Receiving an ADHD diagnosis as an adult: What to expect?
Updated: Jan 23
This article will explore a few common thoughts and feelings which may arise after receiving an ADHD diagnosis as an adult. This article isn’t an exhaustive list as everyone will experience their diagnosis differently. If you are struggling with ADHD, please remember that you’re not alone and that support is available to you.
Receiving an ADHD diagnosis as an adult can bring with it a whirlwind of
emotion. It’s not uncommon to feel things like waves of sadness, anxiety, guilt, relief, or frustration. Things may start to make sense – challenges you’ve come across that were seemingly easy for your friends, the times you just weren’t able to build up the motivation to finish a project at work or home, the times you struggled alone and didn’t know why.
It can also feel overwhelming too, with feelings of sadness, grief, and regret. Grief for the time lost, or for what could have been. For me, there were a lot of “if only” statements. If only...
“I knew earlier... I could have done more instead of procrastinating.”
“My parents and teachers knew... I could have asked for help.”
“My partners knew... I could have communicated clearly.”
These thoughts and the feelings that come with them will be different for everyone, so it’s important to remember that what you feel is completely normal and that you’re not alone.
ADHD Diagnosis and The Next Chapter
Receiving an ADHD diagnosis can also be the start of a new chapter where things don’t have to be as hard as they were.
It can be incredibly validating when you realise that you’re not “lazy”, it’s not your personality to be ‘annoying’, but rather there is an actual scientifically measurable biological reason our attention functions differently. To be clear, it’s not to say that we’re not responsible for our behaviour – it’s more that we now have a new lens to rethink our behaviour and make the ADHD brain work better for us. Here are some strategies I found useful based on my own lived experiences receiving an ADHD diagnosis as an adult.
1. Give yourself the time and space to process
While an ADHD diagnosis may not come as a surprise for some, it may come unexpectedly for others. It’s important to give yourself the time and space to process what it means for you, and to take as much time as you need. There’s no limit, timeline, no ‘normal’ period for processing a diagnosis – it’s different for everyone and that’s okay. Remember that an ADHD diagnosis does not define or limit you, in fact ADHD can often be seen as a new starting point and superpower.
2. Acknowledge your experience with kindness
Whatever feelings or thoughts come up for you, remember that they are completely valid and normal. Try to notice the thoughts and feelings coming up for you and respond to yourself with kindness. What would you say to your friend, family member, or loved one? See if you can respond to yourself with the same kindness and compassion.
As another great exercise, try to acknowledge your thoughts and feelings out loud and respond to them with a kind message. For example, this could sound like:
This is a moment of pain... be kind to yourself
This really hurts... go easy on yourself
I am feeling sad... I’m going to be kind to myself
I am noticing a moment of sadness... it’s human to feel this way
These are very brief but powerful exercises that can give us the space to reflect and remind us that our experience is authentic. They may feel awkward at first and not work for everyone. If you’re finding it rough, support is out there and your GP or psychologist can help you find strategies that work best for you.
3. Think about the people you want to (and don’t want to) share with
Receiving any diagnosis is a very personal experience and depending on the people around us, sharing your diagnosis with others can come with stigma or support. Have a think about the people you want to (or don’t want to) share it with – you may be surprised by the level of support understanding that you get from your loved ones or colleagues. It’s also completely okay and common to choose not to share your diagnosis with others too. Whatever your decision, remember that it is yours to make and that you’re not alone.
4. Remember that support is out there
There are many effective ways to navigate ADHD but sorting through this information for the first time can also be overwhelming. Take the time to talk with your GP or Psychologist about different support options that could work for you. For some people with ADHD, a combination of medical and psychological support can be effective.
For others, they may find that seeing a Psychologist without medication is just as effective. It’s a very personal decision and it can take time to find the right balance for you. Your Psychologist will suggest a few different options and work with you to create the right environment to help you thrive.
At its core, people with ADHD have brains that are just wired differently. It’s not that we can’t focus or sit still, we're not lazy or unproductive – it’s that we're passionate about certain things and that we look at the world in a different way.
Receiving an ADHD diagnosis as an adult is a personal and individual experience. It is different for everybody and there is no “right” way to navigate the next steps. If you or somebody you know are finding it rough and looking for support, please reach out to our team of Psychologists with lived experience with ADHD.
For more information about ADHD, check out this page here.