ADHD Is for Women, Too
Juggling career, marriage, and child rearing can be challenging for anyone. But for someone with ADHD, it can feel impossible. Add to that the increased demands of household management, and a woman with undiagnosed ADHD can feel completely overwhelmed. Let’s face it: Filing and paperwork are the nemesis of most ADDers.
In fact, the only part of Martha Stewart an ADHD mom can understand is the going-to-jail part (it’s not uncommon to be so disorganized that taxes haven’t been filed for years). Perfect pastries? Forget it! It’s no wonder that some women end up feeling ashamed at their inability to keep up with their more organized friends and family. In the extreme, some ADD women tend to isolate themselves, unwilling to expose their self-perceived deficiencies.
Instead of receiving a diagnosis and treatment, many ADHD women have been told since childhood, even by well-meaning but uninformed professionals, that they’re lazy and should just try harder. No wonder one of the ADHD classics is called You Mean I’m Not Lazy Stupid or Crazy?!, written by Kate Kelly and Peggy Ramundo, both diagnosed with ADHD.
Diagnosis during menopause can be even trickier, as problems with memory, organization, anxiety, depression, and mood swings that arise at that time of life can all mimic ADHD symptoms, says Hechtman. “One of the ways I would differentiate [ADHD] is to get a good longitudinal picture of that person from childhood onward,” she says. If there were no ADHD symptoms prior to menopause, the symptoms are pointing to something else.
Another imposter is learning disabilities (LD), which up to 20 percent of those with ADHD also have. Like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other ailments that accompany adult ADHD (80 percent of us have at least one co-existing condition), LD can be mistaken for ADHD.
You and Your ADHD
But, hey, let’s not get all stressed out about it; stress, according to Quily, is like adding fuel to ADHD symptoms. If we can just hold on until 2012, a newly minted set of diagnostic tools for adults will be included in the DSM-V.
This is a good thing, because two of the current diagnostic criteria (developed solely for kids) are climbing trees and running about excessively. It’s no coincidence that hyperactive kids like to move their bodies: Physical activity is an excellent way to diminish ADHD symptoms. While tree-climbing and excessive running might not be realistic pursuits for ADHD adults, the best treatment, according to long-term studies that observed kids into adulthood, is “multimodal,” using a variety of approaches — from medication and behavioral therapy to biofeedback, exercise, and other alternative therapies — to treat symptoms.
“Detailed, boring stuff is like kryptonite for people with ADHD,” says Quily. So delegate — or find a boss who will embrace your creative side, your mind that’s so out-of-the-box it’s from another planet, and let the regular humans handle the paperwork.
As for me, I’ll keep using deadlines as my organizing principle, and accept the fact that, even when I’m hyperfocusing, I’ll still have to jump up, water the plants, check e-mail, and pet the dog to keep me on track.
This article appeared in the February/March 2009 issue of More magazine.
More Resources for ADHD Women
- Special Guide: ADHD & Women
- Slideshow: Women, Hormones, and ADD