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ADHD is missed in 50-75% of women. It’s often called anxiety, depression, and even OCD. When she has a child that’s diagnosed with ADHD is when she’s most likely to discover her own struggle.
ADHD often leads to anxiety and depression as a secondary response to all of the challenges that go with untreated ADHD. Because of that, she’s 3x more likely to be put on an antidepressant (and sometimes those make ADHD symptoms worse).
Until the age of 28, that was me. I hit a crisis: I had 4 major projects coming up that I couldn’t seem to complete. The consequences were going to be severe if I didn’t get them done and, even though panic ensued, I was still stuck. My doctor was one of the few who seemed to understand ADHD. She wasn’t side tracked by my use of the word “anxiety” and sent me to get evaluated for ADHD. Life changed in such a positive way after that.
Now, I’ve gotten pretty good at helping other women discover that they have ADHD. When I got the right treatment, my entire life was different. If you’ve been frustrated that your current treatment isn’t working, keep reading. .
ADHD is missed in women because it looks different.
Some people even think that women can’t have ADHD (insert eyeroll here). They think that if you are smart or you did well in school, you can’t have ADHD. I was a straight A student who went to college when I was 16. I later graduated Summa Cum Laude with my Masters Degree. But I have ADHD.
When we think of ADHD, we think of the chatty little boy who can’t sit still. ADHD in women tends to look a little different.
ADHD symptoms in Women
▶The ADHD woman often finds herself in a constant state of overwhelm trying to manage the details of everyday life.
It’s like feeling disorganized mentally, emotionally, and physically and she often thinks of herself as lazy, crazy, ditzy, or stupid.
▶She’s likely to zone out, even in the middle of an important conversation.
It often hurts people’s feelings when you have to ask them to repeat something they just told you. I really don’t want that but often feel powerless to prevent my mind from bouncing off. So I developed strategies to cover my symptom. We’ll talk more about that in a minute.
▶And trying to manage her thoughts is like playing wack-a-mole.
It can sometimes feel like she doesn’t have control over where her thoughts go or when they go. The day dreaming sounds lovely, and sometimes it is. Other times, her mind is playing out how bad it would be if the police came to tell a person that their spouse died. And she’s feeling all of the emotions as if it were happening right now.
▶And that wack-a-mole makes it difficult for the ADHD woman to function.
It’s like trying to hold down a conversation with someone but other people are constantly interrupting. Except the other person doesn’t know that the conversation has been interrupted so they keep talking.
▶She either forgets important things or worries that she’s forgetting them.
The worry she feels is like a vague anxiety without an apparent cause. Just the uncomfortable feeling that something has fallen through the cracks.
▶Somehow, somewhere she is really messy.
She may look presentable with a matching outfit or a reasonably organized desk at work, but she won’t invite you to her house. Why? Because it’s a disaster. Most of my former coworkers thought I was a very organized individual… until they saw my car.
▶The ADHD woman procrastinates. Like, a lot.
She waits until the last minute to start important work because she has to rely on the time pressure to get boring tasks done. Then, in a frenzy, she’ll spend hours doing it the night before. While also trying to make it look like she spent weeks on it.
▶But she can hyperfocus on things she’s really interested in.
While I’ve never been able to pay attention to lectures, I can spend hours researching how to do a handstand.
Women are often really good at masking their ADHD symptoms.
Women with undiagnosed ADHD often judge their difficulties as personal flaws. To avoid feeling this shame, women are often really good at hiding their ADHD challenges from others.
▶When she can’t keep her attention in a conversation, she does mental gymnastics to make up for it.
I used to pretend that I didn’t quite comprehend what people were saying and “My brain just isn’t grasping this. Can you say it one more time?” All to try to keep them from feeling like I didn’t care.
▶Sometimes the ADHD woman covers her symptoms in ways that look like OCD.
I’ve accidentally left my stove on overnight. I’ve accidentally left it on when leaving the house and then come home to find it still on. Now I make it a point to check my stove. But the first time I check, I’m often not actually paying attention to the stove at all. Then I realize that I wasn’t paying attention so I go back to check it again. But this time I only looked at the burners and forgot about the oven. So I go back. But then I can’t remember if I checked it today or if what I’m remembering was me checking it yesterday, so I go back and check again. Unfortunately, this time my mind was wandering and I looked at the microwave instead. You get the point…
▶ADHD Women are often people pleasers, perfectionists, and creative problem solvers who find ways to skirt by.
Because of this, they stress hard to make life work so that they can avoid feeling like a failure. (Did I mention people with ADHD tend to experience criticism more painfully?)
She may find a way to hide, or even overcome some of her symptoms, but it comes at a great cost.
▶Exhaustion. Constant anxiety. Overwhelm. She feels it all, all the time.
It’s like walking in stilettos with your arms overfilled with very fragile and valuable objects that are on the brink of falling. At any moment, you’re about to lose something important.
▶For her, it’s like being mentally, emotionally, and physically disorganize but only treating the secondary depression and anxiety. Treatment never touches the inner chaos.
When she actually finds out she has ADHD and she experiences good treatment, there’s an excitement! That’s often eclipsed by a sad frustration at how long she lived her life in the internal storm and what she could have accomplished had she found out sooner.
Take the ADHD Test for Women
Is this sounding familiar? It may be time for you to learn more about the possibility of ADHD. I created this self test to give you a better idea of whether or not ADHD is worth further exploration with your doctor. It’s based on the diagnostic criteria for ADHD but broken down with real world examples of what each symptom looks like in women.
Ready to take the test? Find it here.
Learn More about ADHD in Women
I’ve covered this topic pretty extensively on this blog and will continue to do so. From here, there are two more articles that help fully develop what ADHD really looks like in women. The first one is the follow up to this post. Part Two, basically.
The second post is along similar lines but discusses my ADHD evaluation and gives more of the assessment questions that you may get in an ADHD evaluation. It follows the symptoms that doctors will be looking for a bit more closely as opposed to the lived experience they may not recognize. You’ll find that one here.
I have a lot of articles about ADHD, so make sure you browse further. I have one that uses TV moments to show ADHD symptoms. That one is hilarious and entertaining. I have another that goes through the crazier foibles that I’ve had because of ADHD.
Plus, of course, articles designed to help you overcome some of the difficulties you’ve experienced from the ADHD symptoms you relate to. Don’t forget those 😉
The Difference Between ADHD and Anxiety
It’s important to understand the differences between the two disorders. The symptoms overlap a lot which is why they get confused for each other. And sometimes, people actually have both. That leads one to more frequently get missed. For in depth info on the differences between the two and what to do if you have both, make sure you read the ADHD and Anxiety post.
The consequences of ADHD in women (and girls) who remain undiagnosed could be severe.
Teenage girls with undiagnosed ADHD are more like to get pregnant, do drugs, and smoke cigarettes. She’s more 4-5Xs more likely to self harm or have a suicide attempt than other girls. As she gets older, she tends to have fewer friendships and often ends up in unhealthy relationships. She’s more likely to be underemployed. She also more likely to experience other major mental health disorders.
Therapy is often more difficult for a person who can’t focus because every thought feels like it’s on a slip and slide. Trying to manage the chaos leaves her emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted. And she judges these challenges as her own personal character flaws. I’m lazy, crazy, ditsy, stupid….
But the Right ADHD Treatment Makes a Huge Difference
Getting my ADHD under control was life changing for me. It didn’t take away all of the struggles I have. In fact, you may have noticed from other posts that I do have social anxiety; but it radically changed most of my difficulties and improved the ones that it didn’t fix. Because of that, I’m a big advocate in helping women find out they have ADHD when it’s been missed.
The right diagnosis can be really challenging to get because many doctors are still not familiar enough with ADHD. They don’t recognize it often in women and many have great concern about prescribing stimulants. That’s why I’ve created the Guide to Diagnosing ADHD in Women. It’s designed to help you find a knowledgeable doctor and communicate the symptoms that they need to know about. It’s free and it’s helped my readers get an accurate evaluation. Make sure you check that out.
Treating ADHD is a Comphrensive Approach
Getting the diagnosis is the first step. Treatment is the next. There are a lot of misconceptions about ADHD medication that make people hesitant about taking it. I clear those up here.
Beyond that, treatment has to include learning the executive function skills that we lack (those are things like planning, organization, motivation, etc…). I have some posts to get you started linked in the pictures below.
In addition to the skills, it’s helpful to know about other resources that can make life with ADHD easier. From books and workbooks to courses, products and apps, there are some great supports for the ADHD woman these days. She just has to know where to find them. Luckily, I’ve got that covered.
These are just a few of the resources I will continue bringing to this page. If you want to see more, please subscribe. I have more coming and I don’t want you to miss it.
Connect with me!
Tell me, could you relate here? Have you been diagnosed or suspect you might have ADHD? I’d love to hear from you! Drop me a comment.