Cathy Shah: My experience of receiving a ‘later in life’ ADHD diagnosis

blog logo

My experience of receiving a ‘later in life’ ADHD diagnosis

Life is chaotic at the best of times but imagine it felt like being stuck in a speeding car on a large roundabout with twenty different exits. You keep driving around and around. You find yourself crippled with indecision about which exit to take to get to the ‘right’ destination. Then you try one of the exits but a few moments later, you have this awful feeling in the pit of your stomach that you’re going the wrong way. You quickly make a U-turn and find yourself speeding around the roundabout again. This happens in never-ending cycles.

That’s how my life has felt, up until recently, when, at the age of thirty nine, I finally got my official diagnosis of ADHD and ASD. It a huge was a ‘Aha!’ moment for me. Finally, the chaos that has been my life made some sort of sense. Getting diagnosed was like finding the missing piece of my jigsaw. I can finally see myself as a fully formed picture. It has brought me clarity, relief and self-acceptance.

All my life, I have been told by people, ‘You look and sound so young for your age.’ I’ve struggled with an array of mental health issues since my teen years. I have felt out of place, different and like I was dropped off on the wrong planet. I have been paralysed with indecision about what I should be doing with my life, never able to fully commit to one thing.

The sheer amount of courses, hobbies and jobs I’ve been juggling over the past twenty years would send anyone’s head into a spin if I were to list them all here. So I won’t. Just know that there has never been a moment in time where I wasn’t ‘at’ something or many things at the same time. Never a moment when I wasn’t trying to figure myself and life out. 

Living with ADHD is a funny thing. It fills my life with paradoxes. Something as small as a balloon bursting can throw my nervous system into such disarray, that I’ll have to spend the rest of the day watching a Netflix documentary about serial killers, as this seems to calm my nerves back down. 

In my extroverted hyper state, I’ll feel excited and invincible – like I can do anything. I tend to over commit to events and projects. As these events and deadlines creep up on me, my introverted self feels completely overwhelmed and anxious, and regrets taking on so much. I end up feeling burnt out a lot of the time because of this. 

I absolutely love people and am passionate about helping others but I much prefer alone time, time with animals, children, or a couple of people whom I really trust, as I don’t have to mask my ADHD symptoms and can just be me. (Masking my whole life has been so draining.) 

I laugh at funerals. Not because I think death is funny. Not one bit. It is because my nervous system is unable to regulate itself on a ‘normal ‘ day, let alone a day where I’m facing the reality of someone close to me disappearing into thin air, never to be seen again. 

Deep down, I am devastated beyond words to describe the depth of sadness I feel. I detach completely and the stress comes out of me as uncontrollable fits of laughter, which is super uncomfortable to experience around family. I remember at my Mam’s funeral just burying my head in my hands and shaking with laughter. Thankfully people thought I was crying. 

I love to learn new things, but I prefer to teach myself as I find it so boring sitting in a class listening to someone teach me something in an hour, which I could have grasped myself in ten minutes, so I zone out and become uninterested. 

If one little thing doesn’t go as planned during my day, the structure I’ve created dissolves and crumbles like a child’s sandcastle that has been suddenly washed away by an unexpected wave. I’ll spend the rest of the either meditating to try and return to balance or I’ll zone out completely and crash. 

I’ve heard ADHD as standing for ‘Attention Dialled into A Higher Dimension’. While I usually abhor all things ‘new age’, there may be some truth to this acronym. I realise now there is nothing ‘wrong’ with being neurodivergent. I’m just wired differently. My unique wiring isn’t built to thrive in the flawed system we live in. That is okay. 

I am becoming the architect of my life, finding my own unique flow within a daily structure that suits me. I’ve been seeing a lot of snails everywhere recently. I’m taking it as a sign to slow right down. I am prioritising my balance and peace over everything. I am a work in progress. My life may seem odd to others, but it’s starting to make perfect sense to me. That’s all that matters. 

I’m turning forty in September and I finally have a notion of what I wanna be when I grow up.

I’ve found a purpose worth sticking to. This has made all the difference. I don’t want a role in the pervasive illusion that is our world. I want to be free and help others to become free. I’m slowly coming to realise there’s beauty in the chaos, beauty in the mess. Anyways, I much prefer wildflower fields to perfectly preened gardens any day. 

Cathy Shah is a passionate mental health activist, poet and writer. She has Indian and Irish heritage and grew up in Dublin, Ireland. She runs a mental health page on Instagram @candidlycathyshah, sharing her lived experiences to help end stigma. 

Her mental health blog here:

%d bloggers like this: