Discovering My ADHD: Navigating a Late-In-Life Diagnosis

Are you a high achiever feeling increasing distracted and overwhelmed. It might be more than what you think.

How do you go from being a straight A student and high achiever to being diagnosed with ADHD in your 40’s? 

In this episode I’m sharing how curiosity in the work with my clients created a spotlight on myself and the clues that led me to testing and a formal diagnosis. Plus you’ll learn ways I stay organized, productive, and prioritize that are gamechangers even if you aren’t neurodivergent.

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(00:03) The diagnosis that completely shifted my thinking around productivity.

(02:47) Why perfectionism and trying to get it right is blocking your success.

(04:45) The way time blindness showed up in my life.

(06:43) How being addicted to being busy made it hard to pause.

(08:18) The self awareness signs that created opportunities for growth.

(10:39) Some of my favorite tools and tricks for working WITH my beautiful brain.

(14:12) Tricking yourself into making work fun.

(16:28) Prioritizing when everything seems important.

(18:37) The most effective way to get things done without compromising yourself.


Paula Shepherd 00:03

Welcome to another episode of the confidence sessions. Holy cow, it's been three months, can you believe it? Maybe it's been even more than that. But I needed to take a pause. And what I want to talk to you about today is a diagnosis that I received, how that came about, and the things that I have done to build more productivity, more motivation, and more excitement into my life, my business and and just really take good care of myself. My goal here today is to help you potentially see yourself in some of this. And, and to take some steps to maybe maybe that step is to simply pause and assess. All right, we're going to take it way back to 2022. At the beginning of the year of 2022, I started to recognize myself, and some of the things that my clients were saying that they were doing some of their tendencies, and the way that they operated, and what worked well for them and what didn't work well for them. Now, the only reason I started to recognize this was because I slowed down, I started slowing down. So for a long time, it was one thing after another, it felt really fun, it felt really exciting. It's been that way my whole life. We'll talk about that a little bit more here deeply about my childhood. But I was addicted to being busy, even though it didn't feel like I was busy. Because a lot of the things that we were doing were really fun. But I was always in motion. So as I slowed way down for a variety of reasons, I started to see some of these tendencies. Now my daughter also has ADHD. And living with her, I started to see some of myself in some of the things that she has done her entire life or the ways that worked best for her. And it was during a meeting that we had for school that I realized a lot of the accommodations that she had, were things that I kind of naturally did for myself, and also some of the things that I built in with my clients. So essentially ADHD coaching them without really realizing that I was ADHD coaching them. Now, in October, I was tested for ADHD. Now this was something that I voluntarily did. I understand the privilege in this and that not everyone has access to a formal diagnosis. However, I will say that there are opportunities for you to go do some diagnostic testing online just to kind of get an idea of Is this me is this not me? What what things and tools and resources might work well. So the story goes a little something like this. I'm in an office, and it's me and the tester across from me. There's a computer sitting in front of me. And the instructions were there will be letters that come across the screen, flashed on the screen one at a time. Click the spacebar for every letter, except for the letter X. symbol, right. Wrong. I'm concentrating as hard as I can the spacebar. I hear the CVX and I just can't help myself and boom, I hit it. In my head, perfectionist tendencies kicked in, in and I'm thinking, okay, don't do that. Again. Don't do that. Again. Don't do it again. Don't do that again. Letters are flashing letters or flashing letters or flashing X. Ooh, I skipped it. Yes. Oh, X. clicked it again. So now I'm starting to feel myself break down because I'm not able to control hitting the X. There's like this impulsivity where I just clicking, clicking clicking it and it was really that moment where I thought what the heck is happening here? Why in this simple task, can I not get it right? But if I had gotten it right, I would have actually gotten it wrong. Because I wouldn't have received the diagnosis that I did and been able to start a more formal treatment plan and not even napot to know more about myself. So this idea of self awareness starts with a slowing down, what I started to notice in myself as a result of the reflection, and my perspective of other people working with clients, having my daughter around. And then it also helped me to see my superpowers so much more deeply. So the work that I'm doing in the world to the people that I'm supporting, was actually helping them in significant ways more than what I believed they were simply because of the way that I had adapted over time. In the moment of self awareness, and not understanding what I was supposed to do with that, there definitely was a lot of anxiety, there was a lot of, I actually thought I was just very anxious all of the time. And what I realized were some things about protect, in particular, women being diagnosed later on in life, with ADHD, were some things. And, man, these things really, really hit me at the core. Because I grew up kind of laughing at myself around this for you know, 40 plus years of my life and been joking around with other people or you know, that, let's talk about, let's just talk about some of the symptoms so that I'm not beating around the bush here. So what is time blindness. There was this running joke always in my family, with my husband, that I would be late to my own funeral. Oh, I was always fashionably late, I'd have plenty of time leading up to everything, and then somehow, I would be late. And I would build in all of that time in advance, but it just never worked out, it would just be even if it was one or two minutes late. I just, I couldn't manage to get the on time thing. And, and as a kid, I remember rushing in the morning to try to get ready. And it wasn't because I wasn't getting up early enough. That was never the issue. Getting up earlier didn't solve the problem. Okay, so if you are thinking while I get up early, and I still can't manage to well, you know, consider some of this. And getting distracted, I would get distracted with simple little things. Oh, we'll just do this one thing over here, I'll just fold these clothes and put these things over here. And that, to me felt like I just want it to be neat and organized. But truly, it wasn't about being neat and organized. It was about me wanting things in their place in that moment. And being distracted, not being able to let that go. I mentioned being addicted to busy. So many of us are I think in this day and age, it's easy for us to be impulsive by scrolling on a screen. You know, being on social media, we're going from one device to the next device to the next device to one conversation. There was this. Like, we just need to breathe, and take a moment. But when I this, this idea of being addicted to busy, the reason why this is so important is it was addicted to the busy, because it kept me moving. And when I was moving, I was focused on what I needed in that moment. And I was also exceptionally good at creating habits and routines for myself. So that habit that routine of getting up at the same time every day doing this thing doing that thing right to someone else, it may have seemed how she's super disciplined. But what I wound up doing was being able to compartmentalize the busy into categories, so that it looked like I was productive. Of course, I wasn't doing this all consciously. But doing this in a way where I felt like I was being really really really productive. And truly what I was doing was running from one thing to the next thing to the next thing to the next thing right so if you think about that idea of like momentum and movement and you know, being here and here and here and like kind of Ping Pong Ping, that's what it looks like. And I never had the opportunity to to really see it that way because I was simply running around from one thing to the other, whether it was a kid's activity or even in school it was I was involved in so many different things that it was Is this activity to that group to overhear, always something going on. What that then allowed me to do was the movement was if I keep moving, then I will be able to plan for the worst, right? I will be able to plan for all of the things that might happen that might go wrong. And the movement in my mind created the momentum to allow that to not happen. The last piece of this is so, so important. So how did somebody go from being a straight A student, doing really well in her career, and finding out at 43 years old, that I have ADHD I show as high achieving. And I, again, straight A student, National Honor Society, you know, all the things right, always getting honors accolades. But what I actually actually was doing was masking the good girl mentality, I learned what was acceptable. And I learned how to hide my symptoms that I didn't even know that I had, by fitting myself into that box as much as humanly possible. So forcing myself to stop speaking or acting in a certain way, so that I wouldn't be too much. That, you know, sit still be quiet, do the thing, you know, do the assignment, it's due on this day. Also, the queen of getting it done the night before, right? I used to say, in college, I write my best papers the night before they're due. So that kind of thing. So just because you got amazing grades, when you were in school, or you know, high school, college, whatever it is, doesn't mean that you may or may not have ADHD. So for me, I could see some of the things that I did and the tools that I used. Alright, so let's talk about that. Oh, also total Chatty Cathy, which is also a symptom, I talked a lot. Nothing's really changed. Obviously, I'm a talker. But I talked a lot as a kid. And you'll see that primarily in girls and women who have ADHD very, very chatty, very, very talkative, right? Except for in these spaces where we don't feel like we can speak up. So some of the tools, some of the tools that I have been using as of late, that worked really well, for me are things that I have always done that work for me really, really well. First thing is, I always take notes, even if I am in a situation where the notes will be provided to me. If I can put pen to paper for even key words, I'm able to remember them a lot easier. And remember the things that I need to do. If I don't, then if I didn't write anything at all, and I was just trying to pay attention. That's number one, is even if it's doodling while you're listening to something, putting that pen to paper while you're listening, it's not rude, if you if you there's there's a whole thing that we can do about talking about how to advocate for yourself in a job around ADHD. But in this moment, just remember, doodle on your piece of paper. Trust me, they'll appreciate that way more than you typing doodle on the piece of paper, take notes, write your keynotes down, those are going to help you a lot. The second thing that has really worked well for me is kind of gamifying everything that I do now what I mean by that is I am like beating the clock, so I use this visual timer. And if you are watching the video of this, you'll be able to see it's just a color and then what happens is either a light flashes or an alarm goes off and there's the alarm when the time is up, and you can put it up to an hour. But I'll challenge myself I'll say I'm going to get this task done and I can do this in five minutes. This allows me to one, get the task done and focus on that one thing, too. I'm really excited to get it done because now it's feels fun. Right? And, and three, I mean, ultimately, I get more done during the day than I ever would have before. So, obviously, this isn't helping you prioritize. But what this is doing is it does kind of gamify it for you, it gives you the opportunity to say, I'm going to give myself five minutes, I was previously just using a timer, where I could hear it, and I would set the alarm, and then it would go off after a certain number of minutes. That wasn't really effective for me, because I had no idea how much time I had left. And I really loved this kind of competitiveness with myself of getting it done. And I also then just get the tasks done. And I don't overthink it, I just first draft make it happen, not worried about it anymore, just get her done. So the writing things on a piece of paper, or doodling while you're listening to kind of connect the dots on the visual timer. Another really great thing that I sometimes do is I will listen to an audio book, while I actually have the physical copy in front of me. And this helps me stay even more focused. So there's two senses here. Now I'm using my eyes, and I'm using my ears. And those two things are really helping me connect at the same time to what I'm seeing on the paper. And that may or may not work for you. I love audiobooks, and I can listen to them. And I I love to read a good old fashioned book. But sometimes hearing it and reading it at the same time is incredibly effective, especially if you have this tendency to get distracted whether you're ADHD or not. Okay, let's talk about priorities. How do you deal with priorities when it's already a difficult subject. And now I'm coupling on top of it, this distractibility, where everything seems to feel really important, and everything feels not important at the same time. As someone who understands what this feels like if you feel this. So think about a time where you had to do something and it got so hard that you just you just like gave up, you just threw in the towel, whether it was for that moment, or you throw in the towel for ever. That's what it feels like every single time you're attempting to do a task. When you have this distractibility and you don't know what to prioritize, so I created this brain dump for myself. And then I categorize what's important to me. So for instance, a whole sheet of paper, where I literally put everything down on the piece of paper that is in my head, absolutely everything that is in my head goes onto a piece of paper. Then I take either highlighters or different colored markers. And I will literally categorize them. So if it's for the podcast, then let's say it gets highlighted blue, or circled in blue. If it is about clients, then it will be highlighted or circled in pink. You get to create an and also by the way, this isn't just business or career, this is also your life. So it could be make a doctor's appointment for Susie. And then you're going to highlight all the things for your life in that too. Now you can take those categories and say, All right, what is the top thing that I need to get done in these areas. And you can move forward with those. Now, obviously, that's not an end all and be all strategy. Because sometimes something is going to be way more important, your family is going to come first. And these things have to happen. And maybe this stuff gets set to the side. But ultimately speaking, just generalize it by dumping everything in your head onto a piece of paper and do that and then categorize and that way you can choose your next priority. There are so many other ways that I have been figuring this out for myself. And it's taken a little bit of time the this the ideal that so many people, including myself were diagnosed and treated for anxiety for a really really really long time only to find that it was never that and of course shifting into being in my 40s and becoming much more self aware, going through this personal development journey, running a business, seeing clients and and their, their being reflected, you know the into some of the things that I'm doing me really being able to see this stuff and myself, I'm hoping that, that you'll be able to at least take an audit of what's happening for you right now. You know, what are you seeing in yourself? What are your tendencies? When is your energy highest? When is it lowest? What are you forcing yourself to do that feels really hard? And what happens when you do that? You know, are you forcing yourself to sit for an hour, and then pushing and saying, I'll just do one more thing, I'll do one more thing, one more thing. And then you find yourself completely anxious, and you've got Facebook open over here and you know, LinkedIn open over there, and you're searching on the web over here. And maybe you were supposed to make that appointment. And then you started this thing. And now you've got an email over here, like whatever it looks like for you take stock of that, the first step is to just take that audit and be really honest with yourself, because like I said, if you continue to try to get it right, you're gonna get it wrong. And I am so excited that I know this information about myself. And that I can see not just the support that I've given people without really knowing. But how some of the ways that I masked in the time blindness and all of the strategies that I unknowingly created for myself over the course of my life have really helped me to get to where I am right now. And I hope that some of these tools will help you too, I would love to hear from you. If you are also late diagnosed, ADHD or neurodiverse. In some way, I would love to hear from you and hear your experience. What do you want to hear more of? Do you want more strategies, this is your podcast. This information is here to support you. And I want to make sure that you understand what my journey is like so I can make yours a little easier. So shoot me an email at Paula at the courage And let me know what's going on for you and how this episode is landing. What you want to hear more of if you want access to some of the tools that I use, I will share that in the show notes so that you can access that timer. I am NOT an affiliate. I will not get paid for that. But I really want you to have access to that resource so that you can use it for yourself and see if it works for you. All right. I will be back next week with another episode of the competence sessions and until then, stay aware and stay courageous.

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