I was Diagnosed with ADHD at 40 and it Changed My Life
ADHD in women is chronically overlooked. I was in my early 40s when I was finally diagnosed with inattentive ADHD. The revelation changed my life in ways I couldn’t imagine. It's also why I started FluffyWeight.
Before my diagnosis, I had no idea there was a reason for why basic things that seemed easy for everyone else were so hard for me. Simple things, like paying attention in a boring class or meeting. Keeping track of my keys. Starting a project well before a deadline. Getting up on time. Sticking to a plan of any sort. Effectively managing my emotions.
I thought I was lazy, dumb, or unmotivated–and it wasn’t just me who thought that. But it turns out, I’m none of those things. These feelings are common symptoms of ADHD.
What was going on?
There was one big clue -- sometimes I could be relentlessly hard working, score top grades and successfully complete major challenges on time.
For a long time, I didn’t understand. Why was I so inconsistent? Why couldn’t I just get it together? I only knew I was different, but didn’t know why or how. I didn’t yet know that an ADHD brain lights up with an interesting challenge, but quickly shuts down in the boring routine.
By the time I finished high school, anxiety and depression (which are some of the most frequent and damaging comorbidities of ADHD) had become two of my best friends.
What is ADHD?
ADHD at its core is a difference in how the brain and nervous system regulates executive functioning. Everybody can struggle with some aspects of executive functioning, but being ADHD means it consistently impacts daily life.
- “The ADHD nervous system, a unique and special creation that regulates attention and emotions in different ways than the nervous system in those without the condition. People with an ADHD nervous system know that, if they get engaged with a task, they can do it. Far from being damaged goods, people with an ADHD nervous system are bright and clever. The main problem is that they were given a neurotypical owner’s manual at birth. It works for everyone else, not for them.” Secrets of the ADHD Brain
- “Executive function is a set of mental skills that include working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control. We use these skills every day to learn, work, and manage daily life. Trouble with executive function can make it hard to focus, follow directions, and handle emotions, among other things.” Understood.org
When I hit 40, I burned out – hard. The demands of juggling work, a marriage, young children and life in general taxed my executive functioning so much I fell apart. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, much less my work. I was lost. If only I had known this was a major symptom of ADHD in adults.
A fluke conversation with a longtime dear friend led me to the first step toward a diagnosis. We were talking about the feeling of not living up to our potential, and she recommended the book Smart but Scattered. The book was a cipher that decrypted decades of confusion. My whole life, this invisible but very real difference was treated as an inherent character flaw.
Eventually, I found a great therapist. After a couple of sessions and a series of questionnaires, she confirmed my suspicion of inattentive ADHD, and added a diagnosis of anxiety caused by untreated ADHD. It was bewildering as much as it was a relief.
I spent the first year after my diagnosis trying to understand, accept and unravel my hidden shame. I realigned my relationships, parenting and especially my work into something much more healthy. Now, I have systems in place to ease the burden of executive functioning. I’m quick to recognize the signs of sensory burnout and take preventative action so I can be the best parent and partner I can be. I’ve grown more comfortable showing up as myself without masking. I’ve stopped trying to shame myself into forcing a circadian rhythm cycle that doesn’t work. And yes, medication helps.
Starting a Business
The most visible thing I did was start my business, FluffyWeight. FluffyWeight represents my hope that generational cycles of trauma can be eased with an early diagnosis and healthy support for the neurodivergent. Being neurodivergent tends to be genetic, so the positive impact of early support can reverberate across generations.
For my own children and a vast many others, regulating sensory systems with “heavy work” is a game-changer for healthy development. At the recommendation of our occupational therapist, I searched for things that would be effective and that they would also love as a favorite toy. But I came up empty. I also noticed that the products offered weren’t necessarily created by someone who truly knew what it felt like to have sensory dysregulation. I understand all too well. (Related: How a weighted plush can help your family)
Together with my family, we experimented with dozens of different ideas and materials. The result ultimately became what is now FluffyWeight. We designed it to be the most effective, huggable, lovable and safe weighted plush possible. And I’m excited to share that our second animal will be added to our product line this year!
By discovering and accepting my diagnosis, I was able to find a way to channel my ADHD gifts with more pride, and accommodate my challenges with less shame. I never expected to end up here, but I’m sure glad I did.
See our story here.