By Cynthia Hammer, MSW
A Devastating Diagnosis of Inattentive ADHD
I was blithely living my life when I noticed that some of my behaviors were the same as my son’s, who had been diagnosed with inattentive ADHD. “Mmm,” I thought, “am I just like Brian?” It was a thought that got stored in the back of my brain that I would ponder now and again.
When my supervisor at work evaluated me, she mentioned a few issues with my work habits that rang a bell—“Ding! Dong! This sounds like ADHD!” I told her, “I think I have ADHD.” She replied, “I think so, too.” She had a grandson with ADHD so she was familiar with its symptoms.
When I went with my son to the next monthly check-in with his pediatrician, I told Dr. Plank, “I think I have ADHD.” He replied, “You do!” So much for a complicated and lengthy diagnostic process. But to have him diagnose me just by observing me at short monthly appointments was disconcerting. What did he see? What do other people see?
Getting my diagnosis was devastating. I know people who are gratified when they get diagnosed. They finally have an explanation for their troublesome behaviors. They wondered, for the longest time, “What is wrong with me?” Their ADHD diagnosis provided answers.
I wonder how many respond to their diagnosis as I did, like a curve ball, something unexpected and unwanted. I got gobsmacked by my diagnosis. I always felt different from my friends and classmates, but I had gotten by. I wasn’t so different that I stood out or had people comment that I was lazy or disorganized. I never questioned what made me different and never thought I was unusual. Even my husband, married to me for over 20 years, had trouble accepting my ADHD diagnosis. He thought I was just me.
I was ashamed of my diagnosis. I felt exposed and believed everyone could tell something was wrong with me, that I was damaged goods. I thought of Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter” whose penance for adultery was to wear a brilliant “A” on her clothing. I imagined I bore my shame with the letters “ADHD” on my clothing. I only started to heal from my agonizing thoughts when I heard Dr. Hallowell say he never was ashamed of having ADHD. I wanted to be equally unashamed of having ADHD.
It seems strange to write how I felt 30 years ago, and it shows the progress made in accepting ADHD as a neurobiological condition. But in 1992 there was little awareness that adults had ADHD, and many believed it was a moral failing. There were no books to read about adult ADHD and no webinars, coaches, or therapists to guide or help me on my journey. Medicine provided the impetus, but my determination to make changes kept me moving forward.
Three Vital Books
I scoured non-ADHD sources and gleaned any helpful information I found. Three books were vital to my healing. I highlight them below as I believe they still have value for adults with ADHD.
- Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman
This book taught me that what we say to ourselves significantly impacts our self-image. Focusing on what went wrong is not beneficial and is damaging to our self-esteem. By focusing on the negatives, we put ourselves in a downward spiral.
Avoid self-criticism when we fail to perform a task to the desired level. Stop thinking, over and over again, about what you did wrong.
Instead, think about the things in your control and focus on what you will do differently, so you are successful the next time. Think about how you will create better outcomes for future projects
On the other hand, whenever you are successful, take as much personal credit as you can. Celebrate your achievement. List all the things you did that made the project go well. For example, “I had good ideas.” “I got the right people involved.” “I inspired my co-workers to give their best effort.” Wring your success for all its worth. Benefit from your positive statements by starting an upward spiral.
- The 7 Habits of Highly SuccessfulPeople by Stephen R. Covey
All the information in this book was valuable for me to think about and incorporate into my life. I included the book on this list because it got me to write my mission statement. After learning that people with ADHD function best when they have a passion for their work, I understood the value of my mission statement. It crystallized my desire to educate people about ADHD and how to live your best life when you have ADHD. If writing a mission statement clarifies your passions, you will discover your pathway to success.
- StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath
You need to buy a new copy of this book as that is the only way to get the code for the online quiz. The quiz asks numerous questions to determine what your five greatest strengths are. But beyond that, it tells you the strengths you have to a greater extent than others who took the quiz. It explains how groups you belong to will benefit from your strengths.
My top strength is Ideation which means I am fascinated by ideas and find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena. My confidence in the value of my ideas was strengthened and I became more willing to share my ideas in group settings.
Previously, I felt compelled to share my ideas, even though I was anxious they wouldn’t be well received. This meant I presented my ideas with an aggressive edge to my voice. But once I believed that Ideation was one of my strengths, I learned to share my ideas calmly and confidently. It made a difference. Instead of rejection, teammates gave me compliments. “You have a lot of good ideas.” “That’s a good suggestion. Thank you for bringing it up.” I basked in their praise.
If you focus on positive self-talk, pursue what interests you, and stick to your strengths, ADHD will become an almost meaningless word in your life.
Cynthia Hammer is the Executive Director of the Inattentive ADHD Coalition – www.iadhd.org.
She earned her Master’s Degree in Social Work in 1972. For many years she was a stay-at-home mom raising three sons while her husband spent long days at work as a general surgeon. She started a non-profit organization in 1993 to help adults with ADHD, and she recently started a different non-profit, the Inattentive ADHd Coalition to create more awareness of Inattentive ADHD. Visit it here: www.iadhd.org