Ever received a gift that you’re initially really excited about, but then realise you don’t know what to do with it?! Like a fancy nutcracker that’s beautifully designed but confusing to use? Realising as an adult that you are an ADHDer, whether through self-identification or formal diagnosis, can be a very big moment, and one that requires some processing and adjustment. It’s significant and exciting to finally have that insight, but also . . . what now?
What do you actually do with that information and how do you integrate it into your identity, relationships, and way of functioning? And how do you look after yourself while reviewing your life pre-diagnosis/identification and making changes to better suit what you now know about your brain differences?
By the way, congratulations to anyone who’s had the experience of discovering their neurotoype as an adult! We love helping people discover more about the way their brain works and we’ve helped many clients through the process of making sense of their neurotype and the changes they want to make. The diagnosis or self-identification is just the beginning. We believe that time spent thoroughly exploring what it means to be an ADHDer is a great investment in overall wellbeing and have some tips we hope will help. Here are our top five:
Tip One: You’ll have some feelings
Most people diagnosed or identifying as ADHDer as adults have had very challenging experiences related to being undiagnosed as a young person. For ADHDers, navigating education systems and family dynamics without an accurate understanding of the way your brain works can lead to a long string of negative interactions and negative self-image. Finally realising that there is a neurological basis for many challenges can be a huge relief but there are often other, not-so-pleasant, feelings too such as:
Frustration e.g., about all the things that might not have even happened or you would have handled better if you’d known your brain worked differently
Sadness e.g., about the distress your younger self experienced
Grief e.g., about lost opportunities, relationships that suffered or weren’t safe spaces for you
Anger e.g., about the challenges of receiving a diagnosis, particularly for women, that led to your neurotype not being identified or assessed until adulthood
Shame e.g., about not fitting in, about not achieving what you know you’re capable of
Our top recommendation is to get professional help with processing your feelings. Adjusting to new information about something that's so fundamental to who you are can be overwhelming, and it's often helpful to have someone walk you through healthy emotion processing and regulation strategies. Emotions are important and necessary, but they sometimes take some skill in managing. Difficulties with identifying and managing feelings is a common challenge for adults in general and being an undiagnosed ADHDer into adulthood certainly adds to the complexity of emotion regulation.
Tip Two: You’ll need some time Adjusting to any big change takes time. This certainly applies to adjusting to a new understanding of your brain and rethinking your self-image in the light of your diagnosis/identification. We recommend viewing the post-diagnosis period of adjustment as a time of flux: things might make sense for a period followed by an unexpected period of disequilibrium, and so on. With time and the opportunity to understand and make room for your experiences, the adjustment process usually leads to lengthier periods of equilibrium.
In general, the older you are when you are diagnosed or self-identify, the longer the period of adjustment might be. However, there are many other factors at play including:
the response of family and friends
the presence of other challenging life events and trauma
the availability of support in the workplace or education setting
the helpfulness of your own beliefs and attitudes about what it means to be an ADHDer
Tip Three: Find a way to learn about the way your brain works that works for you! Not everyone is automatically super-interested in their ADHD once diagnosed or self-identified, but if learning about your neurotype has become your hyperfocus, that’s awesome! It’s helpful to know at least the basics to understand yourself and seek effective support. And knowing the basics will tell you that you need to find a way to learn that suits you!
There are so many options these : books, webinars, videos, blogs, academic journals, interviews, social media accounts for starters. As a mental health practice, we recommend you make sure you’re learning from credible sources and, ideally, learning from multiple sources across different types of media. Even memes can be a valid source of affirmation and sometimes education 😉
Tip Four: Find out what supports are available to you Being formally diagnosed as an ADHDer can provide access to accommodations in the workplace and educational institutions. Once you have contacted the relevant department or person in your organisation, we recommend having someone assist you through the process of requesting support, particularly if you are still developing confidence and self-advocacy skills around your ADHD. You might need to try different accommodations to find the most effective mix. There are plenty of consultants who specialise in this area so that might be something your workplace can investigate if the current support plans are lacking or unsuitable for you.
Tip Five: Find your tribe Having the support from and sense of affinity with fellow ADHDers can make a significant difference to your adjustment. It’s so good to know others have had similar experiences and wonder about the same things! It’s also helpful to know that you belong to a tribe of ‘neurokin’ when, often, undiagnosed neurodivergence like ADHD leads to a feeling of not belonging or not fitting in.
You might already have ADHDers in your family or social networks. If not, or if you’d like to add to your neurotribe, there are lots of online opportunities through social media as well as groups organised by ADHD and mental health organisations. We also have a group program for adult-diagnosed/identified ADHDers which is a great way of learning more about your neurotype and connecting with fellow ADHDers. It’s called “Fast Minds Big Hearts”.
Congratulations on your diagnosis or self-identification! Our hope for everyone finding out about their neurotype as an adult is that it leads to even more self-compassion, self-awareness and self-acceptance. We hope the tips above will be a good starting point for anyone setting out on the journey post-diagnosis/identification. If you’d like more information about our Adult ADHD assessment and therapy services or our “Fast Minds Big Hearts” Group for Adult ADHDers, please check out the link here on our website where you can also register online.