"I hope to no longer be my harshest critic." What it's like being diagnosed with ADHD at 38.

Listen to this story being read by Jess Kingston, here. 

Late 30s or early 40s. That's the age range where women are mostly diagnosed with ADHD when it is not picked up in childhood.

This rings pretty true for me at not quite 38. 

I remained undiagnosed until very recently. The possibility of ADHD as a diagnosis for me didn't enter my radar until I started navigating the area with one of my children over the last few years.

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I kept reading again and again just how many adults there are walking around undiagnosed, with a particular emphasis given to just how easily girls can fly under the radar and miss being diagnosed during their childhood, often despite glaringly obvious signs.

I was told many times throughout my youth that I was 'a daydreamer', 'off with the fairies', and 'not applying myself'.

So, earlier this year, I set about actively seeking a diagnosis. Often, girls will be diagnosed with anxiety or depression and any underlying neurodiversity is overlooked. Of course, anxiety, depression, and ADHD can all exist alone, but they can equally all co-exist in combination alongside one another too. 


This is the case for me. I have been treated for anxiety and some minor depression over the years. But it never really felt like we were fully enlightened as to my mental health when treating anxiety.

Adding ADHD has been an 'ah-ha' moment for me. I had a similar 'ah-ha' moment when diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome in 2017. Interestingly, this is a condition which frequently features comorbid ADHD. 

Here are a few of the feelings and takeaways I got from my diagnosis. I am hopeful this diagnosis will shift my outlook on both myself and my life. 

1. It is both validating, and a bringer of relief.

Overwhelmingly, I knew there was a reason studying, paying bills, and not interrupting people has been so hard over the course of my life.

It also might explain why I may have been impulsive and prone to risk-taking behaviour over the years. There was that summer in 2007 where I spent $10,000 (that I didn’t really have) on tickets to music festivals, long before even asking my friends whether they were actually keen to go, because well, why not. (In my defence, music festival seasons were particularly epic back then).

2. I gained insight.

The insight into my own behaviours; past, present and future. I feel this new diagnosis offers me the capacity to alter struggles that may lay ahead of me, but to also understand those days gone by.

Maybe, just maybe, future struggles won’t be so hard, understanding now that my brain is particularly cluttered, chaotic, and prone to overwhelm, and that there is a reason for it. It is wired a little differently, and that is okay.


This new insight gives me the power to alter outcomes - by arming myself with education on how to navigate scenarios which previously may have landed me in a pickle.

3. I hope to no longer be my own harshest critic.

I hope I will have the power, due to my newfound insight, to lay off myself a little; confident in the knowledge that despite what my brain is telling me, I don’t always say the wrong things, put my foot in it, or come across socially awkward.

I might not have to replay every interaction I have in my head a million times (or harass my husband with a very nuanced assessment of every conversation I have ever had). 

4. I have hope.

That I will be able to use this diagnosis to improve my output. Along with now having an ADHD diagnosis, I also live with other pre-existing complex chronic illnesses which of course adds to the layers of complexity of my individual experience. 

My hope is that being able to treat and manage one of these conditions (ADHD) effectively may allow me to work within my limits a little more. Fatigue, pain, and brain fog are all big factors in my life. Potentially unfumbling my brain seems like it could be critical to upping my functional limits.

5. That my childhood experiences will be beneficial to parenting my children.

6. That I have another cause to advocate for. 

I am a firm believer that first-person narratives are important. I am a firm believer that in telling our stories, even if they only help one other person, then that is a story so very worth telling. In the words of Glennon Doyle, 'We can do hard things'. And really, we can.


7. That I will become more organised and develop systems that work for my jumbled brain. 

That I’ll finally be able to bring myself to sort out that old email inbox with 56,789 unopened emails. Just sitting there, continually taunting me to do something about it.

Stigma and false ideas still reign heavy in general towards people living with neurodiversity, but as one study found; adults who receive an ADHD diagnosis report improved function and quality of life, along with self-esteem outcomes that are stronger than their counterparts with demonstrable ADHD symptoms who remain undiagnosed. 

This alone means sharing, advocating and raising awareness at the individual level is of critical importance. So that's what I'll continue to do, because diagnoses matter. Diagnoses have the power to improve the quality of lives.

Janna is a 36-year-old mother of two residing in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs with her young family. She lives with the chronic illness and rare disease, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Janna is also a health advocate, aspiring health writer and a healthcare professional. In early 2020, Janna founded  Zebra Blends - a health advocacy brand, with focus given to both Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and other heritable Connective Tissue Disorders. You can follow Janna's journey at @ZebraBlends and @The.Rare.Writer.

Feature image: Getty.

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