Imagine always taking longer than expected to finish a task. You may just chalk it up to procrastination. If you struggle with feeling sad and unmotivated, you might think it’s depression. Maybe you’re a top performer on your job, but something still feels off. It takes being in those situations for years until some adults realize they have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, commonly known as ADHD. 

It’s not uncommon to think that mental disorders like ADHD are usually diagnosed in childhood. It’s prevalent in adults, too. A 2023 Psychiatry Research study found that 3.1% of adults are living with ADHD.

Signs of ADHD

The saying, “two things can be true at once,” certainly applies to 32-year-old Desirae Duncan. She is a young professional who recently obtained her master’s degree – with a 4.0 grade point average. She is doing well for herself. What the general public doesn’t see is her struggle as an adult with ADHD. Duncan says she was in her mid-twenties when a therapist first mentioned the disorder to her.

Photo credit: Desirae Duncan

“At the time, I was being treated for depression and anxiety,” Duncan told 21Ninety. “After more evaluation, he suggested my symptoms could be symptoms of ADHD or depression/anxiety resulting from mismanaged ADHD.”

Signs of ADHD include having a hard time paying attention, impulsive behavior and restlessness. Duncan says she has always been a hard worker, making straight As and being in gifted programs as a child. Looking back, though, there were signs that pointed to ADHD unbeknownst to her.

“I consistently misplaced and lost things. I’d forget important dates or assignments. I [would] procrastinate everything,” Duncan said. “I remember starting a lot of ideas, but never following through.”

Being Diagnosed

Duncan says her first full ADHD screening found she was dealing with depression, anxiety, and social anxiety. ADHD symptoms and depression/anxiety symptoms can be similar. This is likely one of the reasons why it took a while for her to officially be diagnosed with ADHD.

“It can be difficult to get a diagnosis for ADHD,” Duncan explained. “Doctors also can be biased in their diagnosis. It’s why white boys are more diagnosed with ADHD than black boys and certainly more than black girls.”

Duncan says the turning point came when she explained to her therapist that she couldn’t finish work on time at her job. The therapist noticed that treatments for depression and anxiety weren’t helping with that.

Embracing ADHD

Duncan has been on medicine for ADHD since January 2022. She admits the medication hasn’t been the most effective treatment for her. 

“Unfortunately, medication hasn’t been the golden answer I thought it would be, but it has been helpful in managing my anxiety,” Duncan said. “It also helps me to finish tasks, instead of stopping mid-task when I become bored.”

She also continues to go to therapy as a way to cope with ADHD. 

“I’ve had to unwrite internal thoughts that I’m just lazy or slow and realize that my challenges were the result of ADHD,” Duncan said.

Getting Help

One thing she wants adults who suspect they have a disorder like ADHD to know is that you may not get all of the answers to your questions as fast as you’d like to. It may require a second or third opinion before you figure out what diagnosis and treatment is best for you. She also says to make sure you are doing it for the right reasons.

“Yes, medication can be very helpful, and life is easier with it than without most days, if you find the right one and right dosage. But, it won’t fix everything,” Duncan warned.

She also reminds people to remember that no one knows you better than yourself. Don’t be afraid to seek help she says. The diagnosis and treatment serve as a way to improve areas you are struggling in.

“It is misunderstood and so many don’t realize the extremes of it. ADHD doesn’t mean we can’t focus, we unfortunately just don’t focus on the things we should,” Duncan said.