Why I Talk About Women With ADHD


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Why ADHD women as a topic?

Why am I only going after women, and why I am only going after women with ADHD? It’s a really good question, and I do want to answer it. It’s not that I’m trying to be exclusive. This is actually all in the spirit of inclusion. I actually am just trying to create a safe space for women with ADHD, and not knocking the men. I think that there’s a lot of medical nuances with women and ADHD that make our situation in some ways unique.

Why ADHD Women

That doesn’t mean we don’t share things in common with our male counterparts and that we can’t learn from them and vice versa, but I do think it’s important that women have a safe space to talk about things if they only want to be among women. That’s just it. It’s not a man haters club. Men don’t even come up in our discussion to be quite honest. It sometimes is nice just to be with the women. So, that’s why women.

Why ADHD? There’s a ton of women who can benefit from these podcasts, my support group, and the advice I share, and the resources I share on my website. By all means, feel free, if I can help you too, please feel free to benefit from it. The reason why it’s specifically ADHD is because there just is not enough stuff out there for this subset of women. Inclusion is super important to me. It’s a really important part of just the national conversation right now, and we’re working on inclusion of women, inclusion of Women of Color, inclusion of women with chronic illnesses.

Related: Common ADHD Women Issues  | About Women and ADHD

Here’s the thing, I know men have it hard too. I know White men have challenges too. I know all lives matter. That’s not the point. It’s just not the point ya’ll. This podcast loves everybody, and we’re just creating a safe place for women with ADHD. With all that said, I wanted to go ahead and talk a little more about why I chose to get into just women with ADHD.

There’s A Diagnosis Gap

I want to start with a Journal of Clinical Psychiatry report. It reports that, “Diagnosis of ADHD in girls increased 55% from 2003 to 2011 compared to 40% in boys.” This spike is because there’s a raising of awareness that’s happening right now, and it’s closing the gap. It’s these girls and it’s these women who should have already been diagnosed, but modern medicine is just now catching up and we’re now having more of awareness.

I mentioned in my last episode, it’s not this over-diagnosis conspiracy where we’re just trying to sell all the Adderall and we’re going to diagnose all the women. I do think there is a little bit of frivolous, maybe a lot of frivolous diagnosis and prescription nonsense, but you cannot throw the baby out with the bath water, you still have to acknowledge those of us who do have this thing. We exist. We need help. You cannot throw us out and forget about us, because there’s other people abusing the system or being willy-nilly with their descriptions and their prescription pads.

If I could talk to myself when I first got diagnosed, here are a few things I would have told myself. I’m talking to you if you’re just now getting diagnosed and you don’t know what to do. I’m also talking to you if you’ve been diagnosed, and you might need a refresher on these things that you may already know. All right, first things first, you are not alone. There are generations of us women living with undiagnosed ADHD. All of us.

Down from little girls up to women in our 50s and 60s, we’re all going through this together. Lisa Ling at 40 was diagnosed. I was diagnosed in my mid-30s. You have children, and teenagers, and college students who are falling into their diagnosis right now. So, you’ve got this whole … You put us all together, we’re like this lost generation of women, especially us older women.

‘A Lost Generation’

Quartz talks about this. I’m going to link to that in the show notes, but there’s this lost generation of women they talk about. They have struggled their entire lives with this disorder only to find out there was a medical reason for this tomfoolery they were experiencing their whole lives. A clinical psychologist explains, Michelle Frank, she puts it that, “These women have had to manage the condition on their own and deal with it on their own for the majority of their lives. The diagnosis is a blessing and curse. It’s a great relief, but they wonder what could have been different if they had only known.”

Oh my God, if you go to my first episode where I share my story, that’s exactly how I felt like, “Oh my gosh, all the things that would have been different if I would have known.” So, this Quartz article that includes this Michelle Frank quote and talk about this lost generation of women, I’ll include it in the show notes. This article, which I read back in 2016, this is what mobilized me. I read this article and it was just poof, everything … The way the writer … I’m going to open this. I’m at my computer. Jenny Anderson, girl, I don’t know where you’re at, but hats off to you. This is a beautiful article, and it was written January 19, 2016 in Quarts.

It’s the reason I’m doing what I’m doing now, because I read this and said, “Oh my gosh, there’s this tremendous gap and no one’s talking about it and no one’s doing anything about it.” It was this huge, huge impact on my life when I got diagnosed. So, that’s number one, you are not alone.

Don’t Do This

Number two, you are not stupid. I know what you’re thinking, “I know I’m not stupid,” but sometimes you think you are, or you’ll make jokes about yourself to make yourself smaller to alleviate the awkwardness of maybe a mistake you made. You know you’re not stupid. You say you’re not stupid, but sometimes you treat yourself like you are. That’s not cool, guys. I do it too, and I still do it sometimes. We need to start working on our self-talk and not cracking jokes at ourselves at our own expense.

I went through this my whole life. It wasn’t just ADHD but being overweight. You want to make up for it, and you want to be a people pleaser, and you want to be funny. People think I’m funny. I’m not going to call myself a funny person, but I hear it a lot. People will say, “Oh, you’re funny, you’re so funny. You kill me,” whatever. It’s because I had to create that buffer to compensate for my lack of confidence, not just for the stupid ADHD stuff I was pulling but for being overweight, for being anything in that other category.

So, yeah, you’re not stupid. It’s a novel thought, but think about it. Think about how are you making yourself smaller because you think you’re inferior. Watch Nanette on Netflix. Yeah, I’m just going to leave it at that. I’m not even going to tell you anything about it. If you haven’t seen Nanette on Netflix, watch it and get back to me, email me at contact@adultingwithadhd.com, because I want to hear how you have made yourself smaller because you’re compensating because you think you’re stupid, because you have these things you do, and you’re trying to make yourself likable. Let’s go on.

Number three, you need help. We don’t really even need to go into this, because you know you need help. If you think there’s something wrong with you, go see a psychiatrist, go see a specialist. Do not go to a family doctor. Go to someone that this is their thing. This is what’s going to happen. First, there’s a few steps here. One piece of it is talking, so you’re going to have to talk about what you’re going through and they’re going to ask you things.

What Getting Help Looks Like

For example, I had a really sweet old man who diagnosed me. We went through it all way back to kindergarten. He asked me about the … I mean, I had to get into the cigarettes I was smoking, the Redbull I was pounding. I had to get into something I don’t like to talk about, but I borrowed a friend’s Adderall once when I was younger and it worked. You have to get down and dirty and honest with these people. Don’t go in there lying. Be honest with them. Give them everything they can work with, and they’re going to send you into a room …

I don’t really know how they do it now, because this was back in 2016. They put me in a room with a computer, and I had to push buttons when I saw things flash on the screen. Then this freaking EKJ looking thing … what’s it called? EKG? The heart thing? One of those printed out, and then they gave me a graph. It wasn’t just the test. It was a combination of the test and talking with me. This guy was a learning specialist guy. This wasn’t even my psychiatrist. Then, he and my psychiatrist compared notes and they came up with this.

It’s a whole thing, guys. It’s not your general practitioner. It’s not your family doctor going, “You have focus problems. Have some Adderall.” That bullshit is why people like you and me don’t get taken seriously, but you still need to get help. So, please get help and please know that I understand it’s really hard. Whether or not you have insurance, it’s hard. Keep fighting for it, and hopefully some day it will get better. Just please do your best to get the right medical care that you can.

Number four, boys get more help. Yeah, boys get more help for a lot of reasons, but probably the main one is that it’s in our mainstream consciousness that it’s a boy problem. There might be other reasons. For example, if you’re inattentive like me, like I was really quiet, and so it’s really easy to ignore … in school it was really easy to ignore me. I may have been having some stuff going on as a little kid or whatever and I wasn’t disrupting the classroom, so it was just a lot easier just to move on.

If you have a boy who’s wreaking havoc … By the way, girls can do this too. Please, I’m not saying girls can’t. If you have a boy, a stereotypical ADHD boy who is making a bunch of noise or doing what they do, the teacher wants to shut that down so that she can finish teaching her class. That’s another reason boys could get more help is that they tend to be louder and they tend to be hard more.

The Upshot

So yeah, you go onto college and it gets worse, and the stakes are higher because all of a sudden it’s sorority pledge time. You’re getting exposed to alcohol, and drugs, and sex, and women with ADHD are more susceptible to recreational drug use. Going back to the above point about lack of confidence, you could get yourself into some dangerous situations because you have confidence issues. So, if you don’t have a very well adjusted foundation, that’s something that women deal with.

Yes, there are men who deal with this too, so please, please … I’m not saying men don’t go through this, but I don’t think women have the same level of support as men. I do meet women who are in college and they do have ADHD, and they’re so freaking well adjusted and I’m so impressed with them when I meet them because I just did not have my shit together. I feel the same way when I meet women in their 20s period, like not even with ADHD but just period. I see women with their act together in their 20s, and I am just in awe. I’m just in awe, because I struggled. It wasn’t just the ADHD.

I mean, I struggled with mental health, and substance abuse, and self-esteem, and I got into all kinds of trouble that maybe I wouldn’t have gotten into if I had been well adjusted and had confidence. So, this all goes back to why I’m doing this. This is why women need a safe place to talk about this, and that’s my cause and that’s my mission.

This Is Why

So, when I get comments from people on the interwebs of, “Men have it too,” or, “Men have it hard too,” or, “Why is this a women only thing?”, this is why. This is why, because there are some things that you just want to be with women to talk about, and you don’t want to be in a mixed gender environment. That’s okay. That doesn’t make you excluding men or trying to … we’re not trying to take your pie away, men. We’re just trying to go deal with our stuff.

I don’t get a lot of haterade about this, but I get just enough that … It’s all just this common theme with our society right now where inclusion and diversity are very necessary. It doesn’t mean we’re trying to take your pie or whatever, I don’t even know. That’s a whole other tangent. I don’t want this to be a political podcast, so I’m just going to leave it there.

Number five is, it gets better ya’ll. It gets better once you get this diagnosis. Hopefully you have someone worth their salt who’s going to five you this printout, and this printout is going to have some tips. I got this printout from my doctor. Holy crap, I started following the advice immediately and it was really stupid obvious stuff like white noise, and color coding, and all these things that I had always heard about or I’ve seen on Attitude Magazine and I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, I’m sure that works for people, but I’m special. It’s not going to work for me.”

Well, guess what? You’re not a special snowflake. This stuff works for a reason, and people keep recommending it for a reason. Not everything is going to work for you, and you’re going to try things and you’re going to ditch them, and then some of them you’re going to pick them back up. I’m telling you guys, if you just, A, get to the bottom of what’s going on, and, B, get your diagnosis … This isn’t chronological. This is all just things to be aware of. C, you’re not alone. There’s so many people in your corner who are with you, and you just need to find them.

Yes, the scales are tipped, guys. It is. Go listen to the Fight Like Hell episode. The scales are tipped. Sorry, they are. But we’re going to fight like hell. We’re going to fight like hell and we’re going to get where we need to be. It does get better, guys, I promise. I promise it gets better. Once you start treating this stuff, and acknowledging it, and finding what tools, and tricks, and tips work for you, you’re going to be so pleasantly surprised. I know I was.

If you want to talk to other women who are doing this right now, go to AdultingWithADHD.com. We have an online peer support group for women with ADHD in the top navigation. I believe it’s called Support Group. You just click on that little bugger, and you’ll get sent in the right direction. You’re going to have a whole support group, and we’re going to be there for you. It’s good stuff. If you want to hit me on the socials, my handle for Instagram and Twitter is ADHDAdulting. My Facebook handle is Adulting With ADHD.

As always, please feel free to email me at contact [at] adultingwithadhd [dot] com for any questions you have that you would like me to answer on the air. Until next week, happy adulting.

About ADHD in Women

Traditionally a little boy’s disease, we now know that girls are closing the ADHD diagnosis gap. With a 55% jump in cases from 2003 and 2011, a “lost generation of women” has emerged and if you’re reading this book, there’s a high probability that you’re one of them.

Clinical psychologist and ADHD expert Michelle Frank explains it to Quartz in January 2016:

“I think we have a lost generation of women who are diagnosed with ADHD later in life, who have had to manage the condition on their own and deal with it on their own for the majority of their lives. The diagnosis is a blessing and a curse: it’s a great relief, but they wonder what could have been different if they had only known.”

It’s no coincidence that women with ADHD also are prone to depression and/or anxiety. ADHD has a tendency to make you the mayor of Disfunctionville. Letting it run unchecked isn’t just bad for your mental health, it undermines you in the workforce, at home, your social sphere — everything. Taking care of your ADHD is a form of empowerment, it’s taking ownership if your condition and turning it into something beautiful. You don’t have to be a victim if your own mind; you can harness the things that make you great and manage the parts that hold you back.

Need More Support For Your ADHD?

Be sure to check out our variety of resources for women with ADHD, including:

Statistics on Women With ADHD

According to ADDitude magazine,  45 percent of women diagnosed with ADHD also meet criteria for another disorder. They are 2.5 times mor elikely to also suffer from major depression. About 28 percent of women with ADHD are obese, and those not diagnosed until adulthood are more likely to have a history of depression. Low self-esteem is common in girls with ADHD, and teenage girls with ADHD are more likely to struggle with social lives, attention organization, self-image, psychological isuues, and control.

Here are more statistics about women and ADHD:

  • Some studies have indicated that girls with ADHD may be up to twice as likely as boys to have the inattentive type of ADHD and may suffer more from internalising symptoms and inattention, in contrast with the hyperactive and aggressive symptoms shown by boys. Source
  • About 60 percent of children who experience ADHD in childhood continue to have symptoms as adults. Women are less likely to be diagnosed because the guidelines used in assessment and diagnosis have traditionally focused on males. Source
  • Many women are in their late 30s or early 40s before they are diagnosed with ADHD. It commonly occurs after their children are diagnosed and they learn more about the condition. Source
  • The under-diagnosis of girls and women—it is estimated that there are around 4 million who are not diagnosed, or half to three-quarters of all women with ADHD—and the misunderstandings that have ensued about the disorder as it manifests in females, can be linked to the early clinical studies of ADHD in the 1970s, when it was believed that ADHD was a boy’s disease. Source

Resources for ADHD Women

ADDitude Magazine – Since 1998, millions have trusted ADDitude to deliver expert advice and caring support, making them the leading ADHD media netowkr for patients and practitioners alike. They provide well-vetted expert guidance and in-the-trenches understanding to help you navigate the very real challenges that arise from ADHD and related mental health conditions.

How To ADHD – Most weeks they post a new video with tips, tricks and insights into the ADHD brain. This channel is the essential ADHD toolbox that’s also grown into an amazing community.

The Mighty – The Mighty is a digital health community created to empower and connect people facing health challenges and disabilities. With more 2 million registered users, stories and videos shared by community members help foster a sense of belonging and understanding.

CHADD – Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) was founded in 1987 in response to the frustration and sense of isolation experienced by parents and their children with ADHD. It is a priceless vault of support and information from the ADHD community.

ADDA – The Attention Deficit Disorder Association provides information, resources and networking opportunities to help adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder lead better lives. They provide hope, empowerment and connections worldwide by bringing together science and the human experience for both adults with ADHD and professionals who serve them.

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