'I Was Diagnosed With ADHD At 40'

When I was growing up in Devon, southwest England, I always felt a bit different. I was constantly bored and would do things like redecorating my room every few months. I would paint it crazy colors, or put zebra stripes on the ceiling. Then I'd get tired of it and beg other family members to swap rooms with me, so I could start all over again.

I would talk too much in class, but I could never understand why I was getting in trouble. I think when I was younger I struggled to understand people as much as I do now.

Nobody ever suspected I had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I think people just assumed it was part of my personality, behavior I would grow out of. I think symptoms are very different for boys and girls. I think women and girls tend to internalize things more, so I suspect the condition is harder to detect in females.

At high school I didn't find it easy to fit in, I felt different to other people. I'm quite emotional and impulsive. I take things personally and am very sensitive to rejection. I was constantly told I had a "thin skin" and needed to toughen up.

Rosie Parsons
Rosie Parsons, 40, is a personal brand photographer who lives in Exeter, Devon. She was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at the age of 40 after nearly four decades of living with the disorder. Rosie Parsons

As a teenager in the late '90s, I really wanted to work in the music industry. Part of ADHD can be hyperfocusing on one specific thing. For me, that one thing was being able to work with my favourite pop star, Michael Jackson.

But I never suspected I had ADHD. I had spent nearly four decades associating the condition with young men; boys who were at school, talking incessantly and not sitting still. I thought people with the disorder were always very slim, because they were constantly moving and exercising, which I wasn't.

Around a year before my diagnosis I began to consider that I may have the condition. I'm a self-employed photographer and one of my clients had been diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. I never would have guessed she had a behavioral disorder, I thought she seemed so "normal."

Soon after, I was scrolling through social media and saw a video explaining personality traits associated with ADHD, like being messy, disorganized or having poor time management. Something clicked.

After taking several online tests, I decided to try and get a diagnosis for the condition.

Due to a long waiting list for a consultation with my primary physician, I decided to seek a private diagnosis and was referred to a specialist ADHD clinic by another former client of mine. This doctor confirmed I have the condition and I'm currently waiting on the results of some blood tests to ensure I can take medication for the disorder, which would improve my concentration and help me feel calmer and less impulsive.

When I was finally diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 40, everything made sense. My impulsiveness, sensitivity and tendency to hyperfixate on certain goals—my diagnosis explained it all. One of the symptoms of ADHD is even that we tend to feel things very deeply.

While ADHD can be difficult, it can also be a bit of a superpower. I have always thought: "I am going to do whatever it takes to achieve this goal." From the age of 16 I had worked non-stop. I did loads of work experience at various record labels in London. I never ended up working with Michael Jackson, but I worked in the music industry for five years.

I think my ADHD did impact my romantic relationships. I have definitely moved too fast with partners in the past. For example, I got engaged to my ex-husband after knowing him for only three weeks.

Because of my disorder, I tend to only see the good in people and not see what could potentially go wrong. I usually get excited by someone new and how great the relationship is going. I don't know when to slow down, or easily recognise when something in the relationship could be going wrong.

Rosie Parsons and children
Mother-of-four Rosie began working as a personal brand photographer after becoming a mother in 2013 Ali Curzon Photography

I find I have the same mentality with eating. I find it very hard to maintain a good weight, because when I see something I want to eat, I find it really hard to stop myself. It's difficult for me to step back and think: "Does this serve my long term health goals?"

When it comes to friendships, I don't always understand how other people are feeling and can sometimes get attached quite quickly. If the friendship isn't reciprocated, it can be very painful. I feel things very deeply and really want to be liked.

Over the years I have learned to keep people a little bit more at arm's length at the beginning of friendships. Now I take the time to get to know someone and don't assume people want to be around me.

I founded my photography company in 2007. It started off as wedding photography but I found working at large, high-pressure events very difficult. I don't deal with stress well.

When I had triplets in 2013, followed by my son Zach in 2014, I decided to scale back and focus on personal branding for women. I found this type of work was much better for me. It's not a high-stress situation and it allows me to set a routine, meaning I don't worry about what's happening next in my day.

Rosie Parsons
Rosie worked in the music industry for five years before becoming a photographer Rosie Parsons

In my life, I can be very disorganized, so with work I use online tools to make sure I keep on top of everything. I also delegate all the activities I find difficult.

I find it hard to focus on things I do not enjoy, so whether it's cleaning, book keeping or graphic design —if it's not my "zone of genius" as I call it, I don't do it. This has been very helpful so that I can continue to enjoy work and not get overwhelmed by the pressures of running my own business.

My diagnosis has definitely made me more self-accepting. While having ADHD obviously presents challenges, I think it can also be a good thing. Once you learn to manage the condition, you realize that in some areas you will have weaknesses, but in others, ADHD can give you strengths.

My advice to others who have ADHD is to be kind to yourself. When you feel rejected, take it easy and accept that most people get rejected about something or the other throughout their life. Don't be so hard on yourself. Realize that when you feel strong emotions or find it hard to do things, you're not lazy or weak—it's just the way your brain works.

Rosie Parsons, 40, is an award-winning personal brand photographer who lives in Exeter, Devon. You can follow her Instagram @rosieparsonsphotography or visit rosieparsonsphotography.com

All views expressed in this article are the author's own

As told to Monica Greep