I can recall early clues to my ADHD in childhood.
There was a significant amount of dedicated daydreaming. I loved daydreaming; still do. I fidgeted constantly — then and now. Still, I remained undiagnosed until age 45. When it finally came, my ADHD diagnosis helped to explain why my life had taken such “squirrelly” turns despite the fact that I was a relatively high achiever.
Fear of ADHD Labels
For me, grade school was like going to the playground every day. I enjoyed my classmates, learning, and most of my teachers. My grades throughout school were mostly As and Bs. I was placed in an accelerated learning track and graduated high school at age 16. My aunt, who was an educator, suggested to my parents, at some point, that I may have had ADD. My father wouldn’t hear of anything that could label me.
I went to college, majored in secondary education and English, and didn’t finish — a symptom. I worked in a series of jobs — another symptom. I was a waitress, telephone researcher, portrait painter, women’s health counselor, hairdresser, and singer. I also worked in ministry.
My son was diagnosed with ADHD at age 16. When the psychiatrist talked to me about his symptoms, I realized then, at age 45, that I also had those symptoms. But it took me another 17 years to fully understand ADHD and how it affected my life.
Regret – and Success Later in Life
My entire life could have been more focused were it not for the fear of being labeled — and for a prevailing lack of understanding about ADHD. I probably would have finished my education and become a schoolteacher, but I didn’t. I didn’t get my certification and I didn’t want to student-teach, both requirements for teaching. That’s another symptom — I don’t finish things. I have to really press when I’m almost finished because it’s then that I want to move on.
At some point, I felt like my ministerial work and my counseling background needed to marry, but I needed that college degree. At age 61, I decided to go back to college and finish my undergraduate work in social services. It was well, until I realized that at least one of my courses would require a kind of testing that I found terrifying. I’d learned that if I could be tested orally or via written tests, my performance would be more than adequate.
Getting my learning style assessed and taking ADHD medication were game changers for me. At age 63, with my accommodations of audiobooks and the removal of time limits, I completed my undergraduate work and then went on to graduate school. I graduated with high honors after years of wonder and wander.
At age 75, I am now able to silence the negative voices of the past — the teachers who said I didn’t apply myself, and, most significantly, my own inner critic. I now realize some things were more challenging than others only because of my particular differences.
I still have time challenges, but I am better equipped to manage them. My mother was 102 when she worked her last job. In semi-retirement, I lead seminars and workshops on unity and on ridding ourselves of racism and classism. My greatest joy is seeing “the light” come on for others as they discover more of themselves.
Going Back to School with Adult ADHD: Next Steps
Toni Turner is an ordained minister, certified counselor, and resiliency coach living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
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