Here’s What It’s Like to Be Diagnosed with—and Manage—ADHD as a Grown-Ass Woman

Finally, some clarity

adult adhd diagnosis: woman daydreaming over books
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Feeling frazzled by all the information, overstimulated yet under-productive and scattered? You’re not alone. According to a 2021 meta-analysis published in the Journal of Global Health, adult ADHD was long thought of as a childhood neurodevelopmental condition that kids would grow out of. But—cultural swerve alert—in the past decade, an increased cultural sensitivity to adult neurodivergence has led to a re-assessment of just how many grown-ups have this condition, too (more than 366 million adults worldwide estimated in 2020).

ADHD—that’s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—can be formally diagnosed by a primary care physician or a clinical psychologist, when a parent or patient complains of the condition’s typical symptoms. Inability to concentrate, inability to sit still and impulsivity are the tells, and they can negatively impact a person’s education, social relationships and career trajectory. So who would ever want to step up as having this diagnostic label, one that carries with it stigma of being neurodivergent? We spoke with Kelly Grady, 29, a Seattle-based pediatric speech language pathologist, for insight into how she welcomes her later-in-life diagnosis—and how she integrates management of ADHD into her life.

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What Were the Symptoms That Made You Think You Had ADHD?

“For most of my life I have struggled with organization, being on time, remembering important details/events and in school. I became aware of these challenges from an early age, which caused me to develop anxiety and depression. My first panic attack was when I was 10 years old, something I continue to struggle with at 29. In school, I would get so distracted looking into different topics and researching that I would never get the actual assignment done. I would spend five hours studying but maybe only an hour of that was real studying. Despite these failures in school and life, I kept trying to push forward and do better, but when I was 25 I was completely burned out.

And when it came to standardized testing and exams—I would read, write and rewrite my notes—when testing day came, my mind would wander helplessly trying to navigate past distracting thoughts or all the information in my head to find the exact answer. Then my time would be up. And I would spend hours ‘working’ on written assignments, seemingly working and not distracted by social media or anything. But then it would be hours before it was due, and I had barely scratched the surface. I wouldn’t realize that all my ideas about the topic or the time spent designing or formatting were distractions from my actual task, which was to write.”

Did You Try to Address Those Symptoms Before You Were Diagnosed with ADHD?

“I didn’t, until a few months before I was diagnosed. ADHD had never crossed my mind as a possibility. I went through school, then college and even grad school hearing the same unhelpful advice and judgements from my friends, roommates, teachers and even family. ‘Just get organized,’ ‘Make a list, that’s what I do,’ ‘You’re just lazy and procrastinating’ and ‘You need to wake up earlier.’ I tried and tried again to take peoples’ advice. I read self-help books and tried organizational hacks, mindfulness, mediation, loads of apps and lots of caffeine, but I wasn’t able to make anything stick. My mind either wanted to go a thousand miles per hour or, on some days, did not want to turn on at all, even with four cups of coffee.”

How Do You Manage Now?

“I take Adderall, which has become harder to depend on because, since October 2022, there has been a worldwide shortage of the drug. As a coping mechanism, I use EndeavorOTC, which is an app-based game that requires 100 percent of my focus, which I find is very hard as someone with ADHD. When I start playing the game, I really think hard and pay attention at the start in order to get the hang of steering and tapping the right targets. When I finally find my rhythm, my mind will start to wander. All it takes is something small or simple like, what am I going to have for dinner?, and my character will veer off course and I will lose sight of the targets. The only way to recover is to have my eyes and thoughts only on the game. I play it for about 25 minutes weekdays, and it helps me see how much better I am getting at focusing on the task at hand. I play it sometimes when I feel my brain getting tired—it gives me a little boost of energy.”

How Has Your Perspective Changed Since Your Diagnosis?

“Now there is a feeling of pride in what I have been able to achieve with and without a diagnosis. Sometimes I still feel sadness that I didn’t have a diagnosis and ADHD support early on, and wonder how past dark moments could’ve ended on a happier note. But still—almost immediately after my ADHD was confirmed, I felt a sense of relief. I thought, So I’m not just a lazy, procrastinating, night owl who makes her life more difficult and chaotic through poor decision making and a lack of structure!

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“Getting diagnosed helped me understand myself better and what my brain needs to do my best work. It has also brought my attention to the fact that there are skills and tasks I excel at and have an easier time with than my friends or colleagues. When my hyperfocus kicks in, it helps me with problem-solving, as I rarely give up and will look into all the ways something can be fixed. I really enjoy coming up with new and creative ideas for any kind of avenue or topic. And of course, my ADHD diagnosis has helped me relate to and understand others who are neurodivergent.”

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dana dickey

Senior Editor

Dana Dickey is a PureWow Senior Editor, and during more than a decade in digital media, she has scoped out and tested top products and services across the lifestyle space...