My ADHD Journey – Part 1: 40 Years of Undiagnosed ADHD

 In Dana's World

undiagnosed ADHDI know what it’s like living with undiagnosed ADHD. I’d never even heard of ADHD until I was 33 years old. I just knew that growing up, I felt different and things other people could do were hard for me.

My school experience was an intense struggle, I felt like a fraud in my professional life, and my marriage was strained, all because of the challenges of ADHD.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll share portions of an interview I had with Coach Sybil Kleinmiche about my ADHD story. The struggles, the successes and in between.

Different at a Young Age

I knew from a young age that I was different. All through school I struggled with studying. My grades were bad. I was incredibly disorganized. My friends were all honor students. They were always very supportive of me, but I ended up feeling incompetent. I was always in their shadows with my C’s compared to their A’s and rare B’s.

The truth is, I knew I was smart, but I was often told I was lazy. Even though I was working as hard as I could. So of course this idea I was lazy and stupid started sticking with me.

My friends always came to me when they needed help in a tricky situation or someone to infuse creativity into a project. If they needed someone with excellent verbal skills, I was the one they called. But I never got the good grades, so I always ended up feeling like a failure.

I went off to college, but moved back home after the first semester. My grades were bad and I was still struggling. So, I went to a local community college to start over. I realized I needed to learn how to succeed in school. Taking this step back helped me figure out what I needed to do. How to pay attention in class (sit in the front and take copious notes). How to study for exams (study in the middle of the night when the house was quiet). Suddenly, I was on the Dean’s Honor List. I eventually transferred to a local university and ended up graduating magna cum laude. Maybe I wasn’t so lazy and stupid after all!

Undiagnosed ADHD: Feeling Like a Fraud

After graduation I got hired to work for a large corporation. I struggled there because I didn’t know how to organize my work or complete tasks efficiently. Because of my good personal skills, I was able to make my way through and avoid being fired.

I felt like a fraud though because I was hiding all these problems I had. I didn’t realize I had undiagnosed ADHD. I just knew I struggled. Projects were late. I couldn’t prioritize well. Every day I wondered if I could trust myself to do my job. But I was always able to talk myself out of getting in trouble. My apartment was a cluttered mess, but I hid the disorder from the rest of the world. This went on and on.

Meanwhile, I met the man of my dreams (love at first sight in an elevator at work) and got married. It just so happens, my husband is a tidy guy who craves order. Not long after our wedding, his frustration with my clutter began to build. I realized if I wanted my marriage to last, I would have to get my chaotic lifestyle under control and stop being disorganized.

Learning How to Be Organized with Undiagnosed ADHD

I’m the kind of person who, if I see a problem, I figure out how to get around it. So, I set out to learn how to be organized. I took an organizing class and read lots of books. I even secretly studied how the organized people in my life did things.

This was many, many years before I’d ever heard of ADHD. But, I soon realized I couldn’t stay organized like other people did. Their techniques didn’t work for me. That when I invented my own way of staying organized. It took two years to clear the clutter from our home and create practical organizing systems that worked!

Becoming an organized person made an amazing difference. But, I continued to be unhappy at my job. Looking back, I realized with a career focused on my weaknesses, I could never succeed. I knew there had to be more to life than trudging off to boredom and frustration for 8 hours a day for 40 years of my life.

Setting Out On A New Adventure (Still with Undiagnosed ADHD)

One day on a whim, I suggested to my husband we sell our house, quit our corporate jobs, and travel for a year. He agreed – gotta love that guy! After pulling the pieces in place, we set off for our year of adventure. We traveled the USA, staying with relatives and living out of the back of our pick-up truck for a few months, looking for a place we wanted to settle. Then we hopped on a German freighter to England, bought a van, and camped all over Europe for six months.

I still didn’t know what attention deficit was. I just knew I had one shot at this life and I had to break free to make it the best life I could. Was leaving my home, family and job easy? No! Was it scary? Oh, yes! And, it was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done.

Those were my early years living with undiagnosed ADHD. In my upcoming blog installments, I’ll share my journey to diagnosis, talk about how my life changed, and the lessons I’ve learned in the process.

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