An honest take on life and parenthood

Diagnosis: Life with ADD, Part 2

on June 16, 2015
Credit: Google images

Credit: Google images

One day, as I was messing around on Facebook, I idly clicked on a link from The Atlantic Monthly. The article was called, “ADHD Is Different in Women.” As I read it, my heart started racing. I shared a high number of traits with the female author. Messiness. Distraction. Forgetfulness. Disorganization.

My mind buzzed. Could these issues, which I always considered character faults, actually be a clinical disorder?

I found an online diagnostic quiz and completed it.

Result: I was highly likely to have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). To be completely sure, I needed a clinical evaluation by a professional.

I obsessed about it for two days. I finally worked up the courage to share my worries with my husband. It went something like this:

“So, Michael…don’t forget to run the dishwasher when you close up the house tonight.


He looked up from his place on the couch where he was watching ESPN. He laughed and shook his head. “You don’t have ADD.” He channel surfed to the football game.

“I’m serious. I really think I have it.”

In an effort to calm me down and show me that it was hocus pocus, he later took the same online test I did.

Result: He most definitely did not have ADHD.

He tried to reassure me that I was fine and lovable and charming exactly as I was, and there was no need to go ferreting out some diagnosis that might not help me.

But now that I had a possible medical explanation for these quirks that had always stymied and frustrated me, I would not be deterred. I was a bloodhound on the trail, Miss Marple in quiet pursuit of the truth.

Since this is Rhode Island, everything is done by word of mouth. If you need something, you use personal connections. In local parlance, you “have a guy.”

I contacted a therapist I had seen for a year and asked her for a recommendation. She led me to Dr. Brett Leimkuhler at the Center for Neuropsychology and Learning Disorders in Wakefield, RI. She described him as objective and thorough. She had known him for twenty years, and trusted and respected him. Perfect.

I found out that my health insurance would cover only a tiny portion of the three day evaluation. It would cost over $1700. Yikes!

After a lot of discussion, Michael and I agreed that I could pursue evaluation in spite of the steep price tag. We would dip into our savings to cover it. It was not a frivolous expense for some luxury piece of bling. I had to know one way or the other, and this was the only way to find out.

A few weeks later, I pulled up to the white clapboard Cape Cod building that housed the Center for Neuropsychology & Learning Disorders in the quaint town of Wakefield.

On my first visit, Dr. Leimkuhler took a detailed family and clinical history. I answered his questions as honestly as I could, not knowing if my responses matched with a positive diagnosis or not.  I knew very little about the disorder. He asked me if anyone in my immediate family had ADHD, and I told him no. He then asked if anyone had Asperger’s or autism, and I remembered cousins and second cousins on my father’s side.

As we continued to talk, it occurred to me that my late father may have had ADHD, the inattentive kind. I described my father briefly.

Dr. Leimkuhler said, “ADHD is genetic, and it is usually found in immediate family members. If you have it, one of your parents probably has it. Your father may have had ADHD, but we can’t know for sure because he is gone. Given that the Asperger’s and autism is also on that side of the family, it is possible.”

Leaving me with that bombshell to process, he then dispatched me to take a reading comprehension test and a vocabulary test, bubbles, No. 2 pencil, timer, and all.

After finishing my appointment, I drove home, realizing that I may have accidentally cracked the mystery of my father wide open.

I had always known that something was wrong with my dad, a brilliant but troubled man. During his life, he lived a strange and reclusive existence, which my abuelita enabled and his siblings barely tolerated. Underneath the hoarding and the alcoholism and the severe depression, there had always been another disorder that went unnamed and untreated. No one had ever been able to explain it to me. Could it have been ADHD?

On the second visit, I did not see Dr. Leimkuhler at all. I spent the entire day at the testing center, starting at 9 am and leaving at about 4 pm, with a break for lunch. I went through countless tests that measured my cognitive abilities, math skills, short, medium, and long term memory, spatial skills, writing abilities, and verbal skills. I even did connect the dots. That night, I went to bed early, completely spent.

During my third visit, about two weeks later, Dr. Leimkuhler spent two hours reviewing the results in detail with me.

The diagnosis: I had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (Predominantly Inattentive Type). Because I had a high IQ and no learning disabilities, I had managed to go pretty far in spite of it.

My instinct was right.

I was stunned, but not surprised. I felt as if a heavy cloak had been pulled off of me. While I felt vulnerable, it was liberating.

Dr. Leimkuhler smiled at my reaction. He said that I had a classic case of ADHD, and had probably lived with it my entire life.  Since there are varying degrees of it, I was lucky to be a highly functioning person with the disorder. He often saw adults like me walk through his door, people who had done well up to a point, but then became stuck. Our compensation strategies for overcoming and hiding our problems did not work anymore. Doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, professors, artists – he saw all of us arrive in his office, frustrated and looking for answers.

I asked Dr. Leimkuhler countless questions. He showed me brain scans of normal brains and ADHD brains, and pointed out the structural differences. He also provided a simple tutorial on the faulty biochemistry involved. He explained why my brain had trouble with certain tasks, and why my memory let me down so often.  He recommended pursuing medication and coaching, investigating local support groups, and educating myself so that I could begin to manage my ADHD instead of it ruling me.

I thanked him, placed the evaluation in my purse, and drove an intense 40 minutes home to Providence.

It all made sense to me. My father had a severe case of inattentive ADHD, and I inherited it from him. ADHD ruined his life, but it would not ruin mine.

Now that I had an official diagnosis, it was time to get down to work.

Over the following six months, I would not be able to write. My creativity was paralyzed as I consumed every book I could find on ADHD and searched for effective management techniques.

Those of you who follow me now know why my blog was silent for a period of time.

During those fallow creative months, I used my energy to better understand the disorder and experiment with different tools to tame it. In the final installment of this three part blog post, I will share what I learned, as well as some of the resources I found most helpful.

Spoiler alert: It all ends up being okay.

Onward, my friends.

Credit: Google images

Credit: Google images


Over the past 20 years, there has been an explosion of information and resources on ADHD. I will provide more in my next post, but here are two that you may find helpful for now:

  • Basic information on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, on the website of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

  • Article in The Atlantic Monthly by Maria Yagoda: ADHD is Different for Women, April 3, 2013

2 responses to “Diagnosis: Life with ADD, Part 2

  1. jgroeber says:

    I can relate to so many aspects of this post. In a household of major disability, being legally blind and deaf hardly rated. My brother (who has been medicating for severe ADD since he was a teen) finally asked me if I thought he had Aspberger’s. Which, as a teacher, I have to say, I totally do. It has made our relationship so much better. Seeing our “flaws” (your disorder, his lack of affection and empathy) as simply existent differences to be navigated, takes the judgement out of it. I think sometimes people shun a diagnosis as “labeling” (and I get that) but sometimes a diagnosis comes with a map such that we can each now find new ways of navigating the journey. Looking forward to Part III.


  2. I found this comment very interesting. Yes, I see the diagnosis as a difference, not a label, as you rightly noted. That said, one of the things I find to be difficult is seeing it as a disability. I know that it is classified that way, but as someone who has had limited exposure to the disability community, I feel that is is a stretch for me to claim that. Not from a shame perspective; I feel no shame around it, even if others think I should. It’s more that I have been so extremely blessed in spite of it, unlike many others. I don’t even know what kind of accommodation to request for this. That said, it is SUCH A RELIEF to have a map. Thank you, good Lord above, for that map! I am early on this journey so we will see how it goes, but at least I am on it now.


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