You did it. You finally jumped through all of the crazy hoops: research, paperwork, making appointments, going to those appointments, etc. and you have a diagnosis.
You have ADHD.
Congratulations! This is a BIG fucking deal and worthy of celebrating. It takes a lot of effort to navigate all of those things listed above particularly when you struggle with executive dysfunction.
After talking to hundreds of ADHDers just like you, there seems to be two things happening.
The relief is relatively easy to explain. You now understand the why to so many questions over the years. Why you struggle with this or that. Why you have felt crazy at times (but actually aren’t). And now you can actually DO something about it in a constructive way.
Not to mention you feel resolved in knowing that you were right. Because, unfortunately, there are so many of you who got a LOT of push back from family or friends and even from your doctor, saying that you were just fine or had previously gotten misdiagnosed. And so you pretty much had to self diagnose before you got your actual diagnosis.
(Note: I don’t think a diagnosis is necessary to know you have ADHD AND I understand why it can be so helpful.)
Through the waves of joy and celebration comes waves of something else: grief.
You may call it something different depending on what emotion you resonate with, but the reason I call it grief is because of what we know about the Five Stages of Grief TM.
If you don’t know this already, the Five Stages of Grief TM were originally introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying in 1969. It was used for people who were diagnosed with a terminal illness and were facing imminent death.
Soon after, it was adapted for how we deal with grief in general.
Now ordinarily, we think about grief from the standpoint of someone dying.
What I have found to be true is that grief is evident not just when physical people die, but when other things or concepts die as well; as in breakups, identity crises, “the death of an era”, etc.
When an adult receives a diagnosis of ADHD, there are deaths that occurs. The death of an identity of who you were thought to be both from your own perspective and from others.
The death of potential futures: what you thought life would / could look like. And although ADHD won’t necessarily prevent you from said future, it may look differently than you had planned it in your mind.
When you realize you have ADHD as an adult, there are a LOT of feelings that may come up. So let’s talk through the Five Stages of Grief TM as it relates to an adult ADHD Diagnosis.
But before we do, there’s something really important to note. The Five Stages of Grief TM are NOTlinear. You may experience a few of the stages but not all of them. You may meander back and forth between a few. You may bounce all over like a pinball. There is no right or wrong way to experience or move through your grief. However, understanding what is happening can sometimes be helpful as you navigate it.
In my experience talking to ADHDers, denial usually comes before an actual diagnosis from a doctor. Because it can take SO LONG to get diagnosed for various reasons, ADHDers often have diagnosed themselves before they even can see a doctor or be taken seriously in the medical field and have to highly advocate for themselves.
So, the grieving process begins long before the actual diagnosis.
The denial stage could look a little like this:
Scrolling through favorite social media platform, sees funny video about ADHD, likes it, and keeps scrolling, comes across another video about ADHD, likes it and says, “Ha, everyone must have ADHD.”
A few hours later.
Sees some more funny videos about ADHD and doubles down on their theory.
A week later.
“I must have skewed the algorithm.” Watches more ADHD videos, “They are funny though.”
A few hours later.
Eyes wide, “How does it know me?!?” “I feel attacked.” Throws phone on the couch or bed beside them.
Ignores said social media platform until they semi forget about it seeing into their soul.
Starts scrolling again. “Oh shit, maybe I have ADHD.”
At this point I see the story going a couple of different directions:
Texts friend, “So I think I may have ADHD.”
Friend: “Oh totally!”
“Why didn’t you tell me?!”
Opens Google and spends the next six hours learning everything they can about ADHD. Emerging from the rabbit hole hungry and thirsty, not realizing how much time has past and then recognizing that they just spent six hours hyperfocusing, forgetting to eat or drink anything and having no concept of time, which are ALL symptoms of ADHD.
What’s interesting is that this stage can seem to waffle between denial and acceptance pretty fluidly and from moment to moment.
There also tends to be a lot of second guessing through the entire process, which is another symptom of ADHD, but more on that in another post.
So many questions and assertions start to emerge. Here are a few:
Your anger is valid and gets to be felt. There’s potentially a lot of injustice in your story. You are not alone and you don’t have to continue to hold in your anger.
In fact, I often encourage my clients to express their anger with their voice and/or their body in ways that aren’t dangerous to them or anyone else, like:
Bargaining in the context of the death of a loved one could look like trying to make a deal with a higher power to bring them back or wake up from a dream, like this isn’t really happening. OR it can be ruminating over “what if” statements like “what if I noticed sooner?” and causing self blame for the person’s death.
Bargaining in the context of an Adult ADHD diagnosis looks more like ruminating on what the past could have been had they known about their ADHD sooner.
It can be easy to spend loops of times here coming back to more and more scenarios in your mind as different memories present themselves. There’s nothing wrong with this thinking. It is part of the grieving process.
And make sure you are taking loving care of yourself so you don’t stay stuck here.
As mentioned before, the stages of grief are not linear. It is easy to flip back and forth and all around them from moment to moment.
And after spending lots of time ruminating in the bargaining stage, it stands to reason that depression, a great sadness would step in.
Feeling really sad about that little person you were and how much help they didn’t get and maybe could have. Wishing you could do something for them and knowing that you don’t have a time machine to go back and fix it for them.
All of those “what if, maybe” scenarios come to a standstill of a deep depression.
And this is perfectly normal.
It may feel like this depression will last forever, like it is some sort of fixed state. And it’s not.
But there’s no reason to sound the alarm of having more mental illness. Clinical depression is totally different than experiencing a state of depression from a loss. And moving through an Adult ADHD diagnosis is complicated. There are many things to mourn and grieve over. You get to experience the sadness.
It’s okay to withdraw.
It’s normal to feel like you’re in a fog.
It’s okay to eat your feelings temporarily.
This is all part of the process.
Acceptance doesn’t mean everything is better. It doesn’t even mean that you are happy about your diagnosis. It means that you are starting to embrace the fact that you have ADHD and are able to accept this new reality.
I find that ADHDers don’t usually struggle with this stage. In fact, that sense of relief I mentioned earlier is an element of acceptance.
Once you have put the puzzle pieces together in your mind, accepting that you have ADHD is not usually a difficult thing (and if it is, that’s okay too.)
So you may simultaneously be in Acceptance and Anger or any of the other stages.
What tends to happen is that other people in your life have a difficult time accepting you have ADHD. Maybe a parent or loved one who has known you a really long time.
This is because they are also going through their OWN stages of grief. And acceptance may be more difficult for them for various reasons. Here are some possibilities:
And just as you get to move through your own stages of grief in your own time, so do those around you. It may really suck to have people around you be in a state of denial for a long time. Especially because you want to move forward and talk about it openly with those you love. Be patient with them and be patient with yourself.
I want to reiterate that there is no right or wrong way to move through your grief. You may experience some of these stages, all of them or none of them. All of this is okay.
If you need some resources, please feel free to reach out: email@example.com
You are not broken. You are perfect, whole and complete and ever changing. You are amazing. You are magnificent. You got this!!!
Author of The ADHD Advocate Blog
I love to hear from my readers. Please feel free to email me or message me on Instagram.
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