This morning, I clicked to view this article on ADHD in adulthood from my Facebook trending news. I’m intrigued by the appearance of ADHD in adult women, but also just intrigued by ADHD in general, as many of my clients suffer from it and come to me for help managing ADHD challenges as business owners and executives.
As I scanned through the responses on Facebook to this article, I was disheartened to read the negative responses from people. Things like, “Do people really believe in this ADHD stuff?” and “This is just a character flaw!” People seem to believe that ADHD is a way for pharmaceutical companies to medicate perfectly normal people who are just irresponsible and scattered. I get it. I once believed that way myself.
What ADHD in Adult Women Is Like – The Real Curse
If you haven’t experienced ADHD (either having it or living with someone who does), then you don’t know.
You don’t know how exhausting it can be to maintain focus while a million unrelated thoughts jumble through your brain. You don’t know how heartbreaking it is to see the hurt on someone’s face when you’ve blurted out something inappropriate that others would have been able to think through before it was ever said. You don’t know the way you hate yourself for the countless missed bills, missed appointments, re-keyed houses (because that’s what you do when you lose your keys), wonderful ideas that were never realized because you started, but found something else more appealing and attractive that took up the time you would have use to finish executing those awesome ideas.
If you haven’t experienced it or lived with someone who has it, you don’t know how embarrassing and humiliating ADHD can be.
ADHD in adult women creates a fear unlike other fears, because women are judged so harshly and we don’t always help one another in the ways we should. Instead, we judge. That woman who fails to show up for things, who is always running late, and who forgets to bring the bake sale treats might not be “disorganized” or “lazy” or even “have too much on her plate.” She might have ADHD. And she sees how people see her.
ADHD in adult women lends itself to self-recrimination – we hate ourselves because we “can’t get our acts together.” ADHD in adult women creates the appearance of being scattered, irresponsible, and women with ADHD live under a constant feeling of failure, and the burden of believing that there’s something wrong with you for not being able to do the things others seem to do with ease.
My ADHD Story
I’ve spent a lifetime talking too much, interrupting, being restless, missing bills, receiving bad grades in penmanship (my handwriting is doctor-worthy), forgetting appointments, and just screwing everything up. I thought I was bad. I thought something was wrong with my character.
I was raised in a reasonably strict home before ADHD was a “thing.” Since I tested at genius-level intellect, nobody imagined that I could possibly have any sort of “disability” or dysfunction of any kind. When report cards started coming home with words like “overly-social” and “distracts her neighbors with too much talking,” I was lectured on the importance of self-discipline. I couldn’t be corralled, and those words popped up again and again.
Because I could hyper-focus (an ADHD superpower that allows me to get superbly focused on one thing and go deep, whether that thing is important or not, which is the inherent weakness in the superpower) and consumed book after book after book, no one thought of “attentional” issues. They all thought I was deciding what to focus on, and tried to encourage me to turn that focus to grades….which for better or worse (I’m still not sure which) generally came pretty easily to me. When your kid is getting good grades but still can’t quite get her act together, you don’t usually think, “Something’s wrong,” but rather, “She’s getting good grades, she’s not skipping school or using drugs, I think we’re good here.”
Much like a mutant superpower manifesting itself in times of great stress (see Mutants, Marvel Comics), my ADHD began to blossom in my early 20s. As I went through enormous personal challenges in my family life, my ADHD, once merely knocking on the door, began to pound, demanding acknowledgement.
I abandoned my first university, all but flunked out of my second, and was on my way to flunking out of a third. Somewhere in the confusion, as I left behind my planned career path of being a concert violinist and all the long hours spent practicing scales and etudes, I remembered my secondary desire: to be a doctor. I signed up for pre-med biology.
As my ability to focus worsened, however, I realized two things: 1) I couldn’t track the information: I couldn’t keep it all in my head, and I couldn’t focus enough to study as I needed to; 2) I was terrified to become a doctor – what if my inattention killed someone? So I abandoned that path and headed to the safer route of sociology and psychology, where I’d likely never harm anyone with my work in those fields, and at least I’d begin to understand myself better.
In graduate school, I found myself surrounded by smart people who could really focus. Graduate school is a place where you narrow your focus, and I found myself wanting to expand and learn as much as I could. As such, completing my master’s thesis was excruciating and took six long years, but I eventually got there.
Not long after I finished my Master’s degree, I launched my first business. And not long after that, my mom passed away.
For awhile, I was able to pass off my inattention, memory challenges, and control problems as grief-related – and they can be. Grief is such an all-encompassing experience that all of these issues and more emerge during the grieving process. So I was able to hide behind my grief, believing that my absent-mindedness would improve as I sorted through my grief.
Early in my coaching practice, I would miss appointments, even though they were on my calendar. I can tell you that it was really difficult to build a practice that way. I struggled with bookkeeping and tracking income, and preparing for taxes. I was scared pretty much all the time, because keeping all the plates spinning was virtually impossible for me. It felt like every single day, another plate would come crashing down. I felt like a huge screw-up and I thought it was all my fault.
The Discovery and Beyond
But then an article on ADD (as it was called back then) caught my eye. I read it and took the attached assessment. I scored off the charts. Then I took another assessment and another. I scored off the charts on every one. It began to dawn on me that, despite everything I’d been told my entire life, despite the disapproval of me as “flaky,” “irresponsible,” or even “crazy” by a couple of close family members, there’s a reason that I am the way I am, and it is not that I am somehow bad or wrong.
I went to two different psychiatrists to find out if what I suspected was true, and received two separate, independent confirmations: I have ADHD.
And so, seven years ago, I finally discovered that the things about me that I had always thought were “wrong” and “irresponsible” and “bad” were just the way my brain was wired. The burden of self-recrimination and self-disappointment I spent a lifetime believing in…it was all taken away.
However, as the doctors began suggesting medication, I had a small identity crisis: what if all the things that make me uniquely me are just ADHD? What if I took medication and suddenly all the creativity and brainstorming capabilities and ideas all just…went away? Who am I, if not just an assemblage of ADHD symptoms?
Despite that little identity crisis, I’ve learned to appreciate that ADHD makes me wonderfully creative and lets me dream big – I wouldn’t have broken a Guinness World Record if it didn’t – and properly harnessed, ADHD gives me a few superpowers that others don’t have. Because of those superpowers, today, I love my ADHD, at least a little bit.
Where I Am Today
Since I was officially diagnosed, and sought excellent coaching to help guide me on the path, I have built in strategies so appointments are never missed, bills are always paid on time (or early), and our keys are never lost (if you’ve been to our home, you know how we keep track of our keys). I have to work five times harder than most people to make sure these things happen, and at times, it is incredibly exhausting.
But when I look around my life and see the results of my efforts, I know it’s all been worth it. ADHD isn’t a scam, and it isn’t a character flaw. I believe it may be over-diagnosed in children and should be handled with more care at that level. But having lived with ADHD my entire life, I can tell you: it is 100% not made up. My brain works differently than most people’s brains, and frankly, finally, I’m okay with that.
Managing ADHD in Adult Women
The bulk of managing ADHD in adult women is strategizing. Medication can be helpful, as I discovered when I took medication for a brief period. It can help with the focus, though many of the current medicines increase anxiety, which can be a no-go for women who tend to already experience anxiety as it is. Additionally, even with medication, many ADHD symptoms are ever-present, and so strategizing is a must. I haven’t taken medication for ADHD in years, so I live and breathe by my strategies.
ADHD in adult women requires specific strategies for things like:
- Calendar management
- Management of and tracking of specific objects (phone, keys, credit cards, glasses)
- Planning and management of time (we always think we can do more in less time)
- Managing brain junk
- Family organization
- Family and marital relationships
- Listening skills
- Stress management
- Prioritizing – assessing what on the “to do list” is the appropriate priority to begin with.
ADHD in adult women who are executives or entrepreneurs requires specific strategies for these additional things:
- Managing specific, business-related brain junk
- Emotional control and persuasive (vs. positional) leadership
- Managing impatience with team members
- Motivation and doing the stuff that needs to be done after the startup and “exciting” phases
- Managing risk appropriately
- Systems to keep a business organized and running properly including, but not limited to:
- Follow-through with clients
- Bookkeeping and invoicing
- Project tracking (checklists, etc.)
It seems like a lot – when I look around my life and the lives of my clients, I think, “Wow, that’s a lot of strategies.” But you don’t implement them all at once, but gradually, over time, and with a lot of trial and error, you find what works best for your unique brand of ADHD.
ADHD in adult women (and all adults) isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you. There are strategies to make it easier and there is hope. You don’t have to feel bad about who you are, because your brain just happens to be wired this way. Once you learn to control the challenges and harness your superpowers, nothing will stop you!