In my post yesterday about late ADHD diagnoses, I included an image with the phrase “it’s never too late to live happily ever after.” My usage of the image was a little tongue-in-check, but it got me thinking: some of my blog posts probably do give the impression that being diagnosed with ADHD means you can live “happily ever after.”
If that’s the case, it’s because getting diagnosed was a major turning point in my own life, and because an ADHD diagnosis often is the first step toward meaningful improvements in mental health. So naturally I’m upbeat about what being diagnosed with ADHD means.
At the same time, it’s important to be realistic about what getting diagnosed will do for you. The day after you get diagnosed, you’re still going to wake up with all your ADHD symptoms. And there’s a good chance you’ll wake up with more questions than answers.
For me, it probably helped that I didn’t go into the diagnostic and treatment process with sky-high expectations. I didn’t even understand the full extent of how my symptoms were impacting my life, so I was pleasantly surprised by the results I saw.
The work that follows an ADHD diagnosis is gradual. While the initial diagnosis might be an epiphany of self-insight, the actual work of changing your life will take experimenting with different coping strategies and rethinking some of the assumptions you’ve made about yourself.
Even if you find a med that improves your symptoms with tolerable side effects, which isn’t a given, the effects of your ADHD aren’t simply going to disappear. You’ll have to learn new habits and put some work into figuring how to actually use the new and improved executive functions that your meds give you.
I’m not saying this to be a downer. In fact, there’s a good chance that if you have undiagnosed ADHD, seeking mental health treatment will help you more than you think. Either way, I can unequivocally say that if you think you might have ADHD, it’s absolutely worth talking to a mental health professional.
But it’s also worth keeping in mind the limitations of a diagnosis. An ADHD diagnosis won’t solve all your problems. It won’t give you quick solutions, or remove life’s uncertainty.
What an ADHD diagnosis will do is give you new tools for taking on some of your problems, possibly even problems you previously thought were intractable. That’s not a one-way ticket to happily ever after, but it can still be a very powerful thing.
Image: Flickr/Gloria García