The 33-year-old, from Chicago, felt different from her peers growing up while struggling to hold onto friendships and concentrate on school work.
When she was diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder three years ago she felt a mix of relief and grief. She finally had answers but was sad for ‘little Kelly’ who spent so many years feeling lost.
Kelly now helps other adults navigate life after finding out they have ADHD and dispel misunderstandings about the common condition through her work as a coach and popular TikTok channel.
The thought that she may have ADHD never entered Kelly’s mind until her fiance mentioned it to her on a walk. He was reading a book on the topic at the time.
Kelly Baums (pictured), now 33, from Chicago, always thought she was different growing up until she was diagnosed with ADHD at aged 30. She’s now a coach for ADHD adults
‘I could not think about anything else for the rest of the walk, the rest of the week, the rest of the month,’ she said.
‘I was hardcore hyperfixated on looking at the symptoms of ADHD. I was feeling seen for the first time and discovering, ‘Oh my gosh! These are exactly me’.’
Kelly had been experiencing unchecked symptoms of ADHD her whole life many of which made sense after she started reading up on the neurodivergent condition.
‘I was always feeling different, always feeling like kind of a weirdo, always feeling like I was annoying because I was asking questions or because I missed social cues,’ Kelly said.
‘I felt like I was like too much but not enough at the same time in childhood and then even into adulthood.’
She struggled to focus at school and spent her college years studying education hastily starting and finishing her assignments the night before they were due.
Kelly had been experiencing unchecked signs of ADHD her whole life: ‘I was always feeling like a weirdo and I was annoying because I was asking questions or missing social cues’
‘Another thing I had was losing groups of friendships quite frequently and always wondering what is it about me that they don’t like,’ she recalled.
Kelly’s obsession coupled with advice she received from a psychologist at the school she was working at encouraged her seek an official diagnosis.
‘I was too nervous to go to my general practitioner because I’d heard of so many women being brushed off,’ she said.
She had a full neurological psych evaluation involving three days of tests and questions and at the end it was concluded Kelly definitely had ADHD.
‘It was like my whole world got flipped on its head, I got so much clarity about myself. I was super relieved and felt like very validated, but also so sad,’ she said.
‘I went through this whole grieving period. I spent so much time grieving for little Kelly who was just calling out for help her whole life.’
ADHD was long thought to mainly impact children but now as researchers observe how it manifests in adults, diagnoses are on the rise with one in 20 Aussies affected according to ADHD Australia.
One in twenty children also have ADHD with three quarters of those going on to display symptoms well into their adult lives.
The thought she could have ADHD never entered Kelly’s mind until her then-boyfriend-now-fiance mentioned it to her and she became ‘hyperfixated’ looking into the condition
ADHD Foundation registered counsellor Shaunna Bullard told FEMAIL she’s seen an ‘incredible increase’ in adults who think they may have ADHD.
‘I’d say pretty close to 98 per cent of them do,’ she said.
‘It’s not that there’s an increase in people with ADHD per se, it’s more that they haven’t been diagnosed as children because we didn’t have the correct research at the time.’
Shaunna, from Port Macquarie, ‘cried with relief’ when she found out she had ADHD a year ago aged 60.
She said the disorder presents differently in adults than in children and that the hyperactivity often associated with ADHD doesn’t mean what most people think.
‘You’re not as physically hyperactive. It’s a misunderstanding because the old research about the naughty child that can’t sit still is just not valid. The hyperactivity often is internal,’ she said.
‘You might see someone picking skin, twiddling hair doodling or biting their nails. You feel like you’ve got four or five conversations going on all the time. It’s this internal inability to just be calm.’
She said ADHD children act more impulsively than adults because they have not yet learnt how to regulate their thoughts, feelings and emotions.
‘It’s the wisdom, experience and knowledge according to their age. An adult has lived a life so even if they’re not diagnosed, they’ve had to learn tools to manage life, and relate in society,’ she said.
‘A little child doesn’t know that if I possibly run out on in the street I’m going to get by car but an adult’s impulsiveness can be hidden. It’s just that an adult’s got lived experience and learnt how to do things differently.’
People with ADHD typically experience a wide range of symptoms including being hyper focused, easily distracted, forgetful, energetic, fidgety and disorganised.
Kelly’s experience through childhood and after discovering she has ADHD are not unusual ones.
‘Another thing that’s really common, that I also went through myself, is this phase where symptoms get a lot worse after the diagnosis,’ Kelly explained.
‘A lot of people refer to that as unmasking because for the first time they’re seeing themselves.’
La Trobe University defines masking or ‘camouflaging’ as: ‘where people conceal certain traits and replace them with neurotypical ones to avoid being recognised as ADHD or autistic’.
‘It’s like acting in the socially appropriate way even if it’s not what’s comfortable for you,’ Kelly explained.
‘I know in conversation I should keep better eye contact but when I do, I lose focus. I used to mask and keep eye contact but it was hard and uncomfortable. Now I’m always looking around the room when I’m talking because I’ve unmasked.’
With a new understanding of how her brain worked, Kelly went on the hunt for a professional who could help her navigate and manage her thoughts, feelings and day-to-day life
Kelly’s unmasking lead her on a journey of self acceptance.
‘It’s like we let it all hang out for a while until we, at least for me, gather ourselves up and learn how to rebuild our life around our brain,’ she said.
‘I wanted to find the balance between what I can help, what I can not, and how can I manage it. And not beating myself up over being a little late to things or forgetting to call friends.’
With a new understanding of how her brain worked, Kelly went on the hunt for a professional who could help her navigate and manage her thoughts, feelings and day-to-day life.
‘I had been seeing this therapist for eight years. I felt like when I was working with her I kept on bumping my head against this wall like, ‘Why can’t I do these things we talk about in therapy that I should be able to do?’,’ she said.
‘I realised the wall I was bumping my head against was ADHD. I wanted to talk so much about it because I was just fully re-understanding myself.’
However her therapist was sceptical and tried to make Kelly ‘learn to deal with’ ADHD so she went to look for someone better equipped and more understanding of her needs.
‘Upon looking and not finding anything I was like, ‘Well, I guess I’ll just research, find accommodations and figure this out myself’,’ she said.
Kelly dove into learning everything she could about living with ADHD and inadvertently coached herself through the aftermath of her diagnosis.
She was feeling ‘overstimulated’ in her job as a library media centre director and teacher and thought she could use her newfound skills to help other people like her.
‘I sat down with a new therapist I had found. We were talking about going down the coaching realm and I was like, ‘Isn’t a coach just bulls*** therapist?’,’ Kelly recalled.
‘She laughed and said, ‘Not at all, you don’t deal with the feelings or do hard certifications and education because you’re creating systems in people’s lives’. When I heard that, it was almost like permission to go into coaching.’
She spent nine months training at the ADD Coach Academy and opened her own practice in April this year.
‘As soon as I started working with people, it felt like I was breathing,’ she said.
Kelly spent nine months training at the ADD Coach Academy and opened her own practice in April this year: ‘As soon as I started working with people, it felt like I was breathing’
‘It was the most natural thing for me to be talking to people and listening and sharing ideas and helping to build structures for people.’
With the topic circulating on social media a lot of people are relating to the signs and symptoms.
‘If you’re self-diagnosing because you don’t have access to a doctor, that’s one thing but a diagnosis can get you a lot of resources whether it’s accommodations or medications,’ she said.
‘A diagnosis from a doctor can help weed out the misunderstandings that people sometimes have about ADHD.’
Kelly said there are a few ways to know whether you should seek a doctor’s opinion.
‘ADHD is when every single like domain in your life is affected, it’s not just like I have a hard time doing school work,’ she explained.
‘I’ll talk to people who think they might have ADHD and I have to ask the questions: Has it shown up since childhood? Is it present in multiple settings? Those are two good ones to consider.’
The rising number of conversations around ADHD online has caused some people to deem it as nothing more than a trend but Kelly said: ‘If it’s trendy to ask for help for something that you’re struggling with it’s a pretty good trend.’