Episode 16: Plot Twist, part 1
by Lori Archer Sutherland · Published · Updated
Life loves to throw us curve balls. Like getting diagnosed with ADHD in my 40s.
Episode 16: Plot Twist, part 1
Hello and welcome to Tonal Diversions. I’m your host, Lori Archer Sutherland, and this is my journey as a multifaceted musician. I’m a composer, clarinetist and more who is navigating the world of is classical music, and I’d love to share my adventures with you.
Can you believe it’s been a year since I left the library? I can’t. Being on my own has been quite a journey, and life loves to throw a plot twist at us. In my case, I’ve been diagnosed with ADHD. This topic doesn’t directly have to do with music, but it does affect my life journey, and therefore it affects my music career. This is where my tagline of “music and life, intertwined” comes into play. This may turn into a multipart episode. We’ll see. I’ll probably overshare and do too much of an info dump, which I guess is fairly common with ADHD. If the episode just kind of stops, it’s because I didn’t remember to record a transition. Welcome to my world.
To share or not to share
Should I share this? Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I should do this episode, but I ultimately decided that because hearing other people’s stories helped me out, maybe my story can help someone else. And this is who I am. I’ve done enough masking throughout my life, and I want to be able to be my whole self. We need to end the stigma on mental health. We’ve gotten so much better as a society, but we still have a long way to go. I have hope that the younger generations will be able to easily get the help they need.
Surprise!, or “you don’t look like you have ADHD.”
This did take me by surprise. While sometimes I’d jokingly say something about ADHD, it never really crossed my mind that I have it. I did well in school and work. I’m a fairly quiet and shy person in certain groups, things that aren’t traditionally associated with ADHD. But thanks to research over the past few decades, we’re finding out that there’s so much more to it than we knew. It’s not just the obvious indicators. Frankly, with a lot of things, both physical and mental, it’s easy to dismiss someone or something as not looking like a certain diagnosis. So while it may look to the world like I don’t have ADHD, believe me when I say that I do.
Yes, there are some ADHD symptoms that a lot of people experience now and then, especially when under a lot of stress. But it’s that now and then part that distinguishes ADHD. Those of us who have it deal with a lot of the symptoms most of the time throughout our entire lives. It’s not only when we’re stressed or tired, although that can exacerbate things. I’ll link to a self evaluation sheet in the show notes that highlights the concept of the frequency of symptoms.
How did I figure it out?
My first clue was that I haven’t accomplished nearly as much this past year as I thought I would. I’ll be frank with that. I’ve questioned a lot about myself during this time in leaving my job. Most of my structure disappeared, and I’ve floundered. I just thought that I was having issues because this is the most control I’ve ever had over my schedule. And while that’s true, there’s also an underlying cause. College, and even grad school, afforded much needed flexibility, but there was still structure within that flexibility.
I started to feel like a failure for not doing all the things I want to do. And honestly, I was starting to feel like I was failing at life in general. Forgetfulness, procrastination, brain fog, lack of follow through. Lots of things were going on, and I didn’t know why. Despite having so much time available, I wasn’t keeping up. I was overwhelmed.
Another clue was hearing other people’s stories, specifically adult women, and I’ll get to that in a bit. But hearing about people getting diagnosed as adults and how they realized they had it sent me on my own journey. There’s also so much more research and awareness now that I think we’re playing catch up in diagnosing a large group of people who were missed in childhood – Gen X and earlier, I’m looking at you. Social media also helped. I know we all like to joke about how useless Facebook and other social media are, but that’s frankly part of how I discovered that this is who I am. I kept relating to various memes and posts that other people shared, and after a while I realized that a disproportionate number seemed to be coming from pages or groups or people related to ADHD. And there was a bit of a relief in the sense of, “oh, other people do that too, it’s not just me” that sent me on to do other general research.
I started looking at reputable resources, which I’ll link to in the show notes. I have plenty of them. There are a lot of good books and websites available with descriptions of symptoms and self-evaluation questionnaires. I did a fair amount of reading before asking my doctor for a referral, and even then I took another few months of researching before actually scheduling an appointment with a therapist. But I ultimately decided I wanted to know for sure either way and pursue treatment. That encouraged me to follow through on finding a therapist and making an appointment.
Finally, historically, the vast majority of research, diagnosis, and treatment of ADHD focused on boys, twelve and under, who are obviously hyperactive and underperforming in school. They’re the most visible and stereotypical of what most of us think of when we hear the term ADHD. Sadly, there are still physicians out there who don’t believe girls or adults can have it. And if physicians still dismiss us, imagine how the world at large sees us. To add to this point, I recently watched a video by Hcp Live that said it’s estimated that 80% of adults who have ADHD are undiagnosed. I absolutely believe it. In addition to myself, I already can think of two women in my social circles who were diagnosed as adults and a few more people who suspect they have it.
Unfortunately, this means that girls and boys who have more of the inattentive traits just fell through the cracks. As a girl child of the ‘80s, no one had a reason to even consider that I would have it, especially since I got good grades. School came fairly easy to me, and I wanted to please my parents and teachers by doing well. I wanted to prove I was smart, and getting good grades was the way that I knew to do that.
This brings up the concept of masking. A lot of us became good at masking our symptoms in order to seem normal, and a lot of us thought we were to some extent. Yet I’ve always felt a bit different, despite outward appearances. I definitely feel differently when I’m around my people versus trying to fit in with other groups. And when I say my people, I’m not even referring to ADHD folks specifically. I mean people like my fellow band geeks or model horse collectors, others who often fall under the label of weird. I feel like I can be myself with them instead of hiding.
Thank you for listening to Tonal Diversions! Subscribe wherever podcasts are found and share with a friend until next time. Bye!
Support Tonal Diversions when you shop at Amazon
Underdiagnosis of Adult ADHD (HCP Live)
Books (Amazon affiliate)
- ADHD 2.0 by Edward Hallowell and John J. Ratey
- Driven to Distraction by Edward Hallowell
- Taking Charge of Adult ADHD by Russell A. Barkley
- A Radical Guide for Women with ADHD by Sari Solden and Michelle Frank