Happy Mental Health Awareness Month! In celebration of this time, Matriarchy has decided to cover a very misunderstood topic: Women with ADHD. Because their symptoms can be different than the most commonly diagnosed demographic (young white boys) they are often overlooked or misdiagnosed with having a mood disorder. ADHD author Sari Solden addressed this issue at an ADDA conference stating, “A significant number of women with ADHD go undiagnosed because, first of all, most women were never hyperactive and didn’t cause problems for anybody, so of course they weren’t picked up.” Instead of disrupting lectures and throwing chairs, young girls with ADD/ADHD tend to day-dream, doodle, and dive into the depths of their imaginations while bored at school. Their ADHD is a silent distractor only afflicting themselves. In honor of women everywhere who have lived the ADHD life, we have decided to create a list of how ADHD impacts women specifically. Although ADHD has it’s challenges, it also has it’s strengths that gives those with ADHD a bit of a edge over those who aren’t struggling with ADHD symptoms.
1. They are usually diagnosed much later in life.
Even though around the same amount of girls as boys have ADHD, as many as 75% of girls struggling with the disorder go undiagnosed. Most women don’t get their proper diagnosis until much later into adulthood after continually being misdiagnosed with mood and other disorders like depression, bipolar, anxiety, borderline-personality disorder, and event autism.
“As many as 75% of girls struggling with the disorder go undiagnosed.”
Many never get diagnosed with ADHD at all and face life without ever receiving the proper type of treatment, convincing themselves that the psychiatric industry is completely broken — or worse yet thinking they, themselves, are too broken for the system.
2. They aren’t afraid to defy gender-role constructs of society.
Throughout history we have been led to believe that women’s responsibilities include maintaining a clean, organized, environment and nurturing those around us. This simply goes against everything an ADHD woman finds natural. Most women with ADHD are entrepreneurial, deeply creative, and obsessively passionate about projects. Not that they aren’t capable of organizing and being mother-figures — it’s just not innately inherent to a woman with ADHD. Were you to strip them of their societal gender-role expectations, most ADHD women could thrive without these pressures. Instead, most of these women believe that they are supposed to fit into a box that doesn’t suit their shape. Women with ADHD aren’t boxes. They are stars. As society hammers away at the five-edged pointy star that doesn’t fit into the confines of a box, these women get bent out of shape.
“Women with ADHD aren’t boxes. They are stars. As society hammers away at the five-edged pointy star that doesn’t fit into the confines of a box, these women get bent out of shape.”
Many women are better suited for being innovators and this is a beautiful thing society is starting to finally embrace.
3. They can focus much harder than the average person — when they are interested.
This seems ironic, right? It is built into the definition that ADHD is an “attention deficit”. This is only the case for things an ADHD woman is not obsessed with. This makes ADHD women somewhat transparent, yes. When they are interested in something, have fun trying to pry them away. It won’t be easy. This is a huge strength in many aspects and why many women with ADHD excel at running their own businesses or do better than their colleagues for positions they are passionate about. Women with ADHD will stay up at all hours of the day and night working on a project that they love. However, on the flip side, if the are not interested, it will be obvious to a fault. It may be upsetting that they find it difficult to sugar coat their lack of interest but at least they are naturally authentic and honest (whether they like it or not).
“Women with ADHD will stay up at all hours of the day and night working on a project that they love.”
It also makes them less apologetic when it comes to choosing to follow their bliss, less likely to pretend to be your friend if they don’t like you, and less likely to act like they want to do something when they don’t want to. This can make them seem like jerks, but at least you’re dealing with someone who isn’t going to lie to you, even if they try. There’s a limit to how long a woman with ADHD will allow themselves to do something they don’t want to before they have a melt down or disappear. Life it short and women with ADHD have a built-in system to not waste a moment on anything not worth their time.
4. They are extremely intuitive and have potential for deep empathy.
“You’re too sensitive!” is a criticism any woman with ADHD can admit she’s heard most of her life by family, friends, and during relationships. To the outside observer, the combination of a lack of impulse control and deep emotions can make an untreated woman with ADHD seem too reactive to external stimuli. This is due to the female ADHD brain being gifted with extreme intuition. While you think you are doing a great job of coming across as happy with your fake smile and cheery words, a woman with ADHD will be able to naturally and easily pick up on your micro-expressions, which can be deeply uncomfortable for her.
“While you think you are doing a great job of coming across as happy with your fake smile and cheery words, a woman with ADHD will be able to naturally and easily pick up on your micro-expressions, which can be deeply uncomfortable for her.”
The intensity can be so overwhelming, women with ADHD have a tendency to find it difficult to make consistent eye-contact without forcing themselves. Once a woman with ADHD develops coping mechanisms for processing the energy coming at them from the external world, they can tap into a beautiful super-power to help others using strong empathetic abilities.
5. They feel shameful of your judgement towards their medication.
This is a huge one and needs to be addressed. There is so much stigma towards ADHD medication, admitting that a woman needs it to function creates such shame that there continues to be a lack of dialogue in general. This hurts women with ADHD. The articles published about the misuses of methamphetamines and assumptions regarding those who use them has destroyed easy access to a medication many ADHD women rely on to function. ADHD medications have been so heavily associated with substance abuse issues and over-scheduled college students, that an adult woman being prescribed these medications automatically gets red-flagged as being shady. The truth is, just like a diabetic needs insulin, women with ADHD oftentimes need methamphetamines. These women didn’t choose to have ADHD and shouldn’t be judged for taking initiative to seek out proper treatments that give them their lives back.
“These women didn’t choose to have ADHD and shouldn’t be judged for taking initiative to seek out proper treatments that give them their lives back.”
If someone called into their boss to say they missed work because they ran out of insulin and their diabetes got out of hand, there would be a forgiveness towards that employee that wouldn’t be there for a woman calling in because her new insurance wouldn’t cover her ADHD medication — a common problem.
6. They aren’t taken seriously by their families.
Since ADHD has been stereotyped as a disorder invented for misbehaving boys in grade school, it is often hard for loved ones to understand when a grown adult woman is freshly diagnosed with ADHD. However, if family members, close friends, and significant others give more thought to the symptoms of ADHD that are unique specifically to women, it will be obvious that this is something that she has been struggling with for a while. It should be celebrated that she’s finally getting the help she has always needed.
7. They are more likely to be leaders.
First of all, women with ADHD aren’t the greatest at doing things your way. This makes it hard for them to maintain regular jobs working for others. However, they are excellent at achieving success — without direction — if they are passionate. So, as hard as it is to start a business, it’s easier for a woman with ADHD to survive financially in a setting where they have the flexibility to achieve success at their own pace and make or break rules on their own terms. When someone with this much enthusiasm for projects of interest gets fired for being 5 minutes late to work, a great amount of potential goes unnoticed and untapped. When these women aren’t running their own businesses, they tend to thrive in positions where they have flexible schedules and creative control (essentially, they are still their own leader and still call the shots). In fact, it may be necessary for her mental health, too.
“It’s easier for a woman with ADHD to survive financially in a setting where they have the flexibility to achieve success at their own pace and make or break rules on their own terms.”
There is another reason women with ADHD tend to be leaders. Many women with ADHD channel their energy in a friendly extroverted way which makes them seemed blessed with charismatic personalities. Although they come across as scattered and eccentric much of the time, their energy and openness makes them lovable. Combine that with their unwavering passion and high risk-taking attitude and you have yourself someone who isn’t afraid to innovate with a group of supporters to help them. The one main issue women with ADHD in leadership roles struggle with is staying organized, stress-management, and impulse control. This can affect their longer-term relationship with colleagues, clients, and collaborators. However, when these are kept in check with the help of treatment, ADHD coaches, and self-teaching — women with ADHD are an unstoppable force of energy and creativity.