One evening in late autumn, tired after a long day, I’m cooking some dinner for myself. Whenever I cook, it’s a mess—I start the process and get distracted by a noise, a memory or someone around me… I reach for my phone to check the recipe.
“Wait, what did I want to do?”
But then I feel the oil burning in the pan, I rush to rescue the situation, and remember why I reached for the phone. Someone enters the kitchen and asks me about something and I remember that I forgot to add the veggies. Wait, where are the veggies?! I didn’t even prepare them because I forgot to check the recipe…. Finally, I’m done with the dish, it has nothing to do with the original idea, and I can sit down to eat it.
When I’m finished I take my plate back to the kitchen to wash it. Oh wait, I forgot my spoon on the table. I leave my plate in the sink and walk back to the room… Why did I come here? Can’t recall but I pick up my spoon and my mug and take them to the kitchen and start to make a tea. Two days later, when I’m using the same pot to cook, I remember—I completely forgot to wash my dishes but it’s clean…so someone had to do it for me.
Why is it so hard? Life. Adulting. Keeping my shit together… I can’t help but compare myself to others who can keep it all together and make it seem so easy. And there’s me… Often overwhelmed, distracted, forgetful, have trouble with time management and keeping deadlines…
This year I have been doing a lot of research of ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactive disorder) and women. I learned that for long time it was believed that ADHD only affects boys, as their symptoms manifest as disruptiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness—while girls tend to slip under the radar. Girls are rather called daydreamers or spacey, and unlike boys, their symptoms tend to show up more when puberty hits.
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, meaning its origins are in the way your brain develops, and its symptoms are usually lifelong–affecting thinking, behavior, and learning.
I have flashbacks from my early teenage years, when everything interested me but not enough to stick with it. My dad often scolded me and we had fights because I just started something and dropped it a few weeks later. Even if I stuck with it, like drawing or the piano, I was inconsistent—never finishing my drawings or playing the piano nonstop for days then forgetting to go to class for weeks. I could hardly pay attention at school, especially when the subject didn’t interest me. I was majoring in IT in high school but wanted to change subject like every half year or switch up the languages I had to learn. I never got my BA later because I just couldn’t be tied down and kept changing my major.
I remember how my brain shut down since I was young when there was too much stimulation, like in a mall or at school programs. I always felt like I can’t focus in social situations, zoned out in the middle of conversations, and I was very forgetful. I had to visit a psychologist who diagnosed me with anxiety and depression.
For more than 15 years I believed there was something wrong with me and my depression and anxiety can be cured but it never got better. I felt like a failure. I couldn’t even be fixed, what was wrong with me?! But somehow I managed for 27 years. Only then I had a traumatic event in my life that magnified my symptoms and everything got way worse. Despite all the therapy, which helped me tremendously with other things, my depression and anxiety only got better temporarily. I spent years trying to fix myself with no result, feeling more and more isolated. What was wrong with me?
Only after I gave up the life I was living and started to really follow what excites my soul, I figured out that the whole time there was nothing wrong with me.
I moved into a house for a while, where I was working and living with others, and where I met someone who has lived with ADHD since childhood and who kept explaining himself and his behavior all the time. He’s like this because of the ADHD. He’s doing that because of his ADHD. And the whole time I kept telling myself, wait a minute! I do that, too!
Later this year I lived with another guy who was recently diagnosed with ADHD and we had a conversation about it. He suggested to get myself tested, based on what I said, and what he also saw in me (our behavior is quite similar, and this was also what got him diagnosed with ADHD), so I got myself tested at age 32, and the result was positive. I actually was told that the most common misdiagnosis with women who live with ADHD is depression and anxiety. My doctor wasn’t surprised about my misdiagnosis as she was’t surprised to hear about my trauma and how it made my symptoms worse.
I was very upset and angry at first. I thought about all the way my life could have been different if I was correctly diagnosed and learned to manage my ADHD? Would I have been a better daughter/sister/friend/girlfriend? Would I have published all the books I started to write? Would I be a paleontologist by now? Would I be a confident woman with an existing social life?
I will never know. All I know is that ADHD cannot be fixed or healed, only managed. Which also means I don’t need to be fixed. I am the way I Am and there’s nothing wrong with it. This helped me to fully accept myself and increased my self-love level rapidly like no therapy before. The more I learn about ADHD in women (because it is very different in us) the more it makes sense. Can you imagine the huge a-ha moments and the weight it got off my shoulders when I learned about all this?
How is ADHD different in women?
Women and girls with ADHD have several unique symptoms. Recognizing and diagnosing ADHD in women isn’t the same as it is for men. Girls with ADHD don’t usually stand out in a classroom. “They’re the ones sitting in the back, looking out the windows, twirling their hair. As far as their ADHD is concerned, these girls are neglected children. They grow up to become neglected women,” says Terry Matlen, the vice president of the American National Attention Deficit Disorder Association.
As opposed to boys with ADHD who act out or externalize their symptoms, young girls and teens with ADHD tend to internalize their symptoms–leading to a presentation of symptoms that are more subtle and often misinterpreted. Currently, women are most likely to be diagnosed with ADHD in their 30s. Many of these women report seeking out their ADHD diagnosis after recognizing their own symptoms in their children.
You may notice the following:
- Forgetting appointments and always running late or being way too early to avoid being late
- Constantly behind on deadlines (or completely forgetting them)
- Don’t get along well with colleagues or classmates
- Messy and disorganized workstation/room/cabinets
- Unable to work in a noisy or busy environment
- Zoning out during conversations
- Can’t remember dates (like birthdays and anniversaries or appointments)
- Forgetting to do things you promised or agreed to do
- Difficulty controlling your emotions and often losing your temper
- Going on a tangent when speaking
- Trouble focusing on the conversation unless the topic really interests you
- Lower self-esteem, making it harder to talk to new people
- Dislike putting yourself “out there” to make new friends
- Can’t seem to pick up social cues or read body language
- Impulse buying
- Struggling to set and stick to a budget
- Unwashed dishes and laundry pile up
- Excessive physical movement, fidgeting with hands
- Speaking whatever comes to mind
- Acting without thinking
- Short attention span
- Flight of thoughts
- Internal restlessness
I’m still learning about my condition and to live with it, and I’m so apologetic for my forgetfulness, missed deadlines or when I zone out or talk over people in a conversation. I just can’t control it and I know it annoys many people so all I can do is explain my self and why it happens and hope for understanding and cooperation. Which is often unmet, but with everything as a society we have to learn about it and be open and accepting with each other.
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Photo: Artem Everest via Unsplash