ADHD Is for Women, Too

Children aren’t the only ones who wrestle with attention deficit disorder, and men aren’t the only ones who are hyperactive. A guide for women with ADHD.

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ADHD and Women ©istockphoto/braddy

“Can’t you sit still for just five minutes?” Apparently not. But at least now, years later, I have an explanation in answer to my mom’s question — if only she were alive to hear it. Turns out, my excess energy is attention deficit-fueled hyperactivity.

Perhaps I should have been tipped off by the tempo of conversations I had with my friend, Chris (who was diagnosed with ADHD as a child). Our dialogues have always been like a pool game, with both of us taking shots at the same time, bouncing rapid-fire thoughts off each other without skipping a beat. One evening, Chris suggested I take an online quiz for ADHD. I assumed he was kidding. He wasn’t.

The results? I did very well. So well, in fact, that Chris declared, “Zoë, we’re going to make you president of the club.”

Along with credulity came clarity. Maybe this was why I’d spent every day of the last eight months spinning in a circle in the middle of my living room, unable to decide what to do first. I’d repeat this procedure in my kitchen, bedroom, and office, then go back to the living room to start over. By mid-afternoon, I’d accomplished nothing. At this point, I couldn’t afford to pay my rent. I was in trouble.

Here I was, a 47-year-old woman who had written a book, run for MPP (Member of the Provincial Parliament) in Canada, earned two university degrees and three college diplomas, spinning like Maria von Trapp in The Sound of Music. How do you solve a problem like Maria?

Desperately Seeking Treatment

The morning after my online quiz, I found myself in my doctor’s office, bawling as I described my out-of-control life. I left with a prescription for a long-acting stimulant (one of several medications used to treat ADHD), and began my quest for the Holy Grail — a way to make my crazy life work.

The medication calmed the frenetic energy I’d felt my entire life. Soon after taking that first pill, all the cells in my body stopped jumping on the trampoline and lay down. The feeling of being overwhelmed, anxious, and out of control also seemed to subside. Now I could begin my long road to discovery and, I hoped, recovery.

When I told my sister, Melissa, about the test results and the symptoms of ADHD, her first remark was, “That explains everything.” Having grown up with me, Mel could provide insight and anecdotes from our childhood, both of which are integral to a diagnosis.

According to the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), the professional reference of mental health disorders, symptoms need to be present before age seven before a diagnosis of ADHD can be made. Having spent most of my public-school days in the hall for talking too much, I fit the bill. The same combination of intuition and impulsivity that earns kids a walk to the principal’s office can earn women and men their walking papers from jobs, friends, family, and bewildered lovers, who can’t take the perpetual lateness and off-the-wall remarks any longer.

Next: Women and Their ADHD Symptoms


This article comes from the Fall 2009 issue of ADDitude.

To read this issue of ADDitude in full, buy the back issue.


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