This is the first installment of a new series that I’ve been wanting to write. Before I start writing one article per topic, I want to tap the brakes, and share how I got here.
Earlier this year I was diagnosed with ADHD. I never considered that I had it at all, at least not until one of my sisters starting sharing information about how it presents differently in women, and how so many now-adult women were never diagnosed as children. Just considering that diagnosis was like finding a missing puzzle piece – so I slowly took action to get assessed, and I positively diagnosed in one session.
I was diagnosed when I was 37. On paper I am very normal and successful. I have a family, I have a college degree, I’m a good driver, and I can manage money. Despite outward appearances, I still have a dopamine deficiency and benefit from medication.
ADHD has three types; hyperactive, inattentive, and combined. I was easily undiagnosed because my hyperactivity is internal. I’m not fidgety, and I actually love lectures (the academic kind that is). My brain however is like a hummingbird sipping Red Bull; it’s always moving and moving fast.
Without medication my brain goes 100 miles a minute on a quiet day. I’ve spent majority of my life with an irresistible urge to do 100 big great things every single day, and the utter defeat of only starting one or two (and rarely finishing). Medication slows my brain down to a more reasonable speed, and it reduces my constant stress and anxiety. Now that I am medicated, I still have the urge to do more than is reasonable for me; a stay-at-home-parent of a toddler, but wanting to do five things (instead of 100) is okay. I can actually do a thing or two now.
With my new and improved brain I can understand how I got this far without a diagnosis. Besides being calm on the outside, I have solid coping mechanisms, and several systems that I’ve been relying on. It’s those systems that I will be sharing in this ADHD Series.
So let’s nail down some vocabulary real fast, specifically “systems” and “coping mechanisms.” A system is a way of doing things, like how I use Google Calendar to keep up with my own life. A coping mechanism is the conscious strategy that you use to cope.
Think of a house. The foundation is your coping mechanisms, and the frame of the house is a combination of systems. They work together to make a solid structure, and while you and I may have a lot of common building materials, we won’t be exactly the same (and that’s okay!).
My particular coping mechanisms are 1) solitude, and 2) silence. Those are my foundation on which everything stands. I didn’t realize how important they were until I didn’t have them for years – then all of the pieces came together just before my formal ADHD assessment.
This realization was good because I was able to talk out this revelation to a psychologist, and we were able to quickly get on the same page about my specific issues and what to do next. The short version is that I coped with undiagnosed ADHD for over thirty years – and was successful because I always had silence and solitude.
Those coping mechanisms helped me think clearly, and I called on them several times a day to help me sort my constant mental static. COVID lockdowns and closures ensured that I was always home with my toddler…never alone, and rarely with silence. Over the many months my patience wore thin. My mood regulation suffered, and I had a harder time just being happy. I was super stressed out, but it was such a gradual build up that I didn’t notice – but Mister Jupiter did!
He urged me to get help, and I eventually did. This brings me back to realizing that silence and being alone were foundational for my mental health, but I didn’t (and won’t) have full access to the quantities I need for a very long time. So my health team and I agreed that I would try medication because I had exhausted all of my systems, and that my coping mechanisms were out of reach.
This upcoming ADHD Series isn’t going to focus much on medication details because pharmacology is very complex, and it just isn’t the focus…but it is a factor that I won’t ignore.
Medication brought peace back into my brain.
I didn’t realize how loud and chaotic my mind was until it suddenly wasn’t. This mental stillness is what I was missing since Kid Jupiter was born. And it is with this re-discovered clarity that I have been able to actively get back to taking care of myself, and enjoy new things with my family. And yes, my mind was plenty loud before Kid Jupiter, but it was manageable because I had regular access to silence, and solitude. That said, medication doesn’t fix everything and it isn’t for everyone – whether to pursue medication is personal.
My medication is like a pair of glasses, and now I can actually see the foundation (coping mechanisms) and frame (systems) that I used to structure my life (and fly under the ADHD radar for 35 years). It has greatly improved my quality of life, but it isn’t magic. I remain unperfect, but I am more relaxed and happier. Expectation management is important.
I’m excited to use this space to explain the systems that worked for me. You’ll get the benefit of all of the details without the trial and error that took me years to refine. Lucky you!
As always, I am an open book. Comment below if you have questions, or if you want a blog post all about a specific system that I haven’t written about yet. I have several systems that I want to write about, and I am happy to bring one forward if you need it sooner. Cheers!
☞ Related: Lady Jupiter Podcast № 70 Adult ADHD