Ever wonder if you have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)? I did for a few years starting early in college when I (and others) became highly aware of some “quirks”. I thought nothing of them until they became a factor in my academic performance. It would not be for a few more years at the age of 22 that I would finally be diagnosed with ADHD. I struggled my entire life and never knew the cause which was staring me right in the face the whole time.
My symptoms are typical of what are seen in girls. Symptoms are very different in girls than they are in guys. For example, I am unable to navigate social norms, have overwhelming emotions of defeat when I miss my goals, and incredibly impulsive behaviors, which include impulse buying. I also have very “normal” symptoms many associate with the behavior of boys who have ADHD. I am disruptive in classes and distracted by everything around me no matter where I am. I also cannot sit still, I’m unable to relax as I always have to be doing something. Unfortunately this feeds into the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which can be a symptom in girls as many have compulsive tasks such as cleaning and organizing. I am guilty of this, if I have a moment to sit down, I somehow end up cleaning or organizing anything I lay eyes on in the space around me. OCD is more of a “by product” as these obsessions are generally used as a distraction from the task at hand. And this fixation and obsessive behavior fed even further to ultimate demise in college.
In college, I made the mistake of taking on just about every opportunity that came my way. I was obsessed with obtaining every opportunity I could (not sure why). I took on too many leadership positions, sports, clubs, and filled my semesters with more than the maximum amount of credits allotted. Needless to say, I do have a great resume, and graduated with more cords than I could carry (total pro of ADHD). However, I had experienced major setbacks because of my ADHD as well. The main issue I found was that I take multiple breaks while doing work. I cannot sit down and complete one task. But these breaks are dangerous as I end up working on a different assignment, start a new project, and cleaning. It was impossible for me to study or complete assignments on time. I also could not finish most exams in time because I got distracted by my own thoughts and could not sit still. Generally, I had to take exams standing, leave the room to walk or go to the bathroom simply to get out of my chair. This obviously posed a problem for me and led to unfinished exams or rushing through questions without a clear mind set and thus, the dreaded grade. No one wants a bad grade, but me, if I got a poor grade it fed into the overwhelming emotions of defeat that many girls with ADHD experience. I was suffering and had no help for a problem I was unaware of.
As you can see, these behaviors are very different from what people associate with ADHD in boys and are generally seen as quirks in one's personality. For these exact reasons, I went undiagnosed for many years. Now that I have a diagnosis, I am able to have accommodations through my school and a great medication regime to assist me. After my diagnosis I went on the search for resources to keep ADHD from beating me up. I have some suggestions for my lades with ADHD out there. My first recommendation is to take an online assessment. I like this assessment because you can look over the questions and self-reflect and become aware of the issues associated with your ADHD because the questions themselves point out your struggles. Secondly, I joined a bunch of social media pages related to females with ADHD and for ADHD in general. For women specific accounts I suggest checking out @iampayingattention, @adhdfemaleentreprenuers, and @adhd.her on Instagram. I found an entire society of ADHD accounts of memes, support, help, and discussions to connect to. This society made me feel accepted and also gave me plenty of ideas on how to stay organized, keep my mind busy yet focused and provided little boosters of self esteem.
There is a 4:1 male-to-female ratio of ADHD diagnosis. The obvious result of less women diagnosed leads to the stigma that ADHD is simply not common among girls. Many parents and teachers never think to have girls assessed if they don't display stereotypical behavior. Therefore, a girl with ADHD never really seems to cross their mind. A lack of ADHD education leads to many women getting diagnosed late in their educational career like myself or never diagnosed, which leads to difficulties throughout their life. Beyond the scope of paying attention being the issue, many are unable to hold down a job, have financial issues, have incomplete degrees, and tend to be unorganized, which leads to chaos overall in their life.
ADHD was affecting my educational performance and I had no idea. However, today I am a PhD student in genetics at a top university. I have only made it this far because I got help and took advantage of the resources available to me. I am only one example displaying the success of students with ADHD in higher education and educational careers. Just because ADHD is affecting your career and educational success does not mean you cannot make it to your end game. If you think you may have ADHD after some self-reflection, I encourage you to act on that instinct because my diagnosis has been nothing but helpful for me. We are capable of so much more than the stigmas placed on us.