Updated Sept 13, 2023…this is something I’m currently in process with!
Around Aug 11, I realized I am an ADHDer.
Around September 10, I also realized I am autistic. I’m gonna have to update this again soon to add that part, but I’m leaving the below for now which covers the previous month.
The ADHD part of the journey
You can read more about my process of realizing and unmasking on my blog post I guess I do have ADHD after all, as well as my recent newsletters on this Substack.
I consider ADHD to be “who I am” - an intrinsic part of my operating system - not a disorder or a deficit. In other words, I don’t consider myself a “broken neurotypical”, I consider myself to just be the person I am, who needs a certain environment to thrive, that is hard to come by in this society.
This way of framing ADHD comes from the Social Model of Disability, which makes the distinction that I’m not disabled by my brain being what it is, I’m disabled by living in a society that is not built to accommodate my brain. It’s built to work for neurotypical brains.
A lot of the language we have to describe ADHD comes from the medical system, which is unfortunate, but here we are. (I am working with a friend to come up with better, ND-derived language to describe our experience!)
Essentially what the DSM V describes is a distressed ADHD-er…someone without the adequate support to be happy and well. That is partly why I didn’t recognize myself in the list of symptoms for a long time…the other part is that I was working so hard to act and appear “normal” to myself and others that I couldn’t admit what I was struggling with, which is called masking.
The late-diagnosed neurodivergent journey
What I now see as ADHD, I used to explain to myself with other labels, like, being gifted, being an ENFP, a multipotentialite, and quirky or weird. I didn’t relate to the descriptions of ADHD that I saw, because I’m 42 and I’ve spent my whole life trying to work around it, mask it, pretend I was fine, etc. I self-accommodated so much for so long that I didn’t think of it as a “disorder”.
This inquiry started by noticing that so many of my friends and people I find creatively inspiring turn out to have autism and/or ADHD. When I read the characteristics of those two conditions, I did not relate to them as they were described—but I definitely related to the high-level concepts of masking, social confusion, and being overwhelmed by things that other people do not find overwhelming. So I started off by considering myself part of the widest tent of this thing called neurodivergence.
But I was still skeptical—I thought the concept was interesting, but I didn’t feel like I had a disorder, and I didn’t feel like my relationship with the peculiarities of my brain was something I needed to have an identity around.
Then this post about ADHD-as-identity vs ADHD-as-disorder started me thinking beyond the DSM diagnostic criteria for ADHD. The more I read and thought about it, the more my thinking started to shift. My brain is not like other brains already made sense to me, but now I was realizing my life is not like other lives.
I finally realized that my daily life is nothing like a neurotypical person. I do dozens of different tasks all day, based entirely on what I feel like doing moment by moment, because I've set up my whole life to allow me to live like that. I often don’t know what time it is, or what day it is. My motivational system is entirely interest-based. My way of life is not a problem for me, so I didn’t think it qualified me for a label that defines a disorder.
But now I see that I spend an immense amount of effort trying to create an environment that works for me, because the world as it is just doesn’t. And that’s what being neurodivergent looks like, when you’ve lived with it your whole life.
Once I saw it, I couldn’t stop seeing it
I reached out to a friend who I knew had ADHD and we talked for hours about everything that ADHD entails. I revisited every part of my life, and realized it had been there all along. It was a relief to talk with someone who I didn’t have to mask with: I didn’t have to apologize for “getting off track”, or losing my train of thought. We could just meander around a topic and then leap into a totally different one, and it was all good.
Several friends contacted me after reading my blog post to talk about how they suspected they might have ADHD too. As I started talking about it on Facebook, it turns out lots of my friends already had a diagnosis and I just didn’t know. It turns out, ND people gravitate to other ND people, and I was already surrounded by neurokin.
Where do I go from here?
I am planning to pursue diagnosis so I can access medication—not because it is a disorder, but in the same way you might take supplements to improve your wellbeing, or fluoride to strengthen your teeth. Perimenopause in particular seems to be making my working memory worse in a way I’d like to address.
Undoing my internalized ableism is another huge part of this, which I discuss on this post:
Related to that is the project of reworking my systems and structures to support my ADHD in more ways, including creating an ADHD-friendly home, ADHD-friendly work, and ADHD-friendly life.
I am also thinking about ways to help other newbie-ADHDers release the urge to feel like no, I can be normal if I just try harder, and create a life that works for them.