On ADHD: This is why you’re grieving

This piece is the second in a three-part instalment on Neurodivergence, see On ASD: Understanding Your Powerful Brain. It is also a response to ADHD: A Hard Pill to Swallow by Anjelica (she/her) 23, NSW.

Words by Sigrid (she/her) 21 QLD

Dear Anjelica,

Society has failed you. It isolated you and dehumanised you because it cannot handle complex women who do not fit its mould. I’m sorry that because of this, your late ADHD diagnosis has been tainted by grief for what could have been, and that you now face the daunting task of reshaping your self-image amidst stigma and misunderstanding.  

I can’t change society, but I can offer you a gentle understanding of the science behind your incredible uniqueness, which I wish you’d had access to earlier.  

Attention-DIFFERENCE/Hyperactivity Disorder

Understanding ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) through the lens of neurodivergence means shifting our perception from deficits to differences. You’re not neurodevelopmentally deficient, you’re neurodevelopmentally different, and it’s society who has let you down by not accommodating for your unique way of perceiving and interacting with the world.

Them: “All people with ADHD are lazy, reckless and stupid.”

Me: WRONG. There is no one way to experience ADHD. Girls/women present different to boys/men with ADHD, just like adults present differently to children. What’s common for all ADHDers, however, is that it’s not a choice, so its vastly unfair to describe them with words that imply that they are to blame for society’s inability to accept their differences.”

ADHD is complex, just like you.

Part of the reason that we don’t yet fully understand ADHD is because of the gross power of misconceptions, not only through widely-accessible mass media, but by health professionals themselves.

Initially, health professionals assumed that ADHD could only be experienced by boys/men, leaving the experiences of girls/women largely ignored. We now know that this is not the case: the prevalence of ADHD in adulthood is actually a 1:1 ratio between sexes. However, the damage had already been done, and so now the nuances of ADHD in girls/women are not well-understood, and women are far more likely to be diagnosed in adulthood.

Piecing it all together

What we do understand is that some parts of the ADHD brain have less of the chemical messengers Dopamine and Noradrenaline. Without enough messengers, these parts of your brain communicate differently – no wonder it must have felt chaotic at times. This affects what are known as your executive functioning skills, which is why you experienced challenges with concentration, procrastination and organisation. It also affects your emotional regulation skills, which is why at times everything felt like “too much,” likely contributing to why you eventually hit an “emotional wall.” It may explain why your grief post-diagnosis feels so strong.

ADHD medications try to increase these levels of chemical messengers to help make symptoms more manageable. Stimulant medications (like Methylphenidate) are faster-acting but can sometimes become addictive (because they increase Dopamine). Non-stimulant medications (like Atomoxetine) are not addictive (because they don’t increase Dopamine) but may be less effective for some, despite being longer-lasting.

Them: “Taking medication for your ADHD is a sign of weakness.”

Me: WRONG. Taking medication for ADHD is a personal choice impacted by a variety of factors. It can make the colossal cacophony of the world easier to manage for people with ADHD and can be lifesaving for some. Accepting this form of help levels the playing field made uneven by misconceptions like these.”

New research has also confirmed that both exercise and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) can help alleviate symptoms of ADHD.

Neurodivergent people with ADHD are more likely than neurotypical people to also experience depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and other mental health disorders (we call these co-morbidities, because they often occur alongside ADHD). While each person with ADHD is unique, understanding that these experiences are more common for people with brains like yours could help you to make sense of parts of your life so far. You are not ‘weak’ or ‘broken’ for having experienced some of these – it is part of the side-effects of your neurodivergence, and they’re not permanent.

Exactly as you are

I know that reading this information can be overwhelming; you chose none of it. You did not choose for your brain to communicate differently, nor did you choose every comorbidity and social stigma that this comes with.

But what also comes with neurodivergence is a beautiful uniqueness. You’re so deeply empathetic because you feel so much, all the time. You’re inherently more creative because to you, the world is so much brighter and fuller. You’re incredibly resilient because you’ve survived so much and still choose to keep persisting.

Unmasking your ADHD is challenging, and it may take time, but I can’t wait for you to re-enter the world exactly as you are.

You survived; now it’s your time to thrive.


Illustration by Aileen. You can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenngstudio

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