How Undiagnosed ADHD Impacted My Home Life

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As you seek an ADHD diagnosis, your doctor or psychiatrist will ask about how it is impacting your home life, as well as work or school. The challenges we face which drive us to seek mental health services will almost always stem from one or more of these major arenas. And as you look closely, you will find the impacts of ADHD in all areas of your life.

As my diagnosis of ADHD-Inattentive came well into adulthood at age 37, I have found plenty of signs of its impact at home, work, and school. Though I of course experienced them all as they happened, I accepted what I had always told myself: that these were the simply signs of a good-for-nothing, lazy, and possibly incompetent person. Someone who did not care for his things, his family, or himself. A person lacking motivation to take care of even simple, every day tasks that every adult is simply expected to do.

As ADHD was given this camouflage of laziness, it wreaked havoc on my home life. After my therapist brought up ADHD I was able to begin to see all of the damage that had been done. Here I share some of the major areas of impact that I have observed in my home life as an adult.

Organization

I have always struggled with organization, and my adult home is no exception. First off, I own too many things. There’s a massive sense of guilt attached to letting go of anything that might one day be useful, and a great deal of nostalgia surrounding a multitude of belongings I’ve kept since childhood. I have collections gathered from many, many past fixations that are neatly stored and awaiting the day when the fixation might resurface.

All of these belongings greatly exacerbate the general state of disorganization that permeates the house. The farther you are from the front door, the more my belongings exist in piles. Historically this has been worst in the garage and an extra bedroom which came to be known as “the storage room.” Both areas tended to grow in clutter until I literally just threw items through the door onto the pile because either the mess was so bad the extra item wouldn’t be noticed, or because I could no longer enter the room without stepping on something.

My own bedroom has often gotten to a state where (predominantly) clothes dominate the space: in baskets, on the floor, or piled on open drawers. Tops of dressers and night stands are covered in clutter accumulated by dozens of drive-by drops as the rest of the house gets “cleaned.” Even the cleaner parts of the house like the living and dining room will collect small piles of clutter around the edges of the room and on top of flat surfaces. These get somewhat spruced when the infrequent guest stops by, but often are ignored as we become blind to the existence of the smaller piles.

I can clean and organize things, and every now and then I will muster up the drive to do a massive cleaning or organization project and I can completely fix a room or two over the course of several hours. But typically that is a one-shot deal and within a week or two the room has returned to its usual cluttered state.

Lack of maintenance

I always admired my dad for how well he took care of his things and family. Our house and acreage, many cars, various pets, and of course us humans in the home too. He was always working to improve and/or maintain things. For example, with his cars he kept a notebook for each one where he would log the maintenance he performed. These notebooks existed for the entire time he owned each vehicle. If anything became broken on the property or on a vehicle, it was fixed almost immediately.

I have always felt like a failure compared to him. No matter where I live, my home or apartment is in a constant state of decay, and though I may even notice what is happening I simply don’t have the drive to do anything about it. Many home-improvement projects are lying around started but unfinished and there are several items that are broken and have been awaiting repair for years.

This lack of maintenance also extends to myself. Routine things regarding self-care are very difficult to sustain with regularity. I have developed a few routines that help me (usually) stay on top of the basics like brushing my teeth and showering. But ‘bigger’ self care items like going to the dentist and doctor are put off for years in favor of the “go when it really hurts” plan. It’s not a great way to stay healthy.

Relationships

My undiagnosed ADHD was particularly challenging for my partner and my kids. My fixations were often all I could think about and took all of my time and attention, usually taking priority over all family matters. I would rarely help with chores around the house unless I was asked. I simply didn’t feel any drive to clean and do dishes or laundry. And when I did resolve to make changes, they would only last days or weeks.

A big part of my ADHD is emotional dysregulation. My emotions run very close to the surface and that means that anger, frustration, fear, happiness, sadness-any or all of these can come rushing out. While I can usually hold things together at work throughout the day (where there are real world consequences for ‘losing it’), I tended to lose it at home instead, where the immediate consequences for doing so are less severe. This often meant yelling at my kids or being surly with my wife when they weren’t really the source of the frustration or anger.

Managing life tasks

Poor executive function is the culprit for a lot of things I struggle with. I have low impulse control and tend to spend money on frivolous things or items related to my current fixation, whether we can afford them or not. I completely forget about or am slow to pay bills even when I have money to do so. An incredibly poor short term memory equates to a lot of broken promises to family members and many forgotten and neglected responsibilities.

Time blindness is another hallmark of ADHD. For me it shows up in a few ways. When I’m hyperfocused, I lose track of time completely and hours may pass. If I’m doing something that’s required or imposed, time my drag on and 10 minutes can feel like an hour. It also impacts larger passages of time. While I may think I called my dad earlier in the week, if I check the call log, it may show that as much as two months have passed. I’m horrible at keeping up contact with family and friends who are long distance.

What now?

This list surely isn’t exhaustive, but I believe it gives a pretty good picture of the major impacts that undiagnosed ADHD had on my home. I hope that reading it helps you identify some of the ways ADHD has impacted your home so that like me, you can begin to make changes for the better as you gain knowledge and supports to combat your symptoms.

Just discovering you have ADHD can be life-changing, as you can begin to build supports and routines into your life to counteract many of the symptoms. But for me, treatment through therapy and medication have been necessary. What isn’t helped by medication can be supported through therapy as you break down mental barriers and create new routines together. Things aren’t perfect for me at home yet, but I am seeing a huge difference for the better as I’ve begun treating my ADHD in earnest.

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Signs of ADHD From Before I Was 12

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At some point in your ADHD journey, you’ll need to consider the subject of this post. It’s an important topic, and one your doctor or psychiatrist will likely ask you about if you’re seeking an ADHD diagnosis as an adult.

Why is this so?

ADHD doesn’t come out of nowhere. Yes, the symptoms can be masked and/or may not have a significant impact early in life. Especially those ADHDers with the inattentive sub-type like me can often go undiagnosed until we hit “the wall.” This could happen in middle or high school, college, or that first high-expectations job. But that wall will eventually present itself and you’ll realize something is wrong.

For me the wall came in college, when I nearly flunked out my first semester. That’s an easy enough thing to point to and looking back, the struggles I had were clearly due to undiagnosed ADHD. But as I mentioned, ADHD doesn’t just suddenly appear late in life. So as you examine your life before age 12, you should be able to identify symptoms of ADHD, even if they didn’t necessarily impede you from obtaining early success in school.

Possible indicators of ADHD from before I was 12

  • I was terrible at keeping up with homework
  • I was a heavy procrastinator
  • I would struggle with large projects, being indecisive about how exactly I wanted them to be done; initially wanting perfection, but often settling for whatever I half-assed at the last minute
  • I was drawn to screens. Typically video games or cartoons. Saturday mornings I would get up by myself (even though I had three siblings) and I would watch cartoons starting at 6:30am until about 11am (when programming switched to daytime TV). When I realized there was a cartoon at 6, I got up earlier. And then 5:30am. I had to get as much as I could.
  • I was prone to addictive behaviors with my fixations, which at various ages included Dinosaurs (ages 3-5), school, reading, video games (original Nintendo!), Cub Scouts, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Cartoons, Legos, baseball – both playing and collecting cards, and food – especially sweets.
  • Low impulse control overcame personal values. I would often lie in order to cover up school problems and I frequently stole items related to my fixations.
  • My room was typically a messy disaster
  • I struggled regulating emotions, and when I got angry I would slam my bedroom door and throw my belongings around my room
  • I was asked by peers about my showering habits (in 3rd and even 7th grade)
  • I had private violin lessons for years but only practiced independently a handful of times
  • I had very few friends
  • When given the opportunity I would play video games for hours. One day in the summer I played the original Legend of Zelda from breakfast until dinner, not realizing that I’d developed a painful blister on my thumb from doing it.
  • I was very sensitive to social rejection and would often cry because of it
  • I preferred my fixations to my peers, at times even reading on the playground rather than engaging with others

When you look at that list it can seem like a lot of negative. There were a lot of great things about my childhood – they’re just not the focus of this post. When I went looking for ADHD in my early life, that’s what I found. In an earlier post, I discussed why I didn’t get diagnosed when I was younger. That one covers the other side of things – the behaviors that helped cover up these symptoms.

In fact, when I first shared my ADHD with my dad and a couple of my siblings they were surprised to hear about it. Because as extensive as this list seems, and as much impact as ADHD actually had on me, it was covered up by early success in school and a lot of little lies at home.

So is everything on that list exclusive to ADHD? No. You can lie, steal, throw tantrums and love cartoons and video games and not have ADHD. But when all of this evidence is taken in the context of my life since then, as well as the continued struggles that emerged from these early indicators, it’s clear that they fit the pattern of ADHD and help to complete the puzzle that is my life.

Examining your childhood for ADHD

As you consider your life before you were 12 looking for signs of ADHD, some helpful questions might be these:

  • Did you have any fixations that lasted for months or years, where that was all you wanted to do or learn about or talk about?
  • Did you struggle with organization and planning at home and/or school?
  • Did you have low impulse control, possibly giving in to lying or sneaking and stealing to get what you wanted right away?
  • Did your bedroom look like a tornado went through it, even if you cleaned it earlier in the day?
  • Did you struggle with regulating emotions – where you were often overcome by anger, sadness, or even happiness to where you weren’t in control?
  • Did you have trouble keeping up with mundane tasks like homework, chores, and self-care?
  • Did you feel socially isolated?

Though this list is neither diagnostic nor exhaustive, I found some of these questions helpful in guiding me through the process. I hope they will also help you as you work to connect the dots between being an adult with ADHD and discovering the child you were with ADHD.

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Why I’m Choosing to Treat My ADHD with Medication

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This week I’ll be going to visit my psychiatrist with the intent of choosing a medication to treat my ADHD. I know that medication for ADHD is a controversial subject, perhaps even more so where children are involved. So I feel that it’s important to share why I am making this choice for myself, though I recognize it may not be the right choice for everyone.

What I’ve been learning

Since my therapist first brought up ADHD to me, life has been a blur. I immediately poured incredible amounts of time and effort into learning all I could about ADHD. I joined the ADHD Twitter community, started an ADHD support group on Discord, and started this blog. I’ve read three books on ADHD, I’ve watched webinars, read blogs, and done several self-assessments. I’ve called and talked to most of my family members and I have filled page after page in my journal, trying to wrap my head around what it means to have ADHD as an adult and to try to determine the scope of its impact on my life.

Since then I have also learned an entirely new vocabulary. Words like neurodiverse, neurotypical, hyperfocus, time blindness, and Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria are now all part of my vocabulary, when a short time ago I hadn’t even heard any of them before. Interestingly enough, when my therapist brought up ADHD I was looking for a new hyperfocus. I wonder if you can tell what my new one is?

In my journal I have recorded everything from my initial reactions to discovering I have ADHD to listing all the “signs of ADHD” that I immediately recognized as I looked back. I have a page full of former fixations and others containing descriptions of my struggles at work and at home which I attribute to having lived so long with undiagnosed ADHD.

It’s not a decision I take lightly

I share all of this to say, though it has only been a short time that I have been aware of my own ADHD, the decision to seek medication is not one that I have chosen lightly. It has come through a great deal of personal study as well as working with my therapist and psychiatrist.

A common thread among resources that I’ve read is that the most effective treatments of ADHD include a balance of therapy and medication. I have been able to make a good deal of progress with therapy. I have begun to understand ADHD and its many impacts on my life. I have been able to add many healthy coping mechanisms to my life and break down many mental barriers, all thanks to therapy.

But it is not enough. I still struggle in so many ways day to day at both work and home. Having talked at length with both my therapist and my psychiatrist about these continued struggles, we are all on the same page in deciding to turn to medication as an additional resource to treat my ADHD.

I know that medication isn’t magical. There will still be plenty of work that is required. I understand that for roughly 20% of ADHDers, medication is ineffective. And I know that it can easily take months of work to find the right medication and dosage to effectively treat ADHD.

But I want more. And I owe it to myself and to my family to seek the treatment that I can right now. Those who have been reading along know the struggles that led me to therapy and my hope is that continued therapy with the addition of appropriate medication will help continue my upward trajectory.

Stay tuned…

I will of course use this blog as a means to continue sharing my journey and my struggles. Every day I encounter folks who either just discovered that they have ADHD or who are beginning to wonder if they do. And they need a place to go where they can be understood. Where they can connect with others who are kind and welcoming and who share their stories for the benefit of those who come after.

So whether you support the use of medication to treat ADHD or not, I invite you to follow along this journey of mine and I will share my experience with you. If you disagree with my decision, please be glad that you have every right to your opinion and you may use it to inform decisions regarding your own life.

As for mine, I will do what’s best for me. For now, seeking medication is the course I intend to take. For whatever reason you follow, I hope that hearing my journey will be of some benefit to you as you find yourself making your way on your own ADHD journey.

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