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What Raptitude Has Always Been About

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NOTE: This post is a very personal one, even for this blog. It describes a major revelation I recently experienced (a positive one) and what it means for Raptitude readers. It’s the longest post I’ve written in years. There is also a small chance it will lead to a similar bombshell discovery in your own life.

***

In the Truman Show, Jim Carrey’s character is a reality TV star but doesn’t know it. Every person he interacts with is an actor. His hometown is a set.

Truman nearly reaches middle age without finding out, despite many indications that something is going on. A stage light falls from the sky onto the street beside him. His wife excitedly recommends certain household products, even when there’s no one around to hear her. His plans to leave town are always thwarted by sudden storms or road construction.

His life has been characterized by such missed hints. To Truman, however, they’re just unexplained quirks of normal life, which other people presumably experience too.

Ideally, you wouldn’t know any of this before you watch The Truman Show, so that you could experience some part of Truman’s paradigm shift along with him as he finally realizes what’s been going on.

Although I didn’t make the connection at the time I saw the movie, I’ve frequently had a similar sense that I’m experiencing life differently than almost everyone I know.

Life in the Twilight Zone

As long as I can remember, it seemed like other people were having a much easier time doing most of what everyday life entails.

My sense was that I had missed some important announcement at some point, or that everyone else had received some kind of secret Normal Person Adult Life Training, which allows them to manage such feats as following a recipe correctly, studying, maintaining a household, and achieving goals with a timeframe longer than an afternoon.

This missed training also apparently covered many social abilities, such as saying things without mentally rehearsing them first, returning faulty items to the store, or answering a question you didn’t expect someone to ask you.

Especially as I entered adulthood, everyone else seemed to view all this everyday life stuff without much trepidation, while for me it all felt tricky and dangerous, requiring a kind of stressful mental juggling I wasn’t very good at. Many tasks felt so hard to navigate that I seldom finished them. I tried to organize my life around not having to do them.

Actual photo of me mingling at a party, c. 1998

Obviously I was embarrassed by this sense of general incompetence. So I focused on looking as capable as everyone else, and avoiding situations where it might become obvious that I wasn’t. I knew I was a pretty smart person, so I would try to demonstrate that whenever possible, and be invisible the rest of the time.

This way of operating created severe procrastination and a lot of social problems. In order to keep up appearances, I couldn’t allow myself to behave naturally in front of people I didn’t know. Every word or movement had to be consciously monitored and controlled. I also couldn’t usually complete important tasks now, but reasoned I could always do them later, after I’d had more time to prepare or think about it first.

This approach didn’t solve anything, but it was all I knew to do. It wasn’t a strategy any more than running from a bear is a strategy.

Driving cross-country with no tires

As you can imagine, life was really fucking hard. Like driving cross-country with no tires hard. In my twenties, when adult-level demands descended on me, I did what anyone in my position would do: consume piles of self-help, pop psychology, Buddhism, and Stephen Covey type stuff.

Most of it was unhelpful, but the odd idea really worked. There were ways to reframe things. You could explore painful feelings willingly. You could have procedures for bad moods and bad days. You could find glimpses of peace in ordinary moments.

This period led to a lasting fascination with inner human experience. I started writing in online forums about what helped me. People said those ideas helped them too, and that pondering-and-writing hobby became the site you are reading.

Throughout my thirties, I got wiser and more experienced, but life never stopped being inexplicably difficult. Then, in 2018, I turned 38, and the midlife crisis thing hit me like a truck.

Actual photo of Fate looking down on me, c. 2018

I guess I had always kept my sanity and optimism intact by reminding myself that I’m young and I have time to get the hang of things. That tactic stopped working overnight, and I spent the next eighteen months in a state of near-perpetual anxiety. Around the time when COVID began, the anxiety turned in to a sort of resigned depression. Apparently, whatever was wrong was not going away.  

Life Begins at 40

Some of you may have already guessed what was wrong, because I’ve picked out the relevant details. I had no idea though.

This January, a long-awaited appointment with a psychologist confirmed what I’d just recently begun to suspect: undiagnosed ADHD.

For people who know me, that might explain a lot. For me, it was like realizing that the earth revolves around the sun — my whole model of how life worked turned itself inside out, making all my random-seeming observations suddenly add up. It was like leaving Plato’s Cave. Finding out God exists. Brushing ancient dust from the Rosetta Stone. There are no adequate analogies. I can only say that life makes sense, for the first time, at age 40.

I posted my account of the moment it became undeniable. An excerpt:

I found it. It. The it behind my lifelong sense that I’m operating under different rules than everyone else. The reason why reading has always been so slow and weird even though I’m perfectly literate, why I am constantly trying to simulate the appearance of having understood what was just said, why everyone I know has a seemingly masterful ability to comprehend movie plots, why I can barely read through the items on my to-do list, let alone do the things on it, why my car’s transmission finally self-destructed, seven years after assuring the Jiffy Lube guy I would change the fluid next time, why I’m still scrolling through Reddit seventy minutes after noticing I have to pee really bad, and why I have never known the feeling of being on top of anything, ever.

[Full entry]

For someone whose primary fascination is the workings of inner life, this was like discovering DNA. In the last few months I’ve written more than fifty thousand words about the cascade of revelations that followed the initial one.

(I published some of this writing on its own page, because it’s handy to have a document to point people to when they ask what ADHD is like.)

There is so, so much to unpack. Now I can see the real reasons I’ve struggled. I don’t have an anxiety disorder, I get anxiety because I can’t get things done. I’m not an introvert who has to “recharge with alone time,” I’m an extrovert who’s always suppressed his speech in order to avoid embarrassment. Other people aren’t working five times as hard, they’re able to do things in one-fifth the time.

One of the bigger bombshells was realizing that this mystery issue is the whole reason this blog exists. Raptitude has been my response to living with ADHD and not knowing it. I focused my life and career on the obscure topic of navigating inner human experience, because I had to.  

It sure explains Raptitude’s fixation on certain topics:

This blog’s other major topic is mindfulness practice, which has been the only thing that seemed to improve the mystery-issue directly, helping me manage emotions, appreciate the present, improve my resilience to distraction, act intentionally instead of reactively, develop intuition I can trust, think somewhat clearly, and find equanimity when life is chaotic.

Actual photo of mindfulness practice

As helpful as it is, meditation isn’t particularly easy for the ADHD mind. Right from my first sitting, however, its potential was obvious, and I’ve been practicing for 20 years.

Come to think of it, meditation and writing this blog have been the only pursuits I’ve ever stuck to long-term. Nothing else worked.

How did I not know?

How is it possible not to have discovered this sooner, given how debilitating it’s been?

The short answer is I didn’t fit the ADHD stereotype, and the stereotype was all I knew.

In many ways I was the opposite. I was never hyperactive, I don’t fidget, and I don’t blurt things out without thinking. I’m almost never late and I rarely lose things. I was a good student (until high school). I sit still. I meditate. I get annoyed at hyper people.

The psychologist helped me understand that we often compensate – sometimes overly – for behaviors we know we’re prone to.

And that explains a lot. I’ve spent my whole life suppressing and monitoring my body and my voice. I’m never late because I obsess about not being late, to the point of annoying anyone I’m with. Whenever I stand up or leave a room, I check my pockets: wallet, keys, phone, wallet, keys, phone. I sat still in class because I was afraid of looking like a troublemaker. In fact, I’m still learning to let my body move naturally –- I used to have to psych myself up to even shift my posture in situations when people might notice, like at a movie.

I’ve always marveled at how freely most people act around others, almost as if they don’t live in constant terror of being late, forgetting vital things, or doing something that causes one of those record-scratch moments where everybody stares at you. For me, every outward expression had to be suppressed, rehearsed, or controlled in some way, so as not to garner negative attention.

So I guess I didn’t suspect ADHD because I was too busy doing everything possible not to look like a kid who has ADHD.

Isn’t this just normal life?

The other reason I overlooked ADHD is a more common one: its most obvious repercussions sound like the same stuff everyone deals with.

Consider this list of “symptoms”:

  • I struggle to get things done
  • I find it hard to focus on things that aren’t interesting or stimulating, like homework or income taxes
  • I can’t seem to get organized
  • I have a hard time being patient or waiting for things
  • I overindulge in entertainment, food, and other stimulating activities
  • I procrastinate

Even my own reaction to this list is to roll my eyes. Welcome to being human! Everyone deals with these challenges, and the answer is to grow up and take responsibility for your life.

That’s the message you receive repeatedly, explicitly and implicitly, from yourself as much as others. You just need to make yourself do those difficult things, like everyone else does.

As on board as I was with that message, I always thought this idea of “making yourself do things” was more complex than we like to admit. Which part of you is making the other part do things? How does it achieve that? What if it can’t? What’s going on in the brain when that happens? There’s a lot there for philosophers and neuroscientists to talk about.

However, general society’s view of self-motivation is a simplistic one: you can perform to the standard expected of you by trying harder. Period. Anybody who doesn’t is immature, lazy, or selfish.

The unfortunate similarity between signs of ADHD and normal misbehavior is frustrating for everyone involved. ADHD’s effects operate on the foggy boundaries between voluntary and involuntary, possible and impossible, victim and perpetrator. It’s not clear where unwillingness stops and inability starts.

This lack of clarity is also partly to blame for certain memes I can only call “canards”: ADHD doesn’t exist; ADHD isn’t debilitating, it’s a superpower; we’re just medicalizing normal misbehavior; this is all a Big Pharma conspiracy to sell meth to our kids. I don’t get too frustrated with this stuff because I have believed most of it myself at some point.   

(Before a debate starts in the comment section, ADHD is both overdiagnosed and underdiagnosed, like all psychiatric conditions.)

So yes, the most obvious problems ADHD causes are normal and familiar problems, but the reason why they happen, and the degree to which they do, are not normal. And it causes many more issues than the obvious ones.

None of that is clear from the outside however, or even the inside.

A Glimpse of Paradise

When I did finally try medication, it felt like being released from prison. I could just do things, in the direct and uncomplicated way other people seem to.

It felt like the room was full of air instead of molasses. I could hear what people were saying at exactly the speed they were saying it. I could stay aware of a task’s overall purpose at the same time as I worked on its details. I could let go of the constant mental white-knuckling I had been doing in almost every conversation. I still felt impulses to put things off, check Twitter, daydream, or interrupt myself to go make toast, but for once these impulses just felt like options, and turning them down felt good.

Actual photograph of ADHD symptoms

There’s no way to be certain, but my impression that life was about five times harder than it should have been seems close to correct, judging by my experience on medication so far. I estimate my undiagnosed/untreated ADHD has reduced my daily productivity by 80-90% (to say nothing of the pain and frustration and opportunity cost).

Now I can start to recover some of the difference. That involves reforming decades of inefficient habits, a process which is enabled by medication. I’m still in the process of finding a medication regimen that will work for me long term. But I’ve had a glimpse of the relative paradise of normal-ish functionality, and increasingly I get to spend time there.

What does this mean for Raptitude?

I wish it didn’t take forty years to figure this out, but there is an immense silver lining.

Living that many years on Mega Hard Mode forced me to develop certain cognitive skills and forms of wisdom that radically improve my quality of life. I would not have discovered these tools without living in constant crisis — I had to really dig for them, and they’re priceless. I’ve shared some of the more transferrable ones on this site, in words and sometimes stick figures.

Now I’m about to enter a new phase of life, armed with all of those priceless tools, but this time with a clear view of the terrain. 

What’s most exciting to me is that, after a decade of blindfolded molasses-walking, I can finally begin to realize my original vision for Raptitude. Because I have simply not been able to.

A blog was only meant to be a foundation for the larger project that is Raptitude. I’ve wanted to create a library of mini-resources around the ideas here. I want to write books, make videos, do podcasts, and collaborate with my peers. I want to hold events, group experiments, and regular online meditation sits. I want to create all the stuff you’ve been asking for over the years.

A fleeting moment of order, c. 2014

For reasons that are no longer mysterious, nearly every post has been a titanic struggle to write. Getting my thoughts into a concise, readable text is like herding cats, inside a maze, on a giant plane doing barrel rolls. When you factor in my obsessive self-monitoring habit –- the intense fear of saying the wrong thing or being misunderstood – even a simple post takes several eight-hour days of writing. And that’s when I can successfully get myself into the topic, which happens only on about one-third of such attempts. And that’s only counting days I actually make it to the task of writing.

You might have noticed the resulting quirks in my style. My articles are long, unstructured, unpolished, and infrequent. They’re filled with non-sequiturs and stark paragraph transitions.

I publish each post the moment it reaches “passable draft” state. They deserve a proper rewriting stage, but by that time my neurons are resolutely on strike, and readers have been waiting for weeks.

And that’s just the writing component of the overall project. The larger and more complex pieces –- just as vital for an entrepreneur –- such as growing the audience, creating courses and resources, improving the website, connecting with other creators, and developing a social media presence, have been simply backburnered for years now, because I’ve never been on top of the project’s fundamental task, which is writing Raptitude posts.  

I have so much to say to this world, and I’ve been trying to push it out through a keyhole. I was starting to think I would die without ever being able to open the freaking door.

But I’m about to gain a lot more bandwidth. With treatment, and an awareness of the real problem, it would not be unreasonable to double or triple my output over the next year or two. I’m already seeing major improvements, even without having settled my treatment regimen yet. There’s a lot to relearn, but there’s nothing else I’d rather do.

Thanks for staying with me through this incredibly long post. It means more to me than you know.

-David

***

If you think you might have ADHD: It’s worth taking a self-assessment test to get a better idea. Just be aware that these tests aren’t perfect, and they neither confirm or rule out ADHD. The next step is to tell your therapist or your doctor that you would like to be properly assessed. Always get a second opinion if you have doubts.

Sticky-note photo by Amanda Jones. Riverbank photo by Willow Dekker. All other photos by David Cain.

A Raptitude Community

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Sally King March 14, 2021 at 3:13 pm

David! Another post that brought me to tears… I am SO happy for you. How wonderful to be able to drop some of the struggling. And thank you again for all the sharing, honesty and insights you have shared with us. Armed with meditation and medication, you can now Enjoy that life you have lovingly created.

Allison Evans March 14, 2021 at 4:12 pm

I’m really happy for you! You’re already a great writer and thinker, and if this blog was “all” you ever did, I would still call it a productive, beneficent life. But I’m delighted that medication will liberate you to fulfill more of your dreams.

Stefanie March 14, 2021 at 6:16 pm

David,
I’m so so happy you shared this with your readers! Now I know why I have always felt we have similar minds. I am convinced now, (at age 51!!) that I have ADD. My brother has it, and both my sons, but, somehow, I always blamed my challenges on other things, such as anxiety disorders and other mental health issues. I now feel convinced that undiagnosed ADD explains a lot that is challenging, disappointing, and frustrating to me. I am very smart, (if I do say so myself, ha), but don’t feel like a competent adult, and probably never will! I “should have” done all sorts of things, should have assets, letters at the end of my name, etc. My parents are very accomplished, as are most of the people I’m close to, but not me. I was labeled a “gifted underachiever” in high school, and guess that’s what I am still.
Anyway, I totally feel you!
Love your blogs! I’ve been a reader, for many years.
Stefanie

Drew March 14, 2021 at 8:52 pm

David, this is incredible. As soon as I read the note at the top of the post I had goosebumps – I’d say I can’t believe the parallels, but like so many of your other readers, it all makes perfect sense after the fact.
I too suddenly realized I likely had ADHD – just last month. I’ve been on medication for just three weeks. I’m almost 35, not quite as long a struggle as you endured, but same ballpark. The analogies are impossible to overstate – it is like walking out of Plato’s cave.
I’ve only commented once or twice over the years, and asked directly for advice from you, years ago, which you kindly replied to. Without a doubt though, your hard, hard won insights, shared on this blog, have benefited me in this shared struggle against an unknown oppression. Thank you.
I will look forward to seeing your insights as I walk this parallel path to you, in a whole new era of our lives.
Wishing, and anticipating, all success for you David.

LindaB March 14, 2021 at 9:24 pm

This makes me so happy to read! Your writings have made a difference in my life and Camp Calm has been a big part of managing my anxiety. I’m glad you’ve finally found the diagnosis and I can’t wait to see where your life heads next.

devo March 15, 2021 at 8:19 am

david,
like so many impairments, relief has a funny way of feeling permanent. we often we think and imagine in permanency but live in a world of constant change, a world we are part of constantly changing with, whether we feel it or not. many changes are cyclical, we go in and out of them seamlessly and unaware. introspective folks like us look for them but i’ve noted i see only some of them retrospectively, and even fewer in present moment awareness. what you called “molasses room” i’ve referred to as “helmet head” for years, periods when i feel like i’m wearing a full face motorcycle helmet with the shield down. i too felt it was a curse. i have utilized medication to gain relief. it worked, for a while. i have found that the struggle in cyclical states of mind, body and consciousness are the gaps where the amazing comes to light. enjoy this part of your education in human school, i know you will.

Be Motivate March 15, 2021 at 9:00 am

I like raptitude there are all awesome articles I would like to suggest to all to read all the article on this website

Jesse March 15, 2021 at 9:26 am

Hi David,

I myself was only diagnosed with Adult ADHD at age 38, back in 2018. This post meant a lot to me to read, and I really appreciate you putting all of this out there. I, too, was not a stereotypical ADHD kid: I don’t fidget or bounce off the walls. Apparently the less physical, more daydreams symptoms of ADHD are more common in girls and therefore found less often in boys.

I’ve experienced much more mixed emotions about my diagnosis, including anger and grief at all the lost years. In looking over some old school records, I also learned that i was actually diagnosed as a child through a test result, but my parents (likely adhd sufferers themselves since this stuff is hereditary) overlooked it by mistake.

Please keep us posted as to your treatment: I’d be curious to learn what you find works for you. If you haven’t read it yet, a fantastic, cathartic book on the subject is ‘Driven To Distraction’ – written by a doctor who suffers from ADHD himself.

All the best.

– Jesse

David Cain March 16, 2021 at 9:50 am

Thanks Jesse. I am listening to Driven to Distraction on audio. He has another book called Delivered From Distraction that focuses on managing Adult ADHD. I will probably get that next.

Whybe March 15, 2021 at 11:17 pm

David,
This is incredible! The post moved me from intrigue through shock to relief…

From your posts over the years I always had the impression you were much more on top of things than I am…. I was struggling with the everyday, procrastinating, not sure if what I’m thinking is ok, attending therapy, having a life coach, suffering depression, more therapy, feeling incompetent, worthlessness, not fitting in, house always messy, self destruct habits… And you had these incredible insights on how to navigate this stuff, doing camp calm, the rate of posts never seemed an issue to me.
In short, i guess things are not always as they seem from the written page (you can’t tell how long someone has worked on a post), and i want to share with you the joy of revelation of this underlying issue. Incidentally I am also 38 so this just makes me feel closer to the matter.

Hope to see the development of your plan come to fruition

All the best

David Cain March 16, 2021 at 10:04 am

Thanks Whybe. The impression that I’m really on top of things is partly due to the social monitoring phenomenon I mentioned. I have always been consciously and unconsciously trying not to look incompetent — playing up the ways in which I perceive myself as normal/together/etc and downplaying the opposite. We all do some level of that, I suppose, but the written word in particular allows a person to hide whatever feels dangerous to disclose. The rate of posting itself isn’t the problem, it’s that managing a tolerable rate of posting (say every two weeks) required me to backburner everything else I needed to do to thrive, both personally and professionally.

Gabriele March 16, 2021 at 3:43 am

Hi David, I’m subscribed for only a month now, but with this post, I felt you are talking to me, about me, in a way that never happens before with other authors I read for years. I’m realizing for the first time that I could be an undiagnosed ADHD, I’m going to discover that soon.
I’m very happy for you, all the best!

Jen March 16, 2021 at 11:45 am

Thank you for this post. For the last few days I’ve been seriously wondering if my husband (age 40!) has ADHD. I’m looking forward to reading the extra links you posted and learning more about this. I would like to learn how to better manage certain personality traits of his in a way that doesn’t make either of us aggravated. (He takes forever to write work emails so I took over that task years ago–I joke that I’m his executive assistant–so I get where you’re coming from with the obsession over writing perfection.) I’ve enjoyed your posts for years. Keep on keeping on!

Jen March 16, 2021 at 12:10 pm

P.S. My husband is unusually good at the game “Scattergories.” I’ve always attributed it to his amazing brainstorming ability but now I wonder. You should try it, if you haven’t–you’d probably be great at it, too!

Derrick March 16, 2021 at 5:59 pm

Great Article! As humans we all seem to have this little voice in our head critiquing every thought or action in our day to day living. I like I’m sure a lot of your readers feel you have an expertise in helping people in everyday life situations and strategies. I’m having fleeting anxiety as I write this comment for fear it won’t be relevant or understood by others. My work is in the field of psychiatry so you would think I would have “my shit” together? I am a big procrastinator at times. I think it’s my way of compensating for feelings of anxiety that things have to be just so. I try to keep my awareness process in control of my thought process. But it is never ending. And yes. Sometimes medication can be a blessing. And it to will have to be a process that is given plenty of thought.

JJP March 16, 2021 at 6:50 pm

I read your post, then I’ve started to read “Confessions” by JJ Rousseau… Well, yes he had ADHD! Confessing the same weird truths about how he felt, etc. And Rousseau is recognized as the genius of his time. Please go read it, to your own pace… And enjoy!

David Cain March 17, 2021 at 9:22 am

Now that is interesting! I just bought the kindle version. I am always looking for inner-experience accounts of ADHD, especially by articulate writers. Thanks for this!

Miles March 19, 2021 at 2:13 am

Hey David, it was a joy to read this. So happy that you have made this discovery. I went through a similar discovery around age 20. It was truly earth-shattering, and amazing how much life transformed afterwards. One realisation I have since had is that I think the issue lies not so much internally, as with the way the world is organised. It’s in the interaction between a person with ADHD and the world in which they must live wherein the problem lies, not in the person themselves. I want to work towards building a world which is a more comfortable place for people with ADHD and other so-called ‘learning difficulties’ to live. Not just by providing ‘support’, but by creating positive spaces that work for everyone, not just the majority. I think that the issues experienced by people with ADHD are a pronounced version of difficulties that all people have with living in modern society, as you point out in this post. It is not natural for us to force ourselves into such rigid patterns of thinking and doing. Humans thrive in more playful, free-flowing environments. Since covid began I moved to the countryside, and have been experimenting with a community of similar-minded people about how to build such a world. The results so far have made me feel very encouraged that this is a good direction to be moving in. It’s difficult to put into words, but I hope that we can all live more like the curious creatures that we truly are. Wishing you love and inspiration on your journey :)

David Cain March 19, 2021 at 9:55 am

I agree with this. ADHD cases are seemingly rising and this is often attributed to the effects of technology on our attention spans and so on. But I think that’s backwards. What we call ADHD is a cognitive difference that has probably always existed, but our economy and education system depend more and more on executive functions. The ability to do “knowledge work” obviously relies much more on executive functions than manual labor does, and as the world shifts toward it, those with weak executive function are going to struggle more and more. And that’s just one example. The more complex and abstract a person’s daily obligations become, the more the ADHD mind is going to struggle with them. So the environment is having a huge impact on the relevance of the brain difference we summarize as ADHD.

Changing the “demand structure” is hard to do, because it is often in direct opposition to market forces, so we need to provide individual support as well. We can change things bit by bit though, by trialing more flexible structures for workdays and school, finding ways to rely less universally on executive function for getting on in the world, and providing direct supports for ADHD people where it is needed.

Andy Gimblett March 19, 2021 at 4:57 am

Hi David — thanks so much for this. I was diagnosed with ADHD, at age 46, literally last week — so from my point of view your timing could not be better! I’ve been following Raptitude for years, and have (also) consistently failed to put into practice the many excellent ideas and strategies you’ve written about, so, yeah… this makes sense. :-)

I want to thank you in particular for writing this paragraph:

“The unfortunate similarity between signs of ADHD and normal misbehavior is frustrating for everyone involved. ADHD’s effects operate on the foggy boundaries between voluntary and involuntary, possible and impossible, victim and perpetrator. It’s not clear where unwillingness stops and inability starts.”

For me this beautifully describes the difficulty and frustration I’ve been feeling with regard to self development, emotional growth, etc. these last few years, just generally I’ve been feeling stuck and frustrated, despite being committed to showing up and “doing the work”. It was a particular problem with one (rather unconventional) therapist, who always fell back ultimately to a “shit or get off the pot” attitude in the face of my non-progress/stuckness, in a way that I experienced as deeply shaming. Here you’ve put the problem into words far better than I’ve been able to.

I’ll be watching your journey unfold with interest, and it feels good to know that as I explore this new territory in my own landscape, that someone I like and respect so much is on a similar path.

David Cain March 19, 2021 at 10:03 am

I have to say I feel so much less alone after reading all of these stories, and I hope you do too.

One of the many insights that came out of this is that our moral expectations of others rely on some very specific assumptions about what is doable and what’s not. We are very flippant with moral judgments in general, and most of them have something to do with what “every decent person” is capable of. But capability varies, and when someone can’t seem to do something most people can do, we tend not to give them the benefit of the doubt as to whether they can’t or won’t.

Kim Edwards March 19, 2021 at 10:10 am

HI David.
I rarely feel compelled to respond to an article with a comment. But in this case, wow. Your story so closely parallels JD’s lifelong experience that I feel I need to reach out to you so you and he can reconnect and chat.

Almost everything you’re describing is exactly what he went through at 42. I had to fill out a VERY long questionaire for his Psychologist regarding my experiences living with him and it was soooooo revealing. His discovery of an ADHD diagnosis explained so much, it was life changing for him, as it was for you.

Anyway, I don’t want to ramble on, but I really think it would be beneficial for you two to chat. I’m so impressed with you, and your willingness to share your experiences. I know it will help a lot of people who struggle with the same thing.

David March 20, 2021 at 8:35 am

Hey Kim! Great to hear from you. I just got an email from JD, describing his uncannily familiar experiences, and I would love to talk to him about it. I remember him mentioning ADHD in his Ecuador presentation, but at the time it just wasn’t on my radar. Really looking forward to connecting with him.

Luis March 20, 2021 at 9:37 am

I don’t know David…
I think every one of us have life issues, but that is the source of our superpowers, and you have some good ones.
I think you reached a summit and soon you will notice that threre is another in front.
I am happy that you got a great aha moment, but sincerily I believe that there are lots of problems ahead, and that is good.

David March 20, 2021 at 10:16 am

Hi Luis. I definitely don’t think I’ve overcome life’s problems, or even this problem. But knowing what the problem is changes everything.

kate March 21, 2021 at 11:33 am

Hi David,

While you’ve done a beautiful job explaining it here, I don’t think those who haven’t experienced finding their late ADHD diagnosis will ever fully understand its magnitude.

I got mine at 30, and my story isn’t so different from your own: I’m smart, I monitor myself socially. I wasn’t hyperactive presenting. I knew how to make the faces that looked like I was listening. But I lived in a chronic state of chaos with vigilant attempts to overcome basic life skills that no one really resonated with. At 30 I was among my smartest friends but living broke, going from job to job, living in a sea of creative projects I started passionately but could never finish and spending all day (or weeks) psyching myself up to do something basic like grocery shop. And still somehow fucking it up. I’d loose most things, even special gifts, and keeping my environment in order was impossible. A notorious joke. Anyway, you know the rest of the story.

I’m still trying to unpack the 30 years of quiet shame that came from trying to compensate for a secret that I couldn’t define.

When you said medication was like being released from prison I don’t think some people will realize that you’re not being hyperbolic.

The first day I took it I stood in my kitchen. I saw a single fork on my counter, behind my sink. It had been sitting there for over a month: one of those irrational 2 second tasks I just couldn’t push past the Adhd wall of « no time, do later » to attend to.

I just reached over and washed the fork like it was nothing. Then I started sobbing. Because that’s how simple it, and so many other things, could have been all along.

The adhd wall is nearly impossible to explain to people. But congratulations, Im so glad you also got to the bottom of this.

David March 22, 2021 at 9:18 am

I resonate with every bit of this, even your “fork” moment. It was so strange to be able to do something in the matter-of-fact way it seems like it always should have been.

Sean March 21, 2021 at 11:34 am

Wow. What a great post.
What’s this about your writing style lacking in some way?! Fiddlesticks! I wouldn’t of read you for so long if your writing wasn’t excellent. Don’t change a thing!

Brian Aertker March 22, 2021 at 3:00 pm

David,
Kudos on your honesty!

I don’t suffer from ADHD but have friends and family who do. You article has provided my more insight and compasion.

Thanks,
Brian

Jayne Trapnell March 23, 2021 at 3:27 am

David,

I saw a link to this site, which made me think of my sweet nephew, Joe, and his struggles with ADHD and then thought of you. Thank you for being so brave and vulnerable in sharing your very personal revelation and how it impacts your daily life. It matters.
Take care,
Jayne
https://www.adhddd.com/comics/

Gabriela March 28, 2021 at 8:11 pm

Wow.

This really hit close to home for me.

My name is Gabriela and I’m 17 years old. I’ve been a straight-A student my entire life, but my procrastination was TERRIBLE. Like really, really bad. I knew I had bad procrastination as a 3rd grader when it was 11 PM and I hadn’t even started my homework.

Yet somehow, I was able to manage to float along, but only by a thread.

Since that age, I was OBSESSED with self-help books or whatever advice I could scour in the internet. I researched a bunch of videos and articles about productivity techniques, but nothing really worked.

Like you, I also sought help through spiritual philosophies. In middle school I experimented with meditation and a bunch of other things, and exploring different avenues and even got into all that pop-psychology/ spiritual stuff. Nothing worked.

In high school, things only got worse for me. I became passively suicidal and severely depressed, full of guilt, shame, and condemnation. The night before the test, I’d procrastinate for 8 hours, then finally start studying the morning of the test at 4:00 AM.

On the outside, I looked perfectly fine because I had high marks and never told anyone of my struggles.

Things finally got better for me in Junior year, when my relationship with God was strong and I learned how to rely on Jesus.

Yet my procrastination was still really bad. It caused disappointments from teachers, broken trust which was very painful for me, asking extensions for assignments, and taking REALLY, REALLY long to write papers.

I guess the first “key” for me to be more productive was to stop being so hard on myself, and I didn’t realize this until my friend’s words in October of 2020. I wrote this revelation into a blog post which is the best thing I’ve ever written because God helped me write it:
https://aminoapps.com/c/studying-amino/page/blog/how-i-overcame-my-chronic-procrastination/4Zxo_NjfYu83kPvERpgJwXP6eWqEzkq4b

Anyway, in December of 2020, I stumbled upon your blog, and it quickly became my favorite. Your writing was unlike anything I had ever read before. The first post I read was “Do What You’re Doing,” and I printed it out, hung it on my wall, even read it out loud to my family in the car. It REALLY resonated with me, and gave me a good mindset to focus on my work.

I also really liked your other blog “Wise People Have Rules for Themselves.” These posts were like treasures in my heart and really encouraged me to keep trying. I even observed a lot of similarities between your insights and the wisdom found in the Bible.

But still, my procrastination was bad. In late December I started thinking, “Do I have OCD? Do I have something else? Do I have ADHD?” I looked up the ADHD symptoms, and I thought, “Huh that rings a bell for me!” As more and more time passed on, the realization was slowly dawning on me, that yeah, I probably have ADHD.

In early February of this year, I got the guts to talk to my cousin about my feelings. She revealed to me that she had ADHD, and also revealed to me how pretty much everyone from my mom’s side has ADHD/ undiagnosed ADHD, and it’s something that genetically runs in the family.

I was thinking to myself– I’ve gone my entire life, thinking I’m lazy, that there’s something wrong with me, being unnecessarily hard on myself to the point of depression, when really I just have undiagnosed ADHD.

Now it’s March 28th, 2021. I still haven’t been officially diagnosed but I tried reaching out to my counselor at school, and I’ve been going through testing to see if I need extended time for tests at school. But maybe one day I should actually try to get tested for ADHD.

So yeah reading this hit close to home for me. I’m almost crying :,)

Also it’s so interesting how we’re different ages, genders, and socioeconomic groups (I’m broke since I don’t have a job), yet we relate so much. I’ve already had my midlife crisis too, except for me it was at the end of 8th grade to the beginning of 9th grade.

Also, I’m sorry for rambling and spilling you my life story, hopefully I haven’t bored you to the point of tears.

Now that it’s Sunday at 6:10 PM, it’s time to start studying for my next Math test in like 2 days. I got a 55.5% on the last one because I didn’t get to the last two pages, which was unfortunately 40% worth of the test and I had no idea :,D.

Anyway, I am so happy for you and I wish you the best in your journey in life! Your blogs have helped me so much you have no idea! I wish you and your family the best!! YEET :D

David Cain March 30, 2021 at 10:18 am

Hi Gabriela. Definitely get tested if possible. Just figuring out you probably have ADHD is a major breakthrough. There’s another breakthrough when you are diagnosed, and a third one when you begin treatment. Each one is big deal and it makes life a lot better, so keep going. Everyone I’ve talked to about this wishes then moved through these stages earlier. So don’t wait.

And good luck on the test!

Antje Duvekot March 31, 2021 at 5:44 pm

Your post made me cry, David — and I’m proud to have gotten through it, LOL, sigh…focus. I’m at the same juncture. 46 and just realizing that what you describe applies to me as well. I think I’m an artist not because I wanted to be, but because it’s the only job that somewhat works with “this kind of brain”. I’m considering getting medicated, but to be honest, I’m afraid of it working… and the wave of grief that could follow around experiencing something better, around realizing it didn’t need to be that way for so long. Anyway, thanks so much for the post!
Antje

David Cain April 1, 2021 at 3:32 pm

Hi Antje. That’s an understandable fear. However, if some kind of treatment did make things better (it does for most), I think it is more likely you will feel gratitude than regret. There might be a grieving process as you contemplate the past, but that’s not a reason to ensure that your future is worth grieving as well. I’m glad I didn’t wait another day to look into it, and I’ve never met anyone express regrets about it.

Uma April 3, 2021 at 12:34 am

I read this with awe. I can’t believe that, under those tremendously difficult circumstances, you wrote so many beautiful and helpful articles. RESPECT. May your journey forward be blessed.

Ann April 3, 2021 at 4:49 pm

Hi David,

First, thank you for sharing this personal story, and thank you for pushing through these obstacles for so many years. For what it is worth, I have never viewed your posts are unorganized or “draft” versions – I follow many blogs, but yours is one of my favourites for the profound truths that you share here. As far as I can tell, you have done an amazing job of communicating ideas that are not easy to express.

I’m so happy for you and wish you all the best going forward!

Philip Pogson April 7, 2021 at 1:31 am

(found my way here from J D Roth’s Blog for the very first time today)

Sitting here stunned and very tearful.
53 yrs old Australian and you have just described my entire life.

Thank you (I think)

Time to reach out for some help I never knew might even exist.

Ellie April 8, 2021 at 3:38 pm

David, thank you.
I’m so glad that you’ve discovered this for yourself and – after my partner and I read your blog we agreed it was time for me to bite the bullet and get assessed after putting it off for over a 15 years. I’ve just had my own diagnosis today and while it’ll take a while to process, just knowing there could be solutions beyond “trying harder” is an unbelievable relief.
Antje – Yes, totally. I’m at the same stage of my life and that is going to be part of the processing. But at the same time – now looking forward to what might be yet to come!

Nikolas April 12, 2021 at 2:20 am

Thank you for this incredibly enlightening and intimate post. I think most people on this website can relate to a certain extent to most of what you’re saying, I know I do.

Happyluckyzoe April 15, 2021 at 12:28 am

Hi David!
I have been reading your blog for at least 5 years now and I don’t know how you do it, but always (and I mean ALWAYS) your latest posts is exactly what I needed to read.
Only last December at age 30 I realised I might have a neurodiversity (I’m thinking Aspergers, which very likely include ADHD). Still haven’t been professionally diagnosed, but I actually felt exactly like you are describing (I even used the Truman Shown analogy to explain it to my friends).
I’m very happy for you and so excited to see what’s next for Raptitude (I’m suspecting it will keep being what I need to read).
Cheers, ☺️ Zoe

Martin April 16, 2021 at 3:54 pm

Glad I read this post. Having consulted for anxiety-related matters over the years, I was surprised when a recent therapist told me that she believes I have ADHA.

I didn’t really believe what she said and thought she was exaggerating. After all, as you said, I also meditate, and I don’t tend to forget stuff either. And aren’t we all distracted by gadgets, Facebook and such? I didn’t think I displayed more ADHD than the average joe.

Anyway, your post forces me to reconsider and try that self-assessment.

Thanks,

nroxxmneb April 17, 2021 at 5:05 pm

Dear David, I am very happy for you about your ADHD revelation, it surely has changed, and will continue to change, your life for the good. But avoid throwing out the child out with the bath, so to speak. In your “What ADHD is Like (for me)” post you apparently consider “Serial obsessions” and “Seeming inability to learn skills beyond beginner/novelty level” as ADHD consequences, but they might just be personality traits which many people who don’t suffer from ADHD have, too. These people are called “scanners”, a term coined by the great Barbara Sher, who has dedicated her life to this topic. There have been a few commenters to this blog who have already hinted at Barbara Sher and the scanner phenomenon, but you haven’t really reacted to their comments a lot, so I feel the need to mention it here once again. You might, or not find, that you are a “scanner”, too, independent from your ADHS, and if this is the case, you might be better off to just accept and not try to to fight this part of yourself. All the best for you and keep up your great work!

Jenn April 27, 2021 at 8:36 pm

Well, this is weird and oddly timed. We’re about exactly the same age and I just discovered your page today after Ali Abdaal referenced one of your articles. I was going through some of your older stuff and thinking “wow, these are fantastic and great resources for people with ADHD”. Then I read this post. I was reading and reading and the whole time thinking “He doesn’t know he has ADHD? How does he not know he has ADHD?”. But your explanation was 100% perfect. I completely understand the masking and over-correction, doing everything possible to not disappoint people or make them think you’re weird in some way. When I was a kid I was that rare girl who had ALL the classic boy symptoms of ADHD, super hyperactive, interrupting everyone, running everywhere…and it was horrible. I had no friends, everyone thought I was a weirdo. So I did everything possible to repress that to the point that I just sat at my desk, talked to no one, and basically became the stereotypical girl ADHD’er who stares off into space and daydreams too much. And my life still sucked and I still had no friends and I was still a weirdo, just a quiet weirdo with a head buzzing with too much information. Living life with undiagnosed ADHD is like living as an imposter, an alien, and you don’t know any of the rules to try and blend in with the humans. Everything is trial and error and 10x harder than it needs to be. Lucky for me I was diagnosed in my early 20’s after failing out of college, so at least I’ve spent the past decade or so knowing what my problem is. Meds really do help make the world a much more sane and realistic place. My only piece of advice is advice I don’t think you need at all. Don’t stop. Don’t let yourself believe that the meds will make everything ok. They are fantastic as a tool, but you really have to use that tool to learn all the things you’ve missed over the past 40yrs that everyone else already knows. But from what I’ve read you’re already doing that, so, I guess I just wanted to say congratulations? Welcome to the club of wonderful, amazing, weirdos who see life differently, who know what it feels like to be the odd man out, and who can empathize with others so much better because of that.

David Cain April 28, 2021 at 9:55 am

Thanks for this comment Jenn. That is hilarious — how obvious my ADHD was to some people in just from what I was writing about. I thought I was just figuring out ordinary life. It does feel like being part of a club, now that I know. Especially since having ADHD often feels exactly like everyone else is in all kinds of clubs and you’re excluded from them for some mysterious reason.

Andra Boudreau May 2, 2021 at 10:41 am

David,
I see you’ve got a ton of comments on here & I know time and the handling of it is important – so I’m not hankering for a reply – but I feel that you should know that your post literally has saved my life. I am 54 years old & have followed your very relatable, articulate & interesting articles on Raptitude for over 10 years. Your ways of seeing the world have very closely mirrored mine, despite our age difference. So when I read your very personal story and saw myself, I immediately got evaluated for ADHD. (sidenote: I am the world’s worst procrastinator so to do anything “immediately” is nothing short of a miracle!) Like you, I’ve never considered the possibility because I’ve compensated in a whole lot of ways. I’ve been on Adderall now for 5 days & I feel utterly transformed. I feel like I can finally live the life that I am here to live. And I owe that to YOU – a stranger on the internet. HA! So, with my deepest gratitude, I say thank you. Truly. Be well & keep writing. The world needs to hear your story…

David Cain May 3, 2021 at 10:23 am

Glad to hear this Andra! Quite a number of people have already been assessed and diagnosed as a result of this post. I just hope it improves all their lives as much as it has mine. All the best for the future.

Kathleen MacDonald May 3, 2021 at 10:17 am

Hi David I just read this post after googling adhd in adults. I’m 42 and was diagnosed with adhd two weeks ago. Your experience almost totally mirrors my own, from the midlife panic knowing the time to just “get my shit together” was running out to monitoring my behaviour to the point of developing social anxiety. Being on medication for the last two weeks has already become a major game changer. I’m excited for the future now. Congratulations on your diagnosis too

David Cain May 3, 2021 at 10:26 am

Congrats Kathleen. I think much of our generation got missed, presumably because because in the 80s (when we were in grade school) there was a much narrower idea of what ADHD looked like. Women especially have been overlooked. So that means lots of us 40+ are out there running around undiagnosed. Anyway, I hope it is a positive turning point for you. Take care.

G May 3, 2021 at 3:49 pm

I knew this was gonna be big. At 34, having a rare day where I go through old emails and close open tabs in preparation for maybe continuing to work on a grad school app, I stumble across this post.

Have been experiencing the same Truman Show feelings since I saw the movie and relate to all of the experiences you list. Except also I’m late and lose things. I’ve always thought ADHD was a possibility, but not possibly the crux of the matter until reading this post. Recently gave to into my psychologist’s prodding and had my first psychiatry appointment. Calling him back now to talk about succumbing to Big Pharma.

The first Camp Calm helped launch my meditation/spiritual journey and has been the only thing that’s provided relief. Since I even get to self-conscious to journal/write without bullying myself.

Thank you so much David for all of your very, very, very, very, very hard work!

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