ADD diagnosis at 39 yrs old, after unsuccessful science career from lack of papers

Hey brains, I was recently diagnosed with ADD at 39 years old after struggling to keep a science career going in my chosen area and losing my job. Continued work failures and other rejections in my personal life lead to post traumatic stress disorder, when a genetic drugs screening test found I had a gene common in people with ADHD. I was also off the charts on the world health organization questionnaire.

Ever since I was in charge of my own learning and timetable from the 3rd year of university, I had struggled keeping up with assignments and grades started plummeting. Got through a Phd, but took twice the amount of time of 5-6 years instead of 3 years, and I was never that enthusiastic on what I achieved. Had a number of postdocs but only managed three papers in the ten years since my Phd. I always struggled with making cogent achievable science objectives, and kept looking for new and more exciting results rather than writing up the ones I already had.

Now nearly 40 years old, my world fell apart after losing my dream job and not being able to pursue the work that most interested me and being able to regain some ground by publishing some of my results. I am now researching a topic that I don’t find all that exciting and can’t stop thinking about my previous work and results. After moving on I started to feel like an abject failure as a man, I lost all confidence in myself and had started think my life was worthless.

Now, I have my diagnosis I want to tell the world as gives me an explanation for all my woes in life, but this kind of feels like an easy way out and a cop out. Ironically, it does force me to lay all my failures on myself or at least my ADD traits and not on anyone else or on external circumstances. Unfortunately, I feel my friends find it challenging hearing me talk about my diagnosis and feel there is some resistance in convincing others my diagnosis of ADD/ADHD is correct. It has been mentioned I can overcome anything if I just put my mind to it, shouldn’t use it as a crutch as an excuse for all my deficits and let it define me. While I do agree, don’t feel others quite appreciate how more difficult it is for me to do things more normative brain function can achieve with ease. I know anyone with a physical disability will have the determination to get on with life despite all the challenges they might face day to day and so I know I should be approaching this with the same positive can do attitude. I am also confused as some experts say there are no genetic tests, but I have been told by my nurse I have a gene associated with ADHD. They also say the condition usually requires months of observations of myself and my parents to make a diagnosis, but I was immediately diagnosed after finding the gene and taking a questionnaire. For me the signs are all around me from my own experiences and impulses and behaviors in my relatives. Then I get confused by a number of clinical psychologists, such as Jordan Peterson, who are very skeptical about the diagnosis and feel most who are diagnosed are more likely to just have a unconscientious personality, and a lack discipline and motivation and can overcome it by getting over the discomfort of planning and becoming more organized. There is a side of truth of this in my case though, as given I am unable to pursue my main area of interest and have lost all confidence, I am finding it excruciatingly difficult to find enthusiasm and motivation for my current work and get through tasks without distraction.

I would like to find an ADD/ADHD support group for other scientists / researchers like myself who struggled to publish work or found ways to overcome their deficits and have a good record. But so far I haven’t found any such group. I would also like to find an accountability partner who preferentially also work in a science/research field.

Moreover, it seems Ritalin is making my ADHD much worse and getting extremely emotionally impulsive and depressed on the comedown that happens after only 1 hour of taking the medication. I just don’t know where to turn to get my life back on track and to regain some confidence, and not sure my career is salvageable and how to come to terms and peace to move on from what I find most interesting and all the discoveries I made in my last position. That idea is hell to me and right now it feels that where I am.

Not sure if this resolution resonates with anyone, but if it does I would really appreciate the chance to connect and get your thoughts.

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Hey @DeepDive welcome to the forum :blush:
If coming down from your medication makes you extremely depressed then I would suggest talking to your doctor
As far as I know there isn’t a genetic test for ADHD. Did you seek diagnosis after the first test or did I misunderstand?
I hope you find what you’re looking for! And congrats on the PHD even if it took a while you still did it!

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Thanks for the reply and comments. Its really great to hear from you.

I didn’t seek diagnosis, was getting counseling for my depression. As could never manage to get round to implement life changes to overcome the depression, decided to start on medication. A diagnosis of PTSD was made and did a drugs screening test to see which medication would be the best to treat my PTSD. This test found I had a gene common in people with ADHD, so am not sure where the discrepancy comes in to there being no genetic basis or test for the condition. I was then off the charts for the ADD parts of the ADHD world health organization questionnaire.

I have a long history of comfort seeking behavior from early childhood onwards and was surrounded by an dysfunctional and unruly household growing up.

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Welcome to the forum, I’m sure you’ll find it enlightening to read through our threads.:blush:

Sorry to hear about your feelings of failure in your career, that can be a really rough place to be mentally… Hopefully you’ll be able to get the right help with ADHD so you can be more productive moving forward.:blush: Hopefully that’ll help your self-confidence too, although you shouldn’t be blaming yourself for a hormonal imbalance in your brain, it’s not your fault.

As for the morons who say there is no genetic test, technically true, but also utterly false. We have tests for several genes to see whether Ritalin- or Adderall-type edication will work best for you, so indirectly, if you can see from the tests whether you need one or the other ADHD medication, it’s a strong indicator, and combined with a questionnaire, that ought to be enough. So no direct test for ADHD, but for ADHD medication efficacy, make of that what you will. So it’s NOT a cop-out. What field do you work in?

Wow, if your reaction to Ritalin is that bad, you should definitely talk with your doctor, that doesn’t sound right. What’s your current dose? I’m personally on 40mg every morning, stepped up from 10mg in 10mg increments, every 5-6 days.

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I’m supposed to be a scientist too (but not in academia) with 0 first author papers. My career is crashing but hasn’t burnt yet. I’ve still got 2 years to wait for an assessment so hoping to get some coping strategies sorted before then.

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Arrrrg arrrrrrg I feel you. I got diagnosed the summer after graduating from college (3 years ago), and I’m STILL haunted by that feeling of, like, falling off a cliff and not knowing why and having my self-image as The Smart Kid slowly eaten away. Not 2 Put 2 Fine A Point On It. Trauma is NOT too strong a word for the experience.

Also: yes, I had such a hard time setting “reasonable topics” for essays! My professors would be like, “Okay, so that’s enough work for a dissertation… nope, still not doable by next month… I repeat: are you actually from Mars?” I had no idea what they were talking about. An uncanny time.

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In university, I could put my mind on almost anything that was of great interest to me. If it was a a topic that I was really into, it was like a guaranteed A. If I wasn’t into it, there was no way I could force my mind to focus.

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Hello!

My name is Tess and I cannot explain how much your post resonated with me. I am still in the beginnings of what I hope to be a successful science career but still many things that you said, I also feel. I am 24 years old, finally finishing my undergraduate bachelor of science degree in marine biology. By my graduation this coming December, it will have taken me 5 1/2 years to complete my undergrad, due to a variety of factors, many of which deal with my mental health. I was not diagnosed with ADHD until I was 21 and have dealt with diagnosed anxiety and depression since I can remember.

Amongst my peers, there is such a lack of awareness for mental health struggles. Everyone I know is such a “go-getter” and can just work and work and work on topics that are of no interest. I constantly feel like there is something wrong with me, that I am just not motivated and have no self-discipline. I would love for an ADHD community of scientists/ researchers to exist. I am feeling immensely helpless and depressed as of late and need to regain the confidence I once had. I am at an integral part of my career and I worry if I don’t do something now I will fail.

Best,
Tess

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I am of a similar age, and while I was diagnosed years ago I didn’t give it any weight. It’s only now that I’m finally trying to understand it. Good news you’re a researcher. You know how to get your facts and understand what you’re dealing with. Your own brain is no exception.

You made it through university, you’ve had a career in science and research. A diagnosis isn’t going to make that life experience disappear, or remove it from the possibilities of your future. It isn’t going to make your world come crashing down. Sure… there’s some ups and downs, but at 39 years old I think you’ve likely experienced some before.

it does force me to lay all my failures on myself or at least my ADD traits

This isn’t a bad thing. It’s a dangerous one for sure. We can easily fall into a thought cycle of self-defeat; I promise it doesn’t help. But with a slightly different perspective, ownership can help. As we learn more about who we are we can identify behaviours and through identifying learn to ‘cope’. If we believe it is outside circumstance, that sucks because that’s outside our control. This isn’t, you can have some significant impact on how it affects your life. Like a ship can’t change the ocean, it can turn its sails when it pays attention to the direction the wind is blowing.

I had a situation come up a few years ago that made me realize I can ‘choose how I feel’. Now, sometimes I can’t do it in the moment; sometimes it takes hours, days or even weeks. But at some point I realize. “I don’t enjoy feeling this way, I need to change my perspective.” This becomes an achievable goal that I know when I’ve met it.

We can look back on our life and tell ourselves it’s all our fault, and that “I can’t…”. I promise you won’t enjoy that feeling. At some point you need to tell yourself, “I did X against my best interests. I didn’t understand why, but now I do. And because I can recognize it, I can do something about it moving forward.”

As for a career, you’ve had one for a long time. You just need to learn how to tweak it to fit what you learn about yourself in this process. Upwards and onwards. Use your ADHD brain to deep-dive into you and find out how that can actually benefit your career and life instead of hinder it.

Personally, I’m a data scientist. I work for an organization with multiple teams; they all communicate their needs to me. I can choose what is most important and make that my priority. But I also keep a few low-priority back burner projects so that when I’m burning out trying to do the ‘one task’, I can pivot into another project briefly to keep things dynamic and engaging. I also keep a few that involve learning so that when I’m ready I can really engage and learn something new (and exciting). Then I come back to the big fish once I’ve had a few small wins that make me (and the teams I report to) feel like good things are happening.

My career is in its healthiest state with this flexibility and chaotic workflow.

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Yeah, publish-or-perish drove me out of academia, and I greatly regret not knowing (at the time) that I had a condition (ADHD was later diagnosed) which could cause me to fail at that particular type of self-starter behavior. I didn’t really DISlike writing academic papers; I just didn’t ever get GOING on them; so, I didn’t push my way into the academic teaching career I had started myself out on. There were lots of other factors for me, too (some of which may also be ADHD related, some of which probably are not), but generally speaking, it’s very tricky for an ADHD-er to thrive in certain careers or under certain conditions, and you were stuck in one of the “wrong” places for you. I sympathize.

Similarly, my experience of getting a diagnosis also mirrors your own. I felt it was a “coat hook” upon which I could hang a LOT of past failures and disappointments. It allowed me to group together such disparate things as (1) getting thrown out of high school soccer games for being disrespectful or violent even though I wasn’t ever, but I LOOKED like I was going to get so, (2) choosing (if possible) programs in which I did not write papers over a longer-term under my own managed timeline, but rather took timed examinations at the end of the schedule and under someone else’s imposed deadline, (3) not knowing when people were flirting with me, so that the stunning girl for whom I had the hots, and who was also attracted to me, wrongly thought I was deliberately acting pissed off at her (even though all I was thinking at the time was, how to get her into the sack!) and so she dejectedly cut off all contact even though she really wanted to hook up with me, (4) why I could “futz” away an entire day, never knew where the time went, had a zillion projects, never finished any, or (5) how could I be a master of the computer settings and micro-arrangements of fonts colors and background images on my Windows desktop, but couldn’t get a job in computer tech and hated having to do EXACTLY those things for a living, that I did voluntarily for myself outside of the job context. These and other things … all ADHD-related! Wow! It was great to have that explanation. My diagnosis was (finally!) the first time I knew there was hope to move forward.

Great to have you here! Welcome!

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Sorry to read you think your career is not progressing. This is why I believe academia and world at large become wise to ADHD and how to best support anyone who has been diagnosed with the condition and so hope you can find some support or able to find a new path that is equally stimulating and rewarding to you. I am really struggling to make the leap myself and still to build the right support network to help me succeed in my endeavors.

I am curious why you have to wait 2 years for an assessment and what assessment you will be taking? I would have thought the world health organization questionnaire would be a reasonable way of assessing and to see if their is a family history with organizational dysfunction and emotional dysregulation. I am also interested to hear what coping strategies you’re thinking of using?

Best of luck and will be routing for you!

Thanks so much for your response Tess. I really appreciate your thoughts and sharing your experience.

I think you have done a marvelous job to get your degree despite the many challenges you had to face. It’s a testament to your determination and am sure with the right support you will achieve great things. I know in my own situation, I should take on more pursuits that interest me as much as my narrow area of science, like music, art or yet other areas I have not yet discovered. But, when I have an endless to do list in my current work and not having my own mode of transport, its pretty difficult to get going on other activities. But I feel the only way to move on is to find a new passion and wish I was able to connect with others with ADHD that have gone through that process.

One thing to remind ourselves of other scientists/academics is that apparently 25% use ADHD drugs without prescriptions, and so we have no idea who are using these drugs to aid their performance. But yes, others I am confident who do not take such measures and some of the more competent colleagues I have worked with, have a common super organized mindset. Such that their offices look empty and you wouldn’t know they ever came to work. For myself I know this will only happen if someone is sitting me down to make up a plan and for that person to push me by continuously externalizing the consequences. I hope you are able to find such support in therapists, coaches and accountability partners at this early stage in your career and hopefully once you see yourself achieving goals you will begin to build some confidence. As you’re still at an early stage in your career, you have time on your side and so can still succeed despite taking a few knocks on the way. I certainly have, but my time is running out and will most likely have to move on if I am unable to get another research position. All we can do is try our best, and don’t let anyone say you’re doing otherwise. As long as you are keeping your skin in the game, as someone with ADHD, you are overcoming mountains.

There is so much I now understand about how my mind works since learning I could have ADHD, and it all makes sense to me but others are not willing to consider. Unfortunately, I have had to stop taking stimulant treatment due to the myriad of side effects I experienced. But for the brief moments I felt it working, it was quite remarkable being able to put any negative thoughts I was having on multiple areas of anxiety to one side, and to not care or spend as much energy thinking about these thoughts and others. Also, given a dopamine deficiency, it is understandable why we engage in comfort seeking behaviors at times we are not engaged in our work and when we have tasks to deal with that present us some discomfort and just wanting to get on to the good stuff. So everything you have described is understandable.

One area of advice that keeps coming up in my own exploration of my own mental health and rejections, is that of meditation to help with calming down and weathering the storm of life during times of upheaval and when sacrificing ones own wishes and dreams. So I am not sure if you have tried meditation before in a group setting, but maybe this could help provide some calm in life. But I can talk as I still haven’t got round that either.

I wish I could go on and chat more as I feel there is still much more to say, but will end here. I’m no expert and not sure if any of this helps, as am sure you must have already considered a lot of what I have written. But, I hope I can wish you the very best of luck in your future work and will be interested to hear how you get on.

Yas

The waiting list in my area is about 30 months and I joined the bottom in January. I’ve had a workplace assessment which recommended coaching which sounded really useful. Unfortunately there’s no money to fund it. Now I’m more aware I notice adhd traits everyday, when I’m distracted or lose a train of thought or forget something or am restless and it’s becoming really frustrating. So i think I’m going to pay for a private assessment, i have mixed feelings about being medicated though. I’ll look into private coaching but I think it will be too expensive for me.

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I’m with you on this one. I was diagnosed 15 years ago by a psychiatrist. (No testing though). He’s passed away and I have no documentation or evidence.

Only recently am I really trying to understand it and as a result I see the traits everywhere. Problem is our public health system in Nova Scotia I need a referral from my family doctor to get in a years long waiting list for a psychiatrist. But, having just moved to Nova Scotia the first years long waiting list is to even get a family doctor.

I tried calling a psychiatrist directly. And an ADHD coach. Neither of which have returned my calls.

Thankfully my wife and kids are understanding and supportive, and you guys are here. Because I think that’s about where my support list ends.

Very sorry to hear about the waiting lists! I know that I often look with envy northward to Canada, from my national home the USA, because you up there have nationalized government-organized taxpayer-supported health-care programs. I grew up in the USA but did some graduate work in Canada. While I lived in Toronto I automatically got the benefits of Ontario Health Insurance for part of my time there, and I liked that minor stuff (warts on my elbow; ingrown toe-nail) were quickly and cheaply taken care of FOR me without my own need to figure it all out. So, from that perspective, I liked the Canadian system more than the USA’s system. But we in the USA forget that the Canadian system also has its own inherent disadvantages, and this long wait-list thing is obviously going to be one of those disadvantages. So, we Liberals here in the USA are often quite holier-than-the-Conservatives about health coverage, but … hey, the government method has problems too!

Fixes? Are there any? Not sure what the proper and government approved system fix would be, for any resident / citizen / inhabitant of Canada / Nova Scotia, but I would suggest that you can maybe come up with an individualized solution anyway. Try spending your own money out of pocket, ignoring the government’s requirements, and going to a location that will serve you. Like, internet? Private company in USA? I ended up having to implement this kind of fix for myself (less of a surprise, given that I don’t have access to any Canada-based stuff anyway!) so, it’s not like it’s unprecedented. I know, I’m volunteering that you should pay your own money, but, maybe it’s a solution? It only cost me about US$400 grand total for a few appointments, some batteries of tests at educational psychological testing centers, and eventual documentation. It did require return-visits, which might be more prohibitive for you if you’re having to travel from Nova Scotia. Not sure of the specifics, but, it’s something to look into.

No, you shouldn’t HAVE to look into it. But, just thinking of possible solutions, maybe you will choose to do so anyway. Look at the ultimate cost-benefit analysis (sorry to sound like an economist) – doing without a diagnosis for years and years, and failing to master any aspects of your (therefore untreated) ADHD, is potentially MUCH more troublesome and life-damaging than doing without $400 for the short interim.

With ya buddy! Since I’ve lived in Canada, and am living in USA, I figured my bi-national perspective would add a bit to this discussion. If not, sorry to hijack! Best of luck. :slight_smile:

Hope you can at least find a way to get a diagnosis, even if you have to go private, so you at least have SOME rights, officially. And if I may ask (ie. no need to answer if you don’t want to), what kind of mixed feelings do you have regarding medication?

On the one hand I really want the adhd symptoms to go away but i realise medication isn’t a magic bullet for all and there might be side effects. Also the titration period sounds tough. Also what if I have to choose, for example, between being more irratable and getting less sleep in order to see a small improvement in executive function. Also there’s no guarantee the NHS would provide my medication, or if it even survives the next government, and then I’d have to decide if could afford it Privately (unlikely) . And i know its not meant to be addictive but what if I develop a dependency to its benefits then have to stop because it becomes unaffordable, how would I cope with being unmedicated having seen an improvement. Basically lots of “what ifs” and hypotheticals. Ultimately if offered I’ll take it in the hope i can read a scientific paper in one go (it’s taken me a whole day before) and deal with the consequences, but the doubts are still there.

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Good luck with the NS diagnosis (not sarcasm, at least not towards you. I really hope it happens sooner than later for you :slight_smile: ) … I grew up in NS and sadly the health care system seems to be deteriorating more and more - so many closures - we may have med schools and hospitals - but we sure don’t get the same perks as Toronto-proper, my friend moved there from out east and immediately had a family doctor - when I was in school out of province, I kept my NS doc by flying back annually to visit, because I knew I’d return and had lost one before and it was so difficult to get another - something around 55,000 people on the waitlist.

But I digress, as far as I know going to another province or country won’t help much as far as getting treatment goes. The rules are very strict in NS. From my understanding/personal experience your family doctor (or psychiatrist - good luck with the current state of mental health care in NS) will be the only person who can prescribe you medication - if you need them (unless its a SSRI/SNRI, etc) - and you will also have to go to the same pharmacy each time and they will not refill anything early, even if it’s 1 day in advance, so be prepared to go monthly the day you run out (I mention this, because if you don’t live in the city it can be a pain). Also some family doctors will make you get a full assessment by a psychologist, so be prepared to take the full-day assessment (it costs ~ $1,000 and is not covered provincially, there may be alternatives but I certainly couldn’t find anything). You could enroll in a uni degree and get a doctor/assessment covered that way, but that’s an extreme alternative.

This message isn’t meant to be a “downer” only a head-ups. A lot of people don’t understand the NS system and will be confused by how hard it is to get care. When I learned all this, it was a crazy shock to me, because mental health is so important to the individual and to a functioning society, so it seems pretty important to me … and on top of that many of our med/psych discipline grads aren’t sticking around it seems, because we always have a shortage

Not a downer. A reality. I ended up paying for the diagnosis. The local clinic gave an ssri for depression, but the ADHD goes untreated.

NS health is a problem. Mental health is worse. I’m in a region of about 30k people without a single practicing psychiatrist.

I just keep reminding myself that I’ve made it this far.

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Yes for sure!!! I wish it was better. Makes me sad! Despite it being one of the “have not” province with low employment and other resources, I find the people there really welcoming, especially to newcomers who don’t know anyone, and given that I move a lot, I really love that about there. And having people can really help too! Aside from the crappy health care system, I hope you are enjoying yourself there, and I hope you’ve been able to meet people that are cool! :):blush:

To be fair, I might be biased because I grew up there, but some places have been really hard to me and when I’ve finally “gotten in” and have wanted to invite new people along, I get a look of confusion, so maybe I’m not wrong about that?! … cultural differences …

I didn’t come to my ADHD realization or seeked an assessment, until I moved away (and then came back and all my friends have moved out of the province/country) and adulting was way too hard. It was like playing a terrible game of Jenga and I wasn’t going to win. So I did a ton of research on how to get assessed and the resources available in the province.I had always figured my GAD was just really bad, but there were things that just didn’t line up with that, so after sitting on the fence for about 2 years* about potential ADHD I did it and was diagnosed with both … whoo hoo???

*I have a psych background and in class we talked in depth about ADHD and over diagnosis issues, so I was really cautious about it all. A formal assessment is good for that, because it can identify comorbid conditions and misdiagnosis - GPs do they best they can, but they are jacks-of-all-trades with have limited time and resources - whereas a full MMPI and other tests given and assessed by a clinical psychologist is a gold standard diagnosis.

Anyhow, the doctor put me on Vyvance. I’ve found it initially made a big difference in concentration and motivation and then the effects “lessened”, but I have no plans on leaving it. If your end up with a family doctor that is weird about meds, ask about that one. The abuse potential/addiction is much lower. b/c your body converts the drug to its active form, so it doesn’t have to fast acting, reinforcing effects on the brain that other ADHD drugs can - so doctors seem to prefer it.

BUT, there isn’t a generic version available - at least not in NS and I assume Canada? - so it’s pretty expensive - like $200/month-ish. So if you have a drug plan that will come in handy, otherwise look into pharmacare - for that you’ll need so much paper work! - because, despite the abuse potential being low it’s still scheduled and it will need to also be approved by the province even if the doc is giving it to you.

There are practically no psychiatrists in NS (even in Halifax) - the ones that are there are mostly hospital based - I think there is one in Clayton Park that takes on patients, but I think you also need a family doctor referral to get in and it’s a giant waiting list. As far as I know, because they are medical doctors, they follow the same rules as GPs … so the are part of the doctor shortage - I imagine the ones that come out of Dal move to provinces with different regulations or the US to make better money. Specialist wait times are even worse - 3 year wait for an allergist!

Ok sorry I blabbed on again and probably overshared, thinking it’s the ADD and Maritimer combo. Depending on your location, if it’s gets too long for the doctor wait, check out taking class part-time at one of the uni’s that has a good medical clinic, because you’re automatically a patient as a student. I believe some schools you can stay a patient even when you are no longer a student. Also if you’re initially from Ontario or one of those big provinces then even driving across the province is pretty much nothing to you - hahaha - the first time I heard someone “it’s only a 4-hour drive” in relation to visiting somewhere for 2 hours I almost died … GOOD LUCK!