When I was in elementary school, I was a daydreamer. As a writer, I don’t find this necessarily odd, but considering what I’ve learned since then it’s not much of a surprise. In high school, I found myself to be a bit more erratic. I still did well in school and made excellent grades, but I was definitely the ‘weird’ friend who always made people laugh. I found that I was prone to involuntarily interrupting conversations to add my own contributions before I forgot whatever it was I thought was so important to mention.
My major symptoms didn’t present themselves until I was at university. I experienced my first bouts of depression and attributed them to a new environment and serious issues with my roommate. Anxiety was also a tremendous enemy – I simply couldn’t shut my mind off. I also struggled with schoolwork for the first time in my life, which was disheartening to say the least. After depression and anxiety diagnoses and multiple medication trial and errors, I realised that something else had to be wrong, something that I hadn’t yet considered. I texted my mum in frustration after forgetting to take an important online exam and insisted that I must have ADHD because my spacey, ever buzzing brain was ruining my life. A little dramatic? Probably, but if you suffer from this quirky condition as well, you probably understand.
I decided to mention my theory to my doctor, who advised that I bring it to the attention of my on-campus counsellor. After an assessment during my next session, my suspicions were confirmed and the results were sent to my doctor so that I could finally be treated for this dysfunction that had been hanging over my head for years. But why did it take so long to get to this point?
In boys, ADHD symptoms are typically quite apparent and diagnoses are usually made in early childhood. ADHD can be classified by three types: hyperactive, inattentive, or a combination of both. Research shows that women are far more likely to suffer from the inattentive type, which is difficult to differentiate from basic symptoms of anxiety and depression. Adolescent girls in particular are prone to experiencing self-doubt as a result of being hyper aware of their insecurities. Also, it is estimated that boys are 2–3 times more likely to suffer from hyperactive ADHD than girls.
Another roadblock for women is that their symptoms actually tend to appear later in life as opposed to most boys, who display warning signs as early as elementary school. Like I mentioned above, I never fathomed that my issues could possibly be attributed to ADHD until I was about 22, when I finally decided to seek help. Studies have demonstrated that it can difficult for girls to be diagnosed unless they behave like hyperactive boys. As a result, this can lead to scepticism in doctors, family members and friends, especially when the individual has always displayed intelligence and success in school. The lack of a diagnosis and proper follow up treatment can leave women feeling inadequate due to constant forgetfulness, misplacement of crucial items, and the soul-crushing, looming anxiety that accompanies the idea of completing a simple errand such as picking up a prescription or dragging herself to an appointment.
Because most women who have ADHD do not exhibit obvious symptoms until later in life, it can be demoralising to realise that all of a sudden, it is seemingly impossible to keep the house perfectly tidy. Navigating higher level education coursework can seem like an impossible feat. Completing ordinary life tasks can become so overwhelming that it sometimes is stressful enough to bring her to tears. Of course, this leads to that all too familiar feeling of inadequacy from teenage years (‘Why is it so impossible to drag myself to the pharmacy? Why am I such a failure?’). Sounds familiar? Unfortunately, hundreds of women, myself included, suffer from these crippling but untrue assumptions. It’s no surprise that ADHD symptoms are so easily dismissed as depression/anxiety disorders, which results in misdiagnoses and by default, ineffective treatment. Of course, ADHD is usually comorbid with these disorders anyway- tons of fun, I know.
I never considered that my low self-esteem or forgetfulness could be the result of anything besides depression and anxiety. Honestly, I assumed that this is just who I am. Before counselling, I had no idea that ADHD was so versatile or that it was even a possibility for me, since I wasn’t the stereotypical hyperactive type. It’s interesting to consider how many women continue to go undiagnosed simply because they can’t pinpoint exactly what may be wrong with them, which is just one of the many reasons why therapy is so vital. If you are struggling, don’t ignore your symptoms any more; do your research, go to therapy, commit to taking care of you. You just might change your life.
Lauren Cummings is a freelance writer who is passionate about true crime, mental health, and plenty of other topics.