When my son Markus was diagnosed with ADHD at the age 12, I met with a psychologist to learn more about it. Instead of answering my questions, she told me to scale down my very ambitious son’s expectations so he wouldn’t be disappointed in life. Who would ever tell a child that? Not me. Instead, I fired her.
Eight months later, I received the same ADHD diagnosis. Because our symptoms were so different, it took me eight months of learning about his ADHD to finally see his diagnosis in myself. I discovered that my drive and ambition were a form of hyperactivity.
I felt vindicated by my diagnosis. I had struggled for several years to explain symptoms that were getting worse as I got older (hello, hormones). I was tired of going to doctors who would, in essence, pat me on the head and say, “Honey, it’s nothing.” I knew it was something.
I also knew that, had my mother taken the same bad advice I had received, I would have never graduated from college, completed law school, or received a second graduate degree.
That’s also when I made it my mission to change the somber conversation around ADHD. I’ve long subscribed to the theory that whether we think we can or think we can’t, we’re right. I choose to believe that I can.
Do I have weaknesses? I do. I’m never on time for anything that’s not business-related; my husband will affirm that that means my business, not his. I’m incapable of washing a load of laundry just once; the smoke alarm is the only reason my house hasn’t burned to the ground; and I cannot tell a linear story to save my life — or yours.
But the flipside to my ADHD weaknesses are my great ADHD strengths. I’m not hyperactive, just otherworldly energetic. I’m not distractible, just incessantly curious. And, yes, I’m impulsive but isn’t it Dr. Ned Hallowell himself who posits that creativity is simply impulsivity gone right?
Medication didn’t work for me, so I had to figure out what did. I learned that I need quick workarounds. If it’s complicated, I won’t do it. Exercise works well at increasing my dopamine, so I think of it as my medicine.
My day always begins with a workout. If I know I will have an especially hectic morning, I’ll make it easier to start my routine by sleeping in my gym clothes and just jumping out of bed.
The truth is that I have felt different my entire life. I’ve always been too much. Too chatty (as a child they called me the “Burlingame Blab,” after my hometown and because I’d share family secrets to anyone who’d listen); too intent on challenging the status quo (I proposed to my husband by flying a plane over Singing Beach, MA); too ambitious (I go big or I go home); too willing to say exactly what’s on my mind (like the time I told my kindergarten teacher that blue was a better color than the puke green she was wearing.)
Even so, I’d always done well in school, had never been fired from a job, counted my one and only marriage among my greatest achievements, and have always found clutter anxiety-producing. Could I really have ADHD?
Read more of this article I wrote for ADDitude here.