15 signs final
ADHD My Mental Health Series

My Mental Health:15 Oft-Missed Signs Of ADHD In Girls And Women

Women hold up half the sky.

Mao zedong

Originally published April 20, 2021

Post has been updated for clarity, accuracy, and with new graphics.

15 Signs of ADHD in Girls and Women

ADHD in girls and women can look very different than the spoon-fed loud, hyper boy the media has given us. This has caused women across the globe to spend the first part of their lives searching for answers to behaviors and habits that they eventually write off as personal defect. 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.

Please note:

These are not limited to women and can be found in all genders.

These are behaviors that are often a result of ADHD-Inattentive, which is more predominantly seen in girls, but is also often found across the board.

ADHD In Girls And Women

ADHD in girls can look like:

  • Daydreaming – I am a prolific daydreamer, often using them as a maladaptive way to escape real life. Our heads are busy, so you’ll often find us lost in our thoughts. It’s so much more interesting than math homework or spreadsheets.
  • Feeling anxious or sad – The loudness in our brains often leads to behaviors and habits that land us in trouble. This leads to feeling anxious about the next time you mess up, and you know there will be a next time. We also feel sad for no reason. Some of this stems from the unspoken message of not being quite enough that we receive from an early age.
  • Silliness (or, wrongly, ditziness) – Lacking impulse control often leads to us doing silly things at unexpected moments. Some of us even recognize humor for the powerful mask it can be at an early age and lean heavily into our silliness to survive social situations.
  • Being shy – More often than not, what we perceive as shyness is actually social anxiety. When we first meet someone, we shut ourselves up tight. We know that we can be “too much” for some people and we have to decide how much of us they can take. If you pass the test, you’ll find that we’re not shy at all and actually quite social among the people we trust.
  • Trouble maintaining friendships – This can be for a lot of reasons. We forget to reach out. We cancel plans last minute. Some of us have a hard time keeping secrets due to impulse control. Sometimes people just think we’re too weird. That said, when we find someone who gets us, we tend to cling for dear life.
  • Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors (skin picks, hair pulling, mouth chewing, etc.) – I recently just learned that some of these behaviors are actually considered self-harm. I chew my mouth but, most of the time, I don’t even realize I”m doing it. It’s just an automatic nervous reaction.
  • Perfectionism – This doesn’t mean that we strive for perfection in every area of life. You might live in the messiest house on the block, but won’t be seen outside the house in any form other than your absolute best. Maybe you miss deadlines because you spend so much time on revisions or you’re a student who beats themselves up over an A- instead of A+. Most of us feel the pressure to prove ourselves in at least one area of our lives.
  • Excessive talking – Look. I come from a long line of talkers. Back in the busy-signal days, you could try to call my grandma for hours and all you’d get is the incessant, annoying gawk that signaled a call was already taking place. I started getting in trouble for talking in Kindergarten and I still get in trouble for it at work as a 42 year old woman. When you really get us going, we talk fast and even loud. We talk like we think…enthusiastically.

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 reality.

Because of these inconsistencies, 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. 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; the negative feedback that we receive has a lasting psychological effect.
  • Psychological stress
  • Severe feelings of inadequacy
  • Mood disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

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.

I was in therapy twice in adolescence and neither ever vaguely even suggested anything outside of my just choosing to be willful and defiant. By the time I was 17, I was being treated for anxiety. By the time I was 20, I would be engulfed in my first severe depression. From that point forward, my time would forever be divided into depressed/not depressed. The “not depressed” category started losing ground a long time ago.

I begged for answers. I have spent large swaths of my adult life in excruciating psychological agony. For years. Dozens of PCPs, therapists, psychiatrists. Most of them, I can’t even remember. Not their names or their faces. All I remember is that I begged for helped and all of them let me down.

Societal Expectations Make Things Worse

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.

Almost from birth, we’re being shoved into a mold. In our society, women have historically been viewed through a narrow scope. Wives, mothers, caretakers, homemakers. Sugar and spice and everything nice.

This presents a problem for a lot of women with ADHD. We tend to struggle 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. They say we don’t care or “like” living that way. 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 not 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

15 signs

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. More often than not, we have a keen desire to help people, so they don’t have to go through the kind of pain we’ve known.

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 now, 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 struggle with 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.

15 signs 3 1

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 often comes 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 the 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 two years ago or five or ten? 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.

Make sure to subscribe to our mailing list while you’re here so you never miss an update. You can support The Winter Of My Discontent on Buy Me A Coffee, where you can buy us a coffee, become an exclusive member, or schedule a Zoom session with me! You can also find me on Twitter and join our private Facebook group for people with ADHD and mental illness!

ADHD Beans

Still depressed, anxious, and traumatized. Still an ADHDer. Still kicking ass and taking names when it comes to busting stigma. Changing hearts and minds, one post at a time.

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  1. I can’t tell you how much I relate to all 15 of these points. Thank you for writing this post x

    1. Thank you for reading! When I was first learning about ADHD and how it pertained to me, I was surprised when I started reading the everyday accounts of people. I couldn’t believe how much it affected me. It’s like it has tendrils…it has weaved its way into every aspect of my life. I think it’s so important for people to be able to identify it and understand themselves better.

    2. I’m so glad that is resonated with you. Thank you for reading! 💜

  2. I LOVE that you are bringing this to the forefront. ADHD in girls/women is often really neglected because people don’t know what to look for or how it manifests differently. Thank you for advocating for it. Amazing post!

    1. Yes. I was so shocked when I started researching it after my diagnosis…I had no idea how complex it was and how deep it goes. I think if more people realized what it really is, more people would be able to advocate for themselves to get the care they need and to get it sooner in life. 💜💜

  3. Great post and list! I saw a lot of my mother in those items (impulsive, a spender, talks a lot, anxiety, and OMG, the piles on the ottoman…) People with OCPD hate impulsive behavior and are miserly with their money, so no wonder we never got along. Thank you!

    1. I can see how those 2 would clash a lot! I have ADHD-I and OCD, but my OCD is rumination, intrusive thoughts, and mental compulsions so my experience is quite a bit different from yours. That said, I do believe that my OCD tempers a lot of my impulsiveness. I don’t act on my impulses a lot of the time because I’m worrying so much about the consequences! 🤣

  4. I wasn’t aware that I had ADHD until I was in my 50s. It explains nearly everything. I also have complex PTSD. I was misdiagnosed with type II bipolar disorder. I’ve also been diagnosed with OCD, but I don’t think I have true OCD. I think my OCD-like symptoms are actually part of ADHD.
    I resist using the term “wrong” to describe the way my brain works. I’ve been called “wrong” all my life. I honestly wouldn’t want to change the way my brain works. I’d just like to have learned ways to work with my brain instead of against it earlier in life.

    1. I hear so many stories of women who didn’t find out until they were in their 50s and 60s and it breaks my heart. No one should have to wait so long to understand themselves. I didn’t find out until I was 38 and even that was too long. That’s why I decided to start speaking out. People need to understand what this looks like so that they can get the help and the tools that they need. I feel the same about my other disorders, especially OCD and C-PTSD. All of them are extremely misunderstood.

      I agree with you…my brain can be a bit wonky sometimes but, on the whole, it’s pretty brilliant! I wouldn’t change the things I’ve been through.

  5. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. As I said before, I don’t have much experience with ADHD but am always open to learning more and especially from folks personal stories. I wasn’t aware many of the symptoms you addressed above were common ADHD indicators. Thank you so much for sharing this, and I look forward to reading more in the future!

    Gigi Lee| https://www.guidancebygigi.com

    1. I’m so glad that you enjoyed it! I didn’t know most of this stuff until after I got my ADHD diagnosis. When I read about some of them, I cried from relief. There is so much shame behind some of them.

  6. As someone who is just warming up to the idea that I may have ADHD this was very helpful! Thank you!

    1. You’re very welcome and I hope that it helped. Realizing that I had ADHD made such a HUGE difference in my life. I am able to love myself and forgive myself so much more now. Good luck to you!

  7. Wow this post has really hit home for me. While I don’t have ADHD I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 29 – it is so painful to know that so many of the things you have struggled with all your life are in fact not character flaws but a mental disorder that you need help with. After reading your post I can see a lot of the things you have listed fit my 9 year old daughter. She has an all or nothing attitude and she really takes things to heart and is hard on herself. She also tends to fidget and pick, is often anxious and has OCD tendencies. I will pay more attention and see if I can take her for an assessment. Thank you!

    1. I am so glad to hear that it had helped you. My daughter is also 9 and has severe ADHD. It’s a long road, especially with our own challenges, but we’ve got this!! 💪💪

  8. Larky says:

    This is really great, 14 and 15 especially.

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