Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It’s one of my only personality traits, but it’s also something that I’ve struggled with my whole life. I was the poster-child for ADHD. I drew on my desk in class, I’d get sent to the principal’s office for talking too much, I was fidgety and dreamed of doing cartwheels when I should’ve been doing math, and I was so loud. I zoned out often. Everything had to be repeated to me, once, twice, three times. I was impulsive and I had no filter. For as long as I can remember, my brain has constantly been buzzing. It was no surprise to my family when I was diagnosed at age four and as I’ve grown, my ADHD has only grown with me.
As I’ve come to learn more about the disorder and what it means for me, I’ve realized how lucky I was that I was the poster-child for ADHD and that my parents noticed early on. While ADHD is often said to be more common in boys, it is worth mentioning that the symptoms of ADHD can frequently be overlooked in women, as it sometimes manifests itself differently.
ADHD for some women may present as excessive talking or daydreaming. You might have trouble balancing relationships with the responsibilities of the rest of your life. Simple, daily tasks may seem like mountains that you have to climb. Sometimes for me, even getting up to go make myself lunch is a task that I forget to do, or just can’t bring myself to do (this is called executive dysfunction and is a symptom of ADHD). You may find yourself procrastinating on things that are incredibly important, like studying for your final exam, or even on things that are mundane, like folding your laundry. And as you procrastinate these tasks, you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with guilt and anxiety, but, for some reason, you still can’t bring yourself to do them. You are not lazy, I promise. You might forget important dates or feel unorganized in your life. You might struggle with criticism or take any change in tone from a friend as rejection and shut down from it (this is called Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, an actual symptom of ADHD). You might find it hard to follow conversations, or notice that sometimes everything seems a little too loud, or spend too much time focusing on keeping still and looking “normal.” Well, I have good news for you. There’s no such thing as normal.
A lot of women don’t realize that they may need help until it feels like it’s too late. I’m here to tell you that it’s not too late. In fact, if you are feeling that you’ve been hit with the epiphany that you may need to seek a diagnosis or just get some help, now is a better time than ever. Getting a diagnosis or even doing research into your diagnosis if you already have it, can benefit you in so many ways, even as an adult. Go for it, girl. It’s time to finally relax and be okay with yourself.
Now let’s get one thing straight. ADHD is not a trend. It isn’t something that you can just turn on and off. Saying, “Oh my god, sorry, I’m so ADHD!” when you aren’t paying attention for one moment can seem innocent. But it’s just inaccurate. It isn’t just being hyper and distracted and energetic around your friends. When you have ADHD, you deal with the symptoms not only when you are in public, but also when you are by yourself, in your room, and for some reason the seam on your sock makes it feel like the world is about to end. And using flippant language like this can be offensive and harmful to a community that already deals with a lot of stigmas.
That being said, seeking a proper diagnosis is super important. While testing and medication and the whole shebang can definitely be difficult for some people to access, it is still crucial that you don’t self-diagnose. Self-diagnosing, while understandable, can be harmful. As someone who grew up with a diagnosis of ADHD, I was told my whole life to keep it a secret, because “people don’t believe that ADHD is real and think it is just an excuse for bad behavior.” Even now that I’m finally no longer ashamed of my diagnosis, I find myself facing remarks of “ADHD is so overdiagnosed these days” or “Isn’t everyone a little bit ADHD?” (No, not everyone is “a little bit ADHD”). I, like many others, have dealt with this stigma for my whole life, and because of that, it is sometimes hard to watch people, who aren’t professionals, confidently diagnose themselves and then go around telling people that they do, in fact, have ADHD. It can make things more difficult for those who have been professionally diagnosed and this influx of people claiming to have ADHD without proper diagnosis can make outsiders become even more skeptical of the validity of the disorder itself.
But don’t shy away from trying to understand and better yourself. If you have noticed yourself experiencing symptoms that line up with ADHD and you are unable to get a proper diagnosis, doing research on treatment methods and finding pro-tips from lifelong ADHD-ers may help you manage those symptoms.
For me, some ways that I cope with my symptoms include making many to-do lists, setting time limits on my social media apps, and setting reminders on my phone. I’ve also tried meditation and exercise, which has helped me sleep better at night. Most importantly, I cope by working extra hard to understand why I do the things I do, so that I can properly explain my behavior to the people around me (they won’t always listen, but keep standing up for yourself). Gaining the ability to understand your own behavior may make you self-aware, but being able to communicate your struggles or what is going on inside your buzzing brain is what makes all the difference in the world.
Here’s another reason why I strongly recommend seeing a professional and getting tested: Accommodations. In college (and even in future career paths), if you have a documented learning disability or ADHD, you can have a “plan” (I have a 504 Plan but some people have an Individualized Education Plan a.k.a an IEP) and you are registered with your school’s disabilities services office, you legally cannot be denied of your approved accommodations. This helps immensely.
In high school, my accommodations included time and a half on tests/assignments (because I am a slow reader due to being… attention deficit), testing in a separate setting (because once again, I am attention deficit and being around other people is distracting for me), extra scaffolding on assignments (because I always had trouble organizing my thoughts) and even preferential seating (because sitting in the back of the class was just too distracting). Now, in college, these accommodations have been narrowed down to only extra time on tests and separate setting testing, but having these options in my toolbelt is incredibly helpful, still. I tell all of my professors about my accommodations, even if I don’t think I’ll need them in that specific class. It’s important that they understand that I have these services, even though I may not use them in their class, because then they can still be an ally for me.
Learning to accommodate in college and communicating to your professors about when you need help builds skills that will help you grow as a person. Knowing when to stand up for yourself and how to ask for help is such an important asset for not only college, but also for entering the workforce and for interpersonal relationships. These things are everyday skills, but having accommodations also just makes the struggle of dealing with a buzzing brain a little bit easier. And being able to stick up for yourself, in any situation, ADHD-related or not, is a strength that everyone should work towards.
I’ve learned to tell people about what is going on with me. When I am feeling overstimulated, I let people know. When I just can’t understand a concept and I need to ask someone to repeat themselves, I allow myself to do just that. And I work so hard to not feel guilty about this, because if the person is a good person, they won’t be annoyed. I allow myself to hyperfocus and talk about the things I’m interested in. I allow myself to get out excess energy without feeling embarrassed for fidgeting. I have learned to accept myself for me, and I have welcomed my ADHD as a key aspect of my identity. If you do this, the people around you, if they are the right people, will have to learn to accept this as well.
All in all, learn the signs, learn the symptoms, learn how to stand on your own two feet as a woman with ADHD. Please don’t self-diagnose, but please do use methods that work for you when dealing with your symptoms. Don’t just allow people to use harmful language or perpetuate stigma. Next time someone meaninglessly uses the word “ADHD” like it’s nothing more than a cute adjective, stand up for yourself. Your ADHD is something you work through every day, and not everyone is as lucky to have a brain that works in the same uniquely beautiful ways that yours does. It’s time to take charge.
Use your ADHD as a superpower. Utilize the times you hyperfocus to accomplish things that matter to you. Let your hyper-fixations bring you to lifelong passions. Take time to understand just how differently your brain works and just how amazing that is. Try to understand yourself better. Be kinder to yourself and stand up for yourself, whether that be to your professors, your parents, your friends, or even a passer-by in the street.
Your experience is serious and it’s not just a trend. For me, ADHD is something that affects almost every aspect of my life. However, just because ADHD can make your journey through life a bit different sometimes, it can also be one of your greatest assets. Use your energy, your creativity, your passion for life, and your impulsivity to your advantage. Your ADHD is part of what makes you special.
I love my ADHD and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Without it, life would be less exciting. I wouldn’t have the ability to see the world the way I do now. Learn to love your ADHD and accept the never-ending buzzing in your brain. Your world will be brighter, I promise.