hat comes to mind when you hear “ADHD”? Most folks picture something along these lines - a young boy in a classroom who can’t sit still, has emotional outbursts, interrupts, talks a lot, is hyper, a trouble maker, impulsive, etc.
For myself, and many other womxn (and non binary folks) with ADHD, our reality is far from that. In fact, many womxn go undiagnosed because the reality of ADHD in our lives can look so different from the stigma and stereotypes that it remains undetected . Many who are diagnosed still don’t understand the impact ADHD has on their life because it doesn’t fit the common understanding of ADHD. Countless others are misdiagnosed with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder or a personality disorder. Dr. Ellen Littman, author of Understanding Girls with ADHD, explains that much of this is because the diagnostic criteria developed out of clinical studies of ADHD in the 1970s were based on young white boys.(Littman, as cited in Yagoda, 2013).
Importantly, that narrative and picture of ADHD is very centered around whiteness, often failing to account for the experiences of people of color. Many people of color are undiagnosed and not given the care they need. An important study found that “...African-American and Latino children, compared with white children, had lower odds of having an ADHD diagnosis and of taking ADHD medication, controlling for sociodemographics, ADHD symptoms, and other potential comorbid mental health symptoms.” (Coker, Elliott, Toomey, et al, 2016).
ADHD looks different in everyone and everyone's experience is valid. Here is my experience along with hundreds of womxn and non binary folks I have worked with and heard from over the past couple of years.
This is what ADHD looks like in me:
- I am a 28 year old female who got a scholarship to law school and graduated with a high GPA. I then went on to fail the bar exam because I had an anxiety attack and the sound of the air conditioner clicking the whole time distracted me.
- I experience chronic fatigue and have trouble sleeping.
- My hyperactivity is in my mind - a never ending slew of obsessive thoughts or new ideas bouncing all over the place.
- I experience anxiety and panic attacks, often due to the chronic overwhelm I feel.
- I am an emotional rollercoaster - one moment I feel amazing and on top of the world, and the next I feel so low I can’t get out of bed.
- My impulsiveness has led to many unnecessary purchases, but also has led me to some of my greatest adventures.
- I am very sensitive to sensory stimuli and get very overwhelmed by noise, bright lights, tags on my shirt and scents.
- I have inconsistent attention and difficulty regulating it, especially for things that don’t interest me. This is not because I’m lazy, this is because I have executive function issues and a different nervous system. I hyperfocus deeply when interested.
- I am highly sensitive, empathic and intuitive.
- I deal with many chronic health issues. I believe some of this stems from chronic stress.
- I am always early, because I have learned to overcompensate for my time blindness.
- I often feel like a fraud for my accomplishments, because the way I achieved them was different from my peers. (ex: not doing anything for 3 months then pulling 3 all-nighters and teaching myself everything).
- I forget and lose things all the time. I had to work through a lot of shame around this.
- I am a successful entrepreneur and very creative. Some weeks I am all in working 15 hours a day on my business, and others I have zero motivation and do nothing. I am learning to flow with this cycle.
- I have dealt with a lot of self esteem problems.
- I am constantly stuck in decision fatigue and exhaust myself just by thinking.
Having ADHD in a world not designed for our brains is traumatic AND we are fully capable of living fulfilling, happy lives. If you have ADHD and you’re reading this, I encourage you to explore how you can design your life around your ADHD instead of fighting it. If you are reading this and wondering if you have ADHD, you’re not alone. Self educate, connect with community, and seek a diagnosis if you want. Lots of love to everyone. We’re in this together.
Feel free to connect with me on instagram (@authenticallyadhd).
Yagoda, M. (2018, May 7). ADHD Is Different for Women. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/04/adhd-is-different-for-women/381158/
Coker, T. R., Elliott, M. N., Toomey, S. L., Schwebel, D. C., Cuccaro, P., Tortolero Emery, S., Schuster, M. A. (2016, September). Racial and Ethnic Disparities in ADHD Diagnosis and Treatment. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5684883/