Excited about the prospect of solving a cold case, the newly appointed detective opened up the box of long forgotten evidence. He knew that the process would be tedious, but he also knew that a disciplined and thorough approach could pay dividends. Perhaps he would find something someone had overlooked, or maybe there is a piece of evidence that could now be submitted to more sophisticated testing methods, uncovering clues unavailable at the prime of the investigation? Whatever the case may be, if there was something new, they would have to reinterpret everything.

For some, they spent their entire childhood not knowing they were suffering from a treatable condition. Perhaps they didn’t draw enough attention to themselves to be noticed, or evaluated, as they remained firmly planted in the range of what was considered acceptable or expected behaviors? Or maybe they had an intuition that something was not quite right, but they never thought it necessary to pursue further investigation? And so, they developed a sense of identity around their functioning and interactions, drawing what seemed to be obvious conclusions. “My relationships tend to be unstable, mostly because I can’t handle my emotions.” Or, they said, “I’m not really that smart of a person. I haven’t ever done well in school.” Of course, these messages have implications, as they inform the person’s decisions, sometimes selling them short on what is possible.

But then, some of these folks get a diagnosis. This changes things for them. Drastically. Any time a new and significant piece of information comes to the forefront, we’re forced to reevaluate the case we once made. That is the connection between diagnostics and the forensic introduction I gave in the first paragraph. Sometimes a missing piece of the puzzle is uncovered, and this revelation becomes a catalyst for new and transformative developments. Old parts of the story can now be measured against a new standard of evaluation, which changes the conclusions drawn. For instance, the man who believed he was “no good at school” can reframe his understanding, replacing it with the more reasonable observation: I struggled because I couldn’t keep all the details together. That makes a difference.

Some of us react to the idea of a diagnosis with fear. We avoid even the acknowledgment of the possibility, because, to us, it somehow represents giving up hope—or waving our white flag to the possibility of a better future. To say it means it’s true, and if it is true, then it is also over. (Or so we tell ourselves). But we don’t have to take this approach. Instead, we can view it as an opportunity to reinterpret, and subsequently restructure, our personal narratives. As we gain knowledge about ourselves, we can update the storyline of our lives to better reflect the relevant facts. This can give us significant hope and reassurance—and hope is what keeps us coming back.

Sometimes a diagnosis, ADHD or otherwise, is like finding an overlooked clue in a cold case. It connects all of the formerly incoherent pieces together, creating something meaningful and redemptive. It can clear the record, exonerating us from the false allegation of “not being good enough.”