Late Diagnosis: It was ADHD the Whole Time?!

How receiving an ADHD diagnosis in my late thirties has impacted my life.

Do I really have ADHD?

I sat in my psychologist’s office desperately trying to focus on each category’s results from assessments/tests that spanned over 10+ hours and several weeks. After about 30 minutes of explanation and hearing medical jargon I couldn’t identify with, I finally asked, “So what does that mean?” While I can’t remember her exact words, I can vividly picture the office and recall her response being something to the effect of, “…well, Mrs. Wilbourn, you have ADHD…,” and then her words morphed into the voice of every adult ever in a Peanuts episode. “Wawa Wawawa.” All I could think was, “Seriously? I mean, yeah, I suspected it, but are you kidding me? It was ADHD this whole time?!” And at that moment, I was relieved to finally have some answers to life-long struggles riddled with misdiagnosis and confusion.

Perhaps I didn’t have to feel like an outsider among the “normal” people. And maybe, just maybe, I could hope for more.

At 38, I was diagnosed with Inattentive Type ADHD. I wish I could say it was a shock, but so many events in my life made sense after I understood what this diagnosis meant. As I researched ADHD in women, I learned I’m not alone. Many women are diagnosed with ADHD later in life, often after their children’s diagnosis. I’m sure they picked up on the same thing I did as the pediatrician addressed their child’s behavior; the research suggests that ADHD has a genetic component (1). Little did I know that this tidbit of data would send me down a rabbit hole of reprocessing my entire life through the lens of this new information.

On the day my diagnosis hit me, I mean really hit me, I pulled into my driveway, sat in my car for a long time, and cried. All of a sudden, every thought and question surrounding all of my insecurities about being able to remember important things, my inability to complete basic tasks like keeping my house clean, or even being told that my chronic tardiness was because I didn’t care enough to prioritize and that if I just tried harder, I would succeed, came in like a flood. I was overwhelmed with grief—grief for every dream and desire I had ever had but could never grasp. I felt trapped inside someone who never seemed to measure up and couldn’t get her life together. Later, I realized how amazing it was that I had come so far while operating in a world that wasn’t made for people like me.

As I processed my emotion, worked with my doctors, and continued learning how to move forward, I did a lot of reconciling my past. In that, some key memories hit me hard. I remember feeling like an outsider most of my life, starting at a young age. I would sit in school and realize I had no clue what was happening. I didn’t even understand I should have asked for help when I felt that way. I quickly learned that no one would notice if I kept quiet and pretended to do my work. Over the years, when my learning gaps were exposed, I learned to teach myself enough to get by and eventually developed solid coping mechanisms to excel. As a teen, I remember adults commenting on my analytical approach to life, how stoic my demeanor was, and how mature I seemed for my age. No one, not even those closest to me, knew how much I struggled because I masked like a pro.

As I got older, with more pressure and responsibility, I unraveled. I found myself in the same place, mentally and emotionally, as the younger version of me without my toolbelt of coping mechanisms. At one point, I sought help for what I thought must be a psychological matter, and that (misdiagnosis) made my life so much worse. It felt like every new season of life, events that I should have been able to enjoy, magnified my inadequacies. I had to start from zero and find context for how to function, but this time as an adult, which proved to be exponentially more difficult.

To make this life-long story short, it wasn’t until sitting in the pediatrician’s office, as I previously mentioned, listening to her talk about ADHD, and going over the questionnaire that my kiddo’s teacher would fill out that I realized there was more to my story. Maybe I didn’t have to live trapped in my mind. Perhaps I didn’t have to feel like an outsider among the “normal” people. And maybe, just maybe, I could hope for more.

These initial thoughts of a better quality of life were just the beginning. I’ve set forth on a mission to understand how ADHD has shaped my life, how it affects my family, and what tools are available to help me unlock my full potential. Doing this also helped me understand the root of my kiddo’s struggles.

Moving Forward:

But first, some basic CY-B (“B” for backside):

Let’s get some “housekeeping” out of the way. I am not a doctor or medical professional of any kind. I’m simply sharing my conclusions from many hours on the couch (a.k.a. therapy), an obsessive amount of research (to which I will provide as many links as possible), and of course, my personal experiences. If you are exploring the possibility of an ADHD or similar diagnosis, I encourage you to speak to a licensed medical professional. That said, please go above and beyond in the name of due diligence when pursuing a diagnosis. If your medical professional doesn’t refer you to the appropriate specialists for a complete psychological evaluation that includes cognitive and behavioral assessments, advocate for yourself and make that happen! Do your own research and understand your options.

Not Your Mama’s ADHD: Information I’ve learned about ADHD and how the diagnosis has changed over the years:

  • ADHD (previously referred to as ADD: Attention Deficit Disorder) is now recognized as a neurodevelopmental disorder that can manifest differently depending on the individual, with three main subtypes (2):
    • Inattentive type: Difficulty paying attention, being easily distracted, forgetfulness, and disorganization
    • Hyperactive-impulsive type: Difficulty sitting still, fidgeting, excessive talking, impulsive behavior, and difficulty waiting for one’s turn
    • Combined type: A combination of inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms
  • Traditionally, ADHD was thought to affect primarily children, but there is a growing field of research and information from all over the world focused on adults with ADHD (3)(4).
  • Women with ADHD might be at a higher risk for misdiagnosis or under-diagnosed due to how they present ADHD symptoms, as well as the tendency for those symptoms to be attributed to other conditions like anxiety or depression (5)(6).
  • Treatments for ADHD have come a long way, and stimulants aren’t the only option (7)! More details are below.

You’ve been diagnosed; now what?

Despite the challenges of living with a late diagnosis of ADHD, many coping mechanisms and support options are available for women. Here are some treatments in addition to traditional medications that have been effective for many women and might be a good place to start:

    1. Therapy—Cognitive behavioral therapy and other forms of talk therapy can help develop coping mechanisms, set goals, and work through emotional challenges (8).
    2. Exercise—Regular exercise has been shown to help alleviate symptoms of ADHD (9).
    3. Mindfulness meditation—Mindfulness practices can help manage thoughts and emotions (10).
    4. Organization strategies and coaching—Developing routines, using tools like calendars and planners, and breaking down tasks into smaller steps can help manage daily life (11).
    5. Diet and nutrition—Some women with ADHD have found that avoiding certain foods, such as gluten or dairy, can improve symptoms. A healthy and balanced diet that includes vitamins and supplements can also help (12). On this topic: dive into the emerging research suggesting a potential connection between inflammation, excessive histamine production, and various health conditions such as autoimmune issues, ADHD, and Parkinson’s disease.

Additionally, connecting with other women with ADHD can be a great source of support and validation. I’ve even found a few communities focusing on supporting neurodivergent minds in my industry on Facebook.

This is just the tip of the iceberg!

Remember, if you suspect you may have ADHD, don’t hesitate to seek help and support. Living with ADHD can be challenging, but don’t let that stop you from having a fulfilling life.

Now it’s your turn! I’m always looking for new resources to help me stay focused and organized, as I’m sure many others are. Please share your ideas in the comments below, in ACM’s Facebook Community + Conversation Group, or connect with us on Instagram.

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A native Texan, Tiffeny returned to her home state in 2021 after living on the Northeast coast for many years. As a work-from-home mom with three children (12 y/o, 10 y/o, and 1.5 y/o), she is always on the go, whether to school, church, or last-minute errands; she usually has her laptop in tow. With a background in visual design, she works as a UX/UI Designer for No Spoon Solutions. She is also pursuing a B.A.S in Learning Technologies remotely from the University of North Texas. Tiffeny admits she is a true cat lady with the best of both worlds; her furbabies and family. If you ever meet her in person, you will quickly learn she bleeds coffee and doesn't take herself too seriously!