Blog - Radical Acceptance of ADHD in your Forties

By Claire Arnott | 22nd Jun 2023

When it came to finding a diagnosis age 42 I was asked by those closest to me;

  • Haven’t you always known deep down known you have it?                    
  • Will diagnosis really make a difference to anything?    


And this, the first of many articles about my ADHD brain, diagnosis age of 42 and the acceptance process is my response to these questions. 

So let’s take the first question, the notion that maybe deep down I’d always known. 

Maybe, 

somewhere unconsciously….. 

But consciously no.

The reality is I was too busy trying to prove myself ‘normal’ to have really noticed.

And not having diagnosis (despite seeing psychiatrists repeatedly over many years) led me to conclude my brain was standard (which of course it is as all brains are unique). And that it was something in me that just found tasks harder. I was aware I seemed to have to work harder at everything. I simply thought I wasn’t bright. Turns out I’m clever. Especially creatively and emotionally. I just have a different style for getting results.

In truth I actually thought I was academically defective. The fact I just couldn’t sit still and listen the way people wanted me too. I thought that there was there something fundamentally wrong with me?! 

I was, (like many of my ADHD peers) innocently ignorant to the reality that up to 30% of the population have a neuro divergent brain – that approximately half of those with a neuro divergent brain will have a brain with compromised executive functioning, compromised efficiency on tasks, poor organizational skills, inability to concentrate, difficulty finishing tasks, being on time, not losing everything all the time (despite post it notes stuck to foreheads), often stuck in daydreams, feeling overwhelmed to the point of panic, constantly fearing being pushed away, let down or challenged. 

You see (like most women not diagnosed till adulthood) I didn’t go around revelling in any uniqueness or acknowledging these differences, quite the contrary. I simply grew up trying to figure out how to mask my differences and seem ‘like a woman who’s got it all together’.

As a child under 10, I learnt to try to sit still even if I might explode, I learnt to count numbers and draw images in my mind to keep myself contained.

Especially at church for example when the singing of Hymns squished between my parents would make me nauseous from the overwhelming urge to flee, cartwheel up the isles flashing my knickers and shouting Weeeeeeeeeee and the resistance of such behaviour would leave me exhausted. It became apparent in later life that my grandmother in despair would tie me to chairs as a toddler. That my teachers would ask me to sit on my hands in primary school. I was frequently told to tape my mouth. Fortunately no one ever actually did that. 

As a teen I began to think If I was thinner, richer or more intelligent then surely this overwhelming ‘lack’ I felt wouldn’t matter or show quite so much. If I was thinner, richer and more intelligent then surely I would fit in and be happier too. The complexity of it layered deeper though when as an adolescent I also realized I mustn’t be too thin, too rich or too clever. Just the sweet spot of what was accepted, admired, ‘normal’.

What I wanted was to feel ‘on top of things’ rather than overwhelmed by things. What I truly madly deeply desired was to have clarity and focus. I didn’t know my brain worked differently, I just knew I wanted to feel ‘the same not different’ which I can see now was I wanted to feel calm under pressure not overwhelmed. I didn’t know what that ‘calm’ actually looked like but I craved a brain that didn’t lose her credit card, purse, phone, keys, continually accrue debt despite working hard and one that didn’t let people down when all she truly wanted was to make people happy. ADHD can be brutal.

I always liked myself though. I liked my imagination, my curiosity. My innate connection to natural beauty like flowers and sunrises and old trees even as a 10 year old girl. I was curious about other cultures and religions and I was interested in people and their feelings and passions whatever their culture. I knew I wanted to dance, every single day, in-fact it was a promise I made to myself as a tiny innocent girl who saw the weight of her parents responsibilities and wondered, why didn’t they just dance more?! 😂 As if that would fix everything. Though for me it kinda does. 

As a child I internalized an idea that without massive effort I couldn’t keep up or fit in with areas of learning, societal acceptance and general patience, politeness and sitting still. Mainly because I couldn’t do those things sufficiently to please a productivity focussed adult world.

Not crimes of course though. Nothing enough to get me imprisoned or diagnosed. Just enough to make me very uncomfortable. And that takes us onto the second question, does diagnosis make a difference and my answer is quite certainly YES. 

Not as excuse, or need for attention, or as a label etc though people will have there views of that too and that’s ok. 

It made a difference because I needed to feel seen, heard and validated. And every single human being deserves and needs that.

As ADHD women we repeat a cycle of reaching out and then retracting from our authentic voice in our relationships, workplace and goals. And whilst we continue to strive for perfection and place shame and fault on our imperfection, whilst we hide and suppress our feelings, we will continue to feel ‘not enough’ and it’s exhausting. 

And in that learnt ‘lack’ we feel (emphasis on the learnt) we build walls around us of control and manipulation to feel safe and loved. And those walls cut us off further from those we love and the things we value creating the very thing we’re trying to avoid. 

The paradox. 

Diagnosis helps bring down the walls. It allows you to step up, be seen and heard and loved for who you are. It helps you to forgive yourself, accept yourself and move on. It helps bring you into the ‘now’ releasing the past and the future. 

So in Summary 

No I didn’t know till I knew, age 42. 

Yes diagnosis is valuable and has allowed me to do the work of acceptance, process pain and clean up negative thinking patterns.  I better understand who I am and what I’m here to do. 

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