Managing ADHD in my 50s. Anyone else?

“Just diagnosed with ADHD at (almost) 54! Anyone else?”

That was what I posted in a FaceBook group of middle-aged women in March 2019. It got 333 responses. 

I have ADHD. It’s something I’ve dealt with my entire life although I never knew what my problem was and it didn’t even become a diagnosis recognized by mental health professionals until I was in college. I only decided to confirm it when my daughter was being tested almost two years ago. She too, should have been tested much sooner.

But having at least one parent (and I suspect two) with it, it was hard for me to detect that her brain was wired any differently and I was of the belief that she needed to simply “apply herself more” and develop better study habits (much of what I had been told as an adolescent). I think the school could have done a better job detecting it in her since everything I read now points to her behavior as textbook ADHD, but that’s a blog post for another day. 

I had developed on my own a lot of coping mechanisms that allowed me to function fairly well. One of those is having the exact same thing for breakfast every single day – something that’s easy to prepare and removes at least one decision from my daily life although I always thought that it was weird and might be considered lazy. Then I read an article by a therapist discussing strategies for people with ADHD. You guessed it, she suggested having the same breakfast everyday! Totally validated my system and made me feel a lot less “lazy”

Weird IS normal! What people want to define as “normal” is an ideal no one can achieve, and becomes the source of why we often feel bad about ourselves. We all have our own habits and coping strategies to make our brains work for us. That’s what is normal for us and all that should matter.

Back in the day when I had to catch an early train for my commute to a job in New York City, I did more than lay my clothes out the night before. I organized my closet in way that I would just take whatever outfit was next in line. When I returned my clothes to the closet, the outfit would be placed at the opposite end and everything pushed forward. Again, this eliminated another decision. This was a system born from a time early in my career when I was late for work almost every day because I’d waste a half hour every morning trying to decide what to wear.

I’ve been hesitate to talk much about ADHD because most people consider it a handicap, a disability, and/or a mental health issue. I only wrote about it once (Waiting on Mental Healthcare, May 2019) but that was more of a rant about the state of our healthcare system. Like any mental health issue, ADHD, is something people are not comfortable talking about because they are either afraid of being judged, or feel ashamed.

This was a post I had planned to schedule two weeks ago, but held off because I was interviewing for a job and didn’t want to take a chance that the prospective employer would see it on LinkedIn and use it as a reason not to hire me. They found another reason, so WTF, right?

While sometimes, ADHD presents challenges for me, more so it’s a gift. I have incredible organizational skills. I’ve been told that my greatest strength is being able to create systems and structure. While others are being told to “think outside the box” I’m thinking, “there’s a box? what box?” which helps me create strategies and develop simple solutions to complex problems. 

Experimenting a little over the past 2 years, I know traditional medications don’t work for me. I know my biggest weakness is high stress, so I make sure I build more self-care into those times. Daily meditation is a must. I know that when my brain chemicals are firing properly, I can hyper-focus, and produce incredible results. ADHD is thought to be a result of the brain not producing enough of the “focus and happy chemicals” (dopamine, serotonin and adrenaline), so it’s no surprise that my career took off only after I discovered long-distance running.

I just started reading Faster Than Normal: Turbocharge Your Focus, Productivity, and Success with the Secrets of the ADHD Brain written by media entrepreneur Peter Shankman.  He focuses on all the positives of this condition and how to harness its power.  In the introduction, he says, “So the first rule here is this: you’re never allowed to say ‘diagnosed with ADHD’ again, because ADHD is not a negative. Say it with me: ADHD is not a negative! Quite the opposite.  You’re gifted with a brain that’s faster than normal.”

So let’s start there. In the New Year, I’m going to be fully transparent and talk about this on a regular basis. I’m also going to talk about how I use running – and specifically “the runner’s high” – as a tool. From the day I posted about my “diagnosis” on social media and began a conversation with literally hundreds of people on the subject, to discussions with individual coaching clients and hearing co-workers “confessions”, I’ve learned that there are a lot of adults still trying to navigate the world with ADHD.

Not knowing what the future holds. Vernon Hills, Illinois. January 2020.

6 thoughts on “Managing ADHD in my 50s. Anyone else?

  • December 23, 2020 at 9:38 pm

    I have that closet. I have everything on my nightstand that will go into my pockets in the morning. I have an egg salad sandwich for breakfast, and a chicken salad sandwch for lunch, every day. My 9 bottles of medicines and vitamins stand
    in height order on my breakfast table so I don’t forget any. New “To-Do” list written every night before bed. I cannot have the radio on in the car when I am driving. I was not diagnosed until in my 50’s, I had to figure out all these coping skills by myself growing up.

    • December 29, 2020 at 12:26 pm

      I remember having trouble getting out the door in the morning when in elementary school. My father finally told me that I needed to time everything I needed to do in the morning and create a routine with a timeline working backwards from the time I needed to walk out the door. It worked! My dad had no idea what my problem was, but his common sense solutions were helpful! My parents also provided a great deal of structure – like my mom preparing a hot breakfast for us EVERY morning. My issues started when I was left to my own devices and increased tremendously when the birth of emails coincided with becoming a working parent. I’ve learned to manage technology to my advantage which includes knowing when to use it and when note. For example, my daily “To-Do” list prepared the night before, must be hand-written in a spiral bound note book so it can be kept open and in front of me!

  • March 1, 2021 at 11:08 am

    My son was diagnosed in Kindergarten as ADHD with compulsive behavior. He went through years of medication, only to find that he could work through with his own determination and measures. I learned that it is not a handicap but in fact an asset when you learn where your strengths and powers rest. The problems he had in school was more of the teachers not knowing how to work with his intelligence levels and where his boredom threshold was. They wanted that box and his attitude is like yours, “There’s a box?” Several times during his many doctor visits I had the doctors tell me that I probably had it also, though never officially diagnosed. My favorite part and the part that thrills me as a writer, is the fact that one who is ADHD sees everything and misses nothing. Handicap? Nope, that’s a super power.

    • March 1, 2021 at 11:31 am

      Congratulations on recognizing it in your son so early, and for your son having the determination to find ways to cope on his own. I think “education” still has a very long way to come in finding the best way to work with these “gifted” children. Our school district was very big on “Stigma Free” and I had a sit down with the Superintendent to explain that part of “Stigma Free” had to be acknowledging that some kids have brains that work differently and don’t conform to transitional education methods. He, sadly, didn’t get it.

      • March 1, 2021 at 11:36 am

        My son has an incredibly strong sense of hearing. He hears things most simply ignore. I warned all of his teachers about that. I was called in to a meeting with one of his teachers whose class was in a mobile classroom. I asked them where he desk was and they pointed to a spot directly in front of a television hanging from the ceiling. All I could do was shake my head. This was around 20 years ago so the sets were much different and noisier. They could not accept the fact that not only could he hear all the various sounds that thing made but those sounds were beyond annoying to him. Which, obviously were a distraction. Like you said, simply ‘didn’t get it”

      • March 1, 2021 at 11:51 am

        Frustrating to say the least. What does your son do now? My daughter is a college student struggling with online learning. Oddly, I find the remote environment to be good for me – although I have been WFH for the better part of the last 6 years anyway. I think back to when I was in school in the 70s – I was delegated to the “slow” reading group! Yes, that’s what they actually called it!! So great for a kid’s self esteem. No wonder that I was an adult before I really started to enjoy reading. My daughter has a heightened sense of awareness – sights, sounds, itchy clothing LOL – that increases her level of distractibility. Her father had that too. I’m much better at ignoring things. Proving that even with ADHD, symptoms vary.

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