11 Ways to say "I have ADHD"

A white woman with blonde hair and black rimmed glasses smiles broadly at the camera. She is wearing a green sweater and is in front of a teal paneled wall.
This is what someone with ADHD looks like
October 28, 2021
Robin Eastman

Without saying "I have ADHD"

I'm 40 and just got diagnosed with ADHD today. I'm excited because I can finally put a name to something I've struggled with my whole life and maybe get some treatment that will help.

Like a lot of AFAB folx, no one mentioned ADHD as a possibility for me. I didn't fail at school, I had a relatively normal number of friends for an "alternative" kid. I could never stop procrastinating and I've never met a paper I didn't finish last minute, but I got most things done in time, and I got As more often than not. In other words, I was a fairly normal smart kid, never quite living up to her potential.

I spent a lot of that time struggling. I didn't understand why I couldn't just get my homework done without waiting until the stress level was all consuming. I did ask for help and was given a lot of great advice about how to build habits and break down tasks into smaller pieces. I made progress. I completed my degrees, carefully choosing programs that didn't require a thesis.

I've tried a number of different careers. Each time, I learned more about what makes me function well and what I burn out on. When I decided to co-found a start-up, I knew that I'd struggle with the lack of external structure and small team size. I strategized ways to cope and get support. I knew the first year or two before we built a team would be hard. Then the pandemic hit and it was way harder than I imagined. Commitment and a great co-founder got me through year one. Then the vaccine came out and there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Until the delta variant made it clear we still had a long way to go. I started shutting down, not able to force myself to work on things anymore, getting more and more anxious, guilty, and despondent. My reserves were running out.

In my last session with my therapist before she left for a private practice, she said that she thought I might have ADHD and would I be open to trying medication? There's something that could make focusing on work NOT feel like a punishment? Um, yes please! That was over a month ago. In the time since, Its been even harder to focus. As a social worker, I know what the emotional arc of a diagnosis looks like, but that didn't make experiencing it simpler.

Today, I was finally able to book an appointment to see a psychiatric nurse practitioner. (There's another article for me to write about how very different this process is for people on public health insurance vs. private. I have so. much. rage. for how the system treats poor people's health.)

I was very nervous as I sat down in her office and started telling her my life story. She was kind and thoughtful and attentive and very powerful. She was either my gateway to treatment or my gatekeeper. I needed her to understand me, to see me. I needed her not to look at the ways I'm fine - all the ways being female, smart, white, financially privileged, and capable masked my neurodivergence, but the ways I'm struggling and need help.

No, apparently it's not another article, it needs to be said here and remembered always - white people, rich people, thin people, cis people, and men get better healthcare. They/we are more likely to get the appropriate diagnosis and treatment and they/we are less likely to be subjected to dehumanising hoops to jump through. I could afford to pay this very kind woman to see me and treat me quickly. She was not subjected to the rules the public health clinic my medicaid covers that require those practitioners (who are also very kind and knowledgeable for the most part) to put me through multiple drug screens and drop in attempts. She did not have a wait list several months long. There are so many people who need quality care who are not given it because we would rather spend money keeping the "wrong" people from "taking advantage" of the system than give everyone the care we each need.

But I am privileged, and so today I got to tell my story. It was easy to focus in her office, since the stakes felt very high. I tried to be honest and make sure I wasn't leaving important things out. I don't have all the symptoms of ADHD. I can sit still, I don't forget things, and I finished school on time. I was nervous telling her that. What if I didn't check enough boxes? What if she only saw my function, not my dysfunction?

At the end, she said I was most likely part of a spectrum of people with ADHD. She was comfortable treating me for it, especially since I was old enough to know myself very well. I was so relieved I didn't hear the rest of what she said nearly as well. Help. I am getting help.

Tomorrow I get to start trying meds. I know enough about the process to know the first one is not usually the right one, and changing brain chemistry doesn't automatically change habits. But today, I will celebrate. Today, I will live in hope and relief. Today, I will go to a water zumba class with my mom.

And today, I will also put down my experience and share it with you. There seem to be a lot of us going through a similar process right now. So many people have had their coping mechanisms and support removed by the pandemic.

And, since I promised a list, here are some of the things I've been saying about myself for years. They are true of me, whether or not I can put a name to them. They may seem familiar to some of you. They definitely are not universal to people with ADHD.

  1. I'm a person with high inertia and high momentum. It is really hard for me to start anything, but once I get going, I can keep going forever.
  3. My 4th grade band teacher told my mom "she's pretty good for someone who never practices."
  5. I'm really good in a crisis.
  7. I made up this game I can play so it looks like I'm taking notes when I have to sit and listen for a long time. Otherwise, it's torture.
  9. I'm really bad at doing homework, but I can ace any exam.
  11. They put me in a work-at-your-own-pace math class, because I was really good at math. The problem was that I'm really bad at working at my own pace.
  13. Interruptions help me get more work done, especially when they leave me with small windows I can do work in.
  15. I hate working from home.
  17. I need a higher stress baseline than most people. If I don't have enough stress, I'll add commitments until I reach my stress homeostasis.
  19. I love team sports, but I can't get myself to exercise on my own.
  21. I love change way more than most people.

I hope you all find the support you need. I hope you are all able to give yourselves grace for the ways you don't function as well as you're "supposed to." I hope you are all able to find joy in the beautiful ways your brains are different. I hope we can make this world a safer place to seek help. I hope we become better at understanding ourselves and each other. I hope my meds work.

A person with ADHD not getting any work done
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