Noor Pannu couldn’t believe it. His psychiatrist had just diagnosed him with ADHD. But she didn’t trust him. She had read that people with the disorder did things like fight and have trouble with the law, and that wasn’t her at all.
“It took me a long time to come to terms with it,” she says. “It was a lot of confusion, honestly.”
Pannu is a 30-year-old full of energy, full of ideas and enthusiasm. She leads digital strategy for an e-commerce company in Winnipeg, Canada. She has had several promotions and good relations with her colleagues. Still, she struggles to stay productive, concentrate, and deal with her anxiety about deadlines. After years of symptoms and memory impairment, she decided to seek help at age 29.
“I went to my family doctor and said, ‘I think I’m going crazy. Something is wrong with me. “He referred her to the psychiatrist, who diagnosed him with ADHD.
“It took me almost 6 months to accept it and start taking medication,” she says. She feared the stigma attached to both mental health issues and ADHD. “How People See It:“ People with ADHD are just not productive. It’s not great to work with them. They don’t deliver well. We cannot trust them. And these are very bad things to say about other people.
The disbelief and denial that Pannu feels are just a few of the overwhelming emotions you might feel after learning as an adult that you have ADHD. First, there are all the feelings that come with being diagnosed with an illness that you have treated all of your life. You may feel grief, relief, or both. Then there is the fact that people with ADHD often feel emotions more strongly than others.
“The ADHD brain feels emotions in an amplified way,” says Amy Moore, PhD, cognitive psychologist at LearningRx in Colorado Springs, CO, and vice president of research at the Gibson Institute of Cognitive Research. “Each emotion is bigger and bigger and bigger. This grief can seem absolutely overwhelming. And that relief can almost be a feeling of elation. “
An ADHD support group helped Pannu gradually come to terms with his diagnosis. She met people with similar symptoms, asked them questions and shared her experiences. “Without them,” she says, “I might not have started my treatment and I would probably be confused even now.”
Once she started taking stimulant medications, she felt like she had started to use her mind to its full potential. She is now considering pursuing a master’s degree in commerce. She is studying for the GMAT Business School Entrance Exam and is aiming for a high score.
Despite her high hopes for the future, Pannu is disappointed that she did not find out that she had ADHD earlier. She grew up in India, where she says the lack of awareness of the disorder, as well as the stigma of women’s mental health, prevented her from being diagnosed earlier in life.
“I wish I had known about this diagnosis earlier. I would have performed better in my studies and accomplished a lot more, ”she says. “I feel like there was so much in my life that I could have done.”
Grief is one of the main emotions you might experience when you learn you have ADHD in your late teens or adulthood, explains psychologist Moore.
“You mourn the realization that your life could have been so much easier, if you had just known. You mourn the loss of the life that you could have had during this time. And you mourn the loss of the ideal adulthood that you pictured to yourself, ”she says.
Some people feel anger and sadness: “Anger that no one has recognized [your ADHD] before, or that no one has done anything before – and that you have suffered for so long without explanation or help.
Pannu didn’t find the help she needed until she was 30. But now that she has come to terms with her diagnosis, she understands herself better. And she has a healthy sense of humor about who she is.
“I always thought I was weird. I didn’t know what kind of weirdo, ”she laughs. “But I know now.
Relieved to learn the truth
When Melissa Carroll’s doctor diagnosed her with ADHD last year, the 34-year-old Nashville credit analyst was grateful to hear the news. After years of struggling to complete assignments, advance her education, and maintain various relationships, she felt at peace with the diagnosis.
“I’m all over the place, and not everyone can follow this,” Carroll said, describing what it might be like for others to have a conversation with her. She says her ideas make sense in her head, “but trying to hold this conversation or make sense of it in a professional setting is sometimes difficult.” She also struggles to follow up, she says. “Being driven enough in one direction for long enough to take the next step is difficult.”
Processing changed that. She started taking stimulant medications, which improved her ADHD symptoms. It also eased her severe depression, which she says stems in part from decades of untreated ADHD. She had had a difficult childhood without a very stable family life. Adults tended to dismiss his symptoms because Carroll was just “doing it.”
“You adapt to life so much that you get used to spinning your wheels, but at some point you burn yourself spinning your wheels and give up,” she says.
Medication and therapy helped Carroll gain traction. It all started with the diagnosis of ADHD which gave him hope that life could be better.
It’s common to feel some comfort when you learn you have adult ADHD, says cognitive psychologist Moore. “That initial feeling of relief comes from the fact that you finally have this explanation for your deficits. One reason why you struggled in school and in relationships. Relief that there is a real name for why you are having difficulty with time management and organization. “
After receiving the diagnosis, Carroll took steps to better organize himself. “If I need lists or if I need an app to remind me which rooms I need to clean, or in what order I need to do things, then I can do it,” she says.
She told everyone that she knew she had ADHD. Many were not surprised. “I was blown away. I hadn’t realized that it was so obvious to some people – because it wasn’t for me,” she laughs. “I was delighted to be able to say, ‘J ‘discovered this on myself, and it makes sense.’ I think that’s the key to what I’m missing.
An emotional tug of war
Moore can understand Carroll’s excitement. She felt the same when she found out she had ADHD at age 20.
“I was so excited that I had a name for what was going on with me that I wanted everyone to know about it,” she says. “I sang it on the rooftops.”
Moore learned she had ADHD in college in the late 1980s. “Previously the only people diagnosed were hyperactive little boys. So for a girl with mostly inattentive ADHD, I was one of those who fell through the cracks.
When she was a child, her parents gave her a very structured family life. Once she left for college, however, she struggled to stay organized and manage her time. But her mother, a child development specialist, was working with children around the time they were starting to be diagnosed with ADHD. When she recognized the signs in her own daughter, she urged Moore to see a doctor about it.
After Moore found out she had the disorder, she took stimulant medications and began to navigate college, graduate school, and a doctoral program.
“I didn’t cry as much as I was relieved,” she says. “Maybe it’s because in the 1980s it wasn’t a common diagnosis. Maybe if I was going through the same situation two decades later, I would have known that they could have done something and didn’t.
Moore sees many people who are later diagnosed go through a “tug-of-war” between grief and relief.
Manage big emotions
Treatments like medication and cognitive behavioral therapy help many adults with ADHD take charge of their lives and emotions. Moore says it’s also important to understand the main reason for these big emotions. ADHD affects thinking skills called executive functions. These include organizational skills, working memory, focus, and the ability to control your emotions. A treatment called cognitive training, or brain training, can strengthen these skills, Moore says.
“Cognitive training is the participation in intense repetitive mental tasks that directly target these skills. Once you strengthen them, you will reap the benefits of emotional regulation, as it is also an executive function skill.
It can also help set boundaries in your life, she says. If you work in an office, for example, you can stick a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door or cubicle when you need more silence to concentrate. Or you could have a frank discussion with your boss about your ADHD and ask them to move you to a less busy part of the office, so you can be as productive as possible.
Meeting other people with ADHD can also be a big boost. “Something amazing is happening in support groups,” says Moore. “The simple fact of not experiencing something alone has a powerful therapeutic aspect.”
If you’ve just been diagnosed with ADHD in an adult, consider talking to your close family and friends. “If you educate your loved ones, and they’re able to look at your reactions and say, ‘Hey, is it because they have ADHD that they’re responding to me that way?’ they might show you a little more grace, ”says Moore.