Undiagnosed ADHD Sabotaged My Life for 34 Years
If you had told me seven years ago that I was going to write this article, I would never have believed you. That’s because I was broke, divorced, and earned the minimum wage.
When I was 33, I moved into a shared apartment with four friends. I was upstairs unpacking my suitcase after the divorce when a corpse fell on my king size bed and startled me. It was Billy, a 26-year-old tech support agent from Vietnam, and he seemed terribly comfortable.
And then I noticed: He hadn’t fallen on my king-size bed, but on his half of our king-size bed. Because renting half a bed was all I could afford back then.
How I got there
Let me tell you a little bit about how I got to this rock bottom – my story of more than 30 years of undiagnosed ADHD.
Elementary school, middle school, and high school all got off to a good start. I was a good test taker by nature and had a social structure that supported me.
Still, I struggled with legendary levels of procrastination and last-minute saves throughout my school days. I’ve never finished writing a book from cover to cover, which earned me the nickname “Cliff’s Notes Aron”.
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“What’s wrong with me?” The question played like a broken record in my head.
My mother was quick to answer: “Aron is just arrogant. He thinks he doesn’t have to do the work. “
However, this answer confused me because I wanted to do the work. I hated the little heart attack I had every time a deadline was approaching. The adrenaline rush got me into action, but it drained me physically and emotionally.
With all that said, I managed to get my high school graduation # 1 and – blow the trumpets! – be admitted to Harvard.
Harvard should be the beginning of my successful life. Instead, it started 15 years of failure.
I dropped out twice – once fled to a tiny island in New Zealand, but that’s a different story. I have consumed alcohol, weed, and cigarettes at various times to drown out my despair, and I barely managed to graduate.
This turmoil and the failure of my bachelor’s career further eroded my self-esteem. But I got a Harvard degree and I got into the job market and it got better …
Nah, I’m just kidding.
[Read: “What It Feels Like Living with Undiagnosed ADHD”]
On my first job after college, I lasted six months. I failed my first seven jobs and companies. I worked nights and weekends to catch up because my undiagnosed ADHD distracted me during the work day, but this was starting to affect my marriage.
“What’s wrong with me?” There is that smelly question again!
My introduction to coaching psychology
Then, in my early 30s, I did what anyone with a career in chaos would consider: I went to graduate school.
There I did a master’s degree in coaching psychology. I told my mom that I wanted to be a life coach – which was true – but basically I wanted to help myself.
And in many ways, I’ve done it. I got help from peer coaches and started applying the science of motivation, habit building and change to my life.
I started fantasizing about how I would use my newly acquired skills to get out of my minimum wage job … and finally reach my potential.
And then “the bomb weekend” happened. My wife told me she was unhappy – and had an affair.
I’ve hit rock bottom
All of this brings us back to the room with Billy, where I was broke, divorced, and made the minimum wage.
It was there that my brain started working, and soon after I slept in that king-size bed, I found better-paying work. Then after 7 months I switched companies for an even better job.
My life finally started to work!
And then … history repeated itself.
The mistake that changed everything
After three months in my new position, my boss told me that my work had not been up to par in the past few months and that I would have to stay long to repeat everything. Fearing that I would lose another job, I urged a friend to borrow some Adderall to help me get through a week of nights at the office.
When I took the Adderall – which was a first for me – I entered a parallel universe where I could turn my attention on command. I could do work that wasn’t fun just because I had to do it.
OHHHH, that’s what people meant when they said “Aron, just sit down and work on your task,” provided my brain could do it at will.
It was as if a blind man suddenly saw and said, “Oh, that’s what people mean when they say purple” …
I went to see a psychiatrist straight away. And was diagnosed. Overnight, I went from an underachiever to an average, and then an above-average performer.
Over the next seven years I completely rebuilt my life. I got married again, got four promotions, worked my way up to an executive position at an $ 8 billion Fortune 500 company … Doot, dooh, dooh! (This is my trumpet impression.)
Diagnosis and medication helped, but they didn’t fix everything
While the diagnosis was life changing, this summary glosses over the bumps and wrong turns in my real path.
In my first two years after being diagnosed, I thought that keeping a job was the peak of my potential. So I patted myself on the shoulder because I went to work every day and then I would smoke weed, eat SweetTarts, and play video games every night.
It took me two years to realize that the peak of my potential wasn’t just staying in one job for more than 12 months.
I realized that “pills don’t teach skills” and if I wanted to get more of my life I had to do more than relieve my symptoms for a few hours.
That was when I fell into another rabbit hole and was studying how our ADHD brains process things differently from neurotypical ones.
Break through the fog
After understanding this, I understood why popular productivity systems had always failed me. I mixed, matched, and modified leading approaches to create a simplified system that relied on focus only 8% of the day. And that opened the gates of productivity for me.
Last year, I published 25+ articles, read 75+ books, shot 50+ YouTube videos, and grew my social media followers to over 100,000 people. And all of this during my full-time employment. All of this preparatory work enabled me to quit a few months ago and start a successful coaching company.
On my journey, I discovered that something was wrong with my systems. And my strategies were far from perfect. But the biggest discovery was that in the end there was nothing wrong with me.
Undiagnosed ADHD: Next Steps
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