Home Advocacy How the Stages of Grief Can Explain the ADHD Diagnosis Journey

How the Stages of Grief Can Explain the ADHD Diagnosis Journey

by Team FLEX

After you’ve been diagnosed, the real work begins. Not only for you, but your family as well. One can compare the journey most of us go through after diagnosis to the stages of grief. 

According to Healthline there are 7 stages of grief:

  • Shock and denial. This is a state of disbelief and numbed feelings.
  • Pain and guilt. You may feel that the loss is unbearable and that you’re making other people’s lives harder because of your feelings and needs.
  • Anger and bargaining. You may lash out, telling God or a higher power that you’ll do anything they ask if they’ll only grant you relief from these feelings.
  • Depression. This may be a period of isolation and loneliness during which you process and reflect on the loss.
  • The upward turn. At this point, the stages of grief like anger and pain have died down, and you’re left in a more calm and relaxed state.
  • Reconstruction and working through. You can begin to put pieces of your life back together and carry forward.
  • Acceptance and hope. This is a very gradual acceptance of the new way of life and a feeling of possibility in the future.

 While it’s true that grief is universal, ADHD is not, but the stages a person goes through to get over loss can be compared to the stages we’ll all go through after our ADHD diagnosis. The timeline of your progress through those stages can be months, or years, even. I was diagnosed at age 6, but I wouldn’t say I truly accepted it until recently, at 40. 

There are countless articles across the web that can tell you how the stages of grief apply to this area. I’m going to share my own experience so it might shed some light on your own. 

My Journey

Shock and denial. 

I was diagnosed around age 6 – yet I didn’t comprehend what this ADHD diagnosis meant. I had a special tutor, I got to take my tests in college apart from others untimed, I could have gotten someone else to take my notes or even to read me chapters of the book, but I didn’t. I wouldn’t say I was in denial during my late teens and college years. I knew what it was but didn’t know much more. I’d accepted my view of how ADHD would affect me based on my limited knowledge of the condition. 

College was a struggle, but by all accounts I did well, graduating without a clue in the world as to what to do next. From lower school I knew I was going to high school, from highschool I knew I was going to college. Then in college I knew I needed to graduate, but I didn’t think too hard about what I’d do with my degree. I had so many interests – I was sure my path would become clear soon. I just had to have patience. 

Pain and guilt.

Without truly understanding what ADHD meant to me, the next 10 plus years of my life I was adrift. I had this lingering feeling I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to. Not only professionally but personally as well. 

This was a period of my life where I had some of the most intense RSD episodes of my life. There was cutting, bruising, dark thoughts, promiscuity, dangerous behavior and other nastiness. 

Additionally, to mask the intense social awkwardness I would often feel in totally normal group settings, I drank. 

I didn’t know then what I was doing, but now I can say I drank way too heavily. I was self-medicating to be social. Looking back at this period of my life is hard, but with the help of my therapist, now I can. I now have pity for the young girl who was so confused. What I know now would have blown that girl’s mind. But I can’t change the past, so there’s no point in dwelling on it. 

Even more denial – Anger and bargaining.

So post college much of my 20’s were also a struggle. There were bad decisions, inadequate preparation, failed projects, lost jobs. All the hallmarks of a person with ADHD. I was also going through some health issues in my 20’s, but now I realize some of those problems were manifestations of my ADHD. I was bargaining with myself over why I felt so bad.

It couldn’t be my brain, it had to be a physical malady. 

Through all of this I was still very active and thought of myself as 100% normal (with that lurking, incessant, all consuming, sometimes easily forgotten – fear that I was missing something important). Now looking back on these experiences, I know I was in shock, denial, anger and bargaining stages. I was all over the place.

I kept failing, kept making stupid mistakes – it was all making me numb. I would get angry but I didn’t know what exactly. I just had a feeling that I was missing something important all the time, that everyone else got a cheat sheet to life, just not me. 

Where I was emotionally and mentally didn’t stop me from acting like everything was A – OK. None of my friends at the time knew what I struggled with. I never asked for accommodations at work, thinking I’d left ADHD back in college because it was only an attention thing in class – right? The constant pressure of thinking negatively about myself and past events was starting to build into depression. 

Depression. 

Thus in my 30’s depression and anxiety started to become a regular part of my life. I was miserable. I could go more into this but if you’ve been there you understand. My one saving grace was Pippin, my sweet pup. Truly his companionship saved me. 

The upward turn.  Reconstruction and working through.

In my mid 30’s I found the right Psychologist for me. This therapist focused on ADHD and helped me to understand how ADHD had had a hand in molding every part of me. Working mainly with cognitive behavioral therapy but also EMDR. With my therapist’s help, I admitted I needed help with depression and anxiety. 

I’d always seen a psychiatrist for medication management, because I’d been on Adderall since I was 19. All I cared about at that point was proximity to me. Whichever doctor was closest – that’s who I’d see. 

This time I decided to find one that also specializes in ADHD. What a big difference that made. With my psychologist helping me to understand I was dealing with more than just ADHD my psychiatrist was able to get me on the right medication that almost immediately had a positive impact on my life. 

That marked the start of what I’d like to think of as a season of growth. I sought to learn all I could about ADHD, and as I did so I began to take back control of my emotional and mental state. While I was euphoric during this period simply because I had answers, I also struggled with anger and resentment towards my parents, towards myself, for not knowing more (not that they could have, in the 80’s). 

Acceptance and hope. 

Now I’m settled into the acceptance and hope stage that Untapped Brilliance has identified as the end of the cycle. I’m on the right medication, talking to the right experts about my health. I have a great team to work with. 

The whole point of this story is to show that once you turn the corner, truly accept the diagnosis and start educating yourself about – your own brain – the real change happens. 

So tell us below, where are you in your journey?

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1 comment

Will January 13, 2021 - 3:31 pm

I was diagnosed at 9- in 1989. Nobody knew a thing about ADD then and so I was put on Ritalin and told to try harder. Whatever. At 41, now, I’ve fought and reaped havoc my way through many jobs and relationships. But I’m on the mend. Am I still pissed? Yeah but I’m not as immature as I once was. I’m on Adzensys which is the first ADD treatment I’ve tried in 18 years. Definitely have a pride issue. Thanks for this platform of idea and experience sharing. I look forward to more.

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