[CW: alcoholism, self-harm]
It’s been almost a year since I received my ADHD diagnosis. The diagnosis wasn’t surprising but the anger and grief that followed caught me off guard. As of this writing I am 45–almost 46–and I have lived like this for so long that I initially saw the diagnosis as confirmation of a long held suspicion and nothing more.
Over the last 10 months, however, I have been fixated on my life and how ADHD has affected it. I cannot stop thinking about pivotal moments that should have notified someone in my life that something was wrong; that I was neurodivergent. But, as with many women my age, I was diagnosed with depression and eventually bipolar disorder. No one ever thought to look into underlying causes. As an adult, I should have insisted on a deeper look, but I didn’t. That part is on me. But everything that happened before, that’s on my parents and my school system, all of whom failed me on levels that are very hard to describe.
So I’ve decided to write about it. Writing my truth has always been easier than speaking it aloud. And trust me when I say that these moments will not be pleasant, and they will not be peaceful,. They will be honest and ugly but they will be the truth of what I have gone through. And while I am well-aware that my life as a suburban middle-class white woman is not the worst that anyone has ever gone through, it led to some of the worst experiences that I have ever gone through.
So, this is my life with ADHD. This is me trying to figure out what happened, and how, and why. This is me trying to understand how the people that were supposed to ensure that I achieved my best life left me to flounder in a sea of chaos.
This is me.
The last week of February, 2009
They call us “the lost girls.” We’re the ones who were so clearly neurodivergent at a time when those diagnoses were rarely given to girls. We were told that we would grow out of it and it was expected that we would. But we didn’t. We couldn’t. And so we lived lives filled with chaos and destruction, anger and depression, deep love and deep loss.
We never learned how to regulate any part of our lives because the adults that we depended on to keep us safe couldn’t be bothered to help us. We had to figure out how to cope on our own, and honestly, many of us didn’t. I drank, and I cut myself, and I hid everything that I had always been told to hide. I did this until a moment finally came when I realized that I simply couldn’t be this way anymore. When my moment came, I knew it for what it was, even if I didn’t fully comprehend what this recognition would mean for the course that my life was about to take.
I was standing in the kitchen of my 2nd floor apartment—my ninth address in ten years—surveying the box-filled living room. My tiny, eight-month-old black cat was in his soft carrier, screaming about the injustice and rolling himself around the floor, trying desperately to break free. I understood how he felt, but for me that feeling was tinged with sadness and defeat. After eight years, my life in Pennsylvania was over. I was thirty-three years old and I was slouching back to Texas with nothing to show for it but a pile of debt and a trail of broken relationships.
My older brother, the only man who had ever loved me unconditionally, stood beside me. He had taken a 1500-mile flight to Pennsylvania so that he could be with me as I drove back to Texas. He and his wife were opening their home to me, and allowing me to live with them while I tried to pick up the pieces of my life. I had no job prospects, a broken heart, and the absolute certainty that I was damaged in ways that could never be repaired. I didn’t know who I was or who I wanted to be. I only knew that the person I was now was unsustainable.
The thought of becoming someone new was terrifying because I didn’t know how to be any other way; so I stood there, looking at the boxes that held my life, my big brother’s hand in mine, trying to figure out where to go from here. For me to understand how I got here—surrounded by the wreckage of a life of absolute chaos—I had to go back to where it started. I had to understand what went wrong. And too, I needed to know if I really did want to become someone new. Maybe it was a matter of going back to who I had been before everything went out of control.