Have you heard of the 5 stages of grief? It is a model that psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross first wrote about in her book, ‘On Death and Dying’. Elisabeth identified 5 emotional stages that someone goes through when they lose a loved one.
Ever since her groundbreaking work, Elisabeth’s model has been adapted to other emotional losses such as the end of a relationship.
In today’s article, I adapted the ‘5 stages of grief’ to describe the emotional journey adults with ADHD go through when they are first diagnosed with ADHD. While finding out you have ADHD, though it doesn’t involve the loss of a loved one, you are grieving the loss of your old identify. The old you who didn’t know they had ADHD. This might not seem like a big deal… in theory. However, when it happens to you (even if you were 99% sure had ADHD), it can still be earth shattering. Everything you knew about yourself changes with this new piece of information.
Everyone processes their ADHD diagnosis slightly different. Some people spend longer in one stage than another. Some whizz through all the stages while for others, the processing takes longer. No one neatly goes through one stage to the next; there is a lot of jumping around.
Here are the 5 stages:
1) Euphoria – It might last minutes, or days. Finally, there is an explanation for why you are the way you are. You aren’t crazy! There is a name for your struggles.
2) Disbelief – Finding out you have ADHD gives you a greater understanding of yourself. But, it also shakes your self–identity to the core. You have to rebuild your sense of self with this new knowledge. You might question if the person who tested you was accurate.
3) Anger – The anger can be at yourself, at other people or at ADHD for existing. Why didn’t I find this out sooner? Why didn’t my teachers, parents or wife / husband notice?
4) Depression – Sadness and depression. A sense of loss of what could have been. You might find yourself thinking that your life would have been easier, happier, more successful, richer, etc. if you had known years ago.
5) Acceptance and Hope – This is where you embrace the new part of you. You realize that the strengths you have are related to ADHD; that without ADHD, you wouldn’t be the person you are today.
While I don’t have ADHD, when I was 28 years old, I was diagnosed with severe dyslexia. These are how the stages played out in my life: For the first 24 hours, I was exceptionally happy; almost ‘high’. I had always thought my struggles were because I wasn’t clever, now I knew that wasn’t the case. There was a reason why the world seemed confusing and muddled for me.
The next emotions were (2) disbelief and (3) anger. The detailed report by the psychologist didn’t match who I thought I was. I was really angry it had taken me 28 years to find this out. The anger then disappeared, and was replaced with (4) depression. The disbelief continued. I kept replaying in my head all the embarrassing things that had happened during my school days and felt really sorry for the little girl who used to worry in bed at night because she didn’t know how to spell words. Finally, there was (5) acceptance as I realized that I didn’t want to waste any more of my life. I made a decision not to struggle any more. I made changes in my life to work with my strengths (which is what I encourage all my clients to do). I made peace with every part of me.
When you are first diagnosed with ADHD, there is so much to learn and research. There are also important decisions to make, such as whether or not to take ADHD meds; which means, paying attention to how you are feeling can take a back seat. You might find your emotions creep up on you gradually or suddenly hit you one day. Acknowledge each one when it appears. Knowing about the 5 stages of emotions is helpful. It doesn’t take away the pain, but it does help to know you aren’t going crazy.
Surround yourself with understanding people. Getting diagnosed with ADHD can make you feel very lonely. There are still people who don’t believe ADHD is real or wonder why as an adult you would ‘bother’ to get tested. There will also be people who aggressively question your decision to take ADHD medication or your decision not to take meds. It can be hard navigating these people when you are feeling vulnerable. Find people that are understanding and kind to spend time with. When you are feeling stronger, you can deal with everyone else.
Don’t judge yourself or your emotions. You are unique; so are your emotions. There is no right or wrong way to feel. If you are feeling it, accept that it’s important for you to be feeling that emotion at this time.
Process them in a way that works for you. Work with a therapist, join a support group, write a journal, etc.
Be extra kind and gentle with yourself during this time. If you are feeling fragile, don’t set yourself on big projects or put yourself in unnecessary stressful situations. Practice extreme self–care.
If you are new to ADHD, download ‘Adult ADHD 101’. It will help you to navigate the practical things you need to know and it’s completely free.
What emotions did you experience after being diagnosed? leave a comment below!