Adult ADHD: The Silent Killer

I try to imagine what my alternate, unlived life might have been like.

Sometimes I try to imagine how different my life would be if I was diagnosed with ADHD at a young age. From the perspective of age 52, a “younger age” would be 36. The changes that have occurred in my life during the past few years — improvements in memory; ability to meet deadlines (well…sometimes); ability to visualize the future (this is improving in leaps and bounds) — would already be woven into the personal fabric of my life. They would be another set of processes that are akin to my daily rituals. (I don’t have to think about my morning shave…I just have to get the process started). Further, I would not have spent many years misdiagnosed, assuming that I suffered from Jewish nomadism (the modern equivalent of roaming the desert) [note 1] or perhaps a mild form of multiple personality disorder (yet another “diagnosis” by a “professional”).

Despite all the help from the “professionals,” the true explanation came at the age of 46 when I diagnosed myself as ADHD. It was a bittersweet moment or, to put it more bluntly, it was an oh shit moment. There was the oh shit explanation of my life, the reason why so many things had gone wrong. But this was quickly followed by the other “oh shit” moment when I realized that knowing the cause of my problems did not mean I could eliminate that cause.

There is a part of me that wonders what my life would be like right now if I was never diagnosed as ADHD. Would I be happier? (Remember…ignorance is bliss.) Would I be even more depressed than I was at that time? I know I would be divorced. Would I have quickly remarried? Would I have stayed single? Would I have moved to another part of the country?

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My life would be radically different if only the “professionals” had read the “label” that was affixed to the patient, the label that had all the signs of ADHD written all over it and which was staring them in the face. My life would be radically different if they tried to understand reality as-it-is instead of through the lens of some neo-Freudian existentialist gestalt preconception. Perhaps, if I were properly diagnosed and treated, I would have stayed in graduate school. Perhaps I would not have left a good paying job that was, literally, ten minutes from my home. Perhaps I would not have been on the brink of divorce. If only the “professionals” had tried to really understand instead of just playing the part of a “professional” who “understands.”

The “professionals” have failed 2.5 million adults [note 2] in the United States by failing to read the label and take the words seriously. That’s the only conclusion I can come to. For the most part, anyone who is now 45 years old or older and has “the gift” was probably never diagnosed with ADHD during the first forty-four (or more) years of their life. A sizable number may STILL NOT KNOW they have ADHD. How different their lives would now be if they knew that deep inside them was ADHD, the silent killer of hopes and dreams. How different their lives would now be if the professionals they may have turned to for help had bothered to read the “label of evidence” that was affixed to the patient package that arrived at their office each week. How much easier their lives would now be if they knew about this silent killer and had spent their earlier years learning how to accept it, how to live with it, how to thrive despite it.

  1. This was the explanation for my many careers and interests according to a psychiatrist I saw twenty years ago.
  2. As of 2009 there were about 63,316,000 adults aged 45 or older. If 4% have ADHD that gives us 2,520,000 million adults with ADHD. Population data is from the U.S. Census. Adult ADHD did not exist, as far as psychiatry was concerned, until the early 1990′s. Prior to that, they did not know of its existence. Perhaps Adult ADHD “appeared” during a solar eclipse of the sun, like the plant in Little Shop of Horrors.
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  • Dr Charles Parker

    Excellent reportage as usual… addressing an absolutely outrageous point: We are repeatedly missing the diagnosis in Adults, and, let me tell you from considerable personal experience, we also persistently miss the diagnosis in children in 2011 – all this simply because we are not paying attention to the available science. We ignore the new brain science at our own peril.

    People do kill themselves over the important points you raise here.

    The DSM 4 is a Paleolithic bible to say the least, as it is completely loaded with false starts, insufficiently thought out criteria, and absolutely no attention to neurophysiology [which, as a topic, is so frequently disdained by *institutionally programmed* head-in-the-sand academic thinking]. In a post about 6 mos ago I indicated, following the assertion that the new DSM 5 would be the new bible, that if you relied on that new bible – you would not be saved! It promises to be the same-ol based upon appearances and teacher reports, as the public is not yet trusted to think about thinking.

    This post addresses the main reason, the imperative, for writing my recent book [*ADHD Medication Rules - Paying Attention To The Meds For Paying Attention*] – people do die having been missed by this misinformation and an associated outdated vertical medical management system for ADHD of all ages.

    For those interested in more details than we can cover here please do take a look at my site, and download the complimentary Special Report on Predictable Solutions at

    Thanks for your persistent dedication to the truth,

    • Matt Stroben

      SSI thinks I should have no problem working with Diabetes and ADHD. In fact they say adhd will not affect me. They also say I am not telling the truth when I find it almost impossible to lie.. Almost as if I have an uncontrollable urge to tell the truth. The fact is that I forget even if I took my insulin just moments before and have to hope I did…

      • Jeff

        That forgetfulness can be fatal…ESPECIALLY where diabetes is concerned. And you are correct…it *is* difficult to lie…because if you did lie…you’d forget what you said…and even you want to simply hide the truth…the inability to control yourself would cause the truth to spill out. You’ll never convince them of this. They have to live it themselves in order to really get it.

    • Anonymous

      Would your life have been radically different? Maybe,maybe not.In my experience ADHD can never really be medicated ‘away’ completely.My son was dx at 11-the last straw being finding him rocking back and forth outside his classsroom with his head in his hands not wanting to live any more.Fast forward 12 years ,an Honours Graduate,stable relationship,living independently acclaimed in the local press for his engineering skills. Every day a battle?oh yes. Misunderstood? i’m afraid so still. He still’ polarises’ people in spite of the meds.Sometimes i feel guilty for dampening down his spirit but i know that his life would have been unbearable if i had not.

      • Jeff

        “Would your life have been radically different? Maybe,maybe not.” – What would be different…especially if I was diagnosed at a younger age…the things that I’m learning to do as a 50 year old I could have learned ten or more years ago and I’d be reaping the benefit of those changes at this stage of my life.

        “Sometimes i feel guilty for dampening down his spirit” – No…it wasn’t his spirit you dampened…you simple reigned in the ADHD and now you see the fruits of that effort. You did the right thing though, as a parent myself, I’m sure you wondered at the time if it was, indeed, the right thing. Damn shame that when we bring a child into the world that the hospital doesn’t give us a user’s manual that’s specific to our child’s needs. Who knows…maybe that’s coming in the future. ;)

    • Jeff


      Misinformation is exacerbated by the internets which allows anyone to post anything on any subject…the downside of wikipedia though its info tends to be better than a lot of what is out there. Even worse…bad information hangs out there in the ether and never gets updated or removed. “People do kill themselves over the important points you raise here.” – Believe me…I had plenty of dark thoughts. Thankfully I’m ADHD so every time I made plans to kill myself…I forgot where I put my gun. (sorry for the dark humor…couldn’t help myself.)

      “*institutionally programmed* head-in-the-sand academic thinking” – I think what will need to happen is a sort of end-run around the APA. You know…if you can’t work within the existing institutional framework…perhaps it is time to create a competing framework. It’s time to put an end to the “talking cure.” It didn’t really work in Freud’s day…it doesn’t really work now. Looking back on my years of therapy…I would have been much better off with a focus on the present and the here-and-now…much more of a cognitive behavioral therapy approach.

      “persistently miss the diagnosis in children in 2011″ – This is really unconscionable especially in light of how much we know.

      “Excellent reportage” – Thank you!

  • Matthew O Stroben

    Thank you.. Sometimes I think I must be crazy when I talk to these people.. it makes  me question myself.

    • Jeffs ADD Mind

      “When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.” – Mark Twain

    • Jeffs ADD Mind

      “When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.” – Mark Twain

  • Pingback: Undiagnosed Adult ADHD: The Silent Killer of Hopes & Dreams | Jeff's ADD Mind

  • ADHDer

    I don’t think it’s just about medicine. I take no ADHD meds but once I
    got my diagnosis I was able to improve. Why? Because 1) I had the
    awareness of what was at the root of many of my problems, which a huge
    thing in itself and 2) because of that awareness and understanding I was
    able to find ways to manage the symptoms and create strategies to help
    me deal with them. Diagnosis is crucial. Like Jeff I wasn’t diagnosed
    till mid adulthood and looking back there were so many opportunities for
    diagnosis in my childhood. Issues came up in school but ADHD was never
    thought of by professionals. Being female and managing to get decent
    grades despite my symptoms probably did not help with diagnosis either.

    • Jeffs ADD Mind

      I can’t see how I’d survive without meds but, I must admit, I have my moments when I’m glad the meds have worn off.

  • Gina Pera

    Yep, except I think it’s more like 10 million.

    • Jeffs ADD Mind

      Well…my number is based on a conservative estimate of 4% of 63 million adults who are over 45. I didn’t count adults under age 45.

  • Georgina Musacchio

    I have question, and I understand if you don’t want to answer it. Why, if you were so sure you had adhd at 46, didn’t you get the diagnose until you were 52? Was it just a “resources” thing or was it acceptance and all that?
    I guess I’ve mentioned it by now, if I lived in the US I would have gotten a diagnose much faster and easier! (“adult adhd” in South America is commonly known as “lazy-spoiled-not-willing-to-grow-up adult”).
    Anyway, another question… are we that crazy, those of us who “diagnose ourselves”? I know, academically it’s bad, it’s frowned upon, blablabla… but still, didn’t it happen to you that you were so freakin sure that you had adhd? It sure happened to me when I started reading, researching and studying seriously about it (I did not take it lightly… hyperfocus, anyone?)
    Well, as usual, I love having these outlets and having you share your experience, I feel less alone :D

    • Jeffs ADD Mind

      Georgina, I think you misunderstood what I had written. I was 46 when I was self-diagnosed and, shortly after my self-diagnosis, I was officially diagnosed by a doctor. However, I wrote this particular post when I was 52 years old.

      Part of the problem that I had was that when I was growing up, it was assumed you grew out of ADHD and so, it was further assumed, that no one above, say, 18 or 20 years old, could have ADHD. That turned out to be false. That’s why many adults who have ADHD have not been diagnosed.

      Of course, my self-diagnosis occurred once I started reading about ADHD. Those of us who self-diagnose are not crazy at all…just intelligent enough to see ourselves objectively. The “crazy” part is that we see ourselves as, in a sense, being crazy.

      We have to thank the wonders of the internet for making it possible for ADHDers around the world to share their experiences with others.

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