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ADHD

late ADHD diagnosis in women

I just found out that I’m neurodivergent. I’m “ADHD” official, if you will. I knew it! I tested positive for ADHD, combined type. Yes, I know it’s not a disease but after the 2 day 5 hour in depth evaluation that I just endured…”testing positive” feels about right.  To put it in perspective, most adults with an ADHD diagnosis fall into the inattentive category but this Latina likes her neurodivergence extra spicy so let’s put our whole ass into it. Of course I got a late ADHD diagnosis because I’m never early for anything. But now what? Who even am I? I don’t just have a raging case of ADHD, I no longer tested indicative of any mood disorder. WHAT THE FUCK??? My bipolar 1 diagnosis is now up for debate… 25 years later.

When I was 27-years-old, a routine gynecological visit changed my entire life forever. My life had been ramping up into the fevered pitch of this moment, starting at about the age of 14. I remember thinking to myself, how can I survive this life? At that moment, there was carnage all around me. My “Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde” father was a mean and violent alcoholic when he wasn’t a doting daddy. Maybe he’s bipolar? My mother was a loving and caring mother until she had to emotionally check out just to stay above ground for her 5 children. In our family, it has always been all or nothing. You were, I am… all or nothing. 

We were the collateral damage of the dysfunction of our parents and they were the result of the dysfunction of theirs. I felt nearly completely abandoned at one of the most crucial and pivotal moments of my adolescence. I should have been accustomed  to it; this unrelenting state of fight or flight that had been my constant state of being for as long as I could remember. From about the time I entered kindergarten ( which also happened to coincide with the birth of my parents’ 4th child), I felt like I lived a double life. Bipolar, biracial…it tracks. When I was a little girl, my identity always seemed in question. Identifying as half this and half that, just so as not to offend either parent. 

Looking back, none of us knew what we were doing. We were all just trying to survive our existence; everyone of us was a victim of our circumstances and living the life we were born into as a result of the trauma and ignorance of the previous generation. 

All this to say, I was out of control by the time I was 18 and arrived on campus at Purdue University. It was my first taste of freedom and I was relishing every single moment. I was, quite literally, completely out of control…or at least that’s the way I felt. By the time I saw a psychiatrist, my behavior was so compulsive and manic that a gynecologist noticed it during a brief conversation. That was my life for the next 2 decades. I’d accepted my fate and have been walking a mental health tightrope ever since. 

I devoured every book that I could read about my diagnosis. I even took several graduate level clinical psychology classes. I embraced my diagnosis and became very self-aware about my moods; actively making sure not to do anything to tip the scales in any direction. I’ve been doing this since 2000.

 

I Thought I Was Bipolar, But Turns Out I’m Just ADHD AF

 

But after extensive evaluation from the neuropsychologist, not only do I have a late ADHD diagnosis, my current evaluation did not indicate any mood disorders. Let me say that again…I.DID.NOT.INDICATE.FOR.ANY.MOOD.DISORDERS!!! What does that even mean? To be clear, I’ve never heard of anyone growing out of bipolar. Of course, the neuropsychologist said she’s never encountered anyone who has been non-episodic for 20 years, especially after being weaned off medication. So what does this mean for me?

Since being diagnosed, bipolar has dictated a lot of how I live my life. There are things I’m not supposed to do, drink and eat. This living in a perpetual state of fight or flight and trying not to tip the mood scales is completely exhausting. If I don’t get enough sleep, drink too much caffeine, drink too much alcohol ( which I never do because I thought I spent my 20’s self-medicating and I come from a long line of alcoholics) or get too stressed, I’m always afraid of what the consequences might be. But now they’re telling me, maybe it was all wrong. Maybe it was my raging ADHD all along. I know ( because I studied the DSM when I was first diagnosed) that there is a lot of overlap in symptoms between both diagnoses but this has been two decades of my life spent living my life afraid of going manic again. This was a lifetime ( I was 6 the first time I remember a doctor suggesting that I probably had ADHD) of being untreated. I’ve spent my entire lifetime masking who I really am. 

 

Is Everything I Am Just a Symptom? 

I’m so fucking angry and sad right now. I thought I was going to be relieved, like I was when they diagnosed me with Bipolar 1 because it felt like an answer to what made me feel like a problem. But now, this ADHD diagnosis feels like it undermines my entire existence. I feel like my life could have been so much easier had I known and had the tools to do, be and feel better. 

Looking back, it all makes sense now. The inability to focus or prioritize tasks – I’d have 100 browser tabs open and constantly flit between projects. Constant fidgeting and restlessness. I remember tapping my feet incessantly during class or meetings until someone would give me an annoyed look.

Blurting out whatever was on my mind without a filter. I can’t tell you how many times I overshared personal details or made inappropriate comments because my brain raced ahead of my impulse control.

Impulsive decision-making was the norm for me. Like the time I randomly decided at 5am to get my tongue pierced. Or when I racked up debt in my 20s from spontaneous shopping sprees and vacations.

Struggling to manage my intense emotions was an almost daily battle. I would rapidly cycle through sadness, anger, euphoria, and anxiety without any seeming reason. My emotions always felt SO BIG.

Forgetting everything constantly was so normalized for me. Walked into a room and forgot why I came in there? Yep, every single day without fail. My short-term memory felt like (and still feels) like a sieve but it turns out I’m just always distracted.

These weren’t just personal quirks or flaws – they were textbook signs of ADHD that went undiagnosed for over 40 years.

Suddenly, I am realizing things that I thought were my winning personality are not even me at all but the ADHD. I feel like my life is adding up to a series of traumas and diagnoses that were put upon me to make my life as difficult as possible. At the same time, I feel like I’m one of the lucky ones because I did learn to live with it. I accepted that my life was meant to be hard. Maybe this is why I so completely embrace my parents’ golden rule of “where there is a will, there is always a way”, maybe it’s all because my life has always been not easy. I realized through years of therapy that my ”toxic positivity” is authentic, but it is also one of my many coping mechanisms. Everything I thought was special and original about myself is a result of trauma, diagnoses, neurodivergence and genetics. Am I even who I’ve always thought I was? This is the part that is breaking my brain and my heart. 

Looking back, so many struggles in my life make complete sense through an ADHD lens:

  • My feelings of constantly being overwhelmed and burnout as a mom of 2
  • The out-of-control impulsivity in college that led to that initial misdiagnosis
  • Toxic work environments and being labeled “difficult” for missing deadlines
  • Procrastination as a way of life and always needing hard deadlines to perform
  • Endless guilt and shame for perceived personal shortcomings
  • Strained relationships from emotional dysregulation
  • Panic attacks from having too many racing thoughts simultaneously
  • Repeating stories over and over again because I forgot I already shared them
  • The way I can’t watch a movie without asking 100 questions while Googling everything

The list goes on. For so long, I internalized these issues as personal failures instead of hallmark ADHD traits crying out for support and management. I didn’t know.

I thought I was forgetting everything over the past few months due to perimenopause. I accepted my fate. It’s genetics and aging, no one escapes it. I started having panic attacks and my memory has become more unreliable than ever. I literally forget everything, all the time. I even started thinking maybe I’m exhibiting some early signs of dementia. That was terrifying.

Good news is that my memory is great. However, I am very inattentive and always have so many thoughts in my head that I can’t remember them all so my short term memory is always on a lag, if it remembers at all. Forget girl math, I’ve got girl ADHD. Maybe I am perimenopausal but both symptoms I have can be attributed to ADHD. Did you know that being that full-on ADHD can cause panic attacks? Yeah, because you’re anxious about having so many simultaneous thoughts.

But now, armed with this new diagnosis, I finally have the tools and understanding to begin properly treating and working WITH my ADHD brain, not against it. It’s honestly life-changing. But, I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s been hard to accept. It’s felt like learning that everything I ever knew or believed about myself has been a lie and that’s been massive. 

According to my neuropsychologist, TikTok has everyone self-diagnosing themselves with autism and ADHD. While I don’t think anyone should get their medical advice ( or news) from social media, I do appreciate that it can make some people more self-aware so that they can get help if they need it. However, my doctor told me that if you’re an adult and you think you have ADHD, usually 9 times out of 10, you’ve been told at different times within your life that you might have ADHD. I was told by 6 different doctors ( 5 in the last 3 years) but I’ve been putting out teenage mental health dumpster fires for as long, so my ADHD was not top priority, not until it all got to be too much with Gabs’ depression and CSID diagnosis. That’s when I decided that I needed to know for sure and seek treatment. The process is not fast. 

It took 4 months to get on the schedule for the initial evaluation. Then it took another 3 months to get in for the 3.5 hour evaluation. Then, it took another couple weeks to get my diagnosis. That was in March. I don’t see my psychiatrist for medication until the end of May, then there will be the drug cocktail adjustment period. So from start to finish, it’s probably going to take a year to get to a place of stability. Meanwhile, I am second-guessing every single life decision up until now. 

Was it me or was it my ADHD?

But no more beating myself up when I miss an appointment or make a silly mistake. No more forcing myself into rigid neurotypical boxes and processes I was never meant to fit. With self-knowledge and self-compassion, I can finally create systems and strategies to accommodate how my beautiful neurodivergent mind works. For me, learning to live with my ADHD begins with understanding and forgiveness.

Now, I can lean into my ADHD strengths like hyperfocus, resilience, ability to thrive in chaos, creativity, and passion. I can let go of the internalized ableism that made me feel inadequate and “less than” my entire life.

I’m mourning the young woman I was who suffered for so long without understanding her brilliant ADHD mind. But I’m also rejoicing at finally knowing the truth about myself after a lifetime of masking.

But, now, what? Who am I? I’ve always said that I’m more than my diagnoses but now, everything I thought I was feels like a symptom of ADHD. So if you’re a woman who constantly feels like she’s struggling, masking, using every ounce of energy just to appear “normal,” or just feels “too much”… please get evaluated for ADHD, even if you’re well into adulthood like me.

This diagnosis could be the key to radically transforming your life for the better and embracing your neurodivergent strengths. It was for me…well, I’m in the process of transformation but I’m still very much a work in progress. 

 

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