ADHD is more than a diagnosis; it’s a loss

Last month, I was chatting with a friend of mine, who was sharing with me her feelings about her oldest child and how he will be leaving for college in the fall. He is emotionally ready and mature enough to leave home, but she is desperate to hold on just a bit longer. She spoke about how hard it is to let go; to see her children grow up and become independent. This triggered the memory of years ago, sending my daughter off to her first day of college, weeping at the wheel on the drive home.

My friend spoke of the universal, unavoidable ways individuals have to experience “letting go.” We let go of loved ones through death, separations, chronic illnesses (Alzheimer’s, for example), adoption, moving to new cities, even seeing our children marry and move on.

It made me wonder about my ADHD and letting go… and it brought me back to the early days of my post-diagnosis and thinking back of what life could have been, had I been diagnosed earlier, and gotten the appropriate treatment. Could I have learned more in school? Could I have been a better mother?

In working with hundreds of adults with ADHD, I hear over and over again the sadness, the loss of what “could have been.”

1. Accept the Grieving Process

Part of the therapeutic process in working with adults with ADHD is helping people grieve; to accept the losses felt in a life lived pre-diagnosis, when so much seemed to go wrong and getting little to no support- from parents, teachers, friends, partners, bosses.

Ravaging ADHD symptoms prevented many from living up to their academic potential. Many struggled with relationships that simply didn’t work out, because the ADHD wasn’t properly treated, causing havoc between them and their partners.

Self- esteem dropped when the complications of daily living became too much, with houses deeply and embarrassingly cluttered, special events missed due to poor time management, bills not paid in time, homes lost to foreclosure, and even deterioration of health because distractions and over- commitments got in the way of picking up the phone to make a doctor’s appointment.

At work, many struggled because they had no idea that perhaps the job or chosen career path was not a good match for them and their ADHD. Nor did they know that they could ask for workplace accommodations so they could be more productive and less stressed. Instead, they struggled miserably in a hated job.

Many mothers felt incapable of meeting their children’s needs because they couldn’t take care of their own. The chaos of a young household might have taken its toll, emotionally shutting them down, as they spiraled into anxiety, depression, and low self-worth.

There are dozens of areas in one’s life that are impacted by ADHD. One could suggest that almost all areas are affected in some way or another.

2. It’s Your Choice: Let Go or Hang On

We can choose to wallow in that sense of loss- the lost years, as some call it, or we can choose to move forward. Armed with knowledge about your ADHD, and getting the treatment you know you need to live more successfully, can you make the decision now to start “letting go” of the past?

Can you let go of the sadness, the defeats, the relationships that didn’t work out? Can you put the old “you”- the undiagnosed, untreated ADHD you in a box and put it up on a mental shelf way high up, not to be forgotten, but to guide you forward as you blossom into the new you?

This new “you” is now armed with tools and life lessons.

3. Embracing the New You

Hopefully, you have gotten some counseling to put to rest the hurt you’ve lived with all those years. Now, you have skills, self-understanding, maybe medication, and hopefully support to help you move forward, navigating new and better relationships, new ways to propel yourself into a better job. Perhaps you’re confident now to even return to school to get that better job- the one you’ve yearned for but felt impossible to reach.

Are you ready to let go? Because by letting go, you will have access to all that wonderful energy you now need to nurture all those incredible talents and gifts that were pushed aside all these years, buried under the symptoms that held you back.

You can tap into that energy that in the past was spent obsessing about the losses and hurts due to your ADHD. Now, you can free that up and use it to make positive changes in your life.

And think how wonderful that will feel.

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