When people say they are struggling to come to terms with their ADHD diagnosis, what they usually mean is they are trying to include this new piece of information into their identity.
Identity is who you are, how you think about yourself and how other people see you. It includes your personality traits, strengths and weaknesses, personal preferences, and how you see the world. Even if we aren’t aware of it, our identity is really important to us. That’s one reason why identity theft is so distressing.
If you have recently been diagnosed with ADHD there is a lot to take on board.
You have a condition with an actual name.
That can feel like a huge relief. Now you know why you are the way you are.
It also involves dismantling your old view of yourself. For example, to make sense of your differences for all these years, you might have concluded it’s because you are ‘stupid’ or ‘dizzy’ or ‘clumsy.’
Now you know those things aren’t true, which is awesome! But it takes time before a new more accurate description feels like it belongs to you.
Is the diagnosis real?
Part of this process is questioning if you really have ADHD. You might doubt the accuracy of the diagnosis – even if you had a detailed evaluation with a qualified professional and have a written report as proof.
People often think there must have been a mistake because the evaluation doesn’t fit with your current perception of yourself.
It doesn’t help when people in your life say things like, ‘You can’t have ADHD because you….’ and they mention one of your accomplishments, like you did well in school or have an impressive job title.
Even though your loved ones mean well, these comments are based on the stereotypical idea of what ADHD is. ADHD is a condition that everyone has an opinion on, but those opinions don’t usually stem from them doing strong research.
Try not to be influenced by what people say as you are going through this phase; you are quite vulnerable and comments can hurt or derail you.
Feel shame about having ADHD
You might feel ashamed that you have ADHD. Part of being human is to want to fit in and be the same as your peers. Having ADHD makes you different. Also, because there is a lot of misunderstanding about ADHD, it is not typically a condition that evokes concern or support from non-ADHDers.
On one hand it is wise to think carefully who you tell you have ADHD (click here to learn more about this). On the other hand, when you find yourself hiding part of yourself from others, it can lead to shame.
One way round this is to find a group of like-minded ADHDers who you can talk freely with. Untapped Brilliance Club members find it very helpful to hear from other members’ experience and talk, perhaps for the first time, about their ADHD traits. When you do this, it allows you to make peace with all aspects of you, and the shame tends to dissolve.
The opposite of shame can happen too! You might find shame disappears when you are officially diagnosed.
Now you know certain characteristics are because of ADHD rather than you ‘not trying’ or being lazy or a bad person.
It can also help you feel pride in your accomplishments. ”Wow, I did this while having undiagnosed ADHD.”
Understanding your life through the lens of ADHD
As you start including ADHD in your identity, it’s normal to replay life events over in your mind through the lens of ADHD.
It’s good because it helps you to understand why things happened the way they did. ‘Oh that makes so much sense now. I understand why I was always late, and I can understand why X would get mad.’
It can be exhausting too. In the early days after a diagnosis, it can be hard to make yourself stop replaying memories. A helpful strategy is not to judge yourself for the things that happened in the past. Learn from them but don’t judge yourself harshly.
ADHD is part of who you are, but it’s not the whole you. Your nationality, fingerprints and religion are all part of your identity. So are being a teacher, a mom, a son, a brother, and dog lover. You might also have blue eyes, brown hair, an under active thyroid and also have ADHD.
Putting ADHD into the context of your whole life allows it to shrink into perspective. When you have recently been diagnosed it feels the dominant part of you. But it won’t be like this forever. Once you have included ADHD in your identity and get an understanding of what helps you and your ADHD, it can shrink down to normal proportions.
There are some positives too.
It’s easy to focus on all the annoying or downsides of ADHD. Yet there are good things too. When the annoying parts are managed, it is easier to acknowledge and celebrate the positives. But you don’t need to wait. Think now what the positive parts of ADHD are for you. There will be some, even if you don’t think there are at first. Creativity, problem solving in record breaking time, and a sense of fun are just a few examples.