Recently diagnosed with ADHD? I want to offer three ‘truths’ you should know. Had I been told these things 17 years ago, when I was first diagnosed, I would have avoided a lot of upset and frustration. And I’m big on avoiding upset and frustration.
Here are the truths for the Newly Diagnosed:
- It gets better.
- But not steadily better.
- There’s a danger you may not notice.
If you’re not a newbie, if you are a grizzled veteran like I am and have been at this a while, here are three truths that you must always remember:
- It gets better.
- But not steadily better.
- There’s a danger you may not notice.
I’m 17 years into my ADHD journey, and I still have to remind myself of these things. If I forget these truths I inevitably find myself in the place I’m big on avoiding: ‘Upset and Frustration.’
Why are these three still true? It’s the nature of this disorder. Unlike ‘travelling to Paris to see the Louvre’, or ‘Raising kids and sending them out into the world,’ living with your ADHD has no clear ‘end.’ Unlike a cold or a pregnancy, it tends to be a life-long challenge. You don’t check “Get My ADHD Handled” off your To-Do list. Or your Bucket List.
I’ve discovered that no matter how much my ability to focus improves, or how many strategies I use to I bend my world to suit my ADHD, it figures out new ways to sabotage me.
This Disorder is a subtle, shape-shifting Devil that keeps popping up when I least expect it. And when I think I’ve overcome it. Life with ADHD feels like an endless game of ‘Whack-A-Mole.’ It’s kinda like ‘raising kids, sending them out into the world…. and then having them move back home again every year or two.’
So, whether you’re newly diagnosed, or a battle-scarred veteran who has spent years building your arsenal of strategies, I believe these three ‘truths’ remain true. Starting with…
#1 It Get’s Better
A few years back Karen Gordon, a radio producer invited me on a phone-in show called ‘Fresh Air, to talk about ADHD. As I shared my experiences with host Mary Ito, Karen realized my symptoms and struggles sounded awfully familiar.
After the show she asked me some questions, then went to this website, learned more, and then sought and got a proper diagnosis. She later told me, ‘The relief was major. With proper medication life got much better.’
Read our Forums. Watch our videos. It’s clear: being diagnosed in adulthood can be life-changing. The power of the diagnosis is perfectly captured in the first popular book ever published about Adult ADHD, You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid, or Crazy? How can that realization not have a huge impact? At any age.
Discovering you’re short of certain neurotransmitters, rather than a bad person who is overflowing with moral failings or character flaws, is profound. You realize there’s real hope: ‘There’s so much I can do now that I know what is sabotaging me.’
Relief! But Also Anger…
… and regret. Sadness. Confusion. ‘If only I’d known sooner. How would my life have unfolded?’ There’ a lifetime of negativity to distinguish and discard. Thus, the title of our video, ‘Now You Tell Me!: The Emotional Tornado of an ADHD Diagnosis.’
Imagine if Peter Parker was 80 years old before he discovered he could shoot spider webs out of his hands, fly around the city, fight crime, and impress girls in his Spiderman outfit! ‘Oh great. Now the spandex just emphasizes my saggy butt!’
The good news feels like bad news. It can be particularly upsetting when you try medication and it works! I was stunned to discover I could sit and do my taxes. I didn’t like doing it. But I could do it. But for me, those early days, when things started changing, were heady times.
Until I learned Truth #2.
# 2. Better. But not steadily better.
The ‘solution’ to ADHD is to build habits, creating supports and structures, ones that work for you. Which is not a strength of ours. After a lifetime of struggling it’s easy to backslide. (I still have days where I wish I had a tree fort in the woods where I could go and hide from life.)
Things get better. Sometimes in a big way. For example, medication was a part of my holistic ‘treatment’ plan. (I hate the word treatment… I’m not sick!) Though I was skeptical, worried, and doubtful, I quickly discovered medication allowed me sit down and finally finish a year’s worth of back taxes. In one day!
I could not have been more surprised if I’d suddenly discovered I could shoot spider webs out of my hands and fly around the city fighting crime. This was a clear cut victory. I thought the path was clear, the way ahead was wide open and I’d finally race ahead, full speed down life’s highway… Ah, silly, naïve boy… After a few collisions, crashes, wrong turns, and flat tires, I realized that the road was never going to be smooth and straight.
For one thing my career kept changing—writer, actor, director, producer… Every day is different. So whatever strategies I had developed to support what I’d been doing, I needed new supports for what I was doing now.
There will ALWAYS be bad days. You can’t prevent them. Instead, accept them. Don’t waste time and energy on, ‘This shouldn’t be happening to me!’
Hey, Stuff Happens
Things will go wrong. They’re gonna. Even people who don’t have ADHD misplace their phone, wallet, purse, or keys. Mastering my ADHD is never a straight path. It’s more like an Drunken Square Dance.
“Swing your partner, lose your job, do-sa-do, two steps forward, one step back, and three to the left, kick, and turn, two steps forward, bow to your left, lose your partner, circle bankruptcy, left foot forward, right foot in your mouth, stumble in circles, one steps backward, smack into the wall…”
Don’t get me wrong. You can make great progress. Eventually. But it takes time. And a Multi-Modal approach. Holistic Solutions.
(Remember, ADHD sabotages so many areas of life in so many ways. It’s not just about focus or attention. There’s problems with procrastination, forgetfulness, restlessness, listening, planning, finishing, distractions and more.)
For example, one year after that memorable day where I caught up on my delinquent taxes, I found myself a year behind in my taxes… again! I was shocked. Confused. And facing more fines and late fees. My first reaction was, ‘Well, that just proves that never changes. Why did I even bother?’
‘I’m a hopeless case.’
This happened a lot. Gradually I realized that, yes, the medication allowed me to focus all day and finish my taxes. But it didn’t guarantee I would do them in the future. The pills didn’t open my calendar and schedule days reserved for doing tax instalments. It didn’t set up a place to gather my bills.
I’d been so thrilled about finishing a years worth of taxes in one day, I assumed that I was set for life. I’d become a super-calculating-form-filling Accountant Wizard! Nope.
Yes, I had improved my ability to focus and stay on task. However my next task should have been to create a system, schedule, and place for my finances.
So the second time I fell behind, I did just that. Eventually my wife convinced me to try a way better solution that was actually cheaper—a bookkeeper. Magic!
But at that moment when I first realized I’d fallen a year behind in my taxes again, I could have thrown in the towel. It really felt like nothing had changed.
Which brings us to the final truth…
#3. There’s a Danger You May Not Notice
I was lucky. In those early days I had some clear victories. Things changed noticeably. But I still messed up most of the time. Five years on, I still found myself rushing around the house trying to find my keys.
Today, fifteen years on, losing my keys doesn’t dishearten or infuriate me as it once did, because I understand Truth #2. I expect setbacks. And they happen less often.
Equally important, I’ve taken time to pause and notice the improvement. Or should I say, I have coaches, a doctor, friends, and family who will tell me that I’m much better. It’s not like they are constantly going, ‘Wow! Your phone is right where it should be!’
But if I am feeling frustrated and I ask, ‘Has anything really changed? Have I improved? Am I more organized? A better listener?’ they will tell point out my progress.
They remember how I was better than I do. Plus, they’ll tell me when I’m not any better at listening. (I think they will. I dunno. Someone said something about it at Christmas.)
Sometimes the Transformation is Dramatic.
I still recall the sense of astonishment I felt that day when I blasted through a year’s worth of tax forms and paperwork. It was stunning to accomplish in one day what I hadn’t been able to even start for a year!
What was equally surprising was that I wasn’t exhausted. It hadn’t reduced me to a blubbering idiot. (Which was my usual state of mind around paperwork.)
I’ll never forget that day. I’ve had a few more since. Days where everything changed, where I became unstoppable, able to finish a dreaded task that had always been a draining, numbing chore… I wish there were more days like that.
Mostly things get better bit by bit. Incrementally.
Which is why Truth #3 is a warning that you may not notice the improvement. In fact, as it says, ‘There’s a DANGER You Might Not Notice’ that you’re making progress. And if you don’t notice that you are losing things less, losing your temper less, or losing your train of thought less, you may lose something else… the commitment to keep working on your ADHD. So schedule time to celebrate your success.
He has decades of his life, his accomplishments, that he can review to remind himself that he’s has made progress, which is crucial on those days when it feels like you are right back where you started, and nothing has changed. But remember, we have lousy memories. We forget how bad it was. We forget how frequently things went Kablooey.
You are NOT back where you started.
The belief that ‘Nothing has changed. What a waste of time. I’m hopeless. Why bother?’ is natural. And it’s nonsense. You are NOT the same person you were a year ago, a month ago, or even when you started reading this blog. You grow every day. Whether you appreciate it or not, you have a different perspective. A better perspective.
I suspect you have a better perspective just from learning these three truths. I hope it gives you more resilience when stuff does go Kablooey. Because stuff will. The only way to avoid having stuff go Kablooey? Don’t do anything new or challenging. And who wants to live like that?
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