I have written that a few months ago I was diagnosed with severe ADHD: Impulsive/Hyperactive disorder. It, combined with a serious back problem that led to surgery shut my life down so completely that I pretty much stayed in my room for about 18-months.
Then I was diagnosed and treated.
And I got my life back.
A much, much, MUCH better life.
And I wrote about it because I believe there are millions out there that are undiagnosed with their lives either falling apart or working much, much harder to keep their lives together than they have to..
After my post so many (SO MANY) were diagnosed or recognized a loved one that had my kind of ADHD, that I knew I had to write about the “OTHER kind” of ADHD.
Because this kind affects far more girls and women AND it SO much quieter and subtle than mine that it is far more undiagnosed than the Hyperactive/Impulsive kind and so I feel it is actually more important to write about.
I am going to walk you through the story of “Beth”, a girl who grows to adulthood with undiagnosed ADHD “In attentive”. I have given Beth a LOT of problems simply because every single case of this is different-this why it is so difficult to diagnose. I have also given Beth’s father Hyperactive/Impulsive ADHD like mine only with more anger and substance issues…because that is very real fallout I was lucky to escape.
This is long so if you feel any of this relates to YOU and your head starts wandering after a few minutes, set a timer for five minutes to remind yourself you need to finish reading something get up and stretch, take a sip of coffee or cola, sit back down and finish reading this.
Beth was sitting in school at her desk. There was a pile of papers scattered on her desk, a few at her feet and the one pencil that she hadn’t lost or remembered to bring at home was sitting unsharpened at the back of her cluttered desk and she didn’t even have an eraser. Once again, the homework that she had spent hours laboring over the night before was sitting on the desk in her room. If she remembered to bring it in and turn it in, she would have her grade marked down severely for turning it in late.
But, Beth was so sweet. So kind and creative. She wasn’t any trouble for her teacher at all and in fact, she received some of the highest citizenship marks in the class. Her teacher wished that every student tried as hard as Beth and was as kind.
During math class, the teacher was trying to get her classmate Audry to stop incessently talking and Sammy to stop getting out of his seat. Beth sat looking dreamily out of the window twirling her hair and noticed that one of the logs out the window had a knot in it that looked exactly like a music note.
Then she started thinking about a story in her head about a magic wood nymph that loved to sing and sit on that log and so the knot turned into a note of music.
Suddenly, she realized the teacher was talking to her.
Beth…did you have the answer for number 4 in yesterday’s homework?
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Wyatt. I forgot my homework at home today.”
Mrs. Wyatt sighed. “This is the third time this week Beth. You are going to have to try harder if you want to keep up your grades.”
Beth blushed and nodded and vowed to do better.
This is a pattern that would continue for Beth for many years. Students like Sammy and Audry and their behavior would get them noticed, and diagnosed and treated early for ADHD: Implusive/Hyperactive disorder. Their lives would improve while Beth would continue to work very hard, only get barely passing marks and have her teachers peg her as a sweet girl of minor intelligence who they loved but also felt sorry for because she seemed socially awkward, ditzy, dreamy and not living up to the potential that she might have. She also seemed to have more anxiety and depression than most little girls, but everyone chalked that up to Beth’s father and so all of her teachers cut Beth a large amount of slack.
Beth’s father was a well known man in the community, for good and bad. He was fun, outgoing, but often out of work, changing jobs and he drank heavily. It lead to instability financially and emotionally for Beth and her mother. One day her father stormed into the house, slammed the door and poured himself a drink. Beth hid in back of the house and her mother and father started arguing. From what Beth could tell, her father had not interviewed well for a promotion at work and had quit on the spot when he felt things were going poorly. Her mother was angry that he couldn’t reign in his personality enough to just have a normal interview and it ended with her father throwing his glass at the wall and storming off to his favorite bar.
Because her father was so often unemployed, her mother was forced to go back to work full time, and often worked two jobs to make ends meet. Even though she would have been a wonderful structure for her child in school and life she was unable to give Beth the attention and protective environment that would have helped her to cope much better with school.
As we have seen before, Beth’s father was prone to outbursts of anger. Especially when Beth didn’t meet his expectations. Beth’s father was quick-witted and spoke and thought at the speed of lightning and could get things done very quickly when he wanted to. Beth was quiet and dreamy and even moved like she was a bit in slow motion and was often clumsy and uncoordinated.
One of Beth’s most hated reprimands was, “Beth! HURRY UP! MOVE FASTER! PAY ATTENTION!”
She didn’t seem to measure up at home or at school.
And as the years increased, so did the responsibility and workload for Beth, whose coping skills remained limited because no one knew what was wrong or what her limitations were.
(You do NOT have to be a poor student to have ADHD. What most do not realize is that many who have ADHD are very, very intelligent and/or creative. I skipped 3rd grade because I was reading at a collegiate level in second grade. They may not have speed processing issues, a good support system or work extraordinarily hard to get good grades.)
Beth was spending yet another weekend in her messy room trying to get it clean. Her mother’s rule was that Beth couldn’t play until her room was clean and her homework was done. This meant that Beth very rarely ever got to play because even though she worked and worked, she still had piles everywhere and it never got done. She sat down on her rumpled bed and thought about taking a nap because she was exhausted from the week trying to navigate Junior High.
It was so confusing and draining. Switching classes all the time, remembering which book to bring to what class, Beth’s mother often left for work before Beth was up so she often skipped breakfast, showed up rumpled and unkempt and ill prepared with school supplies and assignments and and managing the chaos that was in her locker was enough of a job, but the social system of teenagers was so hard for Beth to understand. It seemed like she never knew the right thing to say to people. Or, if she was in the middle of awkwardly attempting small talk, the thought she was talking about would just disappear and she would stop lost in space for awhile and feel shame that she couldn’t maintain a stream of thought.
Beth didn’t have any friends and she had no idea how to make them.
Her mother set her up with an appointment to see a psychiatrist. Everyone felt that Beth was suffering from anxiety and depression from her mother and father’s pending divorce. His drinking and affairs and instability had gotten to the point that Beth’s mother was divorcing.
During the visit with the doctor, Beth mainly let her mother talk. Her mind was focused on the loud and constant tick coming from the metal pendulum on the doctor’s wall clock. Beth’s psychologist diagnosed Beth with depression, anxiety and chalked both up to issues with her father. He was not wrong, but he wasn’t right, either. Beth did have issues from her father and while treating depression and anxiety would help, until the underlying ADHD Inattentive is diagnosed, truly healing is impossible.
As Beth advanced in her teenage years, her self-talk became more and more hateful and less compassionate to everything about herself.
“I am so stupid! Everyone says I am creative and a great story teller. I love to write but I get Ds in English. I get high scores on the yearly tests they give so what is wrong with me? Why do I suck so much? I am supposed to go to a choir party this weekend but I can’t remember where it is and besides, everything I own is in the laundry anyway. I won’t have anything to say and if I do, people will just think everything that comes out of my mouth is stupid, anyway. I can’t ever say or do anything right!”
When Beth finally does make some friends, they are not of the type that are bad enough to scare her away, but they are also not a circle of friends that would help her make the best life choices. She loves them because she feels like they accept her even though she is awkward and stupid and she would much rather deal with negative friends than no friends.
She eventually started dating a boy that was controlling at best. He pressured her into sex far before she was ready and regularly mistreated her and even began to emotionally abuse and control her every move. Beth was so insecure, scattered and completely without self-respect and also with terrible male examples in her life that she not only clung and obsessed about this boy and would do whatever he wanted thinking he cared about her, but she felt she deserved his abuse.
He repeatedly called her a fat pig, and that was something kind out of his mouth.
Beth had always been self-conscious because she was a bit heavy. One of her friends suggested she start taking diet pills to help her control her weight. When Beth tried them she felt so much better! She just didn’t know why that was. Because diet pills are a stimulant and a treatment for ADHD of both types, Beth started to use them, and daily doses of coffee and cola to self-medicate. Her mother didn’t know about the diet pills, and didn’t really think much about her caffeine consumption. All teenagers tended to overload on soda for late night studying, didn’t they?
However, because of some of the choices she saw Beth making and after hearing her boyfriend verbally abusing her, her mother interceded and put her foot down about her friends and boyfriend.
Even though she was financially strapped from divorce and gone a lot of the time because of her job, DID attempt very hard to help her daughter. She reported the verbal abusing boyfriend to Beth’s school and spoke with Beth’s doctors about what had been going on. She enrolled Beth in a theater company for teens and tutoring after school program to fill the time she would have spent with her negative friends and she continued therapy and medication, which helped Beth enough to graduate from high school and enroll in a school that was small and close enough to her home that she could still stay in the protective environment her mother did her best to provide.
Beth switched majors many times, took many classes that interested her but did nothing to help her gain a diploma, but finally, after deciding that she loved the newspaper, she chose journalism as a major. In the classes that were hard for her, she had elaborately planned systems set up to get her through and had to study 4 times as much as the other kids in the class. She continued to use diet pills, started smoking and guzzling coffee and since she knew that her brain would work best at night she stayed up many late nights working and she finally graduated and then got a job on the lowest rung of a local paper after college because one of her professors had taken a true liking to the way Beth’s mind worked and his brother owned the paper.
Everyone was confident that now that the pressures of school were finished, a creative girl like b eth would thrive in a newspaper environment.
They were wrong.
It was so noisy. So busy. So FAST.
And the job that Beth started out at was entry level where there was very little, if any creativity involved. Instead of writing feature articles where she would have shined, Beth was buried and overwhelmed by more and more paperwork and details that simply must be done to succeed in a career.
Once again, she felt she was a failure at everything, in her mind and oh, how she whipped herself constantly for it.
So, she just decided to try harder. She came in hours early and stayed hours late. Finally, she was promoted and could start to work creatively. But she had difficulty expressing her ideas to people. She KNEW what she wanted to write in her head but when staff meeting would come, the words she had to describe and pitch her stories seemed so shallow compared to what she was thinking. And writing and finishing pieces by deadline was very difficult for Beth to accomplish. She would be up very late so her brain worked better and then have very little sleep before heading into work the next day.
She was constantly overwhelmed and exhausted but her mom and friends were so proud of them. Beth just felt like she was fooling everyone and it was only a matter of time before people found her out to be a big, fat, faker.
During all the confusion and hubub, Beth met a very charming, handsome and VERY organized and together “Go Getter” named Bill who transferred in from a smaller paper.
Beth was drawn to his ability to lead, how organized and well-run his life seemed to be and he paid a lot of attention to Beth. He was drawn to her gentleness and kindness and saw that she was highly creative and hardworking.
Soon they were dating and Beth began her life of “hiding” her shameful clutter and disorganization for both Bill and every else that she could. No one could possibly love her if they “really knew” who she was. She would continue for years to go to elaborate lengths to hide as much as possible from as many as possible.
Before long,Bill and Beth were talking seriously about marriage.
Bill was very conservative, both politically and conservatively. He belonged to a rather stringent, organized religion that was very important to him both religiously and culturally.
Beth had never been religious in her life, but she was a people pleaser and there was a lot about this religion that appealed to all the things she wanted out of life. She converted and soon, she and Bill were married.
Once that happened, Bill and Beth decided that Beth should stop working because they wanted to start a family soon. Bill had been promoting easily at work, but Beth was stuck in her low paying job. Secretly, Beth was very relieved to stop the pressure of the details, calls, work, deadlines and endless undone jobs that overwhelmed her daily.
After she was married, Beth delved into all the creative things that excited her that she never had time for before. She started taking photography and while snapping photos in the wetlands, she found out that there was a plan to make them into a subdivision so she became involved in local politics, where she found out about the plight of the homeless shelter, which lead to volunteering there, only to have her suddenly crave to learn how to paint and take classes.
Soon, her attic was full of unfinished equipment, projects and her life was full of broken promises and ideas.
She was also having a difficult time adjusting to the high demands of perfection in home, owrk, family and church that she felt the culture of her new religion required. Everyone seemed so perfect. She felt like such a failure.
But soon Beth and Bill found out that she was pregnant.
She had always wanted a stable family and was excited to become a mother.
Beth started project after project to get ready for the baby. Decorating the nursery, photo books, a birth diary, a stomach cast to keep…the problem was, none of these tasks got finished and everything lay in random piles around the house.
Bill’s family was just as type A and high achieving as he was and Beth felt so intimidated by her In Laws.
It didn’t help that because Beth gave up coffee and diet pills and cola when she found out that she was pregnant, she stopped the little help that self-medication had given her.
She felt like a meek and massive mess.
Her husband, who was very in love with her and a patient man, found himself always frustrated because his home was not in order. Beth stayed home all day with no children. Why wasn’t the house clean all the time?
Why did Beth go to the store to get eggs, be gone for an hour and come home with Bell peppers, milk, and cookies, but no eggs?
Her eating habits were terrible. Bill and all of his family were very fit, active and helthfully minded. in their habits. Beth tried to fit in, but she often got so overwhelmed at just making food that she would often just have a lunch of chips and cookies because it was easier.
Bill and his family tried to “Help” Beth. His mother, who wanted to be helpful, tried to suggest that Beth make a chart and give herself starts for the things she accomplished.
Beth felt like a humiliated child. A star chart for someone in their late 20s??!
After their baby, Andy, was born, Beth felt ecstatic! Maybe motherhood was the area where her true talents lay, but was just undiscovered. She was in love with her child and desperately wanted to be a very good, organized and perfect mother. She read all the books, signed up for baby and mother sign language, mommy and me groups and cooking classes to make homemade baby food.
Beth did not realize how many demands came with motherhood.
How difficult a colic newborn could be.
The difficulty and demands and sleep deprivation of a fussy baby and first time breast feeding mother.
Beth had gained an additional 40-lbs while she was pregnant and she was having great difficulty losing it. It was hurting her already poor self-image and so she turned back to her old friend, Diet pills to help her lose the weight. Once again, she felt more in focus, alert and just awake.
But it wasn’t enough.
She was still overwhelmed.
The shopping for baby supplies and clothes and how confusing and BIG each decision she made on behalf of her child would feel.
Giving up making homemade food and hoping her picky son would eat ANYTHING.
Halloween costumes, regular baby photos, doctor visits, decisions about circumcision and vaccinations, worry over his delicate health and what to do and not, how to potty train and the nightmare of getting him and it on a schedule that Beth herself didn’t possess, what preschool to put him in and just…being a mother had Beth overwhelmed, frazzled, and depressed.
She desperately wished that she could have a housekeeper to help her but how indulgent was THAT? She didn’t work and had one child. She was such an incapable failure as a mother and wife.
SHE WORKED SO HARD. BUT NOBODY KNEW IT.
She was also growing increasingly frustrated that her husband and his family and such high expectations of her but didn’t seem to be helping her execute anything. She was just supposed to know how to do it on her own or figure it out.
Finally, Beth and Bill’s son entered first grade. Beth thought she might finally have some breathing room with the time he was gone. But that didn’t happen. She became involved in the school’s PTA and in her sons class and spent hours trying to make sure that his homework was done and all the things he needed for school were packed. Her son was different than the other kids and like Beth did, he struggled in school. Beth remembered how hard it was for her and felt awful for passing on her stupidity to her child. Ben was frustrated because in his mind, his son shouldn’t have the struggles in school he did because it was so effortless for him. Even getting his son to do basic chores was work for Ben, let alone getting his wife to do anything productive. It lead to a lot of mutual stress in the marriage.
And motherhood kept putting Beth through the churner.
Lunches, soccer, playdates that terrified Beth because she didn’t measure up to any of the other mothers was too much for Beth.
One day, while struggling to pack her boy’s soccer gear into the car, Beth hurt her back severely. She couldn’t even move but just lay there in the parking lot until someone came to help her.
Beth went to the doctor and was put on pain killers.
She loved those pain killers.
They made her feel less pain but also less stressed. She also realized that she was taking more and more diet pills and more and more painkillers to make her feel like she could cope with her life.
Things got worse and worse until one day, Beth drove over to visit a friend in her church who had had a recent knee surgery. She saw that she had pain killers in her bathroom and Beth stole some.
She cried all the way home.
Had she turned into her father?
A useless and damaging substance abuser without the fun and energetic side? What happened to all her hopes and dreams? Where was the creativity and intelligence that would at least burst out occasionally to dazzle all around her?
Everything seemed hopeless and Beth withdrew further and further into a shell until she was pretty much laying on her couch 24/7.
She no longer had the ability to juggle all the balls that life required of her, so she took those balls and locked them and herself in a closet.
Her husband and family became increasingly alarmed and Bill insisted that they go to therapy. In therapy, Beth addressed her frustration with herself and her marriage and as they were addressed and as she trusted her therapist, they talked about her substance abuse issues and together all of them suggested that she seek treatment.
She did and it was successful.
But again, she was without the stimulants she so needed to help treat her ADHD and so while the issues with her marriage and father were worked through, she remained depressed, anxious and her life didn’t work how she wished.
Then her son was diagnosed with ADHD after a recommendation from his school.
And as Bill and Beth began researching, they both slowly realized that Beth had been suffering from undiagnosed ADHD her entire life.
She started treatment.
And for the first time she felt awake, alert, and that she had the energy to get through the day.
She informed family members of her diagnosis because ADHD is hereditary. Many members were diagnosed. Beth realized that her father, who had long disappeared from her life, had undiagnosed and severe ADHD Impulsive/Hyperactive, which explained much about her childhood. She did not know if forgiveness for her about him was possible, but at least she had understanding and a starting place to work through her feelings more effectively.
Beth will continue to struggle. She will go into therapy and spend years trying to undo the damage that daily failure does to a person when they don’t know what is wrong with them. She will be frustrated at first that stimulants are not a magic pill that solves everything and will mourn the systems that failed her and that her life being a success will not be the success as most people define it.
She will have conflict with her family who at first, superficially acknowledge ADHD but really do not make the changes needed to help support her. She will find the spine in therapy to cause the changes needed and get the support that will truly help life change happen.
There will be many days she will rage and curse and cry that she was born this way.
But eventually, she will find the tools and support and things she needs to end her chapter on a good note. She will succeed. She will discover how she can write a whole book and persevere to become a published author. It will take more time and creative thinking than most book authors but with the right support, Beth will live a happy life. Her marriage becomes stronger. She no longer struggles with needing substances to help her get through her day.
She will affect generations of people as she helps her children and grandchildren understand themselves better and to not hate themselves as she did. She will help them see the many positive things about themselves and encourage them to work WITH their ADHD rather than against it.
It will be a long, long road, but can you imagine if she had never been able to even put her foot on it?
Obviously, not all stories are like Beth. I did my best to throw in as much information as I could. I hope that some of this helps someone out there. Remember that ALL HUMANS have SOME ADHD symptoms. It must be chronic and problematic and be present in childhood and in 2 areas of your life like home and work. Also…not every ending is a happy one. Especially if there is substance abuse. Luckily, I was spared from that, but many, many are not. If anyone even gets a moment of comfort reading this and knowing they are not alone, it will be worth it.
Beth and her story were inspired by the amazing book about Women and ADHD by Sari Solden. It has changed my life for the good forever and has given me so many tools and helps, I stopped counting. Please consider reading it or giving it to a loved one you suspect may have this pernicious disorder.