For most adult women who grew up in the 60s, 70s and 80s, ADHD was not a “thing”. Schools didn’t know that girls who struggled to pay attention could be suffering from ADHD. Instead they were viewed as disorganized, lazy or not very smart.
As a result, many women remain undiagnosed until later in life. Very often, adult women learn about their ADHD when they are seeking a diagnosis for a child, or going through therapy. Sometimes, it’s menopause that kicks us out of our long-held coping mechanisms and all of a sudden we can’t remember where we put anything and we can’t seem to finish anything we start.
Regardless of how you come to know that you have ADHD, once you find out, everything changes.
I will write more about the stages of emotionally processing an ADHD diagnosis, because it definitely has an impact. While you might be grateful to know that you weren’t simply lazy and stupid, you tend to look back at your life and wonder how things could have been different if you had known a lot sooner.
Either way, time is needed to heal those emotions and come to a place of acceptance before looking at what’s next.
How ADHD shows up in women
There is no gender bias when it comes to ADHD. It’s not more heavily weighted toward boys than girls, but the detection and diagnosis is often higher in boys because they tend to be more hyperactive than girls.
So with that, I compiled a list of possible symptoms that are specific for adult women, adapted from ADDitude Magazine. Do any of them ring true for you?
ADHD Symptoms in Adult Women – By ADDitude Magazine
- Do you feel overwhelmed in stores, at the office, in loud restaurants or at parties? Is it impossible for you to shut out sounds and distractions that don’t bother others?
- Is time, money, paper, or “stuff” dominating your life and hampering your ability to achieve your goals?
- Do you often experience an energetic depletion in the middle of the day? To the point where one more problem might put you over the edge?
- Are you spending most of your time coping, looking for things, catching up, or covering up? Do you avoid people because of this?
- Have you stopped having people over to your house because you’re ashamed of the mess? Do you avoid hosting dinners at your house because the thought completely overwhelms you?
- Do you have trouble managing your finances
- Do you feel like you’re always at one end of a deregulated activity spectrum — either a couch potato or a tornado?
- Do you feel that you have better ideas than other people but are unable to organize them or act on them?
- Do you start each day determined to get organized, and end each day feeling defeated?
- Have you watched others of equal intelligence and education pass you by?
- Do you despair of ever fulfilling your potential and meeting your goals?
- Have you ever been thought of as selfish because you forget birthdays and anniversaries?
- Do you look at other people and wonder how they seem to get through life so easily while you struggle?
- Are you called “a slob” or “spacey?” Are you “passing for normal?” Do you feel as if you are an impostor?
- Is all your time and energy taken up with coping, staying organized, and holding it together, with no time for fun or relaxation?
- Do you often feel burned out and lack energy for things you used to enjoy doing?
These are all feelings that someone with ADHD might experience. So while it’s not a formal diagnostic test, it’s a good way to gauge whether or not you might want to seek a diagnosis.
The tricky thing is that most of us can feel any of these triggers at any time in our lives. So how can you distinguish between an ADHD brain, or just a rough patch in life where you have too much on the go?
My best advice is to be honest with yourself. If the examples above seem to illustrate how you feel most of the time, it’s a good indication that you could be dealing with ADHD, or something else like anxiety or depression. Either way, it’s worth investigating, because you don’t have to live this way and help is available.
Starting down the path to an ADHD Diagnosis
Start with a few online tests if you’re curious, but never consider this a replacement for a formal diagnosis. If you do want to explore an online test, the World Health Organization recognizes the Adult Self Reported Scale Screener (ADRS test) and it’s free. I don’t recommend doing paid tests through websites as you may end up having to go through more screening down the road.
Everyone Experiences ADHD Differently
I think it’s worth pointing out that everyone’s experience of ADHD, and how it shows up for them is different. For that reason, I recommend exploring ADHD communities with a mindset that just because other people struggle in certain areas, it doesn’t have to be the case for you.
You may encounter people who are hoarders, or that get fired from every job they get because they always show up late and that may not be your situation at all (it’s certainly not mine). I say this because as you start to learn more about ADHD, you will see different levels of human behavior that are no reflection of you, or your potential. We’re all our own snowflakes and we’re all capable of greatness in our own right.
Focus on your unique strengths – Via Character Strengths Test
All of us, regardless of our brain make up, only has so much time and energy in a day to devote to being a good human. If you have ADHD, it’s critical to know your strengths so that you can illuminate them as much as possible. To ensure you’re directing your energy in the right place, I recommend finding out your unique set of strengths at Via Character Strengths (it’s a free test) and spend some time thinking about how you can bring them into more areas of your life and focus less on aspects of life that drain or deplete you.