ADHD in Women - It's More Common Than You May RealizeMar 01, 2021
Nothing is wrong with you. The fact that you can't focus, and that you forgot you were cleaning out your drawers until you went back into your room four hours later, doesn't mean you are losing your sanity (hopefully). Consider the possibility that you may have ADHD.
A few years ago, I was diagnosed with ADHD.
I never even realized I had the condition because I was always in a line of work that was high intensity and required uber-focus (like a constant dopamine hit). But, after I changed careers and started doing more computer-based creative work, I noticed my inability to stay on task, focus or complete projects. The few times I had to finish something (like give a presentation for a conference), I was able to pull it together – but only because my ass was on the line and I had a non-negotiable deadline. (In other words, the intensity ramped up).
In learning more about this condition in women, I found out that many women don’t figure out they have ADHD until later in life and they have some kind of tipping point where they realize something is wrong. If they don’t get medical help, some women just think they are not smart enough, not organized enough, not young enough (really the list can go on forever – you get the point) … All I can say is that finding out I have ADHD put so many puzzle pieces in place, and many of my life experiences and choices finally made sense.
I’m not a doctor – and I don’t even know that much about ADHD – except from my own experience (and everyone is different). Hell, I may not even be saying it right. Please do not take my word for anything, or assume I am giving you some kind of diagnosis. My intention is to only offer the possibility so that you can explore your options.
But this blog post may help you to understand yourself a bit better. And if you think you might be experiencing some of these same symptoms, you can go to a doctor and find out more.
Isn't ADHD just something experienced by adolescent boys?
I never knew that much about ADHD except for being aware that some kids had it. You know ... the hyperactive kids in elementary school that were causing trouble and couldn’t control themselves. Literally, I knew NOTHING.
I found out about ADHD when most of my kids were actually grown. And I found out in a way that many women do – I realized something was up with my son, Wyatt.
Wyatt is one of the easiest people to be around and everyone loves him. He is very kind and he remembers everyone. When he was young, Kenny and I would marvel that everywhere we went, people would identify us as Wyatt’s parents – it was almost like he was the mayor or something. People at the bank, the owner of the local market, people on the street, it seemed everyone knew Wyatt, and he was only ten! He just has this type of magnetism and authenticity that draws people to him. It’s a gift, totally, but it also hid an issue that we never saw coming because no matter how much he struggled in school with getting homework or other assignments done, his teachers loved him and so they let things slide.
When he started high school, it was a rude awakening.
High school was a butt-kicker.
The high school in our area is challenging. I don’t know how to really describe it in a way that is not critical, but if your child is a straight-A student and wants to go to Harvard, then this school is for them. But … if your child is average or even above average and they take a bit longer with learning and getting things done, the stress level at this particular high school is over the top. The teachers are trying their best to stay one step ahead of all the type-A personality parents, and they can’t give their attention to the kids that might need a little more help. In fact, some of them are outright hostile with no exceptions or assistance given.
The first semester of his freshman year started amazing with high hopes and expectations, but it pretty quickly deteriorated as Wyatt couldn’t keep up. I tried to help him stay on track by watching which assignments were due, but even if he completed the assignment, he would forget to take it the next morning, which frustrated BOTH of us as his teachers never allowed any grace period. He barely made it through that first semester with a C average.
So, as parents do, we made some adjustments and planned better for the second semester. We set specific homework times, limited after-school activities on week nights, and made him go to bed early. But the same thing happened again.
Wyatt became so stressed about school that when he would get in the car at the end of the day, he would have so much anxiety that he would be nauseous and not really able to communicate. (Totally unlike himself). We didn’t know what to do.
Summer came, Wyatt relaxed, and we forgot how hard it had been.
When summer came after his freshman year, things quickly went back to normal and we didn't think about it as much. But when the schedule for school came in the mail in August with a list of books to pick up from the library, we started thinking about our plan - and honestly hoped for the best.
We thought with a little more planning we could get a jump on his sophomore year. That was a big no-go.
As you guessed it, even with good intentions, the first semester went just like the two before, and we knew we had to do something drastic. We pulled him out of school and signed him up for independent learning. We thought he would freak out – but he was actually very grateful. School was THAT difficult.
Then ... The AHA moment.
He couldn’t sit still.
Even with independent learning, Wyatt had a very hard time sitting in front of the computer for longer than 15 minutes before he became very distracted. He would hear every tiny sound. He would see the slightest movement outside the window. The dog’s snoring would set him off. A fly buzzing by would make him loose his train of thought.
I watched him and asked myself - How the hell did he ever sit through 7 hours of school every day? No wonder he had so much anxiety.
I took him to our family doctor, and you guessed it – ADHD. With medication it was a total game changer for him – and as a mom – I felt terrible that I had not seen it before. There were a lot of “if onlys.”
But second-guessing life is never that helpful. Turns out things happened just the way they were supposed to.
The secondary diagnosis ... me.
When Wyatt was diagnosed with ADHD, another thing happened. During the assessment, the doctor asked a lot of questions and I realized I was answering those questions in my head too – basically the same as Wyatt.
I realized I had the same tendencies. If I was not under an immediate deadline or having to think quickly on my feet (as I did working in the courtroom for 15+ years), it would be really hard for me to complete anything. I was very easily distracted and had a lot of Phil Dunphy moments where I would start one project, get distracted, start another project and so on until I realized I never finished the first thing I started.
So, I was diagnosed too.
Surprisingly, this seems to be the way that many women find out they have these tendencies – they become aware of it in their children first.
The different types of ADHD.
So, I’m definitely not an expert, but I learned that there are different types of ADHD. One is the hyperactive impulsive type and there’s another called the inattentive type, and then there is a mix of the two. A lot of the things we hear about are the first type – the hyperactive type (the one that you usually see in young boys). It’s very visual and easy to notice.
Contrast that with the inattentive type which is more often found in women or girls. This type is often overlooked or misdiagnosed as moodiness, anxiety or some other condition. These girls are the ones who are also easily distracted and unfocused, but who are showing it by daydreaming and looking out the window because the teacher is kind of boring. So, they’re less likely to get the care that they need, until they hit this tipping point later in life where it’s like – Something’s going on here.
Curious about symptoms?
Some typical symptoms are: an inability to stay focused, not completing projects or getting anything done, feeling like life is out of control, and living life as either a couch potato or a tornado. The list of possible symptoms blew my mind at how precisely it described me.
Is something wrong with me?
When Wyatt and I were diagnosed, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I wondered if it was bad and if it meant that something was wrong .
But my doctor explained that having ADHD is actually a very useful condition in many careers – like police officers and firefighters – they see and hear everything – and when they are in high-intensity situations they perform at a very high level. These jobs require intense focus. And there is a literal dopamine hit during these more stressful situations.
But, obviously, it may not that good for accountants (or students).
As I looked back at my life, I realized I didn’t notice anything wrong with my brain during my career as a criminal defense attorney. When I was working in the courtroom, I didn’t have any noticeable negative ADHD symptoms, because it was almost always a high intensity situation.
I had to constantly think on my feet, listen intently to the witnesses, watch for changes in body language, be aware of what was happening at the other counsel table, stay in tune with my client (and possible aggressive behavior), and listen to the judge. and other people in the courtroom. It worked for me.
But then, later, when I tried to do civil law and immigration law and sit behind a desk it was totally different. Haha – no more direct dopamine hits.
I couldn’t figure why I could no longer perform at the high level I knew I was capable of and I wasn’t getting things done (which was totally unlike me). I became very frustrated with myself and thought something was terribly wrong with me. I even experienced some fairly deep depressive moments. I eventually stopped working as a lawyer during that time because I couldn’t get my shit together. (Which now I’m grateful for, but that’s another story).
Bottom line is, Now, I totally get it.
I finally get it.
I wish I had known about adult ADHD earlier.
I wish I would’ve figured this out earlier in life – not only for me, but also for Wyatt. Luckily now we understand our situations a lot better and can plan around what we need to do.
ADHD could be a possible culprit if you are feeling overwhelmed, scattered and that you’re not living up to your true potential. You may feel that even though you know you are smart, there is a hurdle you just can’t get over (but you don’t even know what that hurdle is). If this sounds like you, you may want to go through an ADHD assessment and see if it is part of the issue.
Stop the self-shaming.
For creative women with ADHD, if you don’t know there is a reasonable explanation for what you are experiencing, there can be a lot of self-shaming because you know you are capable, but you can’t seem to focus or concentrate long enough to be productive. If you self-shame enough, you will start to believe you are not good enough or smart enough to follow-up on your ideas. And that is the worst part of it. The giving up.
And, just as a side note, if you discover you do have ADHD (or you suspect you might), but you don’t want to have to start taking any pills, don’t feel like you have to take medication. Meds aren’t for everybody. I happen to love them, but… the main thing is that now you understand your brain better and there are things you can do to help like removing distractions like your phone (or turning off notifications) before you start on a project, time-blocking your day or other things like that.
Bottom line: Knowledge is key. Stop blaming your brain for the problem and check things out.
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