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Part 2 of Mia Freedman’s Essay About Being Diagnosed With ADHD at 49.

This is part two of Mia Freedman's essay about being diagnosed with ADHD. You can read part one here.

What happened next was Big Feelings.

That’s the only way to describe it. The most intense ones were shame, relief, anger, grief, curiosity, frustration and overwhelm. 

Is shock a feeling? That too. It’s hard to explain how you can be shocked by something but not surprised by it.

Like everyone else, by mid 2021 I was already feeling depleted and unmoored by the pandemic; like the foundations beneath my feet were wobbly. And then my ADHD diagnosis arrived at the start of a three-month lockdown and said, “Hey COVID, hold my beer”.

Metabolising my diagnosis, cautiously confiding in people around me and then seeking treatment… it all felt insurmountable.

Within days, I began telling my family and close friends about my diagnosis which turned out to be unexpectedly painful. And fraught. Mostly, I think, because I wanted them to be shocked. “What? You? No way! I would never have picked it! You seem so together!”

Nobody was shocked. Just me.

Learning something about myself that felt so epic and foundational was largely met with mild interest at best by every single person I told. Or occasionally, benign amusement. A couple even burst out laughing. They may have been my children. Some conversations went very badly and ended in tears (mine), rage (mine) or hurt feelings (also mine).

Disconcertingly, a couple of people challenged my diagnosis. Here’s something not to do when someone tells you they have ADHD: try to convince them they Don’t. That, in fact… ‘you’re probably just a bit busy and maybe overwhelmed, who wouldn’t be and of course you’re going to find it hard to focus sometimes because we all do, you know, it’s mobile phones and we’re all a bit ADHD these days, aren’t we?’


Some of us are busy and distracted. And some of us have been diagnosed with ADHD. Some of us are neurodiverse and most of us are not and life is a fair bit harder when you are and it’s unsettling and bizarre to discover that a lot of your struggles are because of the way your brain works. Not because you are a useless twit.

And shame has joined the chat.

In the weeks after my diagnosis, the feelings breaking over my head felt like trying to swim in rough surf. Shame was the most pervasive and more than a year later, it’s still something I grapple with every day, the deep shame of feeling like I’m useless and incapable. It’s a shame rooted in the internalised belief there’s something wrong with me because basic tasks that are easy for others, are hard for me and sometimes impossible. 

There are so many aspects of my personality that I might describe as quirky if I’m feeling charitable towards myself but more often manifest as an intrinsic belief that I’m hopeless at life. The lateness. The interrupting. The blurting. The bad tea. The big feelings. The obsessions. The inability to prepare meals for my family or remember to get petrol or charge my phone. The disorganisation. The talking too much. The being too much. 

There’s a particular loneliness that comes from knowing that those around you think you’re too much. Too intense. It’s a shame you lug around like a carry-on suitcase you’re never permitted to put down because you can’t help talking non-stop or feeling too much or being too… much.

Spending time with me can sometimes feel like being attacked by a woodpecker as I rapidly peck, peck, peck at you for more information, asking question after question which can be terrific in an interview but less relaxing when it’s your mother or friend or the person sitting next to you at a dinner party.

Grief was the next wave to hit me. Along with regret and anger. And I toggled between all these big feelings faster and faster as the shock wore off sometimes in the space of a day or even a minute.

The anger came from not being diagnosed until I was 49. How had all the many therapists and health professionals I’d seen over my life missed it? How had my family missed it? How had I missed it? 

My resentment that I’d had to work it out myself after decades of struggle was irrational because it’s only recently that people knew what to look for. And I’m a grown woman. But that didn’t make me any less furious or bitter for the years I’d lost and the damage it caused.

I grieved for the girl and the woman who flailed about, constantly getting in her own way and impacting on others in ways that cause me profound regret.

I grieved for the time and energy I’ve spent trying to do things that should have been effortless but felt like trying to run with my shoelaces tied together. And this is why I waited a year to write about it. There was a lot of emotion to process. Plus, the way I feel about it has changed.

For a while, I saw everything I did through the lens of having ADHD. “Oh, that’s my ADHD,” I would announce to others and myself each time I did something strange or annoying, part explanation, part identification, part excuse. 

Metabolising my diagnosis into my identity felt a bit like when you’re falling in love with someone and you want to shoehorn their name into every conversation. By saying it out loud and connecting different aspects of my dysfunctional behaviour to having ADHD, I was trying to help other people understand me while at the same time seeking to understand myself.

Lately though, I’m trying to do this less because I don’t want ADHD to be my identity. And I don’t want to feel like I’m making excuses. Just because you are neurodiverse doesn’t mean you get to behave like a jerk or impact negatively on others without consequence.

It’s not a get out of jail free card, despite the temptation to use it as one. For me, having ADHD and being accountable for my actions are not mutually exclusive.

We are going to be answering some questions and sharing regular content about ADHD in a free newsletter which you can sign up for here.

So, why the flood of diagnoses among adult women lately? Has something triggered this stampede towards neurodiversity? 

No and yes. No, because we’ve always had it. It’s not a pandemic.

But yes because there has undoubtedly been a sharp increase in women being diagnosed and I believe it’s for three reasons….

More kids are being diagnosed.

ADHD is as inheritable as height. 

For women in their 30s and 40s, their kids are likely to be in primary school which is often when it’s picked up in children. 

Going through the diagnosis process with their son or daughter causes some parents to think, ‘ohhhhhhhh, same’. 

They mention it to the psychologist treating their child, get tested themselves and discover they too have ADHD. This has been the recent experience of several women I know but it’s not what happened to me. 

In my family, I was patient zero. Since my diagnosis, one of my children has been diagnosed and I have extremely strong suspicions about one of my parents. 


This is a big one. 

For women in their early to mid 40s, lowering estrogen causes many symptoms which are similar to ADHD like brain fog, forgetfulness and mood swings. 

If you have ADHD, you may have been able to work around those symptoms your whole life; that’s called masking and you might not even realise you’re doing it. 

Then peri comes along and tips your life over the edge into chaos, prompting you to seek help. That was me.

Other women.

I’ll say it again … the effect of disclosure is exponential. The more people read about it and hear from friends and strangers who have it, the more women recognise themselves in those stories. It turns out there are a lot more of us than anyone realised.

Here’s something interesting I learned from my therapist: 70 percent of adults with ADHD have one comorbidity (another condition) and 50 percent of adults with ADHD have two comorbidities.

What this means is that often when someone sorts out treatment for their mental health, the clinician would commonly pick up and treat that condition (substance use, eating disorder, autism, depression, anxiety) but potentially not realise they were treating this condition in an individual with ADHD and thus miss the need to treat the ADHD.

I had an eating disorder in my late teens and was diagnosed with anxiety in my late 30s after a crippling 11 day panic attack. Nobody was thinking about ADHD back then.


So, where am I at with it now? 

A year on, I’m still trying to understand what it means to have a brain that works differently to most people’s and how to manage it. 

Well, that’s not entirely true; I’ve been managing it for 50 years, albeit with mixed results. Coming to terms with it however, continues to be profound and intense. It’s been a crisis and a revelation all at once.

Also exhausting.

The flourishing of ADHD TikTok with lots of funny videos and the positive public spin some sufferers try to put on their neurodiversity can be a way to own your diagnosis but I want to be really clear about something: for the vast majority of people, ADHD is not a superpower or a special way of thinking or a magical gift.

It is a functional impairment that impacts your life in a detrimental way. If it doesn’t, it’s not ADHD.

Parts of neurodiversity are interesting, sure, in the same way it would be boring if everyone looked the same way. 

It’s no coincidence that people with ADHD are three times more likely to own their own businesses. We have a high appetite for risk because we struggle to perceive it while also being drawn to it; that’s a quality that’s fundamental to being an entrepreneur. 

On the down side, this inability to judge risk is why so many untreated or undiagnosed people with ADHD (especially men) die young, in accidents.

Hyperfocus can also be helpful in some situations if the thing that interests you is beneficial to your career or helps you achieve a goal. 

For me, I’ve always been obsessed with women’s media and making content and I’ve used that to my advantage. 

The fast-paced nature of digital media is tailor made for my jumpy brain and because it’s so stimulating for me, I have an enormous capacity for work. 

So much so, that it can become a liability for our business and family if I’m left unchecked.

I can be hugely punishing to work with because I have no off switch and I want to start all the podcasts, do all the projects, have all the events, write all the stories, post all the things, all the time. 

This sounds like a humble brag but it’s the opposite. Growing a business requires careful prioritising; shiny object syndrome is a well-known liability for entrepreneurs and it’s one of the reasons why I could never be the CEO of Mamamia. 

If I’d tried, the business would have quickly failed. 

Jason and I are not just partners at home but cofounders at work; I’m the content and he runs the company. 

In the past year we have come to see how we’ve shaped our work and home lives around my ADHD, years before we even knew I had it.

Being diagnosed with ADHD and treating it with medication as I’ve been doing for around nine months now (it took four adjustments to land on the best type and dosage) has benefited every aspect of my life, from my marriage to my work to my relationship with my children and even my friendships. 

That’s not to say I’m cured or that I don’t experience difficult symptoms every day. I do. I always will. But now I understand why certain things happen and so do the people around me. 

That understanding alone has removed a huge amount of friction from my relationships and my daily life. 

The self-loathing, the frustration and the shame, I’m still working on. Some days are better than others and it’s a work in progress.

I’m just glad I know.

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