‘There’s a loneliness that comes from knowing you’re too much.’ What happened when I was diagnosed with ADHD at 49.

The first thing people say to me when I tell them I have ADHD is, “How did you know you had it?”. The answer is gradually and then all at once. The slow bit was my whole life and the fast bit was the three months before my diagnosis.

In this regard, I am a very basic bitch because lately it seems like you can’t open Instagram without a woman in her 30s, 40s or 50s announcing she has ADHD. 

Today I’m adding my name to that list.

To be honest, I didn’t want to write this essay. I’m acutely aware that ADHD is having a social media moment and I know some people believe it has become somehow trendy to say you have it. 

This is why for months I’ve felt paralyzed by all the noise on top of my own raw feelings, wondering what, if anything, I have to add to the conversation. 

I was diagnosed with ADHD - Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder - a year ago and I’m still processing what it means. Until now, I’ve not been ready to talk about it because I’ve needed time and privacy to percolate something that feels confusing, destabilising and embarrassing.

What has finally prompted me to share my experience is my realisation that what appears to be a trend is, in fact, a long overdue - and welcome - correction for many women, including me.

Let’s start at the beginning.

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.

I was in my mid forties when I began to suspect what might be wrong with me. 


The thing is, you’re not meant to describe a neurodiverse brain as ‘wrong’ or ‘broken’ or ‘abnormal’. The more positive spin is that it’s just…..wired differently.  

But I reject the policing of how people talk about themselves because a few years ago, I did notice something was wrong. There’s no other way to describe it. 

Behavioural quirks I’d had all my life were growing into obstacles and then liabilities. 

I was finding it harder and harder to organise my time. I kept missing meetings at work and when I did remember to turn up, it was impossible to concentrate, my thoughts flicking around incessantly, unable to land on any one thread for more than a few seconds.

It felt like my brain was frantically searching for something it could never find. An internal restlessness that felt deeply uncomfortable and pervasive.

I began to have more minor car accidents. I’ve never been a great driver, but I reversed into my son’s car in my driveway twice within a few months. Then I did the same to my husband’s car. 

I was losing more things. Dropping more things. Spilling more things. Breaking more things. I was constantly late no matter how hard I tried not to be. I felt constantly impatient in a way that was disconcerting and impractical. What was I impatient for? I couldn’t say.  

I was shopping too much, spending too much. My senses felt hungry all the time, like I couldn’t see enough, hear enough, know enough. I desperately needed to absorb all of the information all of the time and I was exhausting everyone around me.


Daily life had begun to feel like an obstacle course for reasons I couldn’t understand, much less articulate. 

None of these things were entirely new, but they were becoming noticeably worse. For decades, my inability to manage basic tasks has taken a toll on those closest to me. For example, it was a relief when each of my kids got their own phones so they could call me when I forgot to pick them up from school or sport. Again. The mortification was intense even when we all tried to laugh it off.

How does anyone forget their own child?

From the start of our relationship, my husband has managed most aspects of our lives - the bills, the house, car registration, our money, holidays - because the disruption caused by me invariably fucking it up causes twice as much work for everyone but mostly him.

The fact my husband runs our home life in addition to our business certainly doesn’t align with the way I think of myself; as an independent and capable woman. 

It makes me sound like a child. Or a spoiled princess. To share this makes me feel deeply embarrassed and ashamed even though the more potent emotions are relief that Jason is so capable of taking up my slack plus gratitude that I’ve found a partner who understands my limited capacity to function in so many shared aspects of our lives.

In the last few years though, that limited capacity began to shrink even further. To my great distress, I found myself becoming less and less capable, putting all sorts of strain on my family to the point where they started referring to me as ‘human chaos’. 


They said it jokingly, but I cringed every time because we all quietly knew it wasn’t a joke; it was true and getting truer. 

I felt anguished by the constant mini-dramas I kept causing with my carelessness, but I just couldn’t seem to get my shit together no matter how hard I tried.

My word of the year in 2019 was ‘impact’ and I spoke endlessly with my therapist about how I wanted to impact less negatively on those around me. 

By 2021, life had become harder and harder for me to navigate; I was constantly getting in my own way, even when lockdowns meant I barely left my house.

At the time, I put it down to working in the high-speed world of digital media, the pressure of running a large business with Jason and then to the epic disruption of COVID. Also perimenopause. 

I wasn’t wrong. All these things were factors, especially peri. 

It was my job, my hormones and the pandemic, I reasoned. Plus, of course, my personality, which has always been…a lot. Big feelings and a tiny tolerance for boredom have been defining qualities since I was small.

Other ways I was described as a kid: bossy, precocious, a chatterbox, speedy and a show-off. 

Ways I would describe myself both then and now: impatient, obsessive, anxious, impulsive, restless, fidgety and with a pathological fear of stillness. 


The most vivid memory of my childhood is the distress of being bored. It made me panic. It still does.

As a result, I unconsciously seek out a lot of sensory stimulation. My need for it often feels insatiable. 

Bright colours, intense experiences, strong sensations but most crucially, huge amounts of mental activity - my brain always needs to be consumed with a job, preferably several at once. And by ‘job’ I don’t mean my actual job although work is almost always front and centre in my mind. 

But it could also mean making six Spotify playlists simultaneously or re-organising everything in my bathroom or making seven fashion videos for Instagram or baking three cakes at a time or doing a deep dive on the author of a book I just inhaled in one sitting.

It’s impossible for me to be overstimulated; I’m at my happiest when I am consumed, immersed way past the point where most people would feel overwhelmed. 

In fact, a high volume of sensory noise brings me a deep feeling of calm I cannot replicate any other way. The louder and faster information is coming at me - especially visually and mentally - the more peaceful I feel. 


The way all this manifests day-to-day is in a bunch of personality quirks which are wide-ranging and well known to anyone close to me. 

  • When invited to any social occasion, the first thing I ask is, ‘what time does it finish?” and I am always the first to ghost. 

  • I’m either obsessed with something or utterly disinterested in it. 

  • I’ve come home early from every holiday I’ve ever been on, including my honeymoon.

  • I’ve never booked a flight I haven’t changed or cancelled.

  • I own a ridiculous number of sequined clothes. I would eat sequins if I could. 

  • I’m always the designated driver because I need to be able to leave in an instant. Waiting for an Uber or relying on anyone for a lift home feels intolerable. 

  • I regularly buy bright coloured throw cushions that go with nothing in my house and enormous random teacups that are garish and mismatched. 

  • I eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch every day for months or years. It feels easier than having to decide each time.

  • Every few weeks I rearrange the furniture in my office. In the earliest days of Mamamia, I made everyone switch desks all the time to ‘keep things fresh’.

  • I can’t go to any type of performance with an interval. I’ve bailed early from every concert I’ve ever been to, including Beyonce, Kylie and Gaga even though I loved them. The thought of staying until the end makes me claustrophobic.

  • Tea is my favourite thing in the world but I’m incapable of making myself a decent cup because I can’t wait for the tea bag to steep.

  • My food is always cold and my toast is essentially warm bread because I have to press ‘cancel’ on the microwave and toaster before they’re finished. 

  • The thought of any kind of road trip or meditation makes my skin crawl.

  • My fingers are often bleeding because I pick at them. 

  • 10 minutes is the amount of time I think it takes to get anywhere no matter the distance, traffic or time of day.

  • Several times every day, I get changed into different outfits, even at work. I’ve been doing this since I was three years old.

  • I interrupt people incessantly. I become so excited by my next thought or next question that I have to vomit it out immediately before I forget. This is a disaster when you host an interview podcast.

  • Similarly, I blurt out inappropriate things. My family says it’s like my thoughts fall directly out of my mouth before I have time to process them. This is why I no longer do live TV.

  • In a restaurant, I cannot relax or focus until I’ve ordered. It only ever takes me 10 seconds to decide what I want but if my dinner companions are not ready when the waiter comes, I bark, “Hurry up!” which isn’t appreciated by anyone except the waiter.

  • When I have to go to a big meeting at work that requires me to listen to other people talking, I will bring a colouring book or playdough. It helps me concentrate.

  • If a meeting lasts longer than 20 minutes, I’ll sometimes need to quietly get up and leave the room.

  • I love Mondays. My work brain has no off button, ever.

The people in my close orbit are very familiar with these quirks and either find them amusing or infuriating depending on the day. Their reaction also depends on how badly my behaviour impacts them and how long they’ve had to endure it. 


Jason sits at the top of that leaderboard after 26 years of living with me and 15 years of working together. He’s a very tolerant person, but it takes a toll on him and on us. It can also be hugely challenging for our SLT.

In the past year it’s been revelatory to learn how all of these ‘quirks’ are actually ADHD related and that I’ve spent my whole life trying to compensate for the way my brain works. It’s helped the people around me feel a little less exasperated with me too, I hope.


Two women I’ve never met led me to my diagnosis.

The first wrote an article for Mamamia about discovering she had ADHD as an adult that felt powerfully familiar. 

And the second was Caroline Hirons, a skincare expert who mentioned her own recent ADHD diagnosis on an Instagram live about eye creams that I happened to be watching.

It was the start of the long winter lockdown in 2021 and after procrastinating for months, I finally decided to seek out some answers about myself.

An ADHD diagnosis is not something the Internet or even your GP can provide, only a psychologist or psychiatrist. So I reached out to a clinical psychologist and adult ADHD expert who’d been interviewed in a podcast I listened to. 

A week prior to our first Zoom appointment, she’d sent me an extensive diagnostic questionnaire that asked about my behaviour, my childhood and my experiences navigating the world. 


Now it was finally time to find out… did I have ADHD or did I just have a short attention span? Did I have ADHD or was it just my anxiety? Did I have ADHD or was it just the pandemic making my head feel so scrambled? Did I have ADHD or was I just disorganised and forgetful? Did I have ADHD or was it just peri? Did I have ADHD or was I just a lot?

All of the above. 

But also, I had ADHD.


Here’s what ADHD is not: a behavioural disorder or a mental illness. 

Nor is it a mental health condition. 

ADHD is not a specific learning disability, and it has no bearing on your IQ. Like other types of neurodiversity, ADHD is about how your brain is wired, from birth. You can’t cure it, catch it or develop it later in life. You don’t grow out of it. But you can manage it with varying degrees of success.

Simply put, ADHD is a neurodevelopmental impairment meaning the brain has developed differently. 

This particularly affects the brain’s self-management system which is known as your ‘executive function’; a bit like having a badly organised CEO in charge of your brain. I’ve also heard it described as having a car engine with bicycle brakes. 

Common ADHD symptoms include inattention, distractibility, poor time management (known as time blindness), inconsistent impulse control, emotional intensity, interrupting, hyper-focus, difficulty with emotional regulation (a capacity to go from 0 to 100 very quickly), blurting, hyperactivity and an impaired ability to judge risks or consequences.


Hyperactivity can manifest physically or as thoughts that jump or race around. The inside of my brain sometimes feels like I’m accidentally sitting on a TV remote control that’s rapidly flicking through channels while I try to focus on a single show. 

It can feel frantic and uncomfortable and it is always unwanted. For me and most people with ADHD, there is no aspect of this that feels like a superpower. Or fun. It can feel like my brain is incessantly looking for something it can’t ever find.

Having some of the symptoms I’ve mentioned doesn’t necessarily mean you have ADHD; most people are disorganised or late or impulsive or distracted sometimes. 

Many people have periods where their thoughts race or they can’t concentrate. But a clinical diagnosis of ADHD means you have a lot of these symptoms a lot of the time, you have had them across your life, and they are significantly interfering with your functioning or development. 

It’s the severity of the symptoms and the impact of them on your ability to function that makes it ADHD.

For people with ADHD, symptom presentation can be inconsistent; there may be times when you can focus easily but other times when it’s hopeless. 

There is a super wide variability of your ability to concentrate - far wider than a neurotypical brain - and you’re more likely to go to extremes, even within the same day.


It’s a myth that people with ADHD can never concentrate; it’s actually that we have trouble regulating our concentration. 

If we’re interested in something, we can go into a state of hyperfocus to the point where we can forget to eat or go to the bathroom. Or pick up our children from school.

When you think of ADHD, you probably imagine a hyperactive little boy who can’t sit still in class. Until recently, me too. And there’s a good reason for this; historically, most research into ADHD was done on boys which led to a gaping hole in our scientific and social understanding of what this condition can look like in girls let alone women.

Girls with ADHD often present very differently to boys. 

At school, these girls are often dreamers, more likely to be staring out the window during class rather than bouncing off the walls. They may be overly talkative or ‘chatty’, more interested in their friends than listening to the teacher . 

Or they may just be disorganised, which can be misread as lazy or stupid.

Some of these behaviours are quite feminised though so until recently, being a little girl who was chatty or dreamy in class wasn’t understood to be a possible flag for ADHD. 

The physical hyperactivity that most parents, teachers and doctors have come to associate with ADHD is far less present in girls which means that multiple generations of girls were never diagnosed. 


Those girls are now women, many of whom have struggled in different aspects of our lives due to our ADHD without ever knowing why. 

Nor did we realise that so many of our quirks, struggles, failures, problems or inadequacies  - also some of our strengths - may be due to the way our brains are wired. And not just because we’re fuck ups as we often secretly believe.

There are three types of ADHD: inattentive, hyperactive and combined type which means you have both. People with inattentive ADHD are more likely to be easily distracted and disorganised while hyperactive ADHD-ers may be more intense and speedy.

I have combined type which is a sort of double whammy. When I was diagnosed, the clinical psychologist said I was an even split between inattentive and hyperactive. 

“Is there any doubt about the overall diagnosis?” I asked. 

“No,” she replied evenly. “It’s one of the more definitive results I’ve seen.”

In a way, this was a relief because it meant there was no grey area of maybe-I-don’t-have-it-really. 

I definitely and officially had ADHD.  

What happened next was Big Feelings...

To continue reading Part Two of Mia Freedman's essay where she talks about the Big Feelings that came with the diagnosis (shame, grief and loneliness); why so many women seem to be suddenly diagnosed; and what life is life one year on. Read Part TWO