May 23, 2023

How to Navigate a Later-in-Life ADHD Diagnosis

Do you feel like you received an ADHD diagnosis late in life? There is no clinical definition of “late.” Age plays no part in it. It is entirely based on your perception. If this is you, there can be a range of emotions and new stages of growth that you experience after gaining clarity in this area.

You may have heard of the five stages of grief. Well, this episode covers the four stages, or emotions, of a late ADHD diagnosis. These include relief, confusion, grief, and restructuring.

You could experience these in different orders and come back to some more than once. If you take nothing else away from this episode, please understand that however you feel is valid.

No matter your age or season in life, it is a privilege to receive an actual diagnosis to better understand and embrace the fullness of who you are.

If you are looking for a place to get started discovering this new side of you, come join my group coaching program FOCUSED.



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Kristen Carder
Welcome to the I have ADHD podcast, where it’s all about education, encouragement and coaching for adults with ADHD. I’m your host, Kristen Carter and I have ADHD. Let’s chat about the frustrations, humor and challenges of adulting relationships working and achieving with this neurodevelopmental disorder. I’ll help you understand your unique brain. Unlock your potential and move from point A to point B.

Hey, what’s up? This is Kristen Carter, and you’re listening to the I have ADHD podcast. I am medicated. I am caffeinated. I am regulated and I am ready to roll.

Ready to Roll y’all. Let’s go. How are you? How are you? I’m so glad that you decided to press play on this podcast today. I know it was a decision. And I honor that. Thank you for giving me your time, your attention, just a little sliver of your emotional capacity, your mental space, I appreciate it so much. I hope you find this episode. And really just as podcasts in general to be so helpful to you so uplifting to you. I consider it a distinct privilege to be able to serve this ADHD community. And I just want you to know that I’m grateful that you’re here. I’m grateful to be here with you to have a platform to have a place to share my thoughts and ideas. It’s cathartic. It’s healing for me, so thank you. And speaking of thank yous, my goodness, my goodness, I’ve got to say all of your ratings and reviews, since I asked you for that as a birthday gift. They’ve blown my mind. Thank you so much. You showed up, you showed up. So many of you showed up with ratings and reviewing the podcast, I just want to say thank you so much. I am full of gratitude. We’ve gotten like 50 to 100 new ratings in the last couple of weeks. And even a few of you reached out to me to say like, Hey, I’ve been trying to rate and review. But whatever platform you’re using doesn’t work or Spotify is being weird. And I just like it’s so nice of you to even just reach out. And let me know that that’s so kind. So thank you. Thanks for making the effort. I know that as somebody with ADHD, you have a really lacking executive function. And it takes a lot of energy to do something like rating reviewing whatever. And so I’m just sending you a hug, I appreciate it.

And listen, if you haven’t done it yet, it is still my birthday month. So if you want to go ahead, rate this podcast so that we can climb the charts and help as many people with ADHD as possible. Please go for it. I so appreciate it.

Today, we’re going to be talking about what it’s like to receive a late in life diagnosis of ADHD and how to navigate it. In the last four years of coaching, I would say that some of the most tender moments that I’ve had, as a coach have been with clients who are navigating a late in life diagnosis and helping them to process it and deal with all of the emotions involved in that. So here’s where we’re going to start, I want to make it really, really clear that the term late in life is 100% subjective. I have clients who are diagnosed in their 30s who feel that they were diagnosed late. I also have clients in their 70s as well. And I think, like objectively we can say that’s pretty late. So the range doesn’t actually matter. It’s like whether or not you identify whether or not you believe you were diagnosed late in life. So the actual age doesn’t matter. Because it’s like, I was diagnosed later than I wanted to be diagnosed. You know what I’m saying a 25 year olds can wish that they were diagnosed at five, and a 65 year olds can wish that they were diagnosed at 40. And it truly doesn’t even matter. It’s not a competition.

It’s not a competition. We don’t have to like police each other and be like, Well, you’re not diagnosed as late as me and so your feelings are not as valid as mine. That’s not how this is gonna work. Okay, so if you identify someone who’s like, yeah, my diagnosis was like way later than I wanted it to be, then this episode is for you. Or if you’re in relationship with people who are navigating a late in life diagnosis, then this episode is for you. The place that I start with everyone is there’s going to be a range of experiences and whatever you experience is the right thing if you experience relief, perfect. That’s the right way to do this. If you experience anger, great, that’s the right way. If you experience grief, or shame or whatever, it doesn’t matter. Again, like every single experience Dance is valid.

Okay, so we’re going to talk through today, the different things that I’ve heard from the clients that I’ve coached as far as like what the general experience is, and you might not have it in this order, it might come in waves, there might be different experiences at different times, that’s totally valid and totally fine. But I want to talk through some of the different experiences that you might have. And then also, at the end, I’m super pumped about this, I’m going to read some of my own clients experiences in their own words, so that you can feel like you’re not alone, so that you can know that other people are navigating this right along with you. So that you can maybe have it articulated in a different way and just feel like safe and at home here. So first, we’re gonna start here. When you receive a diagnosis, you might feel relieved. Relief is a very common first experience of what it’s like to be diagnosed.

So there might be thoughts like, oh my gosh, I’m so glad that we finally know what’s going on. I’m so relieved that I have a diagnosis. I’m so glad I have answers. I’m so glad that I can finally get the help that I need. I’m so glad to not have to wonder or be curious, or like keep researching and going down, like taking all the ADHD quizzes and you know, asking all the ADHD people that I follow on the social medias, I’m so glad to finally have some answers. So relief is a very common experience for someone who receives a late in life diagnosis. Along with that is often the feeling of being validated. Like, I knew I wasn’t crazy, I knew there was something going on, I knew that I was working harder than my peers, I feel so validated that, like I’m not just flawed or that these like I’m not just broken, like there is actually something going on neurologically. And so feeling validated is really, really, really common. And just I love that part of the diagnosis experience, where you just feel like okay, I knew I wasn’t flaky. I know, it wasn’t just like, I might be annoying, but I knew it wasn’t just being annoying. I knew I knew, like, people called me selfish, but I don’t feel like I’m a selfish person. People said I was self centered, but I don’t feel like I’m actually self centered. I’m so glad to have something to point to that says like, Hey, this is what’s been going on. This is what’s happening in your brain in your body. This is the reason why you show up the way that you do. So there’s a lot of validation involved in this experience. And then, again, this isn’t a linear process, but some people experience the feeling of confusion.

Wait a second. Why didn’t anyone notice this sooner? Why didn’t anyone catch this? I went to therapy for 10 years, why didn’t my therapist even notice that this was something that was going on? Why didn’t my teachers say anything? Why didn’t my parents say anything? Or do anything? Why didn’t my pediatrician notice when my mom came in saying oh, this kid like bouncing off the walls? Why didn’t my? Why did my pediatrician notice why? Why didn’t my best friends say something? Why hasn’t my spouse like? So there’s this confusion of like, wait a second, I’m confused as to why it’s taken this long. I’m confused as to why so many people missed it. And then likely, there’ll be some anger there. We’ll get like kind of fired up about it. Like, This shouldn’t have happened this way. This is unfair. This is unjust. Why did I have to wait until I was 40? Or 50? Or 60? Or 70? To be able to get some answers here? Why didn’t anyone else pick up on it? Why didn’t I pick up on it?

That’s when it starts to get really difficult side note here is when we start not just being angry other people but being angry with ourselves. Why didn’t Why didn’t I try harder to find a diagnosis? Why didn’t I push harder? Why didn’t I do more to get answers and my friends, there’s some forgiveness that’s going to need to be applied maybe forgiveness of other people, maybe forgiveness of self but it is an important part of the journey because it’s true. If you’re diagnosed later in life, that means a lot of people did miss it. That is true. So now what are we going to do with that? Now, as we’re processing anger and feeling like what the heck happened here, we’re likely going to experience some grief. And grief is a gigantic part of a late in life diagnosis experience. There is a grieving process that’s going to need to take place. Because there is so much pain in the what ifs. What if I was diagnosed earlier? What could have gone better? For me? What would have been better for me? What would have been easier for me? What relationships? Would I have been able to salvage? What jobs would I have been able to keep? What promotions would I have been able to take?

How much more money could I have saved, maybe I wouldn’t have made that impulsive purchase, maybe I wouldn’t have made that impulsive decision, maybe I wouldn’t have done X, Y, Z, that I’m ashamed of if I were diagnosed, and treated for this neurodevelopmental disorder, so that, that pain of walking through the what ifs, it is painful, but it’s also very important. What might be different. If I were diagnosed earlier, what did I miss out on, because I wasn’t diagnosed and treated.

When I was going through therapy, kind of at the beginning of my journey, my therapist talked about memories, like reprocessing memories through a new lens. And I just wonder if this is applicable here, because the way that she described it was, you see that you’re you’re walking through a hallway, okay, and there’s pictures on the wall memories, and you’ve walked down that hallway a million times, and you’ve always seen the pictures a certain way, you’ve always interpreted those memories a certain way. But when you have clarity, and when you know the truth, you go back to those memories, and you have to walk through that hallway, and kind of touch each photo and re process each memory through a new lens. And I wonder if that’s applicable here. For those of you who have been diagnosed with ADHD, you have that hallway of pictures, that memory lane so to speak, that you walked down.

And you’ve always thought about those memories in one specific way, you’ve always had your particular narrative, your story that you’ve attached to it. And now, now that you know you have ADHD, you get to go back through each memory and process it through the lens of what you know, now through the lens of how did ADHD impact this moment? How did ADHD impact my behavior? How did ADHD impact my ability to show up, you know, perfectly or imperfectly? How did ADHD impact this. And so it’s almost like having to go through and reprocess each memory. And and that can take a minute, I spent at least a year doing that, walking through that hallway of memories and touching each photo, and thinking through that photo, through the new lens of the truth that I know now. And so I would encourage you to do the same thing. Walk down that hallway and see those memories. And instead of interpreting it as I was a terrible person, I made the wrong decision. I couldn’t get my act together. I did the wrong thing. Maybe we process and think through that memory through the lens of I had ADHD and I didn’t know it. I have a neurodevelopmental disorder that was never treated. I struggle with impulsivity, time management, emotional regulation, working memory, impulse control, how did that affect this particular memory and moment and how can I perceive this think through this in a new way with a new lens and begin to forgive myself for showing up as someone with ADHD begin to forgive myself for not being perfect begin to forgive myself for the way things worked out because what I didn’t know at the time was that I had ADHD and it was untreated and unsupported.

And I literally couldn’t have showed up any differently than I did. Who That’s deep. A big aspect of dealing with grief is in naming the losses that we face and what I mean by that is you think through To the losses, the things that you lost because you were not diagnosed and treated for ADHD. So for example, when interacting with my clients about this, a lot of them said, I didn’t go as far in my schooling as I actually wanted to, I always wanted to get a PhD, but I never did because of ADHD. I wanted to become a researcher, but I, quote unquote, settled for being a teacher, because of my untreated, undiagnosed ADHD and things like that. Maybe you have a divorce, that as you’re processing all of this, you think, Wow, if I had been diagnosed and treated for ADHD, I wonder if that relationship would have turned out differently, and there’s loss there. Maybe you have friendships that, you know, your ADHD behavior really tainted that relationship, and there’s a loss there, maybe it was a loss of a job, maybe it was a loss of potential experiences. So I just, I encourage you to, like, really honor this, that grieving process that I’m talking about, it’s not fun. But it is a really beautiful pathway to healing. It’s a really beautiful pathway to make sense of your story, to be able to say, I understand why this happened. I don’t love that it did happen. I wish it it turned out differently. But I do know why it happened. And I’m going to like, name these losses and hold some tender space for them.

Okay, so as you are grieving, you might begin to start moving into acceptance. This is what happens. These are the losses and I’m seeing reality here. And this is where I’m at. I am sad that it, it didn’t go smoothly for me. I’m sad that, you know, I’m whatever age and I’m just now getting a diagnosis. Or I’m just now understanding what it means to be diagnosed with ADHD. But this is where I’m at. So there’s like an acceptance of reality, that can be really helpful. We can’t really move forward and rebuild without going through that acceptance process. Here’s where I am. I’m this age. This is what my life looks like I am here, it’s like, it’s like finding yourself on the Google Maps, like putting a pin down, you’re like,

This is where I am, this is my actual reality. I don’t, maybe you don’t love it, right? Like, I am here, I wish I was over there. But at least we can begin to accept the reality of here’s where I’m at. Because once we do that, we can then move forward with like, Alright, I’m gonna get some help. Here’s where I am, I know I need help. Maybe I’ll get medically treated for ADHD, which, by the way, is what research shows to be the most effective way to treat your ADHD, maybe we’ll engage in some coaching some therapy, I’m gonna build a community. And you’ll probably go down that rabbit hole of learning and researching and just like figuring out all of the things, how does it affect me over here? How does it affect me over here and just learning and learning and learning? Again, these stages and phases will probably happen simultaneously. They’re not going to happen in a linear fashion. So if you’re like, well, I already got helped, like, that’s great. But just know that like the acceptance and the getting and receiving help and support and setting up your scaffolding that is going to be a big part of this process. So so, so important. And as you do that, as you begin to get help and really see what is helpful. What scaffolding is working, there’s there starts to be a restructuring. This is the really exciting part.

Everything starts to shift. relationships start to shift, the way that you show up in life starts to shift, you begin to teach people like how to interact with you and kind of like your quirks and what works for you what doesn’t work for you, you begin to really identify what you need and what’s helpful to you. And the scaffolding of support that kind of keeps you afloat and maybe even helps you to thrive, that becomes front and center to your life and you just really start to be like, Hey, I know who I am. And I know what I need. The restructuring is so important. It’s it’s this unbalanced time where you kind of feel in limbo because the old you didn’t Know about ADHD, and future you kind of has it all figured out if we can just like pretend that that’s a thing future you, like, has everything down and knows exactly what you need, it has everything set up. And now you is kind of like in between the two just kind of experimenting with what works and trying to figure out, Okay, what’s gonna work really, really well for me? What’s going to allow me to thrive? How do I restructure my life in a way that makes sense for my ADHD brain? And that’s exactly what the rebuilding process looks like, we’re re building the life that we know it just through the lens of I have ADHD, I know I need support and help. I know that I can move forward and thrive. But I’ve got to like, build on this foundation of who am I? What do I want? What do I need? Okay. And so the question is like, what do you want your life to look like moving forward?

And what can you be grateful for? Even if you are 75 years old, and you just receive a diagnosis? What can you be grateful for in that, you can be grateful that you still got potentially 25 more years to live life, knowing who you are, and how your brain works. All of us, I just really want to say this, no matter what age we’re diagnosed, it’s a privilege to have a diagnosis, there are so many people out there, maybe you know, some of them who are walking around undiagnosed, not knowing how their brain works. Sometimes it’s their own choice. They are resisting, getting evaluated and diagnosed. But sometimes it’s not their own choice. Nobody told them, nobody helped them. Or maybe they went for diagnosis, and they were denied. And so just even having the diagnosis, there, there’s a lot to be grateful for there. Now, I’m not saying don’t grieve, and I’m not saying gaslight yourself and minimize your feelings. That’s not at all what I’m saying. But when you are able to move toward gratitude, I really encourage you to do that. Because just having a diagnosis is something to be very, very grateful for. So how can you set yourself up for success? How can you rebuild a life that makes sense for you, and what you know about your brain, as you rebuild your life, what I really want to encourage you to do is to find your people I said on this podcast all the time, some of you need new people, a big part of thriving with ADHD is being surrounded by people who love you, who accepts you flaws and all who will lovingly hold you accountable, not that you are going to get away with whatever. Not that you use ADHD as an excuse, but who will lovingly hold you accountable, who will lovingly hold boundaries, who will lovingly and respectfully interact with you in a way that doesn’t make you feel like a bad person.

Who are your people, make sure to begin to give your time and energy to Safe and Healthy People who’s going to understand you who’s going to accept you, who’s going to help you and gently hold you accountable. Those are your people, the healthier you get, the smaller your circle is going to be. Let me say it again, the healthier you get the healthier, more self aware, more emotionally intelligent that you become, the smaller your circle will be. And that is a good thing. Okay. So this is all of this is wrapped up in the identity shift, have beginning to accept that you have ADHD, that means that you have specific needs, and that you are the one that can meet those needs for yourself. It’s a whole identity shift. There are people out there who think that people with maybe some mental health disorders or whatever identified too greatly with the label with the diagnosis. I am just not one of those people who thinks that we shouldn’t identify with our diagnosis because ADHD permeates every part of our lives. And it makes sense to me that I see myself through the lens of ADHD. I also see myself through the lens of child of God. I also see myself through the lens of, you know, wife of Greg, mother of Owen, Charlie and Crosby like I see myself through those identities.

So ADHD, obviously it’s not my only identity, but it is an important part of my life because it permeates every aspect of who I am and if I can, if I can really understand what that means and If I can accept myself on the inside, and then teach people outside, you know, externally to accept me as well, that becomes very, very important. And I’m, I’m living into a new identity. I’m not annoying, but I do have ADHD. I am not selfish, but I do struggle to, to show up on time. So those kinds of things for me personally have been very, very healing. Alright, I think this would be a really beautiful place for me to read some of my focused clients experiences with late in life diagnosis. This is my way of letting you listener know that you are not alone. I didn’t receive a late in life diagnosis, I was so privileged to be diagnosed at 21. So this is not something that I have experienced personally.

So I wanted to pull in some direct quotes from my focused clients who identify as being diagnosed later in life, and I want their words to really help you to know that you’re not alone. And maybe they will help you to create a narrative around your own late in life diagnosis. So I asked them what’s the hardest part about being diagnosed later in life? Katya says, The hardest part is not to see ADHD as an excuse for everything that went wrong in my life. But as an opportunity to make the most out of my future.

Marx said, interesting. What came first was this huge wave of relief, and a lifting of more than 60 years of shame. Maybe the hardest part was when shame returned, or my anger at people who shamed me from childhood through today. Someone said, the hardest part is the constant wondering where my path would have led me. If I would have known earlier if I had gotten support. I always wanted to be a researcher. But after my PhD, when the structure fell away, I just couldn’t do it. So I changed my career to teaching which I love and is a perfect fit. But every now and then there’s still that nagging voice of what if Alex said, the hardest part is all that little T trauma of trying to navigate the world, and kids after being an excellent student, and being like, why is this so hard? What is wrong with me? But a close runner up is not finding answers for my psychologists and therapists. In the meantime, like and having to self diagnose, and then convince medical providers that I had ADHD since I did well in school and I was functional in life. Untreated, I’ll be at at a great cost.

Emma said, I got my diagnosis five years ago at 52. I got it in a very classic way. My daughter asked me if we could evaluate her for ADHD. And then bingo. The hardest part has been to get over the grief. How would my life have turned out if I had known and also I feel a lot of tenderness mixed with grief toward the younger version of me who had no idea why she struggled so badly. I have made career choices such as getting a PhD degree that we’re not the most suitable to me. David said, I self diagnosed decades ago and mostly joked about it. I only got in touch with what it is in the last few months. One video I watched reduce me to tears, the release from recognizing the effect that it’s had on my life and the shame and guilt and every other emotion that comes with it.

Larissa said I don’t think there’s ever a time when you don’t mourn after discovering this. For me, I felt like so much time was wasted trying so hard to fit in. Masking all my life and never understanding why I often lost myself. Let’s not forget the fact that now you have to relearn yourself, accept yourself and learn to accept yourself.

Mary said I self diagnose after finding Kristin at age 61. The unexpected grief was hard. Then the validation set in and I found answers to so many of my behaviors that I didn’t see or understand before. All right, the last one I’m going to read she says the diagnosis feels like the most life changing events in my life. So it’s mostly profound gratitude that I feel I still like another person’s description of the diagnosis filling the black hole of WTF.

The hard parts of this late diagnosis don’t compare in any way to the relief of knowing what’s going on. If I had to define some things, though, it would be telling anger and frustration that this was not more well known before, even among therapists, also the Leave and significant decrease in anxiety and depression were so marked at the beginning that I thought everything would be easier, which is really cute. And And those were her words, not mine, by the way. And it’s been hard to realize that while growth is happening, it’s going to take a minute to really let new ways of managing my life develop.

This pisses me off. But I’m 100% here for it. I love that so much. All right, I hope that that really helped you to know that you’re not alone, that you’re not the only one with a late in life diagnosis. I hope it gave you some words to put a narrative to what you’ve been going through that it helps you identify parts of your story. And I want to let you know that when I asked people what the most helpful thing was, they said resources like podcasts, and books, and YouTube videos, and online communities.

And of course, they said FOCUSED because they’re in FOCUSED, and they love FOCUSED. And this is not a FOCUSED promo. What this is, is me saying to you go find your people, if it’s not focused, that’s totally fine. But find your people because healing happens in community. And if you have a late in life diagnosis, there’s some healing that needs to take place. So whether it’s some online support group, whether it’s a group coaching program, maybe there’s a group therapy, you know, option near you or an ADHD in person, support group, whatever the case may be. Healing happens in community, and I highly encourage you to make that habit for yourself. I want you to know that it’s never too late to live a life that’s fully yours. One of my clients said that I think it is the most beautiful, beautiful sentiment. It’s never too late to live a life that is fully yours. No matter when you were diagnosed. There is usually this reckoning at some point where we have to grapple with the fact that we didn’t have all the resources that we needed. At our younger age, we didn’t have everything we needed, and that reckoning is important.

I encourage you to go through the process. I encourage you to grieve and I encourage you to re builds can be hard but it is so so worth it. I’m sending you the biggest hug. Can’t wait to talk to next week. If you’re being treated for your ADHD, but you still don’t feel like you’re reaching your potential you’ve got to join focus. It’s my monthly coaching membership where I teach you how to tame your wild thoughts and create the life that you’ve always wanted. No matter what season of life you’re in or where you are in the world focused is for you. All materials and call recordings are stored in the site for you to access at your convenience. Go to Ihaveadhd.com/focused for all the info

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