Receiving a diagnosis of ADHD as an adult can be, well, unsettling, to say the least. While there isn’t a specific roadmap you can access to guide you on your journey as you learn how to work with this new diagnosis, there are best practices you can use to help you on your way.
I know you want to figure out what to do. Now. But, before you dive in full speed ahead, take a beat. Give yourself some time to digest and process this new information. It’s a lot to take in all at once! It may be helpful for you to have support from a therapist or an online or off-line ADHD group.
Whatever you need to do to process your feelings do that. It will be time well spent, for sure.
Because if you don’t take the time now to work with your feelings, at some point they will come out sideways. And then, whether conscious or not, you will likely divert your energy and time to manage these emotions — time and energy you want to devote to reaching your important goals.
You’ll get there. Just give yourself time. So, when you start to explore the strategies, skills, and tools that will work best for your unique needs and preferences, you’ll be in a good place to adopt them effectively.
And, also, remember, just because a specific strategy is recommended for adults with ADHD does not mean it will work for you. So, especially if you tend to be impulsive, try to take your time as you explore and experiment in creating a life that works for you.
Don’t forget slow is the new fast!
What Does it Mean to Accept Your ADHD?
I know sometimes people conflate acceptance of ADHD with complacency. They think accepting your ADHD means you have no interest in making changes in your life. But I know you want to make some changes in your life. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this, right?
And I also recognize there are people with ADHD who have no interest in growing and changing. They may ascribe to Popeye’s philosophy of life, “I yam what I yam & dats ALL what I yam.” That is, they don’t think they have agency. ADHD is who they are — their basic nature.
That’s just not true for you, either. You are not your ADHD. Like having diabetes or being nearsighted, for example, you have ADHD. Accepting your ADHD means you are just acknowledging it is part of who you are, with all the strengths and challenges it brings to your life.
That’s all. You are not your ADHD. You are you. And your ADHD is part of your makeup.
So, now that you have an official ADHD diagnosis you can decide how it helps you and where it might hinder you. Then you can decide how to leverage the strengths it offers you and manage the challenges it presents. Acceptance of your ADHD will make this process easier. More on this below.
Before Acceptance of Your ADHD — The Six Stages of Coping
It may take a while for you to fully accept your ADHD, though. Because, like most adults diagnosed with ADHD later in life, you’ll likely experience the Six Stages of Coping first. In fact, you’ll probably cycle in and out of these feelings before you arrive at acceptance.
Because it’s not a linear process.
So, one day you may be sad you have ADHD. The next day you have a glimmer of acceptance. Then the day after that you’re angry that everything is so hard. And a few days later, after meeting with your ADHD support group, you’re feeling pretty good.
It can be a roller coaster ride, for sure! So, buckle in.
Stage 1: Relief and Optimism
I’m not “lazy, crazy or stupid.” There is a reason I have all these challenges!
Stage 2: Denial
I’m fine. I don’t want to read about it. I don’t want to hear about it. They’re just going to tell me to take drugs. Besides, it’s a kids’ thing!
Stage 3: Anger and Resentment
Why do I have ADD? Why can’t I be like everyone else? And, if I would have been diagnosed earlier, life would have been so much easier.
Stage 4: Grief
I can’t do anything right. I’ll never get what I want. How will I ever get through this?
Stage 5. Acceptance
I’m ok. It is part of who I am, but I am not my ADHD. I have the resources and the capacity to figure out how to work with my ADHD. If I need help, I can get the support I need.
While it’s normal to go through the stages, you obviously don’t want to stay stuck in anger, resentment or grief. Who would choose to do that?!
How Acceptance of Your ADHD Can Help You Flourish
Of course, one reason you don’t want to stay stuck in grief and anger is that, well, it just feels bad. Another, perhaps, not so obvious reason is these emotions sap your limited amount of time and energy and make you less productive.
Of course, this means you have less time and energy to apply your creativity in figuring out how to effectively work with your ADHD. Makes sense, right?
But, when you accept your ADHD you feel better, for sure. And you also have a greater capacity to access your own and other resources to leverage your strengths and manage your challenges, including your ADHD. This byproduct — resourcefulness, resilience and persistence — of acceptance is exemplified in the following example.
I have never been able to get anywhere on time. My friends and family are always mad at me. I hate it! It will never change.
I’ve never been able to get to places on time. I know my sense of time and ability to transition is a bit wonky because of my ADHD. Hmm… I wonder what I can do to get to places on time more often?
This shift in thinking demonstrates how, when you move toward an acceptance of your ADHD, you will be in a better place to learn about and adopt helpful strategies, skills and tools to work with it. And not “fight” it.
Seek Out ADHD Support on Your Journey
While you’ll definitely need help along this journey, the type of support you choose to access will depend on your preference, needs and resources — time, energy and money, of course. Like most newly diagnosed ADHD adults you may start by trying to learn more about your ADHD from books and websites.
Then you may decide you need a more individualized approach. If you decide to go this route, check out ADHD Support: Therapists and ADHD Coaches to learn more about the differences between therapy and coaching for ADHD adults.
Alternatively, you may decide a group is more your speed. You can find ADHD specific groups in the CHADD Resource Directory. If you don’t find exactly what you are looking for, reach out to one of the local CHADD chapters and ask if they know of any local resources.
If you can’t find an easily accessible local in-person group or would prefer an online group, check out the membership group I offer, ADDed Perspectives. You can also find more online support groups in ADDConnect.
Whatever you do, try to find your peeps! Because getting the validation — being seen and heard — you need and deserve will make the journey easier. As you will develop more resiliency and persistence in working with your ADHD when you discover you are not crazy, lazy or stupid!
Learn About and Leverage Your Strengths
When you first learned of your ADHD diagnosis, your main focus may have been on learning how to manage those ADHD symptoms that are problematic for you. I get it. You don’t want your ADHD to get in the way of living your life the way you want.
But when exploring treatment options, I think the first step should be being aware of and developing your strengths. While not necessarily a means of reducing your symptoms, operating from your strengths allows you to avoid having to compensate for your weaknesses, including ADHD symptoms you find challenging.
As Drs Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey, authors of “Driven to Distraction and Delivered from Distraction” point out,
The best way to change a life of frustration into a life of mastery is by developing talents and strengths not just shoring up weaknesses.
For more on how to do this check out, Want To Become The Best Version of Yourself, Too?
Ditch the Shame and Develop More Self -Compassion
It’s not uncommon for ADHD adults who have lived a lifetime with undiagnosed ADHD to have developed more than their fair share of shame — the feeling there is something inherently wrong with them. If this is true for you, you’ll need to work on becoming more shame resilient to effectively leverage your strengths and mitigate your ADHD challenges.
As you do this I hope you will realize there’s nothing wrong with you and you don’t need to be fixed! Your ADHD is just the way you’re wired. Moreover, the journey of working with your ADHD is not about changing yourself, but learning how to engineer your environment so your ADHD doesn’t get in your way.
Developing more self-compassion will also help you persist in this journey. As Dr. Kristin Neff notes,
Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?
Upgrade Your Skills and Learn Compensatory Strategies
With more self-compassion, less shame, and an acceptance of your ADHD you will be in a better place to upgrade your skills and learn compensatory strategies. Because these practices will energize and motivate you to develop your own best practices to work with your ADHD.
While not an exhaustive list, for sure, here’s a taste of some of the skills and strategies you may consider including on your list of best practices:
- handing off tasks that aren’t in your sweet spot
- learning how you procrastinate and adopting workarounds to address this challenge
- exploring how your ADHD impacts motivation and what you can do about it
- adopting a practice of using a task manager and calendar effectively
Of course, the specific skills and strategies you decide to learn and adopt will be dependent on your individual needs and preferences.
Reader’s Digest Version
While it will take time for you to process your feelings about your new ADHD diagnosis, the key to working well with your ADHD is moving toward acceptance.
This journey will include:
- getting support
- using your strengths
- mitigating your shame
- developing more self-compassion
- learning new strategies and skills
- adopting new tools
So you can develop the right plan — the plan that meets your specific needs and preferences.