am fairly recently diagnosed (about a year ago now, officially). Within the past few months, I've started seeing a therapist who has experience with ADHD folks. It has been MAGICAL. She's helping me to unpack a lot of my feelings around the diagnosis, and I'm learning that my frustration with it isn't so much the diagnosis itself, but rather because I generate a lot of my self worth from my (perceived) productivity/success.

In addition to a lot of the more traditional therapy type stuff, she's also given me concrete tips to help organize my ADHD brain (I'm trying out a paper planner after being app-based for ages, as she says ADHD brains tend to click with that). So, I highly recommend finding a therapist who works with ADHD diagnosed people.

Another coping mechanism I've found is listening to podcasts about ADHD. Many of them are hosted by people with ADHD, and so can be unstructured and rambling (lol). Some are good for tips and tricks, while others feed my need to feel like other people "get it." Here's a few I like:

- Hacking Your ADHD: he structures it in a way that's easily digestible for my brain (including a recap at the end with a summary of the tips he covered).
- Adulting with ADHD is another shorter, bite sized podcast with a mix of good tips and interviews. Plus, I like that its hosted by a woman (so many podcasts are hosted by men!). She has a great series on how ADHD and women's hormones interact.
- Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast is hosted by an ADHD coach, so there's a lot more strategies/life hacks there. They are PROLIFIC, so there's a huge backlog to check out.

And finally, Facebook groups. There's a million, and I think the ones that are good are those that have effective moderation. I think ADHD for Smart Ass Women is pretty good, but YMMV. And with that, I'm going to stop procrastinating and go to bed!
posted by bluloo at 11:14 PM on March 4, 2021 [22 favorites]

Best answer: There is a risk of attributing difficulties to ADHD too quickly after a late and recent diagnosis, at least that's the case for me. After years or decades of attributing them to other causes, it can feel like now, finally, there's an explanation for everything. And that is true to a large extent, but it's easy to overestimate that initially.

As a woman in tech, imposter syndrome is very likely. Untangling what is the result of sexism and misogyny in that environment (constantly having to prove yourself, not being taken seriously, not being given the benefit of the doubt or assumed to possess the necessary expertise, undervalued contributions, all the little signals that you're other and don't really belong - of course they have an effect), untangling that from what truly are things you're struggling with more than others, or conversely, what comes easier to you than to others, that is not easy but worthwhile to attempt. Another factor is the disproportionate weight we can give to what is difficult for us and discounting what is easy. Just because it's easy for you doesn't mean it's not important or that others could do it as well.

Now that you have a diagnosis, you have a much better chance at improving the things that remain problematic after you've cleared away the chaff that's just imposter syndrome or old attributions to character flaws. You can find and try out strategies, get help, get meds, get or give yourself accommodations, find others that have gone through similar experiences. You can get to know yourself and how your brain works in the light of new information. Be kind to yourself, you've just been quite unsettled.
posted by meijusa at 1:21 AM on March 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: So much of your self description reminded me of me. I don't have a formal diagnosis, but think I very likely have some version of ADHD from various self-diagnostic tools and lists of symptoms. Similarly, I always did well in school and was always more of a dreamy, could get lost in a book all day kid that stereotypically hyperactive.

Some ideas on reframing. I think it's good to remind yourself that everyone has their challenges, you are just more aware of yours and can name them better now. There are still things that are relatively easy for you that other people struggle with (probably some you're not even aware of because it's not something you find hard). And also that a lot of people feel like imposters, which goes double if you are a woman in STEM.

I think it's good to look into various resources for coping strategies, all those things like making lists and setting reminders, but specifically with the mindset that you're trying things on to see if they work for you. Some of them won't, but that's not because you're broken or doing it wrong, it just isn't a good fit for you. It's important to be gentle with yourself too and reward yourself for half measures and steps in the right direction. For example, I've been trying out the pomodoro method to try to help keep myself on task, but the official version is way too rigid and precise for me. But I've found setting a time for breaks really helpful to not just lose an hour to who knows what, and sometimes just the act of setting the timer to start working helps me focus.
posted by orchidee at 5:32 AM on March 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've struggled with this too since I am not in the camp that sees it as a "gift" at all (speaking only for myself), but having a diagnosis has made it easier to identify areas of strength and ways to take advantage of them. That plus meds and ADHD-specific coping strategies have helped a lot with feeling more competent. Nothing's changed about you since the diagnosis - you're still the same person, but now you know why some of your traits are what they are and that can really help you be your best self and be happy about that.

You may already know this, but ADHD and autism can be comorbid or misdiagnosed for each other because there is a lot of overlap, as you mention. So if ADHD doesn't explain everything, there may be more to the story. Your description does sound very typical for ADHD, and very much like me (I definitely have ADHD and also seem to have some autistic traits but haven't really investigated much).
posted by randomnity at 6:16 AM on March 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Imagine taking a squeaky bicycle, pouring a gallon of gasoline on it, and wondering why it doesn't go faster and is still squeaky. The bicycle isn't broken, it just needs bike grease and not gasoline. It works differently than a combustion engine, and needs different tools. That's the imagery that finally unlocked how I think about my own ADHD brain. Some tools I've used and cannot recommend hard enough:

-Therapy! Specifically the talk kind, where you do most of the talking. I think in jumbles and clouds, which is awesome in creative scenarios and helpful for brainstorming but can be indecipherable and unintelligible to anyone who is not me. Therapy is one hour every week where I sift through my thoughts in my own way, in real time, aloud with another human who makes sure she genuinely follows and understands what I'm saying, all on my terms. It's practice that helps me avoid compromising the way my brain wants to think for the sake of articulating it to others. I've spent a lifetime filtering, trying to fit the way everyone else thinks, because that's what I had to do to get by. Therapy has helped me learn how to communicate without constantly having to translate, to let my brain work the way it wants to.

Also: You mention a history of masking, imposter feelings, laziness, and difficulty with recall. It would make a lot of sense that a lifetime of feeling like you're a lazy faker (a feeling later reinforced when you're on the fly in a high-stakes or stressful situation and can't recall the details of something) would leave you feeling discouraged and depressed or anxious. (That "Just feels upsetting that being at my most “powerful” also feels so dysfunctional" feeling.) There's a reason these things are often seen together! Therapy is great for detangling them.

-Mindfulness meditation has specifically helped with drifting attention and focus. Like working out to build muscle, meditation is a workout to help build focus, to gain control of how I use hyperfocus/flow and to help push through that recall block. Many guided meditation sessions are online right now if you want a low-stakes way to experiment.

-Following ADHD tags in your corners of the internet. I didn't know how many of my weird quirks where associated with ADHD until I saw other folks talking about them. It makes me feel seen and also is nice to have actually helpful tips that make sense to me!

It's hard work and I am rooting for you!
posted by storpsmop at 6:20 AM on March 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I am an autistic male with ADHD and I recognise almost everything in your post. As mentioned by randomnity, there is a huge overlap between ADHD and autism and it's often very hard to work out what is causing what. It is well known that females often mask autism more effectively than men. I would not discount autism based on the reasoning in your post, before discussing it with a professional (if you haven't already.)

I waited a long time for an autism diagnosis because I was able to do so many of the things that autistic people supposedly can't do - eye contact, socialising, understanding sarcasm etc. It turns out I was just a very quick and effective learner who was able - from very early on - to mimic my socially successful peers. This is not uncommon, and I guess it can't be ruled out that you may have done something similar.

FWIW the most useful thing I did in the entire diagnostic process was take a WAIS-IV test, which suggested I have an abnormally high brain processing speed (this helps makes me a very quick reader, learner, and able to understand complex problems almost on sight.) That and the other scores helped me to understand why in some areas it felt like I had superpowers and in others I was a klutz. All through school I felt like an impostor - I felt disassociated from some of the amazing results I got because I felt that surely, people who did well in exams felt more confident and accomplished than I did? ADHD meant I couldn't hold a date in my head for 5 minutes, yet I was also getting 100% in some exams. Seeing my strengths and weaknesses in figures and graphs on the page helped me untangle the whole issue.
posted by mani at 7:23 AM on March 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm an autistic and ADHD, assessed in my early 30s. I was a superb intuitive masker until I hit a burnout I couldn't bounce back from. I hid everything, no one in my life knew how hard I was struggling. Like you and mani, my quick processing speed disguised a spiky cognitive profile. I didn't discover any of my weaknesses until college. And because I grew up female and scored well on tests, my early traits were overlooked. I felt different and alone, and after a decade of falling further and further behind my peers, I felt hopeless, lazy and stupid too.

What changed me was talking to other neurodivergent people. I can't get those lost years back, but I'm learning to see myself as driven, creative and incredibly resilient. We are part of a fantastic community that is adaptive and strong! I've been seeking out tools to cope with my sensory and executive function issues, and for the first time it seems like I might be able to craft a life that is joyous and sustainable. I don't feel like a fuck-up anymore. I'm just Linux and everyone else is Windows: I'm making my way in a world that isn't built for me. That makes me a fighter.

I'll info dump some resources. The DSM-V is lightyears behind what other ND people have to say, and biased toward profiling young cis white boys to boot. Talk to us! ADHD and autism share a big venn, so don't be afraid to pull resources from both.

Women and Girls with Autism Spectrum Disorder by Sarah Hendrickx
You Mean I'm Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?! by Kate Kelly and Peggy Ramundo

How to ADHD
Embrace ASD
Tania Marshall's list: Moving toward an adult female profile of autism
Samantha Craft's Autistic Traits Checklist

@mykola, @mspowahs, @NomeDaBarbarian

Facebook Groups
Executive Dysfunction Life Hacks
Autism Late Diagnosis Education and Support
Autistic Adults with ADHD
Beyond Stereotypes: Healthcare Professionals & Autistics who Camouflage

I hear TikTok has a strong ND community too. Browse around!

"I compare myself to people I really admire— philosophers, mathematicians, etc.— and feel I could never have anything to contribute even modestly in those fields because these 'brain holes' make me fundamentally a con artist of some kind, who just pulls things off because I have the hyperfocus superpower."

Plenty of high-achieving people are neurodivergent and rely on up/down cycles of hyperfocus and lossy drifting to get things done. Just because you don't hear about it, doesn't mean it isn't there! Everyone uses aids, strategies and routines to help them achieve their goals. As you learn more about yourself, you'll be better equipped to work with your brain and find the ones you need. Externalizing is perfectly valid and good.
posted by lloquat at 2:42 PM on March 5, 2021 [9 favorites]

Best answer: You might also enjoy Your Rainforest Mind by Paula Prober and Living with Intensity by Daniels & Piechowski.
posted by lloquat at 7:06 AM on March 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I would highly recommend anything by Michelle Frank and Sari Solden, especially the Radical Guide for ADHD Women (or something like that, I’m on mobile). They were among the first to focus on ADHD in adult women, and were one of relatively few presenters to use intersectionality at the last international ADHD conference I went to. I’m about five years and a lot of work into my diagnosis and I’ve processed my feelings about it a little *too* much for it to be very useful, so I think it would be perfect for you!
posted by emkelley at 5:46 AM on March 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

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