Finding out I had ADHD changed my life
For years, I was treated for anxiety with every therapy and medication known to man but with little to no difference. It was frustrtaing. Infuriating, really to be asked over and over, “what is it you are worrying about?” and have no real response. “Nothing? I just feel anxious.” In retrospect, perhaps that should have been a warning sign. Sure, there are the occassional things I worry about but when the majority of the “anxiety” a person experiences is purely physical with very little rhyme or reason to what’s provoking it?
Yeah, I see it now. But I didn’t then. Then, I thought it was just anxiety because that’s what it seemed like. I realize now that restlessness and anxiety feel very similar but aren’t necessarily the same thing.
ADHD Women are Often Looked at as Lazy, Ditzy, Dumb…
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been a dreamer. I was the super sensitive kid who cried if you looked at her, seemed to stay in her own little world most of the time, and somehow couldn’t notice very obvious things. I mean, a tree fell in our driveway once. A REALLY big tree that was, quite literally, right in front of where we parked our car.
I even heard my parents talking about it–for DAYS. It still somehow didn’t register what they were talking about. On day THREE, I finally noticed the tree. That’s what I mean by missing obvious things…
I can’t follow directions to save my life, I get lost on a straight road, and my parents should have just recorded their voices telling me that I’d “lose my head if it wasn’t attached” for all the times they felt the need to say it.
As a kid, I lost my homework on a regular basis, completed all my projects and assignments the night before or the morning of, and never could study for a test. BUT, I was a good student. Somehow…
In an attempt to minimize the damages of ADHD, I became really good at finding things and a very creative problem solver. So I flew under the radar in school; No one thought “hey this kid has ADHD.” Not even when they had to call my name 50 times while standing right in front of me before I noticed they were there.
I always knew something was off–most of my life I called it anxiety. I mean, a challenge by any other name, right? It took me 6 months to figure out how to get to work without using the GPS because I apparently drive in my own little world too. Owning my own business meant a lot of really boring, time consuming paperwork needing ample amounts of concentration and I fell so far behind in that it almost ruined me.
Heck, at tax time, I lost 4 out of 5 necessary documents to file my taxes and had a meltdown trying to figure out how to replace them at the last second. The busier I got, the more responsibilities I took on, the worse it got.
It’s because of stuff like this that ADHD women are looked at as lazy, ditzy, dumb, overly sensitive, spacey, stupid, lost, and destined to never “live up to her potential.”
At 28 years old, while panicking about my tax situation, a doctor finally thought to assess me for ADHD.
Getting that diagnosis, taking medication, and learning more about it has been life changing.
▶I stay mostly caught up on my paperwork now.
▶ I can have a conversation where I don’t drift off and have to develop creative strategies to figure out what we’re talking about without the other person realizing that I wasn’t paying attention.
▶ I pay attention while I’m driving now. It’s a miracle I was never in a car accident before I started taking medication. It was common place for me to take a 30 minute drive and have little to no memory of the drive. I’m a safer driver now (and the whole town breathes a sigh of relief).
▶ My house isn’t cluttered and gross anymore (something that always embarrassed me but I couldn’t seem to figure out).
▶ This year, I’m TWO MONTHS AHEAD of the tax filing deadline and almost ready to file. I haven’t lost a single tax document. Crazy, right?
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, really.
It bothers me when people talk about ADHD being a “made up” disorder or tell us we just need to “try harder.”
It’s easy to say that when you watch from the sidelines. It probably does seem fishy that I can’t seem to get my paperwork done but I can sit and research medical diseases for hours. When people see a kid who can’t sit still in class but they can become absorbed for hours in a video game, they assume the worst. They assume it’s intentional.
They think women who struggle like this are lazy, crazy, ditzy, dumb, overly emotional, lost, stupid, and destined to never live up to her potential. She must not care.
ADHD is a neurocognitive disorder like Autism is a neurocognitive disorder. It drives me bonkers when the response to ADHD is “If you’re ever going to be successful in the real world you’re going to have to do better.” We’re aware of that, thank you, but it’s helpful to stop assuming that we’re lazy and don’t care that we can’t seem to adult well. I promise you it’s not for lack of trying.
When studied, ADHDers actually show more effort and work than anyone they are compared to but still get much less accomplished. We’re trying–the challenge is called executive functioning issues and it’s a pain that we share with individuals with Autism.
Imagine this: you had something terrible happen a few days ago and because of that you haven’t slept at all in the last several nights. You haven’t eaten in days and you keep getting calls and texts from people asking you what happened.
▶▶ How hard would it be to focus, concentrate, or get anything done at work on a day like this? Your attention would be all over the place, you’d probably have to re-read everything 50 times to half way understand what you’re doing, you’d probably forget a ton of really important things and misplace even more.
That kind of uphill battle is what it’s like to try to function when you have ADHD, except it’s unrelated to what circumstances we are facing and is just a daily battle. Our brain doesn’t regulate dopamine well enough in the prefrontal cortex so we have major challenges with executive functioning skills (concentration, memory, organization, planning, etc..). We really are trying just as you would on a horrible day like the one I described. It’s just an uphill battle.
ADHD by any other name…
It’s a misnomer to call it Attention Deficit. In reality, it should be called Attention Dysregulation. Basically, we ADHDers have a hard time regulating what we pay attention to. It causes us great stress to get behind on something important or to lose things that will have big consequences. Who would choose that kind of stress? But, the ADHD brain is built with an interest based nervous system that gives greater priority to things we are interested in to the exclusion of anything else.
It’s not as fun as it sounds. For me, that also means that when I experience criticism or I feel like I’ve acted awkward in a situation, I have a really hard time shifting my attention from that experience. I can go days continuing to ruminate about that experience because my interest based nervous system has decided that’s all I should focus on.
We have a bad habit of assuming that everyone has the same experience we have.
So if you can get your paperwork done, the one who struggles with it is just lazy. If you don’t struggle with depression, the one who does needs to just snap out of it. If you don’t have anxiety, those who do just need to just stop worrying.
If it were that easy, mental illness wouldn’t exist. No one chooses to be miserable; instead, we become trapped by it. If you can’t relate to that, count your blessings. But don’t shame those of us who struggle.
Ok, I’ll step off of my soapbox now.
Ever Wondered if YOU might have ADHD? Here are some of the questions that might indicate it.
Keep in mind, everyone struggles with these things to some degree but a person with ADHD is constantly struggling with them. Everyone loses their keys every once in a while and struggles to concentrate if they didn’t get enough sleep last night or they have something really stressful going on in life. An ADHD person’s attention is gone well before they even notice it’s gone and before they figure out what they missed, it’s gone again.
So, while everyone can relate to these challenges sometimes, for someone with ADHD it’s an ALL THE TIME kind of thing.
- When you have a task that requires a lot of thought, how often do you delay or avoid getting started?
- How often does you fidget or squirm with your hands and feet when you have to sit for long periods of time?
- How often do you make careless mistakes when you have to work on a boring or difficult project?
- How often do you have difficulty paying attention, even when you’re directly spoken to?
- How often do you have difficulty maintaining attention when doing boring or repetitive work?
- How often are you distracted by noise or activity around you?
- How often do you interrupt others when they are busy?
- When involved in a conversation, how often do you try to finish other people’s sentences before they have a chance to finish it themselves?
- How often do you leave your seat in situations when remaining seated is required?
- How often do you misplace or have difficulty finding things?
This is a sample of the questions that are often asked in an ADHD assessment. In mine, I had to rate myself and my husband was asked to rate them as well to get a more objective view point.
When he answered these questions for my intake, my husband looked at me and goes “What were those questions about?” I explained that these were the symptoms of ADHD and he goes “ha! Then you have it REAL bad!” Huh, thanks buddy 😉
ADHD has a lot in common with a few other mental health related disorders and even a few physical diseases or deficiencies which is why an assessment with a trained professional is so important. Finding a clinician that’s really familiar with ADHD, especially in women, can be a huge challenge which is why I created the Patient/Doctor’s Guide to Diagnosing ADHD in Adults. If you’re looking for a good ADHD assessment, make sure you check that out over in the side bar.
It will take you through a more thorough questionnaire and help you find a knowledgeable doctor. It also gives good information to which ever clinician you end up seeing just in case they aren’t as familiar with ADHD as they seemed. I hope you find it helpful.
These two take these 10 signs and symptoms and show you what it actually looks like in a women with ADHD (ahem, me).
Have you been diagnosed with ADHD? How old were you? Did you have difficulty getting the right diagnosis?