I grew up in a suburban town in the 80s and 90s, when ADD and Ritalin were only for rambunctious boys who couldn’t sit still. Not for smart, talented girls with quickfire brains who were destined to go places, who were lost in thought all the time and who couldn’t seem to not make silly mistakes on tests or ever clean their rooms or make any real friends, but that’s not a problem, right? If she’d just try harder it’d all be fine, right?
My undiagnosed ADHD was a problem all along, even if the adults in my life either didn’t see it or were in denial that it was anything other than my own poor self-discipline. It became a major problem when I went off to college and found things like going to class and starting homework to be absurdly difficult. I could barely manage Cs in most of my classes.
I’d always had problems with this sort of thing, but nobody else I knew seemed to have these difficulties, and I didn’t understand why. But I hadn’t felt particularly attached to my major, so I transferred to another school closer to home and tried computer science. I had the same issues there, so I moved 500 miles away to be with my internet boyfriend and got a job. As it turned out I wasn’t any better at making myself go to work, pay bills, or even maintain basic self-hygiene. Plus the boyfriend was awful.
After I had a nervous breakdown, my dad told me that if I moved back home and tried college again, he’d pay for an apartment for me, so I did. I went to class for maybe a week before I fell into a deep months-long depression that scared my dad so much that he forced me to go to therapy and get on antidepressants.
This was around the time when all the kids I went to high school with were in their senior year of college and preparing to graduate. But I felt like I had missed some sort of “how to be an adult” class somewhere along the way. What I couldn’t understand was that if I was so smart and talented like everyone had always said, how was it that I was the one who floundered around, getting nasty voicemails from temp agencies I’d ghosted and avoiding opening the yellow bills I received in the mail? It must’ve just been that I was a lazy failure, right?
The antidepressants lifted my mood, and pretty soon I met my future wife (though at the time I thought she was my husband). We had a whirlwind romance and were married within 18 months. She and I were the best of friends but she was (understandably) very frustrated about being married to someone who couldn’t remember to do chores or pay bills. She didn’t understand why I couldn’t just do things, and I continued to hate myself because I didn’t understand why either.
The argument that changed everything
We eventually bought a house and later had a son who is fantastic. A few years into that part of life, my wife and I were arguing about how she’d never heard of anyone other than me who didn’t want to go on walks because they were boring.
In frustration I Googled, trying to find a defense, and found a forum where someone asked about this exact issue and a commenter responded, “Have you looked into ADHD?” I scoffed, but looked up the symptoms for ADHD, fully expecting to immediately rule them out. To my shock, I realized I matched nearly all the symptoms for ADHD-Primarily Inattentive. The next week, I told my therapist, “I think I might have ADHD!” and she responded, “I was starting to think that too.”
I went to my doctor, who after some discussion prescribed me a small dose of plain old Adderall, and I was astounded at the difference it made. Doing boring stuff wasn’t easy per se, but it was much easier for me to at least get started. I was much more mentally present at work and in conversations, and my wife said for the first time she could actually talk to me and feel like I was truly listening. And the weight of “lazy failure” finally started to lift, because I no longer had to view these things as a personality defect or a moral failing; it was a treatable mental health condition.
It has not all been smooth sailing since then. We got laid off from our jobs at almost the same time. Our house got foreclosed on because I forgot to pay the bill, a lot. I estranged myself from my entire biological family over a period of ten years, for reasons that could get an entire blog of their own. We moved to a new city in a new state. The first doctor I found shooed me away as a drug-seeker and it took me 3 years to remember to find a new one, which coincided with (for non-ADHD reasons) an extremely rough patch in my marriage. Eventually my wife came out as a woman, which prompted a lot of thinking on my part, and as it turned out I was nonbinary.
And I think I’m actually ADHD-Combined Type—I just at some point smushed all the hyperactive parts deep into my brain, or into small subtle body movements, so that they wouldn’t pop out and annoy everyone. But knowing I have ADHD has given me explanations for so much of my history, and I’d encourage anyone reading this who feels the way I felt to give the symptom list a glance. It might change your life.
CG can be found as @boundariesmfer on Twitter
ADHD Voices is a series dedicated to sharing the stories of folks like you and me who have ADHD. Posts in the series are written by guest authors, sharing windows into their lives and struggles, written by them, for you and me. If you’d like to share your story, please contact me on social media or through my email, ADHDsurprise @ gmail.com