Talking to loved ones after your ADHD diagnosis

This week on the show, inspired by a listener request, Nikki and Pete are taking on how to talk to your loved ones after you receive your ADHD diagnosis and give you some tools you can use to frame the conversation to work toward shared understanding and growth.

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The ADHD diagnosis can be as confusing as it is illuminating, unlocking doors in yourself you never knew to be closed. Just as it is a journey for you as you learn to live with these new words that suddenly describe you, it is as much a journey for those who love you. Parents, siblings, and others who care about you will experience a range of emotions as they, too, learn about your diagnosis.

This week on the show, inspired by a listener request, Nikki and Pete are taking on how to talk to your loved ones after you receive your ADHD diagnosis and give you some tools you can use to frame the conversation to work toward shared understanding and growth.

Episode Transcript

Brought to you by The ADHD Podcast Community on Patreon

Pete: Hello, everybody, and welcome to “Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast” on RashPixel.FM. I’m Pete Wright, and that right there is Nikki Kinzer.

Nikki: Hello, everyone. Hello, Pete.

Pete: Hello, Nikki. We’re recording on a fine, fine Memorial Day as we record this. So, to all of our patrons who are hanging out, happy holiday to… And I hope that you are taking some time to thank the veterans in your life and probably doing better things, and showing up on the live stream, go out and thank some veterans. You can always catch us later. We’re gonna be talking about talking to your family, talking to your loved ones, after you’ve been diagnosed with ADHD. And I am super curious how this one cropped up for you. I feel like we’ve touched on it, but it’s been a long time. That is the danger I think of a podcast that’s 10 years old.

Nikki: Well, it has been a long time. And this actually came from a listener, and it was his parents specifically that I think he was having some difficulty with. So, you know, it’s just a kind of a different twist on it.

Pete: Yeah. It’s a good conversation to have and to keep having because it doesn’t get easier until you do it. And so, here we go. Before we dig into that, head over to takecontroladhd.com and get to know us a little bit better. You can listen to the show right there on the website. You can subscribe to our mailing list and we’ll send you an email each time a new episode is released. And you can always connect with us on Facebook or Twitter @takecontrolADHD. And we have a comment from a listener that we wanted to share.

Nikki: Yes. And I think you need to read it because you are Casey Kasem.

Pete: Oh, jeez. Here we go. Do you think anybody knows who Casey Kasem is anymore?

Nikki: Oh, probably not. So who would be…? Like, Ryan Seacrest, right?

Pete: I don’t know how I feel about that. He is one hell of an entrepreneur.

Nikki: Well, Dick Clark. But Dick Clark…

Pete: Dick Clark’s another one though. How are you gonna…? I don’t know.

Nikki: Yeah. But Ryan Seacrest took over Dick Clark.

Pete: I’ll go with Ryan Seacrest.

Nikki: And then Rick Dees took over Casey Kasem. But I really…

Pete: Rick Dees?

Nikki: Yeah, right?

Pete: I feel like that’s another one. Like, Rick Dees…

Nikki: Really old.

Pete: Yes. We’ve now passed Rick Dees.

Nikki: I know.

Pete: Anyway…

Nikki: I’m showing my age.

Pete:…heres the lovely comment that we have here from our fantastic, fantastic listener. Here we go. “Listening to ”Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast" for the past year has been a source of help and inspiration. For that, I wanted to thank you and share with you the way your podcast helped me.

My story is no different than the hundreds you have already heard, late diagnosis ADHD type combined, last year at the age of 28, followed by medication. I hyper-focus on all that is ADD and more ups than downs. Most of the time I felt I would never be capable of doing the simplest tasks, would never be able to be an adult in a world where being an adult seemed to come naturally to everybody around me. In January, I was listening to the podcast while doing laundry, when Jane Massengill talked about her bracelet that said, “Until now,” I totally forget what I was doing. I’m not even sure I ended up completing it because these two words, so simple, and yet so powerful, it was like a lightning bolt passing through my brain, but the good kind, you know." I love that.

Nikki: I know.

Pete: That’s a good qualifier. “By the time I heard the podcast, I had already sold my house and quit my job, and was preparing for a five-month road trip to the U.S. and Canada with my girlfriend. Since then, until now, has been a mantra that has helped me get out of my anger, distraction, insecurity, and low self-esteem. It is now tattooed on my arm in Dutch, not an impulsive decision. And every time I look at it, I cannot help but smile. So, thank you, again, for reaching out and helping me, and I suspect many others in ways you may not even be aware of, keep up the good work.” Thank you so much for that message. We’ll call you anonymous. I feel, once again, left behind that I have yet to get an ADHD-related tattoo.

Nikki: Well, that’s what…

Pete: It’s inspirational.

Nikki: Yeah. It is, very much so. Well, and it’s interesting because a group member of mine recently did get a bracelet engraved that says “until now” because it was also something that really resonated with her. So, I wanna say thank you to Jane, for being such an inspiration. And, you know, this person that wrote in, thank you for writing in and sharing your story. And to the group member who did the engraved bracelet, I think it’s really important that when we find something like that, that really resonates and means something to us, you know, that you remember it. However, that is. Whether that’s a tattoo, a bracelet, a necklace, whatever, or even just a post-it note on your computer, you know, so that we don’t forget.

Pete: If this show has ever touched you, if it has ever changed the way you live with your ADHD and you allow your ADHD to live with you, we sure hope you would consider supporting us at patreon.com/theadhdpodcast. Supporters there who have chosen to share with us their hard-earned cash each and every month, pay for equipment, they pay for hosting, they pay for transmitting this podcast around the world. And they help us and inspire us to get up and do these shows every week over the last, almost, 10 years.

They also are fantastic members of the discord community and our Facebook private members only group, and they have access to, more importantly, maybe than Nikki and me, they have access to each other. And that is an incredible gift that all of our patrons are giving to one another, their time and attention in the group, their support, their shoulders to lean on, and resources to share. So, we hope you will consider sharing your resources with us and keep this community growing and thriving. Thanks to you, we are able to devote even more of our time and attention to the ADHD community, patreon.com/theadhdpodcast to learn more. Thank you, everybody. All right, so, we have this inspiration from a listener to start off our topic today.

Nikki: Yes. This was sent to us via email. It was probably maybe a month ago.

Pete: Okay. All right, so, it’s pretty fresh, considering email.

Nikki: It’s pretty fresh. And as soon as I said, “Oh, we’re gonna put this in the content calendar,” they replied back and they were very excited about that. So, hopefully, they are listening. So, Casey Kasem, I know people may not know who that is, but they do now.

Pete: They do now. Although, I will say, in the chat room, we have a suggestion that it might be Mario Lopez.

Nikki: Oh, okay. That’s a little more current. He’s more in our age group. That’s for sure.

Pete: All I know is A.C. Slater. Here we go.

Nikki: Right. Yeah, exactly.

Pete: “Hi, Nikki. I’m an avid listener of your podcast. I received my diagnosis in early January, that has been a massive disruption. This has been a massive disruption is an understatement. I’m 33 years old, and on my way to my second engineering degree. I held out telling my parents about my diagnosis until two weeks ago. Telling your parents about it, whose fault is it that they’ve been undetected or that it has been undetected for so long and a life until now with massive roadblocks and difficulties in relationships, as well as education? And with massive regrets thinking what an early diagnosis could have changed, puts a massive strain on the relationships with your parents and other family members, like grandparents. Addressing how to handle this properly so that the relationship stays intact would, I guess, as well, for a lot of others because I’ve heard of many broken relationships after the diagnosis. I think this would be very helpful.” What do you think? Is this something that you run into often in your work coaching? Is this sort of a perennial subject that comes up for you?

Nikki: It’s come up, but it’s not as… It’s usually the other way around. I would say that most people are pretty supportive. So, I think that it’s more of an exception to have it be completely to the point where, how do I keep this relationship intact, right? Which I think is positive. But with that being said, I still think it’s really difficult at first. I mean, I don’t know if it’s really an easy road to necessarily take. There’s a lot of push and pull, right, after being newly diagnosed. I think that the person that has the diagnosis is probably, what I see in here is relieved to understand, you know, what’s going on, that there was a reason for some of the behaviors and some of the challenges that they were facing. But there’s also grief in that too. You know, now what? What does this mean for my future? Am I broken? You know, what does this mean? And there’s grief, I think too, for people that did not know sooner because if they had known sooner, could they have taken a different path or gotten help sooner? And there’s also that fear of stigma around ADHD in itself. You know, what are people gonna think about me?

Pete: Well, and that was certainly my experience was that… I think the conflict, you know, at least for me, it’s that my family loves me dearly and they want the best for me, and they wanted the best for me when I was a kid. And so, it is a shock when you say, “Look, I’ve just received this diagnosis.” It explains a lot for me because, even if I put it in the most gentle way possible, their reaction is, “Oh, my God, we didn’t do enough.” And that’s really hard to navigate because the enthusiasm that you as the recently diagnosed bring to the table, that you want to learn more and continue to grow, this is hard to accept by those who feel like they have failed you in some way. There was a massive cycle of denial with my own parents until I had to sort of build a case that this is who I am and it’s who I was then too. And we just didn’t know enough. We just didn’t know enough when I was a kid to be able to intervene then. And that’s okay.

Nikki: Well, and I think that first reaction from the parents, I think it’s definitely important to evaluate and understand because my guess, I’m not a psychologist, so I’m not gonna say… I don’t know. I mean, people can tell me if this is true or not. I’m just going from a point of being a parent myself, and if something like this was to happen, I would feel this guilt, you know, just guilt on me that I didn’t catch it sooner. How did I not catch it sooner? How did I not notice it? And so, their reaction may not necessarily be that they don’t agree, it could be just that they feel their guilt. And that’s something they have to deal with and something they have to process on their own, and detach that. But it’s interesting when, you know, in the email, he says, you know, “Whose fault is it, that it’s been undetected and that these things are happening?” And something I want to address as a coach is, I don’t think that that’s a very healthy question to ask because how does this serve you by asking this question? I mean, what does it matter if it was somebody’s fault? And if it was their fault, how does this serve you going forward? It’s a very unhealthy way to look at it.

Pete: Yeah. You know, I just wonder what it means in this case, whose fault.

Nikki: Yeah. I mean, it’s hard to say. I mean, we don’t know.

Pete: You know, that’s what I mean. Like, how do you even define what fault is? Is it fault for not catching it? Is it fault for somehow creating an environment that fosters ADHD with sort of intention? Like, it is not…

Nikki: Well, and if it’s genetic, which a lot of research says it is, then…

Pete: That there is some sort of component that… You know, it just feels insidious to the relationship. So, you wanna talk about keeping a relationship intact, I think you’ve got to take the fault out of it. You’ve gotta take the shame out of it.

Nikki: I agree.

Pete: You’ve gotta just find some way to distill it down to just the truth and fact. What is it that is truth and fact of this? I have a diagnosis, it explains some past behavior to me, and I’d like to help you understand it. And I’d like you to help me as I move to this next chapter. That’s all it is, it’s another chapter.

Nikki: And I think that’s a really good point. You know, this is just truth and fact. And, you know, after that initial conversation, where do you go? You know, do the parents just don’t believe you have it or do they not believe in ADHD? You know, these are two separate things, right? Because…

Pete: That’s a really good question. Yeah.

Nikki:…if they don’t believe that you have it, then it could just be a matter of education, right? And educating them like, “Okay. This is what the doctor has found. This is, you know, the tests I took. You know, this all makes sense to me.” And being able to educate them and kind of let them see the journey you’ve taken to get to this point. If they don’t believe in ADHD… You know, I go back to Rick Green’s advice, and he’s done a couple of blog posts about it. And I think it’s great. You know, he says, “When I come across somebody that doesn’t believe in ADHD, I say, ”Well, you know, what? I used to think the same thing until I got my diagnosis and I learned more about it. And then I, you know, saw that there was an actual reason why I did these things." Or, you know, if you don’t wanna go into that detail, well, you know what? I used to think that too, but my mindset has definitely changed recently. You know, you don’t have to explain anything.

But I think it’s just kind of going back to that I used to think that too until, you know… And, you know, with parents, look at the diagnosis, review the paperwork with them, you know, so they can see how it came to this conclusion. I mean, I think with anything, you can’t convince somebody to believe in something they either don’t or, you know, either do believe or don’t believe. So, I don’t wanna put the pressure on the ADD or to feel like they have to convince their family that this is a real condition. That’s where we need to protect the ADDier [SP]. You know what I mean? And really say, “Okay. At this point, what are you gonna do going forward because you need to figure out what this means for you and how this is gonna relate in your life, especially as an adult.” Because even though, as adults, we want our parents’ support and acceptance, right, but if they really don’t believe in something that we know is to be real, I mean, somehow, you have to, like, come to terms of what is that gonna look like? And I’m not saying to, like, abolish the relationship at all. I hope I’m not going down that road.

Pete: You know, I like the way you put it. Like, you have to sort of protect the ADDier. And there is, you know, again, from personal experience, not to settle this is a global experience that everybody’s had, but I know that there was some part of me, as soon as, you know, I had that initial conversation with my mom, it has been 20 years, where there was this foreboding sense of kind of doubt, that, you know, how could this have been? I surely would have noticed, kind of feeling. My initial gut response was, you know, “Your disbelief is causing me to bristle. Your disbelief is causing me to go into sales mode and go into, like, I’m going to convince you now that this is all me and this is incredibly frustrating, that you’re not more open to hearing this.” And, you know, that we all have to be reprogrammed. And I would get increasingly sort of angry, that there was a questioning of my new reality when it was such a warm place for me. And that was really hard to get past because you want to sort of proselytize the experience. Like, this has been transformative. And now it’s my job to tell the world, “Look at what I just discovered about myself, and now it’ll all be different.” And that’s not the case. The one thing that helps this is that, as you say, like, if there are folks who just don’t believe you, there are people who do. There are people who will. There are communities of people who will support you, if it’s our community or others that are out there who want you to feel empowered in this new experience, and to want to help you move to that next, you know, stage of learning. Now that you have words to define what it is, you don’t have to rely on those who don’t necessarily support the diagnosis the way you want them to because there are people who will.

Nikki: You know, I think for somebody that’s newly diagnosed and then they have some doubt in their family, gosh, that’s gonna just really put doubt in yourself, right, of who you are. And it’s such a disservice to the person. And that’s why, again, I wanna really protect the ADDier and say, you know, “This ADHD does not define you. You’re not broken. You do not need to be fixed and it’s not your fault.” These are the things that you need to remember. And then going forward, you know, learn about your ADHD, learn about how it affects you, what areas do you see it coming in. Come to terms with it. Accepting it is a whole process in itself, right? Whether you’re relieved or not, it’s a whole process in itself to have to actually accept it. And then you begin to work with it and not against it. And I think that’s, again, educating yourself. And then like you said, Pete, you have to have that community. You have to get people around you, find your tribe. You’re not alone. There can be therapist, coaches, ADHD communities, you know, they’re all over. So, just find them and connect because then you’ll start to feel, okay, this is more normal than I thought. I’m not by myself. I had somebody say, when I was watching something, and now I can’t remember what the topic was.

And it wasn’t about the Me Too movement, but it was something about when they connected with somebody that was in the same situation. Oh, it was veterans. That’s what it was. It was the veterans’ family. So, it’s the caregivers that have to take care of the veterans after they come back and they’re wounded or, you know, that kind of thing. And they were saying that one of the biggest, comforting or one of the most comforting pieces of being in this community of support was just hearing Me Too. And so, that they could talk to another wife or husband or a grandparent, and they all understood what it was like to be now a caregiver. And so, I think it’s the same thing with ADHD, having just somebody else to say, “Yeah. I get that. I totally understand that,” there’s so much power to that. And then I circle back around to the beginning of our show, when we were talking about Jane’s mantra, there can be a lot of grief about what happened in the past, but we can’t change it, it’s not relevant anymore. And so, think about those words, “until now,” and, you know, really think about what that means for you because now you have information that you didn’t know or have before. And so, your future can be different. It can look different. It can be on your terms.

And, you know, it’s gonna be different and, hopefully, it’ll be different in a good way. One thing that I wanna say about the relationship, you know, kind of keeping those relationships intact, Pete and I, we’re not experts in that, right? We’re not relationship counselors or anything of that sort. So, what I would wanna say to somebody that is struggling with this, is definitely look for the right support. If you need to talk to a therapist, if you need to talk to a friend or somebody that really knows you and understands you, you know, get that information and keep working at it. Yeah. Keep working at it. Keep looking at how you can move forward. And, you know, there’s choices to be made about what that relationship looks like. So, maybe you stay in the relationship but you don’t talk about ADHD or maybe that’s not okay with you because it is a part of you. And you have to come up, you know, with some kind of boundary. I don’t know what that is. But my point is that I think it’s worth always for us to look into it and see what we can do, especially because, you know, these relationships are a big huge important parts of who we are in our lives.

Pete: It’s good stuff. It always hits me right here when we have this conversation because, you know, those relationships are some of the most important relationships that we have and it’s hard to have conversations that strain them in such a fundamental way as, you know, my identity, all my life is now being questioned and pivoted. So, great stuff. Thank you, Nikki. And definitely, thank you, everybody, to the community on discord, our ADHD community because we witness in that community how wonderful it is to see members helping other members who are newly diagnosed. So, it’s a great place to jump in and just post your origin story, and share how you dealt with your own family adapting to this new world for you. So, welcome to ADHD. Thank you, everybody, for downloading and listening to this very episode. We appreciate your time and your attention. On behalf of Nikki Kinzer, I’m Pete Wright. We’ll catch you next week right here on “Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast.”

Through Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast, Nikki Kinzer and Pete Wright strive to help listeners with support, life management strategies, and time and technology tips, dedicated to anyone looking to take control of their lives in the face ADHD.