Could It Be Undiagnosed ADHD?Oct 11, 2022
Could It Be Undiagnosed ADHD?
Did you know that some studies have discovered that fewer than 20% of adults with ADHD are currently diagnosed and/or treated? (1,2,3)
And did you know that ADHD diagnoses among U.S. adults are growing four times faster than ADHD diagnoses among children (26.4% increase among children compared to 123.3% among adults)? (4)
Also, the number of women who are being diagnosed later in life is increasing dramatically, because ADHD in women looks very different than it does in males.
These are incredible numbers of people who are dealing with neurodiverse brains, with many not even realizing that their issues could be related to undiagnosed ADHD or something else.
This is because ADHD symptoms often look different in adulthood than in childhood; add in the general lack of awareness and the high rate of masking or self-medicating, ADHD often goes undiagnosed and untreated.
Do You Have ADHD and Not Know It?
Before I jump in too deeply I want to say that I’m one of those who had suspected something was wrong with me, especially after taking 15 years to obtain a 4-year university degree, going through 2 divorces, and utilizing various coping mechanisms and group support systems. I had been to various mental health professionals, but NO ONE ever suspected that I had ADHD. It wasn’t until my 50’s that I actually got diagnosed. So I say all this to tell you that it’s not uncommon for individuals to live much of their life never realizing that they may have ADHD.
So maybe you’ve heard about ADHD, read a bit about it, and you wonder to yourself, “Do I have ADHD?” Or, maybe it was discovered earlier in your life but no one explained to you what it meant and how it could potentially impact your life, both the negatives and the positives. To me it’s such a crime when this happens, yet it’s important not to let ourselves dwell in that space because what’s done is done. Instead I want to encourage you to move forward. There is a way forward to a better life for yourself and not one where you stay stuck in depression, anxiety, and the disordered life of unattended to ADHD.
One important piece on how to move forward with ADHD and take control of your life is the emotional component. By this I mean how you feel about you and who you think or believe you are; the “identity” label you have pinned to yourself in big bold letters, as if it’s a permanent state. It is not!
Who you’ve been and how you’ve lived up to now is NOT who you can become moving forward. Your past does not equal your future if you don’t bring your past into your future and keep reliving it there. However, when “trauma” isn’t resolved and it needs to be, it keeps moving forward with us.
If you’d like to learn more about this part of the process, I talk about it on two different Living Beyond ADHD podcast episodes here:
More on Moving Beyond the Damage of Years of Undiagnosed ADHD - 025
Moving Beyond the Damage of Years of Undiagnosed ADHD - 023
What are the Possible Symptoms of ADHD?
First, I want to say there are both negative and positive symptoms with ADHD. The most important thing to remember about ADHD is that you are not broken or defective.
Some adults talk about their struggles openly, while others feel such shame that having ADHD or thinking that maybe they have ADHD is their "best-kept secret." I want to share a powerful message with you that one of my students, DTC, shared with me years ago; it’s their heartfelt perspective:
“The reason we feel so stuck is because we live in a world that appears so rigid, and feels so unforgiving, leaving one with the impression that there are no alternatives to functioning successfully. That our possibilities are limited, that there is only one way of doing things...and that way simply does not work for us, so all of our attempts at life feel hopeless. No one ever really tells us that there is flexibility in functioning, that there is more than one way to go about maneuvering through the world, ways that can work for us, ways in which we have the ability to succeed, just like everyone else...only differently. But no one knows they have to tell anyone this because no one really realizes it. The non-ADD people are just functioning the way they know how, and it's working, and the ADD people are functioning the way they know how, and it's not working. So until you flip the lid off of this mystery of life, and uncover this world of differences, reveal the array of alternative paths, everyone remains positioned exactly where they have the ability to be; the functioning people remain ignorant, and a great many of us are left feeling inept, demoralized, and utterly stuck.”
So, back to the symptoms that might be showing up in your life if you’ve never been diagnosed with ADHD…It’s important to remember that ADHD has three core symptoms: inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and/or impulsivity and depending upon the individual ADHD presents itself uniquely from person to person.
Please note that the negative and positive symptoms of ADHD listed below are not an exhaustive, comprehensive list, nor meant for diagnostic purposes. This is merely a starting point for considering if you have undiagnosed ADHD.
First, some of the negative symptoms of ADHD:
- Depending on whether you are primarily inattentive, hyperactive/impulsive or a combination of both, you could be at greater risk for addictions, both substance and behavioral.
- Common substances include alcohol, marijuana, food, cigarettes, and adrenaline generating high-risk activities.
- Common behaviors include codependency, sex/love addictions, gambling, and heavy Internet use.
- Sleep problems, whether going to sleep, falling asleep, staying asleep or being able to wake in the morning refreshed.
- Fatigue from pushing so hard to get things done with less than effective strategies.
- Depression and/or anxiety often coexist, and many times are identified before ADHD.
- Memory problems, whether working memory, short-term memory or long-term memory.
- Low self-esteem due to physical, mental, emotional and verbal abuse.
- Fantasy thinking which has no steps to take to achieve your goals.
Next, some positive symptoms of ADHD:
- Gifted, creative and bright in solo endeavors.
- An idea person who can lead a team to greatness.
- Innovative, out of the box thinker leading to cutting edge discoveries.
- Creative problem-solving; seeing new possibilities for current products.
- Youthful energy and enthusiasm.
- Turning dreams into reality once the path and steps are clear.
- Hyperfocusing on something to discover the deeper secrets of its beauty.
Overcoming the Effects of Undiagnosed ADHD
First of all, I want you to realize that you are all so much more than a bunch of ADHD symptoms and that you deserve to be able to bring your gifts to life and to shine your light brightly.
Some of you have made it into careers of your choosing, and yet are struggling horribly to function in those careers that you’d love to be great at and manage more easily. I get it.
There’s a lot to be learned, and you can learn, if you are willing to be a student of your own life. I refer to it as “being a student of your own life” because you are going to have to do the legwork to really discover a lot of things about yourself so I can help you to solve the challenges you are facing.
I believe there are answers and solutions to all of the challenges that we as adults with ADHD face, if we just have all the information or facts that are needed to sort out the challenges. It’s like being a detective and investigating your own life.
Learning as much as you can about yourself and knowing where you are starting from right now – today is important. If you have addictions to address, that has to be a part of your plan. If you are under-employed or even unemployed, that has to be part of your plan. If you need group support, then that has to be part of your plan. What I often say is that you are 100 percent responsible for yourself. You have the ability to respond to move forward and to change what you want to in your life.
Over the course of my 71 years now, I’ve experienced many different challenges, whether they’ve been physical health or mental health issues, and been driven to overcome them. Whether focus, follow through, self-management, learning differences, environmental sensitivities or others, I’ve needed to overcome them if I was going to live the life that was anything close to what I hoped for. I also needed to overcome them if I was going to shed some light and guide others, perhaps like you, out of your stuckness, into the life you’ve been wanting forever. My phrase for that journey is moving from stuck to unstoppable.
So, no matter your age or when these challenges came to light, or whether you’re a professional trying to hold your own in your career and not crash and burn, or a student trying to finish up your undergraduate work to go on to grad school, or a mom who feels compromised by your challenges in addition to managing a household, kids and other necessities, you might all be facing burnout and feel thoroughly “exhausted” by the toll it is taking on you to try and have a successful life by yourself. The cost doesn’t go down the longer you wait to address the issues, or the older you get, so you may as well get to it now.
Depending on your situation, you may want to look into any or all of the following supports:
- well-trained professionals
- support groups
- effective medications (if that’s part of the plan for yourself)
- best practices for you in terms of strategies, behaviors, skills, and mindset
- healthy habits for sleep, nutrition and physical activity
And remember to be sure that it’s adult ADHD that you are facing and not something else, or something in addition to just adult ADHD.
Statistically, the incidence of co-existing conditions such as depression, anxiety, OCD, addictions, and more goes up the longer you go without a confirmed diagnosis and a treatment plan; no matter what that plan is.
A simple online questionnaire or quick little checklist is not sufficient to rule in or out other important factors. This is your life we are talking about. So, please be careful with assumptions and self-diagnosing, if you want the best possible outcome for yourself.
Here’s a few action steps for getting started on your journey:
- Remember: It is your response-ability to get the information and training you need; in other words – it’s your “ability to respond” to your needs and to meet them.
- The good news about learning the truth about where you are in your life right now and what’s actually going on, is that it can help you to move forward with greater certainty, no matter what age you are, if you are willing to be a student of your own life and open-minded about what you need to learn.
- Finding out the truth about your life situation is about rigorous honesty. From that rigorous honesty and truth you learn acceptance. From acceptance you learn that you aren’t settling; rather you are learning to accept what is true and work with that truth, instead of operating from denial. You are learning to respect yourself enough to do things for yourself instead of bailing. Respecting yourself is about knowing who you truly are.
- Knowing who you truly are is about being able to separate out the difference between being a “human being” and a “human doing” and valuing yourself for “being” not “doing.”
You don’t have to be another ADHD “undiagnosed” adult statistic. Isn’t it time to discover the truth and get the treatment plan set in place so that you can live as your best self?
I’ve developed a free e-book that will help you on your journey towards diagnosis, which includes where to go for help, what questions to ask your mental health professional about treatment for ADHD, and so much more.
For other free resources, visit my website.
For more information about working with me through my transformational program, check out my ADDventures In Achievement Foundational Skills Program.
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4Chung W, Jiang S, Paksarian D, et al. Trends in the Prevalence and Incidence of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Among Adults and Children of Different Racial and Ethnic Groups. JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(11):e1914344.