Grief After ADHD Diagnosis: A Woman’s Symptoms Missed

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I was recently diagnosed with ADHD – and I’m grieving.

Others who received and grieved an ADHD diagnosis in adulthood will tell you not to dwell on the past or to assign blame. But I’m finding this aspect particularly hard to reconcile. Why? Because it shouldn’t have happened to me. Growing up, I was surrounded by educators, and by people whose job it was to identify and understand ADHD and other learning difficulties.

When I look back, it is hard not to feel like I was failed — that I deserved more understanding and compassion than I was given.

I struggled a lot in school, but not in the typical ways. My teachers thought I had dyslexia or reading problems, but since my test results came back surprisingly normal, those suspicions were left at that. I was then referred for psycho-educational assessments. These tests showed that I was “a bright child” with a varying degree of abilities – puzzling everyone around me. They also revealed weaknesses in my executive functioning and working memory. But again, it was left at that.

This struggle, of course, continued into adulthood. At my first professional job after college, I was a pure disaster. Prioritizing was extremely difficult for me, and I couldn’t make sense of what my boss wanted from me. The person before me had made the position look so simple – why couldn’t I just be like her?! What was wrong with me?

[Click to Read: “What It Feels Like Living with Undiagnosed ADHD”]

I’d find myself distracting others or getting lost in my own daydreams instead of helping clients. I’d often go to the washroom and cry, fearing that I would be fired at any second. I eventually left that job, but I vowed not to let the experience hold me back. Instead, I took a major leap and actually started my own business.

Some time later, I stumbled upon some videos about ADHD – and it was like a light switched on in my head. The world finally made sense to me. The diagnosis was initially an amazing and terrifying turning point. Then the anger came.

How could I have gone this long without being diagnosed?

My behaviors and problems in school – unmistakably ADHD symptoms – were pointed out many times and documented in report cards since the first grade. Rushing to finish work, trouble paying attention, disorganization – it was there the whole time. How can I not feel jilted, especially when the answer was to put me down instead of finding solutions? What’s more, I was often told there was no way I could have ADHD!

[Related Reading: ADHD Looks Different in Women. Here’s How — and Why.]

We don’t talk enough about the heartache that comes with seemingly unrealized potential. Knowing I couldn’t live up to the dreams and expectations that were set out for me, because the deck was stacked against me, hurts. Who could I be now if I had only known sooner? What would school have been like? Would I even be the same person?

We don’t talk enough about the shame and humiliation that comes with constantly being told your behavior needs to change. The pain associated with feeling that the way you feel, think, and see the world isn’t good enough. That you’ve failed at “normal” and at conforming to the functionality and views of those around you.

As the quote often attributed to Einstein goes, “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live it’s whole life believing it is stupid.” A fish was not made for climbing trees, but for swimming. And that’s where I feel like I was robbed – I was and am that fish, expected to climb the neurotypical education-and-work tree. I’ve wasted so many years trying to climb, when instead I could have been swimming and growing to my full potential.

I believe I can only let go and finally start swimming when I know that the other “fish” (i.e. girls with ADHD) won’t have to go through what I went through. That somewhere in all my frustration, heartbreak, and pain there is a valuable lesson that may benefit others. That this wasn’t pointless.

Before I and others can freely swim into the unknown, we need to build more awareness around ADHD in girls and their unique experiences. Beyond that, we need to uplift and celebrate the many types of brains that make our world vibrant and beautiful.

Grief After ADHD Diagnosis: Next Steps


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Updated on January 29, 2021

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