Having ADHD is already filled with emotions, that are not exactly well understood by a sufferer.  What happens when we learn about the 'disorder' as adults? It is inevitably harder...

Diagnosis as an adult certainly is full of emotions, but one of the emotions sometimes is grief– because people with ADHD tend to feel that they lost a hell of a lot of opportunities. The head starts filling up with 'What ifs'. What if the diagnosis came earlier? I would not have failed that test because I would have had more time to think. The list probably goes on, depending on each individual and their experience.

Here are some tips on how to deal with that grief.

Definition of grief (general): is a strong emotion associated with the loss, one experienced. In the case of late ADHD diagnosis, one can say that the sufferer lost a significant portion of crucial development of self-awareness.

National Institute of Mental Health publication about ADHD suggests that a combination of treatment is a way to deal with the majority of life struggles. This includes:

  • Combination of therapy techniques: counselling for any trauma that an individual might have experienced due to prevalent critique from caregivers or authority figures like teachers. Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to address issues with worrying and non-stop racing brain.
  • Medication. For some individuals, it might be inevitable to be prescribed medication available on the market. If therapy does not provide wanted results, it is worth giving medication a try, but being under psychiatric care is crucial. Only an experienced clinician can prescribe effective treatment.

Grief in general

The course of grief:

  • Numbness
  • Pinning
  • Disorganisation and despair
  • Reorganisation

This may vary in each individual, but the common course of grief usually follow the above steps. Grief is usually associated with losing a loved one, but in this case, it can be associated with losing your own identity.

Common advice that is given to people going through the grief process usually is in the form of counselling to explore one's emotions and find coping mechanisms. However, the form of grief experienced by an adult who was diagnosed with ADHD, for example after the age of 25 has a non-conventional definition of grief that has not yet been actually defined. As I mentioned before, it is also to do with loss, but with loss of one's identity, it can lead to confusion, overanalysing past behaviour and not understanding how to behave now, once the diagnosis is present.

Speaking from experience

I have asked dear Instagrammers to comment what was their reaction to being diagnosed as adults. Below is the chart of what people answered and what was the most popular answer. Results are very interesting, as it proves how everyone differs, but it seems that relief was what most adults diagnosed with ADHD felt.

Main emotions associated with being diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. Based on 234 answers.

Personal experience

I have provided general advice on how to deal with grief what the National Institute of Mental Health suggests and what usually is advised by clinicians. I would like to share some of my experiences and what helped me personally.

I was also diagnosed as an adult, 30 years old. However, I was under psychologist care as a child as I was initially diagnosed with Dyslexia, but then my teachers suggested that I shall not continue with further diagnosis as it might not help my future at the university. Which we all know, is absolutely ridiculous and caused more damage than anything else.

I also felt relief when I found out about my ADHD, but also I was worried this is not true, that I am a liar and trying to find excuses. Additionally, I also experienced grief due to lost years where I could have had help and achieve my goals instead of abandoning everything. What helped me?

  • I promised myself I will make myself as aware as possible. I read scientific studies on ADHD, I asked my therapist to provide me with NHS approved materials, so I could learn more from good sources.
  • Telling friends about it also helped, but be careful, not everyone is understanding, but sharing the news with someone who is self-aware and your good friend can really help to deal with the grief, go through it, feel it and leave it behind.
  • I devoted myself to research about ADHD, it might not work for everyone because not everyone is a scientist or is an aspiring scientist, but hey, try making it a hobby? That one might actually stick longer than a month.
  • I forgave myself. This one is key, I decided to forgive myself for all the bad grades, for all bad decisions, for all university degrees I did not use. It is behind me, and I can still have regrets, be sad about wrong decisions. I allow myself to have those bad days but I also forgive myself for them.
  • Stopped comparing myself to privileged people. Awareness is a privilege, sometimes we grow up in an environment that cannot give us awareness, which means we have to learn it ourselves later in life. We can feel behind our peers, who for instance were diagnosed as children because they grew up in a more aware environment where parents recognised the disorder.


Coping with loss: Bereavement in adult life
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