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Hi Julie! This is so hard!
I was a 16 year old girl once with ADHD and I can tell you from experience, it was really, really hard. It’s really hard to be a young woman in the social climate that we live in. I’m 22 now, and finally getting a hold of my ADHD, and I didn’t have the same experience as your daughter does now, but I know that feeling, and I have friends who have been there. It’s really difficult when there are so few resources available to help in a way that feels constructive and healing rather than controlling and harmful. I am no professional, and I am not a mother, so I can’t speak from those perspectives, but I can tell you what my experience has been, what information has enlightened me, and what has helped me in my life, starting with some more fact-based anecdotes, moving to more personal accounts and advice.
The most recent thing I’ve found out about ADHD, specifically in women, is that Estrogen/Progesterone levels effect the functioning of the main neurotransmitters that are effected by ADHD. After ovulation, on the 14th day of the cycle, estrogen levels drop and progesterone levels spike, which both inhibit the effectiveness of ADHD medication considerably. On top of that, a decrease in estrogen results in a near 30% reduction in those neurotransmitters (dopamine and norepinephrine specifically.) Studies have shown that after the onset of puberty, ADHD symptoms in girls become far worse than pre-puberty. This makes medication, especially in the high school years, extremely difficult! It’s super messed up! I am just now, in my senior year of college, finding a treatment plan that ACTUALLY works.
Omega-3 supplements are proven to be HIGHLY effective, as well in improving brain function with those who have ADHD.
I’ve had friends who were diagnosed with ADHD in high school, and were put on ADHD medication, but because of hormones, environment, school, societal pressures, genetic response to certain drugs– whatever the reason, the treatment plan wasn’t supported by external factors, so it wasn’t the right fit. Which meant their ADHD symptoms got worse, and the psychological effects of people’s treatment of ADHD are more often than not, depression and anxiety– which they were then medicated for. The cocktail of medicine in their systems not only didn’t help, but often made things worse, they were just quieter and more manageable, so their doctors thought the problem had been fixed. This is NOT to say that medication doesn’t work– it’s just to say that some doctors don’t specialize in ADHD, or they don’t know how certain medicines effect women during menstrual cycles (so, all the time) so a totally preventable poor psychological reaction to certain medications occurs, which… sucks. Just recently, I was prescribed a medication that was different than the last one I was taking, and it reacted very poorly with my body and I was in a deep depression for a month, until I told my doctor it made me feel like a zombie, to which they responded by telling me I was just depressed, and prescribed me Lexapro (which is proven to make ADHD symptoms worse) and kept me on the medication. Of course, I found a new psychiatrist immediately, and was put on the medication I’d taken before that had worked well for me. Because my new psychiatrist both listens deeply to me, and specializes in ADHD.
All of that sounds really scary, I know it scares me, and I can’t imagine what it must feel like to have your baby be going through all of this. But there is hope, I believe! I tell you all of this because I think, even if she ends up not having ADHD, I wish I’d had medical practitioners who understood how my body and brain worked, and people I could feel comfortable around and relate to. It’s tough, because at that age and in this society, agreeing to treatment plans, to seeing therapists, to anything that parents want you to do. But I don’t think it’s hopeless, I really don’t! I think it’s just complicated! If it is ADHD, I suggest finding therapists who specialize in ADHD! And who work with people her age. Finding the right fit is difficult, but the keywords I’ve found to be the best in searching for good and kind psychologists, are people who practice these types of therapy: Feminist, Relational, Interpersonal, Strength-based, trauma-based, person-centered, and attachment based. These are types of therapy that tend to approach people in a really human way. Cognitive-behavioral therapy has never worked for me and my ADHD as it feels like a short term solution to the behavioral aspects of ADHD, and always left me feeling worthless because outside of therapy I could never do the things I said I’d do in therapy. In the types of therapy I listed, they are much more based in finding the root of the problem, healing the trauma that comes from growing up neurodivergent, and forming a real relationship with your therapist, in a way that has helped me heal so many of the wounds that have lived in me. I think especially allowing her to have a role in that process, would likely be helpful. If I’m to highlight anything I just said, it’s finding people who mention feminist or relational therapy. It’s made a world of difference for me to see someone who takes those factors into account.
I also don’t know your exact situation, but my closest friend in high school, who struggled with severe depression and likely ADHD or a mood disorder, was hospitalized on several occasions. Hospitalization kept her safe, but wasn’t the best in terms of her mental well-being, but sometimes it’s the only option, and it got her immediate help. It’s really complicated, and that is NOT a universal experience, but all that IS to say that she stayed safe and graduated high school and is now thriving and moving her career along, she has a long-term boyfriend and has maintained a close relationship with her parents, and healed a lot of the harm they caused each other when she was 16. It felt devastating when it was happening, but with effort and care, things got better and brighter. And I can say with certainty that when that was happening, her parents had no idea what to do, and were really struggling, it all felt very life or death—– but they got through! They made it out and are now able to heal those wounds. It’s just about exploring all options, I think.
It’s a really difficult situation that you’re in. It’s abundantly clear that you love her so deeply. I’m not sure I can offer anything more, aside from saying to just keep it up! Don’t give up! Keep researching and asking these questions and looking for the connections. And above all, listen to her. No one listens to us, and that’s what has been the hardest for me. It’s all a cry for help in a system that isn’t build for neurodivergent people, and I’m thankful there are parents like you who are listening. I also want to end on a more positive note, and say that my ADHD is also a gift. In any research you might do, that’s something I really suggest looking into. The positive sides of ADHD! It might seem right now like there are none, but there are things about my brain that are unique and beautiful, and I believe that’s true for all neurodivergent people. The trouble so often comes when other people tell us that our behavior is bad and wrong. It’s hard, but it can be good if understood and worked with. It sounds like your daughter, ADHD or not, is having a hard time and I am sending love to you and your family and hope you figure out something that works for all of you, because as much as she’s hurting, she should not be hurting you. You will get through this!
I do hope that at least some of this was helpful, I think it’s an overload of information (I think that I got into a bit of an ADHD hyperfocus mode) but I think there’s some good stuff in there. Well wishes to you and your family.