ADHD can look very different for girls and women than for others, a fact that has caused women across the globe to spend the first part of their lives searching for answers. As we’ve established in My Mental Health: ADHD and My Mental Health: ADHD Extended, boys are quite often diagnosed with ADHD more often than girls. For every girl that receives a diagnosis, there are between 3-5 boys diagnosed. This doesn’t mean that girls are less likely to have ADHD, only that it is less likely to be diagnosed and treated.
The reasons for this are many, but one of the main reasons? ADHD sometimes doesn’t show up in girls and women in a way that can be obvious. Girls are also more likely to have ADHD-Inattentive, which tends to have more internal symptoms than external.
ADHD In Girls And Women
ADHD in girls can look like:
- Feeling anxious or sad
- Silliness (or, wrongly, ditziness)
- Being shy
- Trouble maintaining friendships
- Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors (skin picks, hair pulling, mouth chewing, etc.)
- Excessive talking
This disparity is the reason why many women, like me, aren’t diagnosed until they are middle-aged. Often not even realizing anything is wrong until their own kids get diagnosed or until their lives fall apart at the seams. There is a lot of unfairness here, for these women, but fairness rarely has a place in real life.
Because of these disparities, girls and women are falling through the cracks at alarming rates. The delay or lack of diagnosis can be devastating to the woman on the other end of it. It can lead to:
- Girls are more likely to be held back by a grade instead of being assessed for ADHD or a learning disorder.
- Low self-esteem; takes a psychological toll.
- Psychological stress
- Feelings of inadequacy
- Mood disorders
Women often get diagnosed with anxiety and depression years before they are diagnosed with ADHD, though both are known side effects of ADHD. Some can mask well enough (sometimes developing perfectionism, OCD, etc.) that they make it through, with no issues, while others tend to flounder through life, never quite understand why everything seems so hard.
Girls and women are often expected to behave in a certain way. Societal pressure tells us that we need to be kind and polite while being driven and ambitious. We need to be the caretaker and the breadwinner and all things in between. We have to be soft enough, yet smart enough. We are expected to get good grades in school and to keep a clean house in adulthood.
This presents a problem for a lot of women with ADHD. We tend to be bad with motivation and follow-through. We often don’t see the mess, so we don’t clean the mess. To the outsider, it must be because we are lazy. We can’t make the grades because we can’t make our brains work the way the system says it has to. To the outsider, we’re not applying ourselves or living up to our full potential.
The symptoms of the disorder are seen as personality traits in girls and women. We’re told that they are just personality traits, but personality deficits. We internalize that information and we carry it with us into adulthood. It’s no wonder that ADHD often has co-occurring disorders like depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, etc.
15 Signs Of ADHD In Girls and Women
For those of you who might be wondering what these symptoms look like in everyday life, get comfy and let’s talk about it.
1. You’ve been called lazy all of your life.
This is a big one for me. If I could strike the word “lazy” from all languages, I would do it. It is such a hurtful thing to say to a person, especially when that person really is trying their best. If you have been called lazy, even to the point of actually believing it yourself, you might have ADHD.
2. You often say things that you immediately wish you could take back.
Those pesky impulse control issues often cause us to blurt things out and sometimes…it gets weird. I was at a dinner a few years ago and I told a story that I thought would be funny but fell flat. I panicked and overcompensated by blurting out something totally inappropriate. I die of embarrassment every time I think about it and this was at least 10 years ago.
Oversharing is also a big part of impulsivity with ADHD. I often go way too far in conversations with people that I hardly know or who are on a need-to-know basis. Our brains don’t know that at the moment. It feels good to share; it makes the dopamine machine kick on. It’s only afterward that we realize we’ve just discussed something deeply personal with someone that doesn’t need to know about our bowel movements.
3. You are extremely empathetic.
Having gone through hard times themselves, people with ADHD often have a keen sense of empathy and are able to put themselves in other’s shoes.
4. You have an all or nothing attitude.
You get big ideas and you get them often, but you rarely follow through. You want it all and you want it no, with no desire or knowledge to meet the end goal. Black and white thinking is common in people with ADHD. When you decide you want to do something, you want to do it right away, and waiting will never do!
I have several tattoos. All of my tattoos have gone the same way. I start thinking that I want one. I mull it over in my head (or my checkbook) for a few weeks. Then I start looking for what I want. Once I find it, I want it RIGHT NOW. Waiting is over. Decision time is over. I don’t want an appointment; I want to walk in and get that tattoo RIGHT AWAY. And so it goes for almost everything in my life.
5. You feel exhausted all of the time.
This cannot be understated. Our brains are going at 110% almost all of the time. Sometimes when I fall asleep at night, I become very aware of the fact that I’m falling asleep because I can actually feel my brain start shutting down, section by section; not even wanting to give it up at the very end. Its cogs slowing down and stopping, one by one.
You can’t have that level of brain activity constantly and not be completely mentally and emotionally wiped out. You will feel tired, all of the time.
6. Its likely that you have a messy desk, car, and/or house.
For many women with ADHD, it feels impossible to keep the messes cleaned up. We often lack motivation and the ability to complete even the simplest of tasks. Our interest-based brains see no real value in the mundane tasks of cleaning and things can get out of hand quickly. Even after tidying up, we often have a hard time keeping it that way for very long.
7. Being at work feels difficult.
I cannot express to you what my time at work feels like. It feels like a form of cruel torture. There are times when I literally feel like I’m going to cry, just for being there. My job is not bad and I wish that I felt better about it, but it can be an excruciating experience, sometimes causing almost physical discomfort. This is a phenomenon that a lot of women with ADHD experience.
8. Your mind drifts during conversation.
Does your mind often wander when someone else is talking to you? Do you feel rude, but unable to control it? It very well could be ADHD. My brain is always racing toward the next thought; the next idea. You might say one word that sets me off in a different direction and you’ve lost me forever. I work really hard not to do this, but sometimes I can’t control it.
9. You feel overwhelmed at social gatherings and parties.
I often start to feel very uncomfortable when I’m in crowds of people that I don’t know. This makes me overcompensate sometimes (see earlier story about horrid dinner party) and I tend to make things awkward when I’m nervous. Sometimes I experience full-on ADHD shut down, unable to speak or socialize. I’m sure people think I’m a real bitch in those instances but, most of the time, I’m just feeling extremely uncomfortable and out of place.
10. People and noise make it hard to get your work done.
ADHDers sometimes find themselves going into work early and leaving late, even going as far as to work off the clock, in order to be able to get their work done without interference from co-workers or business hours. It can be difficult to focus with the activity of the regular day and task-switching is harder for us than most. It is easier when no one is there and we can focus on the work and the work alone.
11. You have a lot of piles lying around.
Piles of books. Piles of clothes. Piles of old mail and paperwork. People with ADHD love a good pile. We tend to be “out of sight, out of mind” people, so we create piles of things that we deem important so that we don’t forget about them. And the mail…the ADHD brain is often afraid to throw things out that could be useful or important later. Trust me…just throw it away.
12. You talk *a lot.*
For girls and women, hyperactivity comes out in the form of talking. We talk and we talk and we talk. We talk to ourselves. We talk to our animals. We talk to whoever will listen, but we’re always talking. “Talks too much,” was on my report card by the 1st grade and is still on my performance reports until this day. My body doesn’t get hyper, but my brain does and when my brain gets hyper…it wants to talk about it.
13. You aren’t good at budget-related items.
If you find yourself unable to keep up with a budget or spending impulsively regularly, you are not alone. A lot of women with ADHD have difficulty in this important area of life. My credit has been messed up since I started having credit because of stupid decisions that I’ve made. I’ve gotten utilities cut off because I simply forgot to pay for them. I often spend money on frivolous things and then immediately have crippling buyer’s remorse.
14. You are your own worst critic.
ADHD women are inherently taught by society that our symptoms are personality flaws and we internalize that early. The voices that tell us that we aren’t good enough always start as someone else’s voice, but it quickly becomes our own. We tend to be hard on ourselves; many of us turning to perfectionism to cope. When we mess something up, no one is worse on us than ourselves.
15. You feel real emotional pain when you think of all of your lost potential.
It is really hard not to look back. After my diagnosis, especially, it was difficult not to wonder what could have been. What if the doctor when I was 20 had just done an evaluation instead of telling me not to get “hung up on a label?” What if I had been mental fortitude to finish college and become a journalist? What if I had put in the work and really applied myself when I was an actress? What if I had started my blog 2 years ago or 5 or 10? What could I have been?
There is no point in looking that way, though. What’s done is done and I didn’t know until I knew. I didn’t become a journalist or a movie star. I became a parent and a mental illness survivor. Through that journey, I found you and I have never felt more comfortable in the fact that I am in the right place. I wouldn’t be here if I had done all of those other things. I needed to go through what I went through to be who I was always meant to be.
Don’t look backward. Be kind to yourself. Love yourself. Forgive yourself. Move forward with full fucking speed.
Don’t forget to check out The Winter Of My Discontent podcast. A new episode will be out on Wednesday and this week Dorene and I are talking about ADHD and some of its various symptoms.
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