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Getting diagnosed with ADHD as an adult woman

For the longest time, I thought I was one of the laziest people on the face of this earth. If I had to describe myself honestly, I would call myself the Queen of Procrastination. Anything that could be put off until the last possible minute—finishing work, cleaning my room, paying bills, responding to messages—was. However, it was never because I didn’t want to do those things—I could just never bring myself to do them any earlier. If I’m being completely honest, for the most part, this is still the case. The difference? I now know what the root cause of my ‘laziness’ is—Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

For a little background: my brother also has ADHD, but he was diagnosed when we were kids. That isn’t all that surprising—he very much fit the ‘typical’ profile of a kid with ADHD. He was hyperactive, impulsive, always on the move, unfocused, and at times, aggressive. On the other hand, I was almost the complete opposite and thus went undetected. To be fair, ADHD was and still is, considered a “boys disorder”, so it isn’t all that surprising that a young girl with predominantly inattentive symptoms would go undiagnosed, even as I look back at all the glaringly obvious symptoms I displayed when I was younger.

Growing up, I was constantly told by teachers that I needed to work on my time management skills. Even though I was normally able to get homework and assignments done, it would never happen until the last minute—there was always something more interesting to do with my time after school. In class, I would constantly be doodling and daydreaming instead of paying attention. Once I got my hands on an mp3 player, I started listening to that in class instead of my teachers… all while telling myself that was what I needed to concentrate and get anything done. Don’t even get me started on the state of my bedroom…

Then there were the issues with self-esteem, sensitivity and emotional dysregulation. It didn’t take much to set me off both at home and school, especially if you hit the right nerve… which wasn’t all that hard since I had an especially low image of myself. Conversely, I also had a knack for saying and doing things without thinking which caused many an issue in my interpersonal relationships… suffice to say, I was a bit of a nightmare when I was younger.

Despite all this, I managed to make it through university without ever getting diagnosed. While every piece of assessment I ever submitted was completed at the very last minute, I was still smart enough to maintain good enough grades to get into a good university. The only subject I ever failed was a home economics course focused on sewing, mostly because I wasn’t motivated enough to complete some of the assessment pieces. On top of that, a lot of my issues with emotional dysregulation were explained away by puberty. 

During my time at university, I became somewhat aware of my issues with focus and procrastination. I found that the only way I could study or complete assignments was if I was at the library. Any time I tried to do anything at home, I’d fail miserably. I’d set out to complete a history essay and inevitably waste the entire day scrolling through Tumblr, reblogging to my heart’s content. When I moved in with friends in my second year, I started spending most of my free time playing video games with them instead of doing my Korean homework. Soon after, I got a part-time job and found myself precariously trying to balance all three. Naturally, my studies were never a priority. However, I was still passing all my subjects (at times just a few points shy of failing), so I continued to dismiss these issues as a personality quirk rather than symptoms of a much deeper issue… even though I was very clearly only just getting by.

After university, I got a full-time job and moved to rural Japan. Due to the nature of my work at the time, my day-to-day workload was very light which made for a lot of downtime. Despite having an ample amount of time to get my work down, I still found myself putting everything off until the last minute, although it never impacted my work negatively. Hell, no one around me even noticed how much time I spent messing around instead of doing work, so my procrastination and focus issues continued to fly under the radar. I mean, I was getting things done when I needed to get them done, so it couldn’t possibly be an issue! …Right?

It wasn’t really until I changed jobs and moved to Tokyo that I really began to notice my symptoms getting worse.

I had found myself in a job that actually had expectations for me which meant that even the tiniest of mistakes was scrutinised by my managers. Constructive criticism meant in good faith would have me fighting back tears even though I knew it was well-deserved. Asking coworkers for help was essentially a task in itself. Things would get forgotten. Projects would get delayed. My desk would never stay uncluttered for more than a day. Over time, I began to compare myself to my more efficient coworkers—who could handle a larger workload without breaking a sweat—and felt more and more like an imposter. 

Despite all this, it still didn’t occur to me that my issues were more than simple personality faults.

During a trip home for the holidays, I saw a segment on morning television which discussed the low rate of ADHD diagnosis in young girls. Before then, I had no idea that girls had different symptoms to boys and were often not diagnosed until much later in life. However, it wasn’t until I returned to work in Japan—and found myself growing increasingly frustrated with my inability to focus and get things done like everyone else around me—that things clicked.

It all started with a very cursory Google search—is ADHD genetic?

(Spoiler alert: it is.)

Now, I can’t tell you why that was the first thing I looked for, because in all honesty, I don’t remember. That’s the ADHD brain, for you. I suppose I wanted to have something more tangible than a list of symptoms—it is hard to argue with genetics, after all. But it’s more likely that I was simply just curious to see whether there was an actual connection with my brother’s ADHD and my then-potential diagnosis.

Armed with the knowledge that children are about 13 times more likely to have ADHD if an older sibling has it, I shifted my search focus to the symptoms of ADHD in women. Each page I visited, it felt like I was reading about myself. The majority of the symptoms fit, including a great deal that I didn’t even realise were related to ADHD or had long dismissed as mild anxiety. It’s hard to describe the relief that washed over me as I read more and more articles and took self-tests—everything finally made sense.

The next step was getting an official diagnosis.

It was feedback season at work at the time, so I found myself especially motivated to get a diagnosis since I figured I could use it to explain some of the issues that had come up in my quarterly review. I did some research into psychiatrists in Tokyo, quickly found one that had a good reputation located a short walk from my office, and booked an appointment for the following week.

Truth be told, I was incredibly nervous. Despite having struggled with anxiety and the occasional depressive episode—most likely as a result of untreated ADHD—for years, I’d never seen any sort of mental health professional for anything before. I was worried that I would go in, explain all my symptoms only to get told that there wasn’t anything wrong with me and I’d simply convinced myself I had ADHD to make myself feel better about my chronic procrastination.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.

Despite having prepared a list of symptoms, when it came time for me to talk with my doctor, I was a rambling mess of nerves. However, I still made sure to mention that I thought it could be ADHD since my brother had been diagnosed when we were children. My doctor agreed with me and proceeded to ask me the standard test questions. By the end of the session, he was confident that I have ADHD Predominantly Inattentive Type, and I walked out with a prescription.

While I would love to say that there’s been a dramatic improvement in life since I started treatment a year ago, I can’t say that is the case for me. Sure, things have certainly been better, but I feel like there’s still a lot of room for improvement. However, I suppose that’s what life with ADHD is like—a constant work in progress. There’s no “cure” for ADHD, you just have to figure out how to best deal with it on your own terms.

Which brings me to this blog.

I’ve always enjoyed writing, but I’ve never been able to maintain the motivation to blog for more than a month. The number of blogs that I’ve started and abandoned over the years is countless, but I’ve recently come to realise that this likely has something to do with my ADHD—specifically a combination of being unable to maintain motivation for long periods and a belief that no-one cares about what I have to say about any given subject.

Oof. Maybe that was a little too real, but I digress.

As I looked for information about ADHD in adults before getting diagnosed, I noticed that there wasn’t that much information, especially compared to the amount relating to ADHD in children. I’ve stumbled across a handful of brilliant creators who write or make content about their experiences with ADHD, but even then, I can’t help but feel like there could be more people talking about it and spreading awareness about this often misunderstood disorder…

So here I am.

While I have to admit that I’m not 100% confident I have anything of value to add to ADHD awareness, I still want to write about my experiences with it as I fully come to grips with my diagnosis and try to better cope with it in my day to day life. At the very least, this blog will be therapeutic for me on a personal level, so hopefully, that will be enough to keep the motivation levels up.

But if I can help someone else along the way with my writing… well, that would be amazing, too.

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