Undiagnosed ADHD Made Me Question My Sanity

By: Kate

As an only child of two highly intelligent and motivated people, a lot was expected from me very early on in life. My parents constantly encouraged me to be the best at everything I did. For a while, I succeeded. I was “ooh’d” and “ahh’d” at by adults who were amazed by the precociousness, eloquence, and creative abilities I displayed at a very young age. My parents and their peers always told me that I was “going somewhere” and that I would “be somebody” very special one day. I was very lucky.

Around the age of nine, I started to experience difficulties in school, particularly with math. My parents and teachers were baffled at my sudden inability to concentrate and my disorganization. While I was once at the top of my class, I was steadily falling behind my peers. I would lose homework, my library card and my school projects. I would forget entire lessons and lectures from just the day prior. I was constantly late to class and overly tired because my racing mind wouldn’t let me sleep at night, further impeding my ability to focus. My self-esteem began to suffer greatly at this time as I was also the subject of chronic bullying.

My parents could not understand where their once seemingly brilliant and driven little girl had disappeared to.  I became incredibly shy and would not participate in class because I was too afraid of giving the wrong answer. I tried my absolute hardest to focus during lectures, but all the sudden I would experience overwhelming anxiety and panic attacks because I could not make sense of what my teacher was trying to explain. Particularly with math, I felt like I was looking at ancient hieroglyphics rather than 2nd grade algebra.

I only got worse during high school. While I was placed in honors level courses, I was still two grade levels behind in math. I would fail nearly every math exam and developed severe test anxiety. I would always turn in major assignments late and was constantly showing up to class late too. I withdrew from social life because the sheer thought of being in a room full of my peers who were all more successful than me sent me into a depressive tail spin.

My teachers, my parents became incredibly disappointed in me because they presumed I was just being lazy. Deep down I knew I was intelligent, I just couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t translate all the thoughts spinning around in my head onto paper, why I couldn’t seem to explain to my parents and teachers the ENORMOUS amount of effort required for me to sit down and study for a test and be able to remember what I studied the next day!

I became severely depressed and experienced many episodes of suicidal-ideation.  In my mind, I was a failure. I was a falling star, once bright, shining, and promising, only to slowly fade away and categorized as those who simply “don’t try,” or lack the intelligence to comprehend what I was taught in school.

After I graduated from high school and struggled through community college courses, I eventually developed a dissociative personality disorder.  At any sign of stress, primarily involving academia, I would dissociate and go on auto-pilot. I would often forget how I arrived at certain locations, or how I drove home from work or school. There would be gaps in my memory lasting as much as two or three days at a time. My brain was in survival mode.
I was extremely depressed and anxiety-ridden.

I couldn’t keep track of items like my driver’s license, credit cards, medications, car keys, my glasses. You name it, I would lose it. I would even forget to turn my car off after I had parked, and would walk away with the door still open and the engine running. I made silly mistakes on important work documents, forgot people’s names less than a second after they told me and missed critical deadlines. I could be having a conversation with someone and have no recollection of what was being discussed.

My depression became so severe that my parents urged me to see a psychiatrist. After a series of misdiagnoses ranging from bipolar disorder to schizophrenia, a psychiatrist finally brought up the possibility of Adult ADHD. She gave me the book “Driven to Distraction” by Edward Hallowell and asked me to read it to see if I could identify with any of the case studies from the book. When I finally sat down to read it (a task in of itself) I was brought to deep, soul-breaking tears. THIS WAS ME. Countless adults across the world were experiencing the same difficulties I had struggled with all my life. I empathized greatly with their feelings of failure and inadequacy. I read stories of highly intelligent adults with brilliantly creative minds who just simply could not seem to “get it together” enough to actually succeed. I had found the answer to a question that had plagued me my entire life. I wasn’t stupid, I wasn’t lazy, I wasn’t a drama queen just looking for sympathy! There is something neurologically “wrong” (I hesitate to use that word) with my brain, and it could be helped! I wasn’t destined for a life of failure after all.

It’s been many months since my diagnosis of Adult ADHD Inattentive Type. I am now on a regimen of medicinal stimulants, anti-anxiety medication, as well as weekly cognitive therapy to help overcome what the medicine cannot. I am succeeding in school again, and arriving to work on time. I can remember people’s names and what project is due next week for class. I was once a passenger in my own life, but now I’m back in the driver’s seat, learning about the way my mind works, nursing my wounded self-esteem back to health, and focused on living each day as presently as possible.

    • Carol D
    • March 14, 2019

    Kate, thank you for sharing your story in such an articulate and insightful way. I’m glad you were able to finally get a diagnosis and treatment. Please remember that you have a very special brain, intelligence, and special gifts that “normals” do not.

    I had strikingly similar experiences to you growing up and attempting college. My father was a school proncipal and in his “spare time” self-contracted and built warehouse buildings. I now realize he was also undiagnosed . He would often tell my teachers my disruptive actions and over-socializing was because I “took after my mom.” Nope, it was him.

    I eventually was able to become successful due to a fluke. Taking diet pills starting back in the 70s helped with my ADD. They were amphetimines. I started a career I loved and expanded on it.

    When not on the diet pills I learned I needed a lot of support and finally had work and personal assistants to help me be organized and succeed. I also had a few misdiagnoses and suffered through endless prescriptions.

    At 62 years old I was tested and like everyone here, went through all the “stages of grief” and regret. I think every child who tests high in intelligence and is struggling in school should be tested!

    Again, thank you for sharing your painful and yet promising story. Warmest wishes to you.

  1. Reply

    Thank you for your story. I had similar things happen to me I thought that I was either crazy or retarded but did not know that I had ADHD until a few years ago. Taking Ritalin and meds for depression and anxiety have greatly helped. The doctor that discovered that I had ADHD had daughters with ADHD who graduated with honors . The secret was that he instructed the professors to give his daughters more time when taking test.

    • Robin Plank
    • March 13, 2019

    This is also my life! But I didn’t really start falling apart until high school. I was intelligent enough, but I had to work so, soooo hard to keep my grades up.

    My memory was not good & doing homework was very painful. I would put the radio on to help block out the pain.

    Math had always been a great challenge for me. In 2nd grade I had a terrible time learning to read a clock. In hindsight I realize I did not grasp that there were three graphs superimposed on the clockface: hours, minutes & seconds, so the numbers were all a jumble.

    In 6th grade I would erase my long division work until there were holes in my paper & I would be in tears. I finally had such a meltdown my parents went in & talked to the teacher. To this day, arithmetic is harder for me than higher math. I did flourish in geometry though because it is so visual.

    I became anxious & depressed in high school, even to the point of having suicidal thoughts. I would have outbursts of rage & was tired all the tine.

    In college I broke down completely, not getting work in, which was not me. I was so depressed & fatigued I just finished the semester (after a big fight with my parents about it) and dropped out.

    Since then my life has been a typical ADHD patchwork of school, random jobs, more school, adventures, etc. Marriage & children gave me more external structure, but I was always so fatigued a doctor gave me a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome. I have to wonder if all those years of stress damaged my body & has caused my all my chronic illnesses.

    I am 66 & still sorting this out, but finding ADDA has given me such relief because now I know what is wrong! I am learning many cognitive tricks, but my challenge is to remember them well enough to apply. Repetition, repetition, repetition.

    Each day is still a struggle, but life has gotten considerably better as I give myself grace & learn how to better manage my life. Thank you, Kate and others, who have opened their lives up to give the rest of us a sense of validation. Thank you, ADDA, for helping me find my tribe and for the healing that has begun in my heart & life. I love you all.

    • Mark Brennan
    • March 13, 2019

    Reading your story is like reading my own biography, only thing missing is the failed relationships and marriages

    I also was misdiagnosed with bipolar ll depression and treated unsuccessfully for over a decade, the psychiatrist said it was type 2 as I also suffered with chronic depression and anxiety, it was only after many years of meds not working properly that I was referred to a mood disorder clinic. And after a couple of days there they said to me your Not bipolar, you have, ADHD

    After going home and reading and watching many vids on YouTube, I was shocked how it described my life to a tee, just wish I did not have to wait until I was in my 50’s for the proper diagnosis.

    Thank you for sharing your story, it makes me feel a little less alone with my struggles!


    • Kelly
    • March 13, 2019

    Thank you for sharing your story. It’s not easy to re-live those memories, and the emotional roller coaster of the diagnosis seems to keep going. I can relate in many ways to your experiences, and I was given the same book and remember feeling exactly the same way!! You are not alone and you’ll continue to collect and curate the tools that will allow you to be the amazing person that you are.

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