- My ADHD was not diagnosed until I was in my early 30s. I thought that many of my symptoms were “failures”.
- Getting a diagnosis — and resources — changed the way I saw myself.
- My 10-year old daughter, who has ADHD, needs my empathy and support.
While digging through boxes in my basement, I came across my third-grade report. Bold red circles were prominent among the “exceeding expectation” academic marks. They were located around the categories “organizes oneself and uses materials” and “follows instructions”. These were accompanied with a substantial handwritten comment: “Chats and visits peers at inappropriate hours.” Talks out of turn and won’t sit still.
My diagnosis of ADHD came in my 30s. My childhood was filled with stories of adults shattering me. I mistook my forgetfulness and carelessness for disrespect, and my propensity to interrupt other people as disrespect. While I treasure my friendships, it is more painful to remember their frustration with my gregariousness.
My 10-year-old daughter is not only a good listener, but also has a great sense of humor. She is social, kind, compassionate, and enthusiastic. However, she struggles with organization, time management, and impulseivity. As it is not surprising, her conversations with her pediatrician over a period of one year revealed that ADHD was likely to be the culprit.
My diagnosis of ADHD was made later in my life.
ADHD has a profound effect on my life. Since ADHD was undiagnosed and not treated until I was well into adulthood, my symptoms were internalized and manifested in my relationships. Every failure hurt my self-esteem, confidence and self-confidence. I was especially struck by how my peers found tasks that I found difficult to be easy. I began to feel broken by trying so hard to achieve my goals and continually falling short.
My perfectionist tendencies were driven by fear of failure. I was a good student, with great grades and participation. The stress of trying to prove my incapabilities by working in overdrive to complete basic tasks made me a volatile, emotionally charged teenager who was prone to meltdowns and outbursts.
As an adult, my romance partners were critical of my extreme mood swings and hypersensitivity. My emotional dysregulation, low tolerance for frustration and inability to follow through significantly affected my friendships and professional life. I was only made more miserable by my increased mental and emotional load, coupled with the sleep deprivation that comes with motherhood. I felt like I was trapped in cement and experienced panic attacks as well as debilitating bouts with task paralysis.
After many years of working alongside my therapist, she began to question whether I’d been diagnosed with ADHD. She suggested that I talk to my psychiatric nurse practitioner about my symptoms, and possibly other medications. Conversations with my provider led to a shift in my perception of what I thought were my acute personal defects. After being diagnosed, I was able to see the availability of strategies and resources and get the right medication. This allowed me to let go of the shame and guilt that I had been harbouring for so many years. It was also a major contributing factor to my depression and chronic anxiety that I’d struggled to overcome for the past ten years. I think that if I had been diagnosed sooner, I might have avoided using alcohol to manage my ADHD symptoms.
I will make it different for my daughter.
Like many families, lockdowns in 2020 forced us to new depths of patience and resilience. Unexpected isolation without any other person was a blessing that produced many beautiful moments. However, I was able to see some of my daughter’s unique idiosyncrasies over the years, which were not as obvious to me.
Facilitating virtual school for her and helping with her schoolwork eventually became too overwhelming. She was stressed and desperate for routine and socialization. I realized that she had many needs that I could not meet on my own.
I was witness to the worst aspects of my childhood being reenacted before me. In this version, however, I had a superpower: the knowledge, benefit of time and the resources that my parents didn’t have. Our communication and discipline problems made sense.
My recent diagnosis has changed my perception of difficulty and defiance. I now see unmet needs, and underdeveloped or lacking skills. I wanted to help her reduce anxiety and keep her from living a life of frustration and inadequacy. I knew that I would try my hardest to help her.
The “why” behind her challenging behavior was like looking into a mirror. The more I discovered the root causes of my daughter’s problems, the clearer the solutions became. To extend compassion and empathy to my daughter, it took me having compassion for her. She now teases me when she forgets my wallet and we share little reminder notes. We practice visualizations and breathing techniques, and we make task lists and task breakdowns to help us with projects.
I give her the understanding, grace and support that she needs.
My diagnosis was not something my parents had in their parenting toolbox. Now, I can assure my daughter that ADHD doesn’t predetermine a lifetime full of struggle. We talk about positive traits like creativity, communication skills, and tenacity.
Now that I know ADHD is common, and neurotypical people feel emotions stronger than ADHD, I have the ability to use my self-regulation skills in order to guide her through the storm. Being able to forgive myself for forgetting to pay my bill or losing my glasses for the tenth time in a row is a sign of the compassion I want for her.
She knows that I have ADHD. I try to highlight to her times when I use a strategy such as setting reminders or timers on my phone, prioritizing sleep and exercise, or practicing mindfulness techniques. I want her to feel empowered to manage her health and well being.
The fear that she would experience the same fate as me and continue on the same path of unmanaged anxiety and self-doubt became a possibility. Imagine if I could see her as a neurodivergent child, with no problem to solve. What if I could show her the compassion, help, and grace that I desire? I didn’t know how her diagnosis could transform our relationship, my relationship to myself, and the relationship of that little girl with the red-spattered Report Card.
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