You may have ADHD and not even know it. “[I j]ust got a new client who was diagnosed at 63,” says Elaine Taylor-Klaus, cofounder of ImpactADHD, an Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder consultancy. She says its reputation as a “kids’ disease” is wrong: Present from birth, ADHD is a lifelong neurological condition .
Contrary to its name, Attention-Deficit doesn’t mean you can’t pay attention. Instead, you pay too much attention. When you have ADHD, it’s hard to focus on individual tasks because you can’t stop focusing on everything else that’s going on. Take work, for example: Maybe the person you share an office with types too loudly or you can’t zone out the conversations happening in the hall. Maybe you keep hearing the phone in the next room ringing through the wall. Whatever it is, you simply can’t screen out the noise the way that other people can. And when you finally do focus, you zone in so tightly that hours pass before you know it.
Here’s why: The ADHD mind has an undersupply of dopamine and norepinephrine, two neurotransmitters essential to filtering stimuli the brain doesn’t need from stimuli it does. Without them, your mind is a lake without a dam — flooded by every piece of information before it. You feel unable to pay attention because your attention goes to everything you encounter. It’s not easy.
“Adults over 50 who are diagnosed often feel a huge sense of regret,” Taylor-Klaus says, “like if they’d only known, imagine what they could have done differently. That regret that they were not able to achieve what they wanted in their lives — coupled with years of self-abuse treating themselves as if they were stupid or a failure or lazy — can pack quite a wallop.”
But you aren’t stupid or lazy. You just have ADHD. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is hereditary, and it manifests in two core ways: Inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity.
Don’t let that word “hyperactivity” fool you, ladies. Men tend to exhibit this symptom more than women, who often show greater inattention. Taylor-Klaus’ client spent decades unable to focus on work and came to her after getting fired — yet again. Whereas children with ADHD often make low grades or frequent trips to the principal’s office, adults experience job underperformance and disciplinary write-ups.