How I was diagnosed with ADHD at 53


The Backstory

I knew absolutely nothing about ADHD until about two years ago. And it definitely didn't occur to me that I might have it. I was successful in school, have multiple degrees, started and run a successful business, and it would never even have entered my mind that I had an "issue" or disorder or a neurodivergent brain. If I knew anything at all about ADHD, it was that it referred to hyperactive or inattentive young kids who struggled in school, but even that stereotypical reference was dubious in my head.

And then my oldest daughter, Emily, was diagnosed with ADHD in graduate school. All my kids had to live at home on and off for about a year thanks to the pandemic and colleges/grad schools closing down. And so Emily had a lot of opportunities to be around me for extended periods of time that she hadn't had in years. And she started noticing a lot of traits and behaviors that I had that she now recognized in herself as ADHD traits. And she started pointing them out to me. 

For about six months, I really didn't pay attention. Which sounds awful to say when my daughter was trying to help, but I'd been this way my whole life and I had coped just fine. 

And then the pandemic became worse, I experienced multiple losses and traumas in my life, changed my boutique into a fully independent boutique and started sourcing from hundreds of vendors, was cut off from socializing with friends, and I realized that I had a severe anxiety issue that was affecting my daily life. 

Asking for help from someone who is not a family member is just about the hardest thing in the world for me to do but it was becoming clear that I wasn't functioning very well. At my scheduled check-up with my primary care doctor, I took a huge gulp of air, asked her about help with anxiety, and immediately burst into tears. Thank God for good doctors, my friends! She didn't bat an eyelash, switched gears immediately, and made extra time for me and assessed me for anxiety during that appointment. By the end, she suggested that I had a generalized anxiety disorder and recommended low-dose anti-anxiety meds combined with zoom therapy. I also asked her about ADHD as we were talking and she suggested that we put that conversation on hold until my anxiety was a bit more controlled. 

Step One - Self-Assessment

Fast forward to October of 2021, and I had had six months of therapy and anti-anxiety meds. My therapist suggested that we now consider an ADHD assessment. My anxiety was pretty much controlled and almost non-existent but I was still frustrated and struggling with a lot of things: organization, my work-from-home "schedule" (I couldn't stay on one), completing things on time, getting really frustrated when I was interrupted or had too many people around me, and on and on. I just couldn't focus and felt lazy and incompetent and severely frustrated all the time - it was very different than the anxiety I had been feeling. 

She started me with this self-assessment form from* - it was developed by The World Health Organization and includes instructions. I filled it out and was a little bit blown away but how many of these traits described me - as in, I was checking the "very often" box on almost all of them. 

Step Two - Mental-Health Assessment

At our next session, we spent the entire time talking about my answers to the form and she questioned me a lot about my childhood behaviors, what traits my daughter, Emily, had observed in me and pointed out to me, whether I had other family members diagnosed with it, and questions designed to rule out other issues such as OCD (which I think I may also have a touch of lol), autism, anxiety, depression, and personality disorders. We had been meeting weekly for six months so a lot of that she already knew the answers to but it was really interesting to talk about all of them. She and I were both convinced that I had ADHD very quickly.

Step Three - Behavioral Therapy

She and I spent more sessions discussing behavioral changes I could make to help and I spent hours googling and trying to teach myself more about it. After about a month of working with her more, researching, and talking to other people I know with ADHD, I wanted to try medication. I just wasn't satisfied with what I was doing and did something that is really hard to do - ask for help. Again. She wasn't licensed to prescribe meds so she suggested that I take her assessment and my self-assessment results to both my primary care doctor and a psychiatrist.

Step Four - Assessment by a Licensed Practicioner

There was a six-month waiting list for a psychiatrist (the pandemic strikes again) so I went ahead and made an appointment with him but also made a follow-up appointment with my primary care doctor. She went over all of my records, and then gave me another quick physical and did her own ADHD assessment with me. The final question made me cry - "How much is it impacting my day-to-day life?". Uh, pretty much everything that I hated about myself seemed to be an ADHD trait. She started me on a trial basis of Adderall XR for three weeks. And it changed my life! 

So the basic answer to "How did you get diagnosed with ADHD at 53?" is the pandemic/losses/trauma caused so much grief, stress, and trauma that my coping mechanisms that I'd used my entire life no longer worked. It just built up and up and up and I had to ask for a lot of help.  

I'm still absolutely shocked about the diagnosis and how much better I feel on meds. Here's the kicker - Adderall is a stimulant but my brain is quieter on meds. It's hard to explain but I'm focused and energetic. I look forward to getting things done and my ability to prioritize my to-do list has gone from crying over it in utter frustration to utter fascination with how well I'm functioning now. 

There's a lot more to it than I've tried to sum up here but this blog post is already really long, so I'll come back to this soon! 

If you think you have ADHD, download the form I linked above and start a conversation with a doctor or therapist. There are a lot of health-care professionals who can diagnosis ADHD in adults, but I've learned that it's tricky and can be complicated. Especially if you decide to try medication because it can affect your heart rate, blood pressure, sleep, and a bunch of other possibilities. But don't give up and talk to someone who knows more about it! If you don't learn to advocate for yourself, no one else will. :)

*Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, but that form seems to be the starting point for a lot of mental-health professionals and it was incredibly helpful for me to use as a starting point and to help me understand what I needed to learn more about. 


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