ADHD, loving intensely, and impulsivity (Ange’s story)
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Ange Nolan once suspected she had ADHD, but she was dismissed by her doctor. Years later, she saw an ADHD iceberg infographic and related to almost every ADHD symptom it listed — including forgetting to use the bathroom. That’s when she decided it was time to approach a different doctor about ADHD.
After getting diagnosed with ADHD last year, Ange realized how it had been affecting her many romantic relationships. She’d crave the chaos of an intense connection and become a “chameleon” who fixated on her partner’s interests and happiness — until burning out.
Hear how Ange’s ADHD diagnosis helped her notice her own patterns, including hopping impulsively from one career to another. And stay tuned for a mini “aha” moment from host Laura Key on why she likes to be alone so much.
Ange: So the ADHD iceberg infographic that's floating around social media. I was reading it, and I was able to check off almost everything on there. But the one thing that really stood out to me was the line that says "forgets to eat and go to the bathroom." And I thought maybe somebody can relate to almost all of these at some point in their life. But there are not going to be a lot of people that can honestly say that they struggle with forgetting to go to the bathroom.
Laura: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "ADHD Aha!," a podcast where people share the moment when it finally clicked that they or someone they know has ADHD. My name is Laura Key. I'm the editorial director here at Understood. And as someone who's had my own ADHD "aha" moment, I'll be your host.
I'm here today with Ange Nolan. Ange is a listener who wrote in, and she's an account manager with a landscaping company in Southern Illinois. Ange got diagnosed with ADHD last year.
Let's get started by talking about the visual that was the source of your ADHD "aha" moment. Tell our listeners what that visual is and where you saw it, what was happening, what did you think?
Laura: Go ahead.
Ange: Sure. So my cousin's daughter had shared on Facebook this infographic of an iceberg of what ADHD looks like. And of course, it's the inattentive and the hyperactivity and the fidgeting. But then the whole underneath part of the iceberg that covers so many things that people don't really realize we struggle with with ADHD, and it's never really talked about in formal ADHD conversations. But I was reading through it and I was able to check off all of those things, and there were like maybe 20 to 25 things on there.
Laura: So for people who are listening, you can look this up online. It's the ADHD iceberg. I'm not sure where it came from, but it's a really interesting graphic that shows — the top of the iceberg is basically the visible symptoms of ADHD. And as Ange mentioned, that's trouble focusing and fidgeting and hyperactivity, right? And then there are all these other signs and symptoms underneath the surface in like the bottom part of the iceberg under the water. And there was one in particular that really resonated with you.
Ange: Yes, I was I was kind of connecting some of them, like, OK, well, maybe other people might experience some of these issues in their lives. But the one that really struck me was "forgets to go to the bathroom and eat." And I was like, no normal, quote unquote, normal person is going to be like, oh, yeah, I forget to go to the bathroom all the time. Whereas I'm like, I always forget to go to the bathroom until I cannot forget anymore. And then like, you know, so I was telling my husband about it and he said, "How do you forget to go to the bathroom?" OK, well. See? I have justified that no normal person is going to be like, "Oh, yeah, I forget to go to the bathroom."
Laura: I'm sure it's led you to some, like, literally uncomfortable situations?
Ange: Right. Yeah.
Laura: That forgetfulness that sometimes comes with with ADHD and executive function challenges. So, you were seeing a therapist at that time, is that right?
Ange: I have been seeing my therapist for probably four years. Five years maybe. And yeah, so I brought it up to her and she was like, "Oh yeah. Well, when we talked about how you collect hobbies but you don't do the hobbies, I kind of had an idea that you might be experiencing some ADHD issues." And so — and maybe she was trying to hint at it with me and I dismissed it very quickly in our relationship because I — I did approach my primary care doctor in my 20s and asked him if I could have ADHD, and it got dismissed relatively quickly.
Laura: So just to clarify the timeline, you were diagnosed last year, in 2021. And that's around the time that you saw this iceberg graphic. Then you talked to your therapist about it. So before that, you had an inkling. Tell me about that.
Ange: Yeah, and it's kind of embarrassing, but I was in a relationship and I was having a lot of issues focusing just on anything in general and kind of turning off all of those windows in my brain on command. And I was struggling at that time, where I was having intimacy issues with my partner in that I couldn't be in the moment with him. And all of these thoughts were constantly flooding my brain all the time. And so even whenever there should be nothing really going on in my mind, I was having those kinds of problems.
And so I approached my doctor and I said, "Hey, you know, this is happening. It's affecting my life in general, in all aspects. But where I really find it hard to believe that this is acceptable is when I'm trying to be intimate with my partner and I can't turn off my brain." And so instead of going through, you know, the checklist and asking questions, he was like, "Well, here's a medication, try this and see if it helps." And I don't know what the medication was. I took it once and it made me feel kind of like I was on speed. And so I stopped taking it. And when I told him that, he was like, "Oh, well, then you don't have ADHD, if that was your reaction to this medication." And like, that was the end.
Laura: That doesn't sound like a very thoughtful treatment plan.
Ange: No. And I was like, well, that's a very risky game to play.
Laura: Yeah. Yeah, that's concerning, because, sure, medication doesn't work for everybody, but there's trial and error.
Ange: Yes. So obviously, I do not see the same primary care person that I saw in my 20s. So I approached my doctor about it, and so he did the evaluation. You know, we talked about the checklist and, you know, I checked all the boxes and so we started treatment with different stimulants.
I noticed it was like a calm in my mind, to where I felt like I was finally in control of myself. But that whole journey has been a struggle because it's constant trial and error and dosages, and which kind of is going to be the better kind to interact, you know, and all those chemical imbalances. And so that's been a hard path to walk because it wasn't just a simple, easy fix.
Laura: Let's talk about this iceberg. Some of the other symptoms are challenges that are listed underneath the surface. There are things like difficulty maintaining relationships, spending money irresponsibly, losing items all the time, and also, of course, poor impulse control. I'm curious if any of these are resonating with you.
Ange: Oh, yeah, 100%. Like, and even looking back, I am just flabbergasted how nobody had picked up on this at any other time. Like, I went to school to be a teacher and I started working toward my master's degree in special education. And so even myself, like I studied special education, which ADHD was a chapter in that. And I worked with kids with learning disabilities and behavior disorders. Whenever I got out of college, that was my first teaching job. And so it just blows my mind how — how many scaffolded masks I've put on to where I didn't recognize some of the more obvious symptoms and how clueless it seems like everybody else was around me.
Laura: I mean, that's partially why the show is called "ADHD Aha!" Sometimes it just hits you like a ton of bricks. And it's maybe been building under the surface for — yeah, no pun intended with the iceberg — but like these little moments of recognition kind of building under the surface and then it takes that conversation or, for you, that visual for it to come together. So let's start with career. You're no longer a teacher, is that right?
Ange: Correct. Yeah. So now I work in landscaping, which — it's fun because I'm learning something completely new. It's a little bit of inside and outside. And I have different clients and the pace is constantly changing, so it's keeping my interest without overwhelming me. And so I feel like at this stage in my life, it's checking some of the boxes that I have not been able to with other jobs that I've had. I always used to think that I wish that I could live seven lives because there are so many different things that I want to do.
Laura: I think the term you used when we chatted last was "career swapping." Have you had other jobs in between education and where you are now? Can you just maybe do a list of other jobs that you've had?
Ange: Sure. So if I'm categorizing careers, it would be retail management and teaching and then this, you know, customer service oriented career, like what I'm doing now as an account manager — you know, working hand in hand with clients.
Laura: In any of these cases, did you ever start a job before you were maybe ready to start that job?
Laura: No judgment. I'm just curious.
Ange: I'm pretty sure that I do almost everything before I'm 100% ready. I think if I were ever 100% ready to do something, I'd probably back out before I hit 100%.
Laura: Very well stated, Ange.
You told me last time we chatted that you've been married multiple times and engaged multiple times as well.
Ange: Yes. So when I was reflecting about this yesterday, I think that it's important also to add that I started dating — like a serious relationship — when I was 15, and that lasted about two years. And there is no amount of time that I can say that I've been single in my life longer than six months maybe. So from 15 to I'm now 40. That's a lot of time spent focusing on another person. And my relationship that I'm in now is the longest relationship I've had by far. And we're about to hit seven years.
And that's one of the things that made me so angry. Whenever I saw that iceberg and realized that this is my life and this is what I've been struggling with, that was where my brain went first was how angry I was that it wasn't caught beforehand and I couldn't have been made aware of some of those under-the-iceberg issues that I would be dealing with. Because had I known, then I feel like those are things that I could have watched out for, for myself, and kept myself out of getting into some of those those situations.
Because I would impulsively get into a relationship. You know, we — whenever we are attracted to something, we're attracted 100%. Just like when I collect hobbies. I want to do this now and I'm going to go out and buy all of this stuff. And so whenever there is a person that I feel connected to, then I'm all in and I'm going to focus 100% of my time on that person. And it almost becomes like an obsession or an addiction. Like we're very much focused on building that relationship with somebody to a deficit, because then we're not looking out for any warning signs. We're not really paying attention to what we want for ourselves.
And my parents have always told me that I'm like a chameleon whenever I'm in a relationship with somebody, because I instantly am interested in their hobbies and I'm interested in what they have going on in their lives — to where I don't really know what I would want for myself. And one of my marriages was to somebody who deployed, and I lived out of state and I had no family and no friends. And that was the first time in my life I've ever been able to sit with myself and truly learn who I was. And that was a very freeing moment. I think that's probably one of the best years of my life. And it didn't really go so well for that relationship.
Laura: Was that your first marriage?
Ange: Yes. Yeah. And coincidentally, he was my first boyfriend. So we had broken up in high school and then got back together 10 years later. So at that point, it was kind of like, hey, society says that I need to be married and I should have kids. And he's my high school sweetheart. And I know a lot of people who have married their high school sweethearts. And so it was kind of like, oh, this is — this is it. I'm doing the Disney fairy tale for myself. And so we got married very quickly. And that's kind of the beginning of the end.
Laura: And you're in your third marriage right now. Is that right?
Laura: And you mentioned you had been engaged a few times as well.
Laura: So a lot of intense relationships. A lot of quick relationships.
Ange: I don't necessarily regret the fact that I have loved people very intensely. It's bad for both parties whenever, you know, on the surface, everything seems great. And so you're following that like an adrenaline rush or that instant dopamine high. And so then it's something that you try to keep building on no matter what it is that we're doing.
I keep thinking back to the whole hobbies thing. But also if I'm not good at something, then I don't have that drive to continue. And so if I feel like that compatibility isn't being matched by my partner, then it gets to a point where I'm like, OK, well, I'm wasting my time now. Because I don't foresee me continuing to give 100% in this when that return on investment isn't there at that same level. And my level obviously has been very intense.
Laura: So it sounds like there was a hyperfixation on this other person, but also on the things that they were interested in. Is that accurate?
Ange: Right. Like just changing music — the taste of music. And different movies. And I dated a guy that was into hockey. And so I wanted to immerse myself as much as I could. And in learning about hockey and going to his games — and I'm not a sports person. Like it has to be very intense for it to hold my attention. And so trying those things on and feeling like, OK, I can make this fit, but then after a while it's not fitting, right? And then I'm finally like, OK, I'm resigning myself to this isn't what I actually like.
But at the same time, I've collected a lot of different things here and there that I find, had I not been in those situations, I would not have been exposed to. So while I may have been becoming a chameleon to that person, I still kept a little bit of that color for myself.
Laura: How would the relationships typically end? I just wonder, was there an element of burnout from both parties, from you, from the other?
Ange: A few of my relationships have ended mutually, where it was kind of either like a crash and burn on both of our parts. Or I remember one of my boyfriends told me that I was crazy and like he was out, and so I definitely remember the ending to that.
But most of them have been where I've gotten to a point of burnout from being so hyperfixated on somebody else's happiness. And that wasn't being reciprocated. And I just I couldn't do it anymore. It got to a point where I thought, OK, I need to do what's healthy for me. And I spent so much time giving everything I have to this person. And one of my husbands was cheating on me in that relationship. We had a lot of like passion and it was like a hurricane all the time.
And I feel like I live very comfortably in chaos. And so while the rest of the world around me was like, Angela, why are you continually putting yourself in a position where you're dealing with this stuff? And why are you sitting here talking about how you think that your husband's cheating on you when you've had this feeling since you guys started dating? Like, why? Why continue to put yourself in that position? And it was just like I was drawn to that. I was drawn to, you know, the chaos of all of it, until finally I was like, this is not going to be the rest of my life.
Laura: I'm sorry. And it makes my blood boil when I hear about people calling people crazy. I mean, yes, in quotes, it really does, especially, you know, a man calling a woman crazy. But in all circumstances, it's really not OK. And you're clearly not crazy. And I also want to just say that I really empathize and relate to a lot of what you're saying. I mean, that hurricane that you describe is — it's intense and it has, like, there's fallout afterwards, right? There's damage that is left in its wake, but there's something so enticing and exciting about it.
Ange: Yeah. And it's that you're creating that tornado for yourself, that hurricane, because that's where you are able to sit still finally, is in that kind of madness that you're building. And without understanding these concepts that lie under the surface of ADHD, I don't think that we're properly able to work through some of those issues and build the right techniques to deal with them effectively.
Laura: So how are you doing now in your current relationship? Does your husband know that you have ADHD?
Ange: Yes. Yeah, he does.
Laura: Does that help that he has knowledge of it?
Ange: I think so. I think that having some of the conversations with him, working through some of those under-the-iceberg things, being able to say, look, this is — this is what I'm dealing with. And I've had him listen to a couple of the podcast episodes. The episode where one of your guests was talking about how she and her wife are both ADHD and they both do things differently as far as organizing in the house. And like, she lives in clutter and her partner lives in extreme organization. And I'm like, this is me. This is why I can't ever feel like I'm getting things done as far as like chores or organizing things. Because I'm just zooming around doing stuff and nothing is done. I'm getting like a hundred things 10% done, but nothing is ever 100% done.
And so I think having somebody that I can verbalize those issues with in real time and work through my thoughts on those has helped both of us to kind of be like, OK, well, this is really what's going on. But also he's very patient with me, and I feel like he's the first person that I've had in my life that I can truly be myself. Where before I've masked a lot of things with my partners, and I've been so focused on trying to be like them or be the things that they like, that I didn't let them see who I actually was. It's been a blessing to have somebody that I feel that comfortable with.
Laura: I really relate to you in a lot of ways. We're the same age. I was diagnosed — you were diagnosed more recently than I was. But nonetheless, it is such a journey. I've done a lot of looking back on like, God, why didn't anybody stop me? I've had impulsivity in relationships. I've — I understand that hurricane, tornado, and the appeal of it and the damage that it can cause as well. I just — I think your story is really beautiful, and I'm just so grateful for your candor.
Ange: Thank you. It's been like I've thought I'm just a terrible person and I have these weird, neurotic behaviors that make me very high maintenance. You know, I feel like I'm so extra all the time, and maybe I'm just a bitch and nobody can be around me because I'm so self-destructive — to coming to this place where I feel like, oh, my gosh, I'm at ground zero finally. And I get to see what this is.
And it's made me mad. It's made me happy to finally figure it out. It's made me cry a lot. But I just wish that as we continue to bring more light to it, that more and more people will be able to say, "Oh, wait, me too." You know, have their own "aha" moment and not have to struggle 30 years to figure things out. Because there could have been so many things that would have happened differently and I wouldn't feel so behind or insufficient in otherwise.
Laura: I hope that when this episode comes out that you'll listen to it and hear what I'm hearing. That's just how clear-headed and clearly not, quote unquote, crazy. And not a bitch. Just a kind, smart, thoughtful person who's had experiences and is now kind of coming out of some of the more intense experiences and able to look back at them. Kind of similar to how, I don't know, maybe listening to — Jeannie's story was the one that you were referencing. Sharing that with your husband.
Maybe there's some imposter syndrome, because we've — as people with ADHD, kind of, we look back and we're like, "Oh, I did this this weird thing," or "I'm so neurotic" or "I'm so angry" or whatever.
Ange: Yeah, that imposter syndrome.
Laura: Yeah, that's a killer.
Ange: Yeah. Especially if you're diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. And then you're like, "Oh my gosh, am I just pretending? Am I — do I really have ADHD?" I'm like, oh my God, it's working against me. Like, the imposter syndrome is making me feel like an imposter.
And then the other thing I wanted to add, too, when we are talking about your other guests, you had a guest on and I don't know if he brought it up or if you brought it up. But it was the ICNU: interest, challenge, novelty, urgency. And I feel like that heavily applies in relationships as well, because if you're not checking those four boxes as a person with ADHD, I feel like you default to like, OK, I'm bored, I'm out. And that is a dangerous thing that puts us in some pretty careless and reckless positions if we're not careful.
Laura: That's really insightful. That was Scott's story and yeah, I remember that acronym. I hadn't thought about how it might apply to relationships, but yeah, you're right. That's really true.
Are there other things that you wanted to talk about that you feel like are really important?
Ange: I like, have this whole — I have like five pages that are like look at all these things that are running through my head at 11:00 at night.
Ange: There is one thing that, you know, has started coming to the surface, I feel pretty recently. And that's diagnosing ADHD and looking at that hyperactivity aspect. Because I feel like I have the inattentive and I have the hyperactivity. With my new career, I have spent a lot of time in cars with associates driving around to their properties and explaining things to me, and the amount of masking that I've noticed I've had to do being, quote unquote, normal, sitting still in someone else's car and not propping one foot up in my seat and drumming along with music or belting out tunes to try to hold my attention. By the end of the day, I would be wiped out when I got home, because I had to restrain that energy so much and put this mask on that it zapped. It was like draining my battery so fast.
And looking at all of the stuff as it's coming at me, realizing how often have we been doing this our whole lives and we didn't notice. And it's crazy to me how fast it trains you to be so inauthentic in that manner where you have to wear a mask and do the proper thing instead of the thing that makes you comfortable, so that you can really be in the present moment.
Laura: Yeah, totally. Oh, my gosh. Yeah. It's funny, I — you're making me realize why I like to be alone so much. I haven't thought about it that way. People always say, "Oh, do you want to walk over with me" if we're walking from one place? No, I want to walk by myself. I want to go at my pace, I'm going to do my things. "Oh, do you want to — do you want to get to ride with me?" No, no. I want to be on my own.
And it's not a solitary thing. I enjoy being around other people, but I just don't — I just have all these little things that I want to do with my body all the time, that I don't want to have to not do them because I feel like I'll crawl out of my skin. And you're giving me an "aha" moment. This is why I like to be alone so much.
Ange: Yeah. And we're very empathic people, I think. And I used to think that that was just it. Maybe I'm just empathic and I'm like, wait, that's it's synonymous with having ADHD because we are constantly observing and paying attention to what's going around us and like — so we are absorbing this energy from other people. We're picking up on their cues and all of that stimulation and that hyperfocus on your surrounding — it drains the batteries so fast. It's having all of those windows open and you don't realize that it's taking everything from you until you're at the end of the day. You're just like, I can't be around another person and, like, I have to refuel myself.
Laura: Ange, really, you're so great. Thank you so much for being here with me and for taking the time. And thank you for listening and for writing in.
Ange: Yeah, I love it. I love it. I feel like we could do maybe 10 of these episodes and be able to go through a good majority of the five pages of stuff that's surrounding me. There's so, there's so much to talk about. And I love it. You know, every day is a new self-discovery.
Laura: You've been listening to "ADHD Aha!" from the Understood Podcast Network. If you want to share your own "aha" moment, email us at ADHDaha@Understood.org. I'd love to hear from you.
If you want to learn more about the topics we covered today, check out the show notes for this episode. We include more resources as well as links to anything we mentioned in the episode.
Understood is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently discover their potential and thrive. We have no affiliation with pharmaceutical companies. Learn more at Understood.org/mission.
"ADHD Aha!" is produced by Jessamine Molli. Say hi, Jessamine!
Jessamine: Hi, everyone.
Laura: Briana Berry is our production director. Our theme music was written by Justin D. Wright, who also mixes the show. For the Understood Podcast Network, Scott Cocchiere is our creative director, Seth Melnick is our executive producer, and I'm your host, Laura Key. Thanks so much for listening.