Today I'm sharing my ADHD diagnosis journey (and yes - it's a journey!). If you suspect you might have ADHD, my story might help you take the next step. I hope it helps!
Now that I know what ADHD looks like, I can clearly look back over the first 50 years of my life and see where it showed up time and time again. Unfortunately, I wasn’t diagnosed as a child which is a common story among women.
Growing up in the 70’s there wasn’t a great deal of understanding around the causes and symptoms of ADHD, so it was typically only picked up in hyperactive young boys. Those of us who weren’t socially or physically disruptive in class were left to drift through school with mediocre results.
Fortunately, today teachers and medical professionals have a lot more awareness of the various symptoms of ADHD, both inattentive and hyperactive or combined type, so it’s more readily detected.
More and more, adult women are discovering they have ADHD when their kids are diagnosed, simply because the disorder is highly heritable (they say around 70 to 80% chance of inheriting it from parents). Since I don’t have kids, I had to find out through mentors I follow on social media. These are adult women who were brave enough to talk openly about their struggles that gave me the chance to relate and explore more.
How I First Became Aware of My ADHD
It started with listening to a podcast by Chalene Johnson. After listening to this episode that talked all about symptoms and struggles, I found myself thinking “me too!” to basically everything she said. It was that podcast that inspired me to dive in and learn everything I could (a typical ADHD trait).
So I started reading books (I recommend this one), listening to podcasts and learning all about the disorder. I also took a few online tests, which are not formal diagnostics, but another data point in my research arsenal.
At this point, I felt pretty confident that I had it. It explained a lot about my past, but also addressed some of the more recent issues I had been experiencing with memory and focus.
I probably would not have sought a formal diagnosis if I weren’t experiencing a new level of struggle in my day-to-day life. For although I’ve had ADHD my whole life, I also learned coping skills that helped me move from a total wreck in my earlier years to a thriving adult in my later years (I have so much to share on this).
Now that I’m in my 50's and my hormones have started to change, my symptoms have become more notable, so I knew that getting a proper diagnosis was the right next step.
My ADHD Diagnosis - It's a Journey!
Since I became aware of this problem during the pandemic, I was reluctant to set an appointment with a family doctor (not to mention that I don’t have one here in Texas). So I booked an online appointment with a psychiatrist. In retrospect, I would not advise this (as they will tell you to go get tested first), but it was free through my insurance provider, so I thought it was an easy first step.
Sure enough, the psychiatrist told me to find a neuropsychologist who worked specifically with diagnostics and start the testing process. I reached out to a few psychologists and ended up selecting the Austin Center for Therapy and Assessment simply because my options were limited.
Testing for Adult ADHD - What to expect
The first surprise I encountered was how long the process took. The assessment included a 1-1 interview with the psychologist, just to ensure that we were testing for the right thing (we were). Then, I had a full day of testing - the first part in their office, then I went home and did the remainder of the tests over zoom.
The tests were varied. They evaluated my attention, ability to focus and a lot of pattern recognition. Each test started off very easy, then got increasingly more difficult. At many points, I had to stop as the level of difficulty became too much for my brain (pattern recognition is not a strength of mine).
Then there was the 803-question survey that I had to fill out. It took hours! My husband also had to fill out a shorter questionnaire about my behaviors, just to get an external perspective.
Now that all the data is collected, I have to wait almost 2 months for my results. I should mention, I know without a doubt that I have ADHD, but the formal diagnosis will help me understand what type I have (inattentive, hyperactive or both) and the best course of action for treatment.
Cost Considerations for Diagnosing ADHD
I'm by no means and expert, but I can share how this went for me. As I mentioned before, I started by consulting a psychiatrist and that visit was free (although it didn't get me very far).
I looked into private practice psychologists, but ended up going with a center that focuses specifically on testing and diagnostics. Based on my insurance report, my initial consultation with the psychologist was $200 and the actual testing and diagnostic was $3,300. However, my out-of-pocket expense has been under $100 so far, so I consider myself to be very lucky.
I don't know if a family doctor is qualified to diagnose ADHD, but it might be worth starting there if you don't have great medical coverage for specialists.
Self coaching my ADHD
While I’m in this waiting period, I am continuing to learn everything I can about coping, thriving and staying on task. I am open to medication as a treatment protocol, but what I have also learned is that exercise is the next best thing to meds in terms of managing ADHD symptoms. In fact, meds don’t work for some ADHD patients, so fitness (and mindfulness) is the next line of defense.
Anecdotally, I was a social, financial, physical and organizational mess before I found my fitness in my 20s. Once I got active, my (undiagnosed) symptoms started to become more manageable. I was more focused, intentional and much less impulsive.
I’m so grateful that I had the wherewithal to start working out. I’m not sure where my life would have ended up had I not taken this path.
To that end, there are a number of ADHD self-care practices that I've incorporated over time to compensate for my symptoms without ever realizing what the root cause was about.
Taking ADHD Coaching to the Next Level
I have always been a good self-coach. I’ve worked very hard to develop mindful habits that keep me on track with my personal goals. I’ve also been coaching women in fitness and nutrition since 2013, so I already have some solid coaching skills in my professional tool kit.
So as I wait for my formal diagnosis, I have immersed myself into ADHD life coaching, for personal personal development and for the benefit of my female clients who also suffer with this disorder.
My first class with ADDCA, the only certified ADHD coaching program recognized by the International Coaching Federation, is an intro course that has opened my eyes to so much about the disorder. The more I learn, the more I recognize myself in the material, and for the first time ever, I felt seen and validated.
The Impact of ADHD Awareness
If there’s one thing I know from first hand experience, there’s tremendous power in learning that your past mistakes are not character flaws (this is what I always believed). So many people with ADHD are told that they are lazy, unmotivated or a hot mess. In truth, they are none of these things - they just have a different brain that makes them think and behave differently. Once I learned this about myself, years of self-abuse instantly turned into self-compassion and acceptance.
To that end, I’m excited to continue this journey into learning how to leverage my wellness expertise to better manage ADHD, both for myself and my clients. What I now see clearly is that all my coursework, certifications and personal exploration into different wellness modalities have culminated into this beautiful perspective on how to address ADHD holistically.
So that’s where I am at! I have so much more to learn and share, but for now, I’ll leave you with an invitation to connect with me here if you want to learn more about how to live well with ADHD. Whether you suspect you have ADHD or perhaps you love someone who has it, knowledge is power and I want to share whatever I learn.
Thanks for reading!
Caren is a certified yoga teacher, fitness instructor and author of The Fit Habit. Here she shares simple, low carb recipes, quick home workout ideas and practical ways to foster mind + body wellness.