I was diagnosed right after my 43rd birthday. I soon began to grieve for all that I began to perceive as “lost opportunities” from my past, of which I would have been much better able to take advantage, had I gotten a diagnosis much earlier in my life. So many things in the past are preparation for the future, and I managed to spend nearly all that preparatory time unable to prepare for anything simply because I didn’t know (in the simplest sense) who I was, what I could and could not do, and how to handle the person I am. I didn’t know that I had ADHD, and that other people who were doing things which I thought I wanted to do, were NOT working against ADHD. It was much more effort for me; I thought therefore I should put in even more effort. I would have changed plans much sooner, if I’d known that my models were actually people for whom those skills were much more natural than they were for me.
So, when it was time to prepare (so I thought) for a long-term relationship by seeking out and finding potential partners, my ignorance of my ADHD condition left me unable to GET READY for the long-term relationship that I was assuming I would be having by this stage of my life. Similarly, when it was time to prepare (so, again, I thought, and so most of society expects) for a career by getting educated, by selecting an appropriate field and career, and then by getting trained in that field, my ignorance of my ADHD condition left me unable to GET READY for the career that I need to now be having. It’s not that I was bad at HAVING the relationship or the career; it’s that I was bad at PREPARING for either of them, DURING the time in my life when I was supposed to be dedicating my energies to PREPARATION for them.
So I thought. It did indeed feel like grieving. Gaining the diagnosis, learning about it, was actually a wonderful experience, because it gave me a coat-hook upon which to hang hundreds of problematic past experiences. Bad relationships, bad work situations, mistakes of my own choices, my many failures to “try harder” to get this or that job done, my ability to “futz” days, weeks, DECADES away without quite knowing where the time went? All of that suddenly fit in to “Oh, there’s a diagnosis for that. It’s called ADHD.” This much was great!
But then, the lost time couldn’t be brought back. I was 43 years old and only then informed enough to be ready to start adolescence. Hahahaha … so, I do my best to turn this lemon into lemonade. I try to think, that I am now free to be youthful again, even though I am older than most people who have still have their youth. I have heard many people say, in one way or another, that they don’t really want to re-experience High School or Junior High again, but wouldn’t it be JUST GREAT to be able to go back to that time while also KNOWING WHAT YOU KNOW NOW? Imagine being the only experienced guy in your whole high-school-age class, while all the other dudes were paranoid and freaked out about girls and about the disciplinarian vice principal, while you were actually mentally 35 or 40 and able to understand human motivation SO much better than you did when you were actually in High School? Well, I kind-of have an opportunity to do just exactly that thing. I can go back and start over, in some ways.
I hope this isn’t delusional. It’s the best I can do, for creating lemonade out of the lemon which is my very late-in-life diagnosis. I can’t go back and un-perform all the wrong decisions I made when I thought I was going to live a life the way all the “normal” people live theirs. I chose a field and a career that are utterly impossible for people with my sort of ADHD; I got educated in that area; I tried to date people who needed me to be the stable, reliable, standard, conventional person in the partnership, and I invested in those relationships; and so forth. If only I’d known. But since I can’t get that lost time back, and can’t un-do those past decisions, at least I can try to take advantage of the blank slate that I now have.
I’ve been diagnosed for about 10 years now. I’m in my early 50s. I feel like I’m just ready to start young adulthood. Move out of my parents’ house, get an entry-level job, try to live on my own for the first time, maybe get a little cruddy apartment, start to buy a work wardrobe … har har.
And of course, the best part of this is, that I am not living the life I thought I was “supposed” to live just because it was conformist or conventional. I’ve been given a get-out-of-jail card! By having a diagnosis, and by receiving it only after making all those past (supposed) “mistakes” I listed above, I can now say, “Well, I may have invested a lot of time and effort into all those things that kind of bore me to tears, but hey, I didn’t know I had ADHD when I chose those things. And therefore, I’m ALLOWED to change my mind. I shouldn’t have to stick with decisions that I made when I was under-informed about my condition. In fact, I really SHOULD change my career, my education, my lifestyle, my … identity … if I want.” Other people, perhaps saddled with more neurotypical expectations of themselves, probably keep themselves locked into conventional experiences longer than I will. Because when I said, up at the top, that I felt like I was “supposed” to be preparing for a long-term relationship or “supposed” to be training for a long-term career type job, in fact, those were just SOCIAL EXPECTATIONS. Now that I know I was working handicapped, I’m free to dash those expectations to smithereens.
So, for me, the question of grieving over diagnosis? Yes, there’s lost time; no, I can’t really go back to High School to get it all “right” the second time around. And in fact, nobody else can do that either, whether or not they do or don’t have ADHD and whether or not they find out much later in life. Now I’m free to be the real me.