The ADHD Homestead

Create the life you want with the mind you have.

Category: Women & ADHD (page 1 of 2)

My ADHD Home: A Visitors’ Guide

My attempts at effective homemaking with ADHD could fill a memoir. I long for a tidy, peaceful home where guests always feel comfortable and welcome. My grandmother would tell you I make this look easy.

We should all have someone like my grandmother in our lives. For everyone else, I give you this visitors’ guide. I do like you, and please don’t let me drive you crazy.

 

Never be afraid to ask.

Before I say anything funny, allow me to say: I want to be a good host. I try to provide the essentials: towels, toothbrush/toothpaste, a bed, and fresh coffee in the morning. I’ll even pick the coffee mug I think suits you best today.

I’m also forgetful. I miss social cues. Some aspects of my lifestyle are a little weird. If you want it, and I haven’t offered it, I guarantee I a.) have no idea and b.) want to make it happen. A polite request for something to make your stay more comfortable is always welcome.

You’d be surprised by what throws me off my game.

Once, my mom brought her own pillowcase to my house. I had a newborn, and she wanted to save me some laundry. I spent the next four years searching for one of the pillowcases to that sheet set. Apparently, I cannot handle washing part of the set without losing the rest.

I recently found it. I wish I could tell you where, but this happened a couple weeks ago, and I forget. I know I found it somewhere in my house.

Also, now I have anxiety every time someone suggests using a partial sheet set. Guests have said, “oh, it’s just me, you didn’t need to use two pillowcases.” Or, even more terrifying, “I don’t really need the top sheet.” I always wonder: should I admit that I’m afraid of losing the unused piece of the set?

Don’t worry, I love going out. I just hate getting ready.

I love showing you around town. I love thinking about my guests, and what they might enjoy, and designing a weekend to suit them.

That said, I hate getting out the door. I fuss over departure times, even when they don’t matter. I overthink how many and which cars we should drive, or whether we should walk or take public transit. I get cranky with my family for taking too long to pack up. Generally speaking, I don’t go with the flow.

I apologize. I’ll try not to be unpleasant, but I have a terrible track record. If (when) it happens, it’s not about you, or my desire to do the thing. It’s about getting out the door, which is not my favorite.

Keep me up late at your own risk.

I have a bedtime, just like my kid has a bedtime. It’s around 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. If I stay up too late, I’ll be a hot mess the next day — especially if we need to get out the door for anything. Lack of sleep intensifies pretty much every ADHD symptom, and sometimes I feel like it increases my meds’ drowsiness side effect.

However, most social nuance is lost on me. I have no idea how to extricate myself gracefully from a conversation. If you’re up, and you’re talking to me, chances are I’ll stay up until you say it’s time for bed. If you want to be super helpful, try to wrap up our friendly chat around the aforementioned time window. Say something like, “alright, well, I’ll let you get to bed.” Everyone will thank you in the morning.

I love offering you a private space…for both of us.

I feel rude even typing this, but I get a little batty about clutter. I find it visually overstimulating, and it makes my brain go haywire. I spend a lot of my life battling clutter, if only to clear my own head.

For our first several years in our house, we didn’t have a dedicated guest room. By necessity, guests tended to spread their belongings throughout the house: a keyring here, a newspaper there, a colony of duffle bags in the corner. I hated myself for how cranky this made me.

Now, I offer guests a semi-finished basement room with their own futon, side table, and bathroom. A handful of guests have told me, “oh, you don’t need to set all that up for me. I can just sleep on the couch.”

Trust me: I love making you a little nest, and it makes me feel like a nice friend. It also gives you a place to put your stuff without cluttering my living space. I’m not a terrible person, but my neurochemistry places certain demands on my environment.

Before Coffee vs. After Coffee.

There are two kinds of time in my day: the time before coffee, and the time after coffee. Before coffee, I like to hang out in the kitchen, cook breakfast for everyone, listen to NPR (or music, or nothing), and put a kettle on the stove. Then I eat my egg and toast and take the remainder of my coffee to the couch to read a magazine.

During this time in the kitchen, I feel happy and pleasant — unless someone harshes my mellow. This isn’t the time to start an important conversation. My brain isn’t warmed up yet. While I’m measuring out the coffee or pouring water into the French press — this is an especially bad time to throw me off-kilter with idle chit-chat. If I pour too much water and have to start my coffee-making routine over, I can’t promise I’m going to be able to deal.

Decompression is a good thing.

After all the drama of pre-coffee chit-chat, lost pillowcases, cluttered side tables, and expeditions out my front door, I need a breather. Seinfeld put it best: it’s not you, it’s me.

I’m an introvert with ADHD. This means I’m easily overwhelmed and worn out by all the hurly-burly. My kid no longer takes a nap in the middle of the day, but I still appreciate a slice  of quiet time. If I sneak off to my office to read a book on the loveseat, or to a backyard hammock for a 30-minute rest in the sun, I probably don’t want you to come keep me company — though I do want you to find me if you need anything! Likewise, if there’s something you want to do — take a walk, read a book, spend some time checking your email — feel free to set aside some time for it. I won’t be offended if you want a little down time that doesn’t involve me.

I like you, please come back.

Bottom line: I love having guests. It’s way more relaxing than getting my entire family out the door (see above) for a weekend away. I love sharing my home and my city. I don’t always have my act together, and sometimes that makes me feel disappointed and angry with myself. It’s not because I don’t want you there, it’s because I have this internal struggle happening: I want to cling to my routines and my familiar environment (ADHD’ers don’t always deal well with change, and someone leaning back in a reclining chair can feel like too much change for me). I also want to be the world’s best host, and I don’t want my ADHD to make me look like a failure as a friend or a grownup.

So welcome to my home. I hope you’re 100% comfortable and happy and well-fed, but if you’re not, I hope you’ll ask for whatever you want. I also hope you’ll be sensitive to the fact that I might act weird sometimes, or seem overly rigid about the little stuff, or get cranky and overwhelmed while we’re getting out the door. I don’t mean to be off-putting. I appreciate you, and I hope you’ll come back.

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ADHD & personal grooming: do you Epilady?

I rarely talk about products here. When I do, I’m sharing something I find particularly helpful. I haven’t been contacted by Epilady, nor did I get anything for free in exchange for this post.

Personal grooming can be a problem for adults with ADHD. Showering, shaving, clipping toenails, etc. — often, these are tedious, unpleasant tasks. We need to complete them on a schedule. No one with ADHD excels at that.

Hair removal is the bane of my existence. I’m sure a few other women with ADHD feel similarly. My skin is sensitive, I struggle to make time for it, and it’s easy to procrastinate. However, I’ve finally found a solution: an epilator. It’s relatively inexpensive, not too messy, easy to do at home, and lasts longer than a day or two.

#AdultADHD and the value of a long-lasting shave

What’s an epilator?

Epilators — a whole class of shavers, though I’ve only tried the Epilady — look like electric shavers, but work like wax. They remove hair by the root, like a high-speed mechanical tweezer. The manufacturer promises results lasting “up to 4-6 weeks.”

My first pass took over an hour, but didn’t feel more cumbersome than a thorough job with an electric shaver. Subsequent touch-ups took only a few minutes. I’m much more likely to make time for these touch-ups, knowing the results last longer than an electric shaver’s 36-48 hours.

My initial epilation lasted around two weeks — shorter than the claims on the box, but longer than shaving. I suspect people with silkier hair textures will see results closer to the one-month mark, and lighter colors won’t worry as much about stubble.

In any case, I’ve been using my Epilady frequently and with confidence. It irritates my skin less and lasts longer than a regular shave.

Doesn’t it hurt?

You may be thinking, “it sounds like it hurts!” If you’ve ever used an electric shaver and felt it catch, rather than cut, one of your hairs, you already know what a first-time epilation feels like. On the front of my shins, it felt like a constant bee-sting sensation. Afterward, my hair follicles were swollen and red for the rest of the day.

Maybe yoga has taught me to be more in tune with my body, but I needed time to relax after I finished epilating. I felt a little funny: woozy, in the same way I get when my blood pressure runs too low. I drank a lot of water and sat down for a while, and that seemed to help.

On the bright side, subsequent epilations were/are far more comfortable. Two weeks after my first round, I hardly felt it on my shins. Not only that, unlike an electric razor, the Epilady doesn’t irritate my skin. I don’t need to worry about going over the same patch of skin too many times, nor does the humidity (inescapable in our climate in the summer) cause issues.

Why the Epilady is right for this ADHD lady.

I’ve tried pretty much every at-home hair removal technique, with little success. Traditional razors required more time in the shower, and they irritated my skin too much. Inattentive moments led to bleeding cuts. My electric razor caused less irritation up front, but didn’t shave as closely and still caused ingrown hairs. Both provided results that lasted, at most, 48 hours before I had to start the whole process again.

Depilatory creams (e.g. Nair) gave me chemical burns and/or smelled too icky. Wax was messy and painful, which meant I rarely got around to doing it. Some at-home wax kits also irritated my skin, leaving a red rectangle where the wax strip had been.

While the Epilady causes a lot of initial discomfort, that seems to fade quickly. At $70, my Epilady Legend wasn’t the cheapest thing around, but saves a lot of money over disposable products or professional waxing. I also appreciate the option to use it corded or cordless. I forget to charge things, and I’m glad not to need a backup option.

Most of all, I appreciate the convenience. Convenience trumps everything in ADHD households. Without it, important jobs — and certainly shaving one’s legs — don’t get done. Just knowing I won’t have to use it again tomorrow makes me excited to use the Epilady. The long-lasting results give me more leeway on when I “shave.” I spend far less time feeling uncomfortable, either because of skin irritation or pointy stubble.

If you’re willing to endure a painful first day, the Epilady could change your personal grooming routine forever.

Have you tried a product like this? How do you manage the mundane world of personal grooming?

Guest Post: Women with ADHD — a letter to my younger self

About the author:

S.B.  Castañeda writes about the struggles of #ADHDwomen on her blog, Adulting With ADHD.

Dear Younger Self,

You aren’t feeling very good about life right now. In fact, if I recall correctly, between performance issues at work and losing those music festival tickets, you feel the very, very opposite of good.

Here’s the thing. And I’m not telling you this to let you off the hook (because girl, we need to do something about some of those mistakes you’ve been making), but…you’re not dumb and you’re not losing your mind. You’re living with undiagnosed ADHD.

dear younger self guest post

It slipped under the radar.

You know all that fun anxiety and depression you’re dealing with right now? You’re still going to have it, but once it reaches a manageable level, your doctor will get a clearer picture of what’s really going on. Then you’ll get even more help. And this will be huge.

Remember all those problems in grade school? Nope, you weren’t the loudmouth or class clown. You were a daydreamer, remember? And you had some weird emotional stuff going on.

So here’s the thing: because you were all shy and awkward and would rather die than have attention paid your way, the diagnosis slipped past everybody.

Enter middle and high school. You’ve always been really book-smart and high-functioning. You stayed out of everyone’s way and kept your nose to the ground. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with your learning abilities! Then, away you went — congrats on that college acceptance! At this point, you were aware of ADD and Ritalin, but to you (and nearly everybody else) it was a little boy’s issue. Nothing to concern yourself with.

You were right — something was wrong.

But you know that sneaking feeling you’d get once in a while? It would happen in your quietest moments. It was the feeling that you weren’t meeting your full potential. You managed to graduate college with an average GPA and have an average first career, but you always knew you were above-average. Yet your life was anything but.

And some of the mistakes you’re making are supremely mind-boggling. Remember the moment when all that joking about being senile or having Alzheimer’s stopped being funny? Remember when you actually started wondering what the hell was wrong with you with an unprecedented sense of urgency?

It gets SO much better.

None of this makes sense right now. Even if it did, you wouldn’t believe it. But you’re going to get better. And you’re going to excel in ways you can’t wrap your mind around right now. Just hang in there and keep working on your issues. You’re going to make it to the other side of this, and the view is marvelous.

Hang in there,
Sarah

ADHD awareness helped me heal — and gave me my brother back

About the author:

Michelle Diaz-Nanasca wrote theater and movie reviews for local newspapers while in high school. She majored in Literatures of the World at the University of California, San Diego. Since college, she has worked as an academic tutor and as a church secretary. Michelle is currently working on a children’s novel. Besides writing, she loves singing in her church’s choir, playing guitar, and playing board games with her husband of seven years, Ariel. The two of them run a YouTube channel called The Board Game Tutors, which features instructional videos on hobby board games.

It’s hard to believe, but a year ago, I knew almost nothing about ADHD. Discovering its presence in my life has led to an incredible amount of positive change.

ADHD-awareness-healing-brotherI’d suffered from anxiety off and on throughout my twenty-seven years. It was often social anxiety: worrying about how people perceived me, whether I seemed kind enough, whether I was a good enough friend. I also worried about stressful events that might happen in the future, and how I would handle them. Halfway  through 2015, I noticed my anxiety becoming more debilitating.

Then something amazing happened. I decided to text my brother. I’d heard that he’d struggled with anxiety, and made progress in coping with it. He’s only three years old than I, but it’d been years since I’d tried to have a close relationship with him. We grew up in a chaotic environment where it was difficult to develop a healthy relationship with anyone.

I didn’t feel like things had changed much between us. I was rather hesitant to share my emotional state with him, but I was running out of ideas.

Anxiety & ADHD: it runs in the family

My brother responded to my text right away with some quick, temporary advice. It was late in the evening, and we agreed to talk on the phone the next day.

The following afternoon, I told him about how tense I’d being feeling. I talked about my emotional sensitivity: if anyone corrected me, even in the most minor way, I would feel ultra-self-conscious. I’d be plagued by insecure thoughts for the remainder of the day, or even week.

He sympathized with me, and then he asked me questions. Whether I had many thoughts at once, and whether I had difficulty transitioning from one task or environment to the next. I said yes, absolutely. I had recently been thinking about the fact that I would have less anxiety if only I didn’t think so much.

Upon careful study, I’d observed that I was usually thinking about at least four things simultaneously: what I was doing now, some event that had happened earlier, something I thought might happen later, and whatever song was currently running through my head. It did seem rather odd that I could think about so many things at once, but how was I to know this wasn’t how everyone thought?

As for transitions, it was excruciating for me to give up an activity I was enjoying and move on to something else. I experienced this every Sunday when it was time to go home from church, knowing I would not return until the following weekend, which always felt like an eternity on Sunday afternoon.

My brother started telling me about ADHD, and how it can manifest much differently in girls. He said my mental hyperactivity was a strong indicator for ADHD, and that girls who did well in school, as I always had, often went undiagnosed because of subtle symptoms. He’d learned that his anxiety was closely linked to his previously-undiagnosed ADHD. He was thinking that I might have anxiety stemming from ADHD, too.

What he was explaining made sense, and perhaps even more convincing was his manner. He seemed so calm and mature—so changed. I could easily recognize how his journey into ADHD awareness had led to healing for him. He told me about exercising, eating healthily, meditating (especially), and looking into medication for ADHD. He also recommended a book for anxiety: When Panic Attacks, by cognitive-behavioral therapy pioneer David Burns.

Education & diagnosis bring hope

Greatly encouraged by discovering an explanation that drew my many struggles together, I began my own study of ADHD and how it affects my life. At the same time, with the help of When Panic Attacks, I began to get my anxiety under control. The book was an incredibly eye-opening read full of simple solutions and common sense. I would recommend its cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques to anyone who has struggled with anxiety or any emotional challenge.

It took several months to get approval for a psychiatric appointment, but, in late 2015, I was officially diagnosed with ADHD.

I’m so thankful to have learned about ADHD for two major reasons: First, because knowing the source of my challenges allows me to learn healthy ways to cope with them. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I am so thankful that ADHD awareness led to a relationship with my brother. He has become one of my best friends, something I never would have expected, and it came about because of our shared experience of learning to manage ADHD.

What about you? How has learning more about ADHD changed your life? Please share in the comments!

Just a mom with ADHD, visiting the academic buffet

Tonight, for the first time in almost a decade, I’ll be stepping into a college classroom as a student. Before anyone questions my sanity, not to worry. I’m enrolled in an eight-week, non-credit writing course, not a degree program.

Of course, this temporary shift in my availability presents a new challenge for our family. Working hard is my hyperfocus jam. My household has come to rely on the fact that I self-medicate my ADHD by doing stuff around the house. Most of the time, I’m cool with that, but sometimes I miss the good old days when I could climb every mountain and take every class.

For so many reasons, I can no longer climb every mountain. That’s why I’m looking forward to this bite-size academic adventure.

College: the last place an ADHD girl can do it all

Perhaps you’re familiar with the stereotypical face of ADHD: male, visual thinker, academic underachiever.

Perhaps you can also see why so many women and linguistic thinkers go undiagnosed until adulthood. My school years treated me well because they provided a lot of structure and allowed me to taste-test whatever interested me in the moment. I knew how to get an A in just about anything, and taking a breadth of classes is normal — maybe even encouraged. Taking a breadth of jobs in the real world makes you look like a flake who can’t stay employed.

As an undergraduate, I switched between four different majors and two universities. I took classes in philosophy, geology, early childhood development, calculus, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. I learned to develop photos in the darkroom, use 3D modeling software, and speak a little bit of Russian. I held down jobs as a set painter, sandwich maker, and tech support specialist.

My only regret upon receiving my bachelor’s degree (fine arts, with a minor in art history) was that I couldn’t repeat the process over and over until I’d covered every major my university offered.

Since then, I’ve applied and been accepted to two graduate programs: a master’s in community arts and an online MBA. I actually completed half (or so) of my MBA, until I’d used up my AmeriCorps education award. I was having fun and doing well. However, faced with a few years of stay-at-home parenting followed by self-employment, I couldn’t justify spending $23,000 for me to finish my MBA just for fun.

And now: snacking on knowledge

My brother-in-law coined a term for our family’s approach to learning: snacking on knowledge. And for me, right now, snacking seems like the right thing to do.

I have a young child. My 10-year career goals are muddled somewhere between novelist, professor, personal organizing coach, and pro blogger. I probably could get into a degree program (again) and do well (again), but that doesn’t mean I have to.

Aging with ADHD has required me to learn a brand new skill: slowing down. Technically, I probably can do anything I put my mind to. This doesn’t always make it a good idea to try. The fact is, I still have a solid work ethic, but I get tired now. I’m not happy when I overcommit. Life seems shorter than it once did, and I want to check at least one Big Life Goal off my list.

One of those Big Life Goals happens to be publishing a novel, and I happen to have a complete draft. I’m not only taking a practical bite out of academic life, I’m connecting it to a goal-in-progress.

And maybe that’s the biggest progress yet.

You vs. the world: lets discuss ADHD for at-home parents

“Our family needs a homemaker.”

I love to be needed, but those words stung.

I was trying to convince my husband to keep our twice-monthly cleaning service, but he wouldn’t budge. It was a temporary arrangement for a tough time: during the first nine months of our son’s life, my husband finished a master’s degree and broke his collarbone.

I needed help.

The problem was, once things returned to normal, I viewed this extra help as a small price to pay to get my writing business off the ground. My husband reminded me of our agreement that one of us would be a stay-at-home parent. It didn’t seem fair for me to claim I “didn’t have time” to clean the house.

Maybe it wasn’t, but providing sanity and order to an ADHD household, day in and day out, is exhausting.

Because it’s true: our ADHD family does need a homemaker. We need one adult holding down the fort full-time to keep everything from exploding (or imploding) into chaos.We need someone cleaning, coordinating home repairs, paying bills, opening the mail, and making sure everyone eats — among many, many other things.

But I have ADHD, too, and I have big plans for my life. Specifically, I want to do all the things, and I want to do them yesterday.

In the two years post-cleaning lady, I’ve found a better groove. I’ve forced myself to keep trying. I figured out a way to keep writing while (usually) keeping the house (relatively) clean. R. grew up into a little boy and stopped nursing, which meant I could resume taking my ADHD meds. I’ve mapped out a longer-term plan for my writing that allows me to feel like I’m making daily progress. I’ve learned to accept incremental progress, even if I want instant gratification.

Being the homemaker is still hard. I wouldn’t have it any other way, for more reasons than I can count. My husband has unbeatable job security, and my salary wouldn’t have supported us. I prefer to be in charge. I’m better at structuring my own projects and time.

Our family doesn’t just need a homemaker, we need me. And to be there for our family, I need to be there for myself, too. That means making time for my writing, but also taking care of our home and family. Taking time for myself, but not leaving everyone else to pick up my slack.

It’s a lifelong pursuit, finding balance. I’ll never quite get there. I’ll never perfect the art of slowing down, of accepting imperfection, of resting, of moderating — in any of my roles. All I can do is try.

Lately, I’m trying to be honest with myself about what it means to be a workaholic homemaker with ADHD.

And what does that mean, exactly? If you have ADHD and you’re a stay-at-home parent, I’d love to hear about your experience. How do you make it work? Have you struggled to reconcile your partner’s expectations with your own? What are some of the most important things you’ve learned?

Book Review: ADHD According to Zoë

ADHD Zoe book review
Zoë Kessler’s ADHD According to Zoë is a fun, accessible read for women with ADHD. While those in Zoë’s demographic — single women grappling with a midlife ADHD diagnosis — will appreciate this book the most, any post-college woman with ADHD will relate. For those with new diagnoses seeking additional information, Zoë offers plenty of references to outside sources.

Disclaimer: I don’t love or agree with every expert she quotes. However, a discerning reader will benefit from Zoë’s reading list. ADHD According to Zoë is a great first book about ADHD, but it’s certainly not the last one you’ll need.

The author’s background in stand-up comedy shines through on almost every page, making heavy subject matter feel light. This will help the reader who feels overwhelmed, down on herself, and at the end of her rope. Zoë is the kind of writer readers warm up to quickly. ADHD According to Zoë shouldn’t be taken as an in-depth strategy guide, but an inspiration for any woman who’s lost hope in ever getting her life together.

ADHD According to Zoe cover artZoë’s anecdotes will give readers plenty of opportunities to smile, nod, and say (sometimes ruefully), “me, too.” Her friendly writing style and unwillingness to give up on herself is contagious. Her words will breed self-acceptance in spite of our many flaws — something every ADHD woman needs, especially those regretting a late diagnosis.

That said, I would have enjoyed a little more memoir and a little less self-help. Zoë is at her best as a storyteller, and we learn what it’s like to be a woman with ADHD through her stories. Since her strategy suggestions are merely a jumping-off point, some of that word count may have been better spent elsewhere.

I don’t agree with every one of the author’s book/expert recommendations, but use your own best judgement. She seems to idolize Dr. Ned Hallowell as a leading ADHD expert, while I — recent indecent assault allegations aside — don’t buy into his marketing of ADHD as a potential “huge asset in one’s life.” Some may find this perspective therapeutic or helpful. I find it misguided at best, a barrier to effective treatment at worst.

However, Zoë also quotes extensively from Russell Barkley’s Taking Charge of Adult ADHD, which is an excellent resource. Like any reference material, the key is to pick and choose your sources, evaluating and comparing them carefully, until you develop a nuanced understanding of the subject.

The bottom line: if you’re a woman over 30 with ADHD, and especially if you’re single, this book is for you. Zoë’s voice and perspective are strong, and she’ll help  you down the path to self-acceptance, which includes letting go of those heavy regrets about your delayed diagnosis.

Falling through the cracks: one ADHD girl’s story

About the author:

CarolynCarolyn is a single mother of two and a Registered Nurse working in General and Cardiovascular Surgery. She also has a background in Behavioral Health. She’s just started a new blog at www.thedistractedmom.com, where she writes about parenting with ADHD while raising ADHD children.

Follow Carolyn on Twitter at @NurseMallon.

Thank you, Carolyn, for sharing your story!

Missing the warning signs

Do you know what it feels like to be a girl with ADHD?

I do, as do nearly 6% of all girls. But many of us struggle for years before we figure out why things seem so much harder for us.

We expect boys to be boisterous and loud. Even without a diagnosis of ADHD, it surprises no one when a boy acts like a clown, and they give him a pass when he talks back (after all, he’s got to grow up to be confident, right?).

We expect something else from girls.

We want them to follow directions and be tidy, and to be mindful of the feelings of others. There isn’t as much leeway for being messy and haphazard.

As an ADHD girl, you’re forever falling short of everyone’s expectations, never living up to your “potential.” You try to stay organized, but the lists and notebooks just get lost. You forget plans and goof on names. You struggle to fit in with the other girls, and you feel like everyone else has a cheat sheet of social rules.

As an undiagnosed ADHD girl, my childhood and teen years were awful.

I was depressed and crippled by anxiety attacks and a school phobia. At one point I had an ulcer made worse from the meds I was taking for my ‘emotional problems!’

I was only 12 years old. I just wanted to know what was wrong with me!

My older brother had ADHD, but he had the obvious kind — and he was a boy. He was hyperactive and oppositional. He engaged in risk-taking behavior that was hard not to notice. I worked very hard to behave and do well in school, even when it was obvious to me I wasn’t keeping up.

The tragedy was that in working so hard to hide my impairments, I only succeeded in postponing proper treatment.

I was intelligent enough to leave an impression on my teachers. In fact, I was in the gifted program, but I lacked the organizational skills to meet their academic expectations.

If I found a subject interesting, I could do well easily, but if a subject didn’t grab me, I could stare at a homework assignment for hours and still not make progress. I would try to follow the class lecture, but if I lost track of what they were discussing, I might as well have wandered alone in the woods. I just couldn’t catch up.

After a while, I started skipping classes to avoid the shame and embarrassment of having no assignment to turn in or knowing I was going to flunk a test. This contributed to my poor self-image: I felt like a loser and a delinquent.

By 11th grade, I wasn’t in honors classes at all anymore. I was failing remedial math and getting suspended for truancy. I was drinking, experimenting with drugs, and feeling more miserable than I’d been in my life.

This is often the lot of the undiagnosed ADHD girl.

ADHD’s far-reaching effects on women & girls

ADHD is the most common childhood psychiatric disorder, marked by impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattention. While girls often present with those symptoms, they more commonly have difficulties sustaining attention, initiating and maintaining effort, and organizing information. Many struggle with learning impairments.

Left undiagnosed, girls tend to under-perform academically. Each year that goes by becomes a longer history of failure, social problems, and feelings of under-achievement.

More so than with ADHD boys, these impairments often lead to peer rejection. Relationships among girls are sophisticated and require more maintenance. Boys tend to be more forgiving of forgetfulness, hyperactivity, and inappropriate outbursts. Social awkwardness it not as easily forgiven among teen girls. There’s a perception that girls should know what to say and when; how to keep a secret; how to keep their lives in order and make it look effortless.

If they can’t do this, they feel like something is wrong with them.

What Happens When You Can’t Keep Up?

Depression and anxiety are common with ADHD, but even higher in girls, who tend to internalize problems. Whereas boys engage in oppositional behavior, girls more commonly internalize anger and engage in self-injury. Half of ADHD girls report self-harming behavior (Child Mind, 2012).

Perhaps not surprisingly, girls are also particularly prone to substance abuse disorders, possibly related to later diagnosis and high levels of stress as they try to self-medicate.

45% of women diagnosed with ADHD also meet criteria for another disorder.

But it’s not the end of the world, right?

Well, it can be the end for some. 18% of teen girls with ADHD report suicidal ideation (Rucklidge, J.J. 2008), and the incidence of successful suicide is five times higher in those with ADHD (Medscape, 2013).

There are other risks associated with “slipping through the cracks” and not being diagnosed. Left untreated, ADHD increases the risk for driving-related accidents, particularly for teen girls. Adolescent girls with ADHD also have a higher risk for teen pregnancy (30-40%) and a fourfold increased risk for STDs (Rucklidge, J.J. 2008).

As any grown-up girl can tell you, low self-esteem and poor impulse control do not add up to the best decision-making.

I had all the symptoms — how was it missed?

The therapists and doctors saw my anxiety and depression, my sense of never being focused or present, my inner feelings of restlessness, anger, and self-loathing. I also engaged in self-harm, but my impulsive behaviors looked like psychiatric symptoms, and didn’t point to ADHD. They threw around words like “dysthymia,” “generalized anxiety,” and “borderline.”

What they missed was ADHD combined-type — and just enough shame about my impairments that I managed to distract from the issue entirely. Rather than let anyone know how disorganized and forgetful I really was, and because I interpreted that as a personal failing, I focused instead on how miserable I felt. Understandably, they focused on that, too.

In doing so, we all failed to address the symptoms that were contributing to my unhappiness and poor self-image in the first place.

You couldn’t pay me a million dollars to relive my teenage years.

It’s not too late

Dropping out wasn’t the end of my story. I did get my life back on track eventually. But first I had to address the self-image issues holding me back and the ADHD symptoms keeping my life in disarray.

If you know a girl struggling with attention or anxiety issues, whether she’s been diagnosed or not, let her know she doesn’t need to struggle like that. And she’s not alone.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but one intervention that does fit every situation is support. Not lectures, not tough love, not “ignore it; she’s just doing it for attention,” not hollow reassurances. Just support. Let her know that you notice her, and you want to help, and you’re there for her. Then ask how you can help.

References

ADHD Persists in Adulthood, Ups Mental Illness, Suicide Risk. Medscape Medical News, Psychiatry. Wed. 10 April 2015.

Cumyn, L., PhD., French, L., PhD., & Hechtman, Lily,M.D., F.R.C.P. (2009). Comorbidity in adults with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 54(10), 673-83. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.snhu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/222845215?accountid=3783

Mikami, A. Y., Ransone, M. L., & Calhoun, C. D. (2011, 12). Influence of Anxiety on the Social Functioning of Children With and Without ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders, 15(6), 473-484. doi: 10.1177/1087054710369066

Ramsay, J. R. (2005, 12). Girl, Repeatedly Interrupted: The Case of a Young Adult Woman With ADHD.Clinical Case Studies, 4(4), 329-346. doi: 10.1177/1534650103259741

Rucklidge, J. J. (2008, 12). Gender differences in ADHD: Implications for psychosocial treatments. Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, 8(4), 643-655. doi: 10.1586/14737175.8.4.643

ADHD then and now: notes from my teenage self

People sometimes tell me I can’t have ADHD because I’m too smart and organized.

I insist I’m only as organized as I need to be to maintain a base level of sanity, not to mention cleanliness and financial security. It just so happens I need to create a lot of intentional, concrete systems to keep the ship afloat.

good student quote

I still have my rough patches, but it’s easy to forget how ADHD feels for those who are younger, undiagnosed, newly diagnosed, or just haven’t gotten the support they need to start organizing their lives.

Here’s a different perspective, written when I was 17:

…When I have to pay attention in school, sometimes I just can’t. I’ll try with all I’ve got, but it’s like a fog, a force field goes up between me and them and I can’t cut through it.

Most of the time, no matter what, I can’t sit still. My leg twitches, my fingers, tap, I fidget and shift positions, or my eyes just keep darting around.

I find it difficult to do my homework at night because I’ll start staring at something, I’ll pick up objects around me and look at them, my thoughts will wander, I won’t be able to focus or concentrate.

And then there’s my memory. I can never remember books and movies, I constantly forget to perform simple tasks, so much so that it interferes with my daily functioning in life. This is why I write on my hands. I do things in fragments because I get distracted and bounce from task to task. I must perform my morning routine in the same order every day lest I leave something out. I am very absent-minded.

I have trouble not talking when there is someone who I can talk to nearby.

See, I talked to my guidance counselor about it, and I still don’t know what to do. In order to be diagnosed with anything, a test would go out to me, my parents, and my teachers, none of whom I want to get involved. I’ve tricked my teachers into thinking I’m a good student…

I have to constantly stay a step ahead of this, I have to beat it and sidestep it and wrestle it to the ground, all to keep my head above the water. Battling with a condition of your own mind is like nothing else — it is a unique struggle, one that knows you and hits you where you are weak, one that wears you down over time and makes you feel sick inside.

I wish it could be easy, but it sucks.

Already, with ample structure in a minimally challenging academic environment, I struggled internally.

I didn’t cause much trouble at school and I graduated with a GPA over 3.5. Study halls gave me extra time for homework. I was also bright enough to get away with discreetly working on assignments during lectures without falling behind on the material. As a linguistic thinker, I relied on my ability to test well, but forgot most of what I learned shortly after the exam.

Many find this surprising, but it’s a common story for ADHD girls and women.

These are the ADHD cases that slip by until adulthood, when we must create our own structure, goals, and schedules. We must make our own day, and if we haven’t learned to do that, everything begins to fall apart.

“It’s different for girls:” My ADHD story

report card, second grade

report card, second grade

As I reached out for support, my friends and family struggled to sympathize. After all, I looked smart and successful—from the outside. My friends assured me I was either expecting too much of myself or making excuses for not bringing my behavior in line with that of other adults. My occasional verbal outbursts just meant I had to think before I spoke. Of course my desk got messy sometimes, but didn’t everyone’s? Surely I didn’t think I was the only one who felt overwhelmed from time to time?

Surely not, but my struggles extended beyond what could be considered “average.” I lived in a constant state of frantic anxiety, knowing I had too much to do but unable to bring specific tasks into focus. Bills went unpaid. Close relationships felt insecure and suffered from my irritability and overemotional behavior. Feeling others’ trust and respect was misplaced, I battled persistent guilt and a fear of being “found out.”

Sometimes I shy away from telling my own story here. I want The ADHD Homestead to be about more than that. I want this space to be about helping others, sharing ideas, providing support.

But the truth is — judging by the comments — sharing my experience via this guest post on ADHD Roller Coaster did help a lot of people. Specifically, my words helped women with ADHD, who are far less likely than boys to be diagnosed as children. This lag in diagnoses generates a whole host of mental health issues as we navigate the tricky world of adulthood: anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem, to name a few.

It received a brief mention at the bottom of my 2014 Blog Action Day post, but I’m sharing it again in here because it’s important. It’s important for women with ADHD to see their experience mirrored and validated by someone else. It’s important for parents, spouses, and everyone who loves us to understand the differences between ADHD in girls and boys. It can make all the difference in the world.

To read the full essay quoted above, visit the original post on ADHD Roller Coaster. Then, please share your own experiences in the comments (here or there).

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