“I’m Newly Diagnosed at 90 — and So Thankful”

When I was born in 1933, neurodivergence (along with jet aircraft, the atom bomb, and plastic bags) had yet to be. If a child’s behavior did not comply with the norms of the time, as was the case for me, it resulted in punishment, not psychoanalysis. And so I grew up thinking I was naughty, talkative, lazy, untidy, and slow. I prayed to God every night to make me “good.”

A year ago, when I was 89, my psychiatrist said to me after an evaluation, “You are definitely ADHD.” In true neurodivergent style, I blurted out, “At last — I know I’m dotty.”

I sought an evaluation after I learned, years prior, that ADHD could be inherited. My son had been sent to the school psychiatrist at the age of 7 and diagnosed as hyperactive (the term ADHD did not yet exist). Now my granddaughter has been diagnosed at the same age. Could they have inherited the condition from me? Neither my husband nor my granddaughter’s mother were anything other than neurotypical. Could I be the ADHD source?

I thought of my own parents. Mama – stable, competent, organized; always reliable and down-to-earth. Papa – creative; always trying something new. I remember him continually cracking his knuckles as he sat reading. I was his mental counterpart. Mama was sometimes embarrassed by our antics.

The more I read about ADHD, the more certain I became of my own neurodivergence.

[Read: The Transformative Power of an ADHD Diagnosis for Older Women]

Down Memory Lane

In the year since my diagnosis, I have been mentally reliving my life, identifying all the events that pointed to neurodivergence; and I found many. Fortunately, I was interested in most of my school subjects, and passed college matriculation exams with flying colors.

I tolerated arithmetic (although I made basic errors through lack of concentration) and found geometry interesting, but never understood the meaning of algebra. None was more astonished than my math teacher when I passed it. I cherish one report card, on which she wrote, “Anne’s brain has gone to seed.”

Looking back at my employment record, I can now understand why there were some jobs that I enjoyed and excelled at, and some that bored me witless and resulted in real problems. Anything that presented challenge, variety, and interaction with other people was my forte. I was in my element as a police officer, and was sorry to leave when circumstances took me to another country. I finally found my calling in the fields of personnel and training. I looked forward to Mondays, and worked long hours, achieving five promotions in 20 years.

It was only boring, repetitive work that caused problems. I have worked at various times as a telephonist, a copy typist, and a cashier, and I can relate several unhappy episodes in my life to the lack of mental stimulation in these jobs.

[Read: Was ADHD to Blame All Along?]

My interests and hobbies have been varied, with many that I have dived into enthusiastically, but eventually dropped. These include sports (I played squash and softball, and managed my son’s little league baseball team), performance (singing, speaking, and amateur acting), sailing, pottery, driving a classic car, and embroidery.

Fourteen years ago, I was widowed. For the first time in my life I was responsible to nobody and responsible for nobody. I thought of the things I like doing, and the ways I wanted to spend the rest of my life. I would continue to be involved in the community affairs of my retirement village and pursue what were now longstanding interests in travel, photography, wildlife, wine, music, and, most of all, writing.

I have had a lifetime’s love of language – words are my favorite toys – and have dabbled in writing the occasional short story, and even one or two verses. Writing not only provides a creative outlet for my lively imagination, but it has the advantage of being an activity I could pursue as my mobility inevitably decreases.

This Is ADHD – at 90

The diagnosis and a growing knowledge about ADHD have changed my life. I no longer feel as though I’m acting a part, nor do I still need to mask my real self. It is easier than it was – though not always possible – to curb my actions. I still blurt out inappropriate comments, but I can now recognize them for what they are and apologize where it is called for.

At 90, I am now physically slow and creaky, but mentally alert. I live on my own and still drive my car. My messy house worries no one, though I manage to keep the living room relatively tidy for visitors. I embrace my neurodivergence, happy with who I am. I revel in my vivid imagination and use it to fuel my creative writing. I play the music I enjoy, singing along with it, although my voice may be cracked. I can no longer dance to the music, but I can sway to its rhythm. Now, if I forget something, or I’m late for an appointment, or I make too many typos, I can always apologize and blame my lapses on old age if I choose.

I have discovered the key to living happily with ADHD, and that is self-knowledge coupled with acceptance. That is why, after my ADHD evaluation, I walked out with a happy smile, and rejected the psychiatrist’s offer of medication. No, not for me. I’m ready to enjoy being who I am.

ADHD Later in Life: Next Steps

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