One Man’s Story: Growing Up Undiagnosed ADHD

growing up undiagnosed ADHD

My Rugged Reality of ADHD

By Dylan Rosen

Do not read this if you are looking for a “Happy ADHD Story.” I do not have the gold medals of Michael Phelps or the arm of Terry Bradshaw. My life has been a struggle from the time I walked into first grade to my current age of 30. If you want something real and authentic to someone’s experience growing up with undiagnosed ADHD, however, I hope you will read on.

A Silent Struggle

When I was in elementary school, my ADHD symptoms were as classic as the Rolling Stones were to Rock ‘n Roll. However, I did very well. Teachers always said I was bright.

I did well in middle school too, even making the president’s list one marking period.

As I moved from middle school to high school, a couple things changed. My grades went from A’s and B’s to C’s and D’s. My relationships changed too. I grew apart from old friends and was not able to make new ones. I viewed myself as a loner, a recluse. My confidence was slipping, and I had begun to experience the awful taste of depression.

The pressure from my school’s academic standards became unbearable. I did not do well under that pressure, coupled with the negativity I always received at home. My parents expected high academic performance from me. After bringing home a poor interim report one semester, I was threatened to be sent to technical school, which frightened me. Going to trade school, growing up where I lived, was a sign of absolute failure.

growing up undiagnosed ADHD

Feeling Worthless and Alone

I do not understand why my parents did not see me trying. After trying to complete my assignments, I’d finally get bored and find something else more stimulating like a video game. My best attempts at reading still meant I fell asleep.

Other issues began to seep into my academic life. I did not know how to manage my time. I could not sustain attention or plan out future activities. Projects in the future became a terrible task. I could not figure out ways to accomplish them. These abilities are crucial when you are grappling with learning about DNA or Julius Caesar.

I felt worthless and alone at the age of 15. I would cry a lot because I was not good enough. My mom was verbally abusive and would even punch me with a closed fist. Just after turning 16,  I moved out of her home into my dad’s apartment.  This brought positive change to my life.

It did now, however, improve my grades.

growing up undiagnosed ADHD


No One Saw That I Was Trying

Regarding my grade, my dad treated me the same way my mom and stepdad did. C’s were not good enough, even if I tried my best. I always had this sense that I was not trying hard enough. My dad failed to see that I was trying. Working on chemistry, I’d  get that sense of tiredness in my eyes and stop.

I felt shame and also felt like I was a disappointment. I also had that feeling of being alone, a lifelong theme.

The years of negative attention and constantly being told what I did not do right took its toll on me. I felt like I could not be myself, and the world had made its statement:  You got all A’s but you still got a C in math.

I limped into community college.

The same themes present in high school continued in college. I took a semester or two off and had multiple classes where I received “F”s. I felt really down on myself for not completing my education as the people I grew up with did.

I did not complete my Associate’s Degree until five years after I started. I was married by this time.

growing up with undiagnosed ADHD


Struggles Grew Worse But Not Ready to “Seek Treatment”

My mental health struggles continued, and depression made my life very challenging. Depression affected my relationship with my new wife and at work. I was not ready to seek treatment.

My work struggles began within the first couple months of marriage. I was let go at my job probably because I was not catching on quickly enough. I had one job where I was yelled at for not being able to find tools or because I did not understand something quickly.

The boss, who yelled a lot, was always ready to jump down my throat. I was not trying to be a poor employee. All along I felt awful about myself and the feeling that I was in my own world of trouble, a desert without a human in sight.

During this time, I began to experience anxiety.

growing up with undiagnosed ADHD

Confusion Becomes Clarity

About three years later, my wife and I had decided to break up. What came next was life-changing.

In the summer of 2006, I began seeking treatment for anxiety through my family doctor. I also went to see a therapist, who revealed the bigger challenge of my life.

After answering a questionnaire in our second session, she said, “You have ADHD and you’ve had it your whole life.” I felt relief like a traveling and parched nomad, finally finding a well in a barren desert.

Several years later, my life is alright. I own a condo and received my Bachelor’s degree, graduating Magna Cum Laude.  It took me ten years to complete. The same year I graduated with my degree, I was fired from my job. I was not getting enough work done.

I cannot help but wonder how I slipped through the cracks laid by people who were supposed to be looking out for me. Recently, I have been pondering why they were not able to reach me when I was a kid, even without the ADHD diagnosis. I was bombarded by negative messages on my report cards about my school work. They have never left me.

I am a living example of the damage this disorder can do to someone’s life.  I am an example of how doing your very best with what you have been given is still not good enough.  I am constantly compensating for insecurities, which are probably due to my poor relationship with my mom and also never measuring up to what was expected of me.

growing up undiagnosed ADHD

And Some Hope

I have some positive things in my life, which bring me hope. I dream of being married again but know how challenging it will be to find someone who is safe and understanding.

I am a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters.  My “little” has some medical problems, and I picked him for this reason.  It has been a joy for me to spend time with him and give him things I did not receive as a boy.  Big Brothers and Big Sisters has taught me boundaries to use when I interact with him.

My heart crumbled when my “little” told my supervisor he loved me.

The major joy in my life is my participation in an online community dedicated to people with ADHD.  I am among great people and finally feel like I am not alone. I finally have what I have always deserved regardless of what or how I did something.

This is love, support, and acceptance.

Dylan and I welcome your comments. Just scroll down the page; no registration or annoying codes to enter.

This post originally appeared Dec 1, 2011.

95 thoughts on “One Man’s Story: Growing Up Undiagnosed ADHD”

  1. Undiagnosed and wanting help. My life has been filled w struggles. Plus a divorce, and ruined relationships.I’m over 50 too. A Loss of a job got me into a deep depression …… financially I’m at a very low point. Will things improve ?

    1. Hi Linda,

      I feel for you. Your situation sounds bleak right now.

      I can’t read your future, but I suspect things will start looking up when you get on board with an evaluation and treatment.

      And if you’ve already done that (been evaluated and take medication), you might want to revisit your approach to medication, diet, sleep, and substance use.

      take care,

  2. I can relate to so much of this story. I was lucky enough to get a good group of friends early and I’ve maintained those relationships for 18-24 years. Because I needed to keep up with them, I was always pushed to maintain my grades, so they didn’t deteriorate until my third year in college when raw ability couldn’t make up for not being able to focus in class. If you have solid relationships, make sure to to reach out on a semi-regular basis. I keep birthdays in my to-do-list app and have a weekly task scheduled to give one of them a call. It keeps the depression and anxiety away.

  3. Hearing other’s stories and experiences helps. I got diagnosed at 58 (18 months ago). Still being here is a victory. However, some days it feels like a hollow victory when I can’t see beyond my past. Yet I get up everyday hoping things will be better and go to bed thanking the Creator for the day. And some days just getting out of bed is the best I can do. One step at a time. Peace & love.

  4. Thanks for your response Gina, it put a big smile on my face.

    I saw him for a 3 month follow-up appointment.

    I told him that things are much better and that the anxiety which brought me close to the outskirts of insanity has shrunk substantially. “I now feel like I can carry on” I told him. “But the problem still exists and so does much of the anxiety”. He then asked me: “Did you read the book I told you to get last time”? “No” I replied. He told me to get it on the way home. “Getting the love you want by Harville Hendrix, read it cover to cover, get your wife to do the same”.
    If it was anyone else I probably wouldn’t have listened, but he proved himself a wise man, so I obeyed.

    Being exposed to this book with the aid of my new brain has been an eye opener and a heart opener.
    “I feel that sorting out my ADD issue didn’t directly solve all problems, but it was the foundation needed to enable growth in all aspects”. J-Dub

    1. Hi J-Dub,

      A very smart neurologist indeed!

      Harville Hendrix is a lovely, wise man. He has been very generous to my mission.

      He provided an endorsement of “You Me ADD” (maybe you saw it in the front matter) and then another for our couple-therapy book, wherein we adopted the Imago model to help ADHD-challenged couples create more fruitful, harmonious communication. You might want to check it out:

      I am basing much of the online training for ADHD-challenged couples on the couple therapy book. The site is here:

      Here are Dr. Hendrix’s endorsements of my work:

      Most books on marriage offer insights and help to common marital problems such as the traditional conflicts around sex, money, children, time, and in-laws. They offer credible solutions such as conflict management, improved communication, and problem solving skills.

      This book is different. For some couples, these problems are exacerbated by the often unnoticed presence of a particular neural wiring in the brain, called Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, that makes traditional solutions ineffective. This book describes ADHD in detail and with empathy and helps couples with this added challenge find hope and solutions.

      I recommend it highly to all couples whose troubles seem incomprehensible, and for all couples therapists it should be required reading to help them distinguish between ordinary conflict and the roller coaster of this syndrome.

      — Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., author of Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples and co-developer of Imago Relationship Therapy

      First came cutting edge theory in Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?, shining light in the darkness for couples living with the amazing complications of one or both partners having ADHD.

      Now comes a luminous clinical guide for Adult ADHD-Focused Couple Therapy, helping therapists identify the essential elements of the therapeutic process for successful outcome, including therapy models ranging from medications to cognitive-behavioral to couples therapy.

      The thoroughness and clarity of the theory and therapy, and the voluminous sources and research citations, make these two books a seminal contribution to the field.

      –Harville Hendrix, PhD and Helen LaKelly Hunt, PhD, Getting the Love You Want and Making Marriage Simple

  5. Dear Dylan,
    Thank you for sharing your story.
    I am 31 and have been diagnosed with ADD a few months ago. What triggered my concern was that my 7 year old daughter had been diagnosed with ADHD and I noticed that my daughter and I, have many awfully similar traits.
    I first went to a certain neurologist and complained about attention issues. He gave me a questionnaire which I filled out on the spot. He looked at the paper and said: “Maybe you have it but maybe you don’t. Go to a hospital to do a written test which will help us find out”. I didn’t do it. I wasn’t interested in travelling, spending money or time on this. I thought to myself that it’s so unlikely I have ADHD. After all, I got through school (without cheating TOO much), and anyways, even if I do have attention issues, how much can it be affecting my life at this stage?

    A few months later, I went to a neurologist who turned out to be a superstar (I didn’t know it at the time). I went in order to complain about two issues: Anxiety and attention issues. I decided to give it another try. All be it, the main purpose of this appointment was to seek help for my anxiety which was becoming unbearable.
    I had prepared my case in advance and planned my presentation.

    The 25-minute appointment went something like this:

    Me: I would like to speak to you about two issues (I did not mention them yet).
    The 1st one is anxiety: I went through my list of things which trigger anxiety throughout my day. Included in the list was one specific trigger which caused such anxiety, that I couldn’t carry on, something needed to change because I was slowly cracking.

    When I concluded the anxiety section, the side doctor looks at me and says: “Do you have attention problems”?

    Silence. A moment of silence was taking place in which the aforementioned, life-changing words were to be absorbed into my brain.

    I told him that that was the 2nd issue I had come for. I decided to go through my list of attention issues. I mentioned the 1st one when he stopped me short. He asked “Are you hyper active? I answered negatively. He said “So you have ADD and not ADHD”. I told him that I have a long list I didn’t manage to tell him about yet but he wasn’t interested.

    “I heard all I need to hear”, said he. “It is clearly ADD”. He told me that sorting out the ADD will eventually fix the other stuff. He told me to do regular exercise and to get a certain book which will help me with the unbearable anxiety.

    I asked: How can it be that I survived school and accomplished other difficult tasks with ADD, and what changed now that caused this to be discovered?

    The Doctor responded with yet more words of wisdom: Till now you’ve been single, with yourself only to look after, so you managed to get through school etc. despite ADD, now you’re taking your ADD into a relationship and fatherhood, this is why you’re not coping NOW.

    I told him about my experience with the other neurologist to which he responded with a smile: “That’s why people come here”.

    Something I learned from this is that there are two types of neurologists:

    1) The ones who know what their talking about.
    2) The others.

    This may be useful information to some.

    I am writing this about 5 months after this episode.

    I am on Concerta and I have put exercise into my schedule. I feel like a different person. I feel like I now have a brain and a very powerful one.

    I am noticing things around me and deriving principles from situations.

    I am discovering talents, confidence and strength I never knew I had. I feel like many opportunities are slowly coming my way and new wonderful paths are unfolding in front of me.

    1. Woweeeee!

      Now that’s the kind of commend I LOVE to read, J-Dub.

      And THANK YOU for detailing your story about “The Two Types of Neurologists.”

      I’d say that’s true throughout the medical profession: Some rise to the top and keep abreast of the emerging science and some….well, they graduated medical school in 1964, as a neurologist, and write “ADHD Does Not Exist.” 🙂

      How ASTUTE….for that neurologist to explain to you what I must explain to people (because their MDs don’t).

      Do you still see him? Please give him a big thank you from me.


  6. Thank you for sharing your story. Your words are a pain and a balm. Tears can be very healing and your narrative cerainly brought those. I’ve never heard anyone else mention the thing with ‘tired eyes’. When I was six, I started experiencing insomnia because the house I grew up in was noisy and chaotic. I had started reading and read until my eyes got tired, and could then not sleep. When my eyes wouldn’t get tired from reading easily, I did those things with a pencil the doctor does when they are checking how well your eyes track.

    I was able to learn how to schedule studies in college because the counselling center at my college realized that I had never had to study and didn’t know how to study or organize time. Maybe it’s because I’d been referred into therapy when I was 19 by an organization I volunteered with, after an unpleasant episode in my life.

    1. Hi Nine,

      Thanks for your comment.

      It’s amazing, isn’t it, the resourcefulness that we humans can draw upon to cope with so many things.

      Still, a six-year-old shouldn’t have to cope on his own. 🙁


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