What it’s Like Living with Late-Diagnosed ADHD

“As a child, I was gifted and talented. As an adult, I feel burnt out and like I’m constantly chasing a job-well-done. What gives?!” – me, to my therapist last year (paraphrased, of course).

The Gifted Kid to ADHD Pipeline

Like so many “gifted” kids, I was always praised for my ability to read well above my age range, regurgitate facts, and exceed in school despite never having to study. I LOVED learning; I would often reach the limit on library books and make PowerPoint presentations for fun.

I was a well-behaved kid with good grades, so no one ever suspected anything out of the “norm.” As they say, hindsight is 20-20.

In the early 2000’s, ADHD was not something commonly diagnosed in girls because (like most things) scientists didn’t begin really diving into how differently it presents in different genders until years later. I didn’t fidget much, I could still pay attention during class, etc., so I didn’t fit the bill for neurodiversity.

When I first began suspecting I may have ADHD early last year, I reflected on the signs I may have exhibited as a child: frequent talking during class, reading instead of focusing on the teacher, hyper-sensitivity and heightened emotional responses. All things that are often just dismissed due to being a young girl who was “gifted.” Well, what a load of shit.

A meme of a person holding two pieces of paper. One says "former gifted kids who had to rely on their good grades and personality to get anywhere in life" and the other says "undiagnosed adhd in adulthood." The person holding the papers says "corporate needs you to find the differences between these pictures." Underneath is an image of Pam from the tv show The Office with a neutral face saying "they're the same picture."

My Experience Pre- and Post-Diagnosis

As an adult, my ADHD manifests as anxiety and depression (like many others) and leads to hyper-productivity. Prior to medication, if I wasn’t doing something my internal monologue deemed “productive,” I would get extremely anxious and feel like I was worthless. It took medication for me to finally realize that it is okay to sit down and rest sometimes. In fact, it’s necessary and good!

My therapist told me when I started my adderall prescription that I would know pretty quickly whether I actually had ADHD or not based on how I reacted to the medication. You know what I did the first week I was medicated? I napped SO MUCH. ADHD brains on stimulants often do the opposite of what you expect from a stimulant. And let me tell you… it’s awesome to have a break from racing thoughts.

Now that I’m diagnosed, I’m much more prepared with coping skills to handle things like sensory sensitivity that I used to ignore or file away as “weird” or something I just need to “get over.” I can more easily identify when I may be overstimulated, causing irritability or other mood swings. And now that I’m working in a fully-remote job, I no longer have to mask my ADHD around coworkers constantly, which gives me a lot more energy throughout the day and into the evening to focus on non-work things that bring me joy.

Since diagnosis, I’ve also identified a lot of other things I do that are attributed to ADHD, like word jumbling (not an official term, heh). Sometimes my brain moves too fast for my mouth and while I’m trying to decide between two words I want to use, my mouth usually ends up saying both of them at the same time, producing some frustrating–albeit hilarious–word vomit. I think this is part of why I like writing so much, because it allows me to think through the things I want to say and make sure they come out exactly as I want.

Part of my ADHD is also finding the Goldilocks amount of stimulation in order to focus on tasks. As a student, I always had to have sound in the background for me to be able to study, whether it was tv or music. The same is true as an adult, often when I’m working I’ll have something playing in the background. Even if I’m just doing the dishes, I basically have to have sound of some sort or it will drive me crazy.

But sometimes, I find that if I’m getting frustrated with my task at hand, if the sound isn’t *just right* then I’ll get overstimulated and panicky. It’s a really fun balance to try and find at a moment’s notice /sarcasm/.

A meme depicting a person being productive. Their brain enters and says "you should put some tv on to help you work," and then the person is heavily distracted by the sounds.

Another fun one? Sensory fixations/aversions. There are certain sensations that I LOVE and others that truly make me want to jump off a cliff into a pit of hungry sharks, and that is honestly not being dramatic. For example – if I like a song, I will play it 1.4 million times on repeat until I get sick of it. Or sometimes I will get fixated on a food that I’ll want to eat every day for an undetermined amount of time, and then I’ll suddenly grow sick of it (sometimes mid-bite, which is aWeSoMe).

However, the feeling of microfiber? The texture of mushrooms? The sound of people chewing?

A gif of a snapping great white shark

Friends and family would often make fun of me for how much the sound of chewing bothers me or why I never wanted the overhead lights on, but now I have a certified, diagnosed Excuse™. In fact, a lot of these sensory sensitivities cause physical reactions like increased heart rate, sweating, etc. The intense aversion to certain sounds is called misophonia; it’s very interesting, you should check it out.

Anyway, now I got to therapy and am medicated for my symptoms, and I’m honestly happier than I’ve ever been. I’m very lucky to have an amazing support system of friends and family that also happen to be going through similar situations, so if you ever need someone to talk to about the gifted kid –> late-diagnosed ADHD pipeline, I’m here!

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