What It’s Like to be Diagnosed with ADHD in Your Twenties – Told by an Unconventional College Student

Trisha McCullough

I think it’s safe to say that I’m not alone in saying that the pandemic has made a huge impact on my life. In the beginning, everything was still similar enough to my normal life that I felt okay, but the more time that passed, the more I realized that there was something wrong. I started struggling and juggling the tasks of my household and my school workload, but everyone was complaining of something similar, so I thought it was normal. I found myself posting on a mom’s board on Facebook asking other women how they were keeping everything together. I was single handedly keeping the planner market alive and thriving and still, I just couldn’t seem to get a grasp on everything. One woman suggested I be screened for adult ADHD and I thought that was just ridiculous. I was a college student. I was in the gifted program as a child. Adult ADHD was never on my radar. 

But then I realized I couldn’t even focus on my homework. That wasn’t something I was unfamiliar with, as I’ve always felt a little off when I needed to focus on something I didn’t like, but I found myself blowing off assignments. That definitely wasn’t like me. I found myself using words like “overwhelmed” and “over-stimulated” a lot. When I visited my doctor, she suggested I could be depressed or have a mood disorder but that didn’t feel right. I was finally able to see a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with ADHD at age 28. 

Suddenly, all these things made sense for me. I couldn’t even get through a paper without bouncing around in my chair like a child. I was constantly overwhelmed, and it caused me to shut down, something they call “ADHD paralysis”. I am a chronic over sharer, I’m constantly fiddling with something in my hands, silence drives me crazy, and I find myself constantly looking for new adventure somewhere. I am late to everything, I have the hardest time keeping plans with friends, and I am the poster child for time blindness. I was finally able to see all of these qualities in myself that I always pushed off as laziness or irresponsibility and it was such a relief.

Of course, the diagnosis was not all butterflies and rainbows for me. It forced me to confront a lot of things I wasn’t ready for. I wasn’t ready to say that those qualities were all related to a disorder and not something I could easily change with self-help books and self-discipline. I hated the idea of a diagnosis attached to me. I hated the idea that my brain was wired differently, and I just couldn’t change it. At first, I was so happy to hear that I wasn’t just a bad adult just to be one, but then I had to confront the diagnosis and admit that while it wasn’t my fault, some of these traits just simply made me a bad adult and probably always will. I started on medication, and it helped, but just barely. There is a learning process and medication is only a push in the right direction, not a cure all. 

Getting an ADHD diagnoses has changed my life, whether I wanted it to or not. I’m starting to learn coping methods and be more comfortable with it, but it’s still hard some days. I’ll never be a straight A student, I will probably always talk way too much, and there’s a good chance I’ll keep buying planners I forget to use but I also know that I’m okay. I’m not lazy or stupid. I don’t have some unseen “House” type disease preventing me from being on time to my appointments. It’s just adult ADHD. The pandemic has been hard, but those difficulties have answered so many questions for me. I can finally finish college with the tools I need to succeed in the real world and that feels really good.

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