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“How I Restarted My Life After a Post-Menopausal ADHD Diagnosis”

“Midlife…is not a crisis. It’s a slow, brutal unraveling.”

A woman writing in her journal.
Photo by Antoni Shkraba:

The First 50 Years

Why am I like this? Why is everything such a struggle?

These are the questions that would plague me as soon as I’d wake up. There would be an avalanche of tumbling thoughts accompanied by fruitless resolutions to do better today than I did yesterday and most of the days of the past 50 years of my life.

Shoulds and have-tos mounted before I even sat up in bed. Procrastination began immediately. Today, I’d proclaim, I’ll start getting ready as soon as I have my coffee. But… I didn’t. Merely getting into the shower was a battle. By the time I was ready, I was already running behind. Again.

Most of the days in my life looked like this. I’m an adult, I’d tell myself. I’ve been an adult for decades. So why can’t I ever manage to plug my intentions into my motor cortex and just DO things without an epic struggle through resistance?

As Brené Brown told Tim Ferriss: “Midlife… is not a crisis. It’s a slow, brutal unraveling.” For most of my life, cycles of procrastination and panic-induced productivity got me through things — more or less. But when I reached midlife, burnout was increasingly winning these battles. My old constant companion, anxiety, was just sort of there, hanging out like the parasite it was. Cranked up to 11, yes, but what good was it if it could no longer motivate me like it used to?

The Midlife Shift

Today, when I wake up, there’s no wave of anxiety, no dread of getting out of bed. I pour a cup of coffee and sit at my window, watching the birds. I take my time in the morning. My one rule for early mornings is to not engage in screen time right after waking. I sit and sip and let my mind wander.

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After journaling and meditating, it’s time for breakfast. I get ready at my own pace. My morning routine takes a long time, but I can afford to take my time. I schedule my days to allow it, because this is what my mind and body want. This sets the tone for the day.

Then comes work. I step gently through my to-do list, taking breaks when I need to. I switch tasks, working for a short block at each. The pacing is enough to prevent boredom and frustration, while still giving each task enough time to make some progress. I’m so much more consistent than I used to be; I make a little progress on each project each day. No more default procrastination, unable to start a task until I’m right up against — or past — an appointment or a deadline, then relying on intense stress to push through.

What changed?

An ADHD Diagnosis After Menopause

I was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 52. Like many women with ADHD, I was diagnosed after menopause, when a drop in hormones makes symptoms much more apparent. Despite no medical professional ever spotting it before, my ADHD, as my diagnostician put it, “isn’t subtle.” He had to walk me through a meltdown over the phone when I couldn’t get through the questionnaire for my evaluation.

I’ll never forget the sense of gratification and relief I felt as I looked at his report. I read his clinical judgments for the degree of impairment for each symptom: “Severe.” “Severe.” “Severe.” Or sometimes, “Moderate to severe.”

[We Demand Attention: A Call for Research on ADHD and the Menopausal Transition]

After learning what having ADHD really meant — being wired for executive functioning difficulties — I was finally able to be compassionate and accepting toward the way I operated. My struggles and limitations started to make sense.

Starting Over

I tried a thought experiment: What if I start to regard all my supposed flaws and weaknesses — my absentmindedness, my inability to focus, the way I was always running late, how desperately hard it was to start any task — as features I simply have to work with, with no moral condemnation attached to them?

This was a major reversal from the way I had previously moved through my life. This meant starting over with a mindset that I hadn’t had since almost before my earliest memories. And with that, everything shifted.

I started to schedule around my energy levels, instead of what I thought I “should” be able to do. For example, I stopped thinking of 40-hour (or more) work weeks as somehow being optimal. Instead, I asked myself what I could do with part-time hours, so that I could live without constant burnout.

By understanding executive dysfunction and the constant fatigue of working with a very messy high-octane brain, I radically dialed back my demands of myself. I learned to work within my window of tolerance.

I stopped thinking of my energy limits as temporary obstacles, to be dismissed or plowed through. This was my wiring. It’s not going to change. This is what I have to work with.

Midlife ADHD and Menopause: Next Steps

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