ADDitude Woman: My mind works a triple shift everyday

ADD in women is often underdiagnosed and misrepresented as simply being ‘ditzy’. The reality is a brain that is working overtime to the point of despair or exhaustion. International Women’s Day is a perfect time to celebrate neurodiversity in women

ADDitude Woman: My mind works a triple shift everyday

Every woman can be a SuperWoman. To be an ADDitude Woman, you have to be tough but also willing to cope with the rough. Simply getting through a day can seem like navigating your way through a warzone. And the daily exhaustion and every fear that you learn to hide becomes a nightmare ordeal.

Experience tells me, I am one of these women. Just as the colour of your skin lets you know to which tribe you belong; the signs are there from birth.  These things are often obvious to you and irrelevant to anyone else but they matter. Perhaps, they’re the reason my eight-year-old classmate held his pencil to my neck like a machete in maths class and screamed:

“Can’t you try harder? Quit daydreaming and hurry up! You’re always slowing everyone down!”

“Why did every task take longer, felt harder, and wore me down in a way I could never explain to my teachers or the other kids?” 

That was my question for him, if the words hadn’t slipped away under the desk...

Those basic common denominators – ranging from being oblivious to the whistle that signals the end of breaktime to failing at keeping a tidy, paper-free desk, fuel perpetual rejection. Constantly losing items in the Bermuda triangle leaves you with more than just growing pains. Why was being one step behind everyone else, ‘my normal’ but anyone else’s signal to launch a war?

How do ADDitude women go unnoticed by our education system?

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Gender conformity and assumptions surrounding women with ADHD have recently come into the spotlight. It has taken time for doctors to properly recognise the ways in which the condition shows up in females. Symptoms in women go undetected in school years due to the fact that girls rarely demonstrate parallel behavioural issues to boys. Hyperactive-impulsive ADHD, which affects teenage boys is more commonly observed in girls as inattentive ADHD (or ADD).

Early signs of ADHD in women are mistaken for character traits or poor organisational skills, and lack of time management. Sarah, 28, a jewellery seller from North London, says:

“My school report classified me as a day-dreamer, ditzy, forgetful or talkative. At work, my manager asked me if I was on drugs when she caught me zoning out at the window. It was my strategy for numbing the pain and boredom brought to me by my disappointing reality.”

Being blessed with a talent for drifting off into one’s own imaginary world and being easily distracted, or paradoxically, hyper-focusing one’s attention with razor-like precision when obsessing over something far more engaging – are all just coping mechanisms for ADHD females. Their stoical tendency to concentrate predominantly on things they are most passionate about often masks their struggle from the watchful scrutiny of teachers or families.

Whilst ADHD is annoyingly overlooked in women, conquering distractions, chronic anxiety and even despair over the details of everyday life such as managing finances, paying bills on time, unfinished laundry and house chores can leave ADDitude Women feeling overwhelmed to the point of mental exhaustion and insomnia.  Kiera, Fashion Editor and ADDitude woman from London says: 

“Life is chaos for me. Managing my affairs riddles me with anxiety so I end up turning a blind eye, sweeping my bills under the carpet. My mind never stops and has no brakes. One hundred percent is not enough; I always want more.”

ADDitude Women are typically overly emotional and can become overwhelmed due to ‘Hypersensitivity’ (rejection sensitive dysphoria). For neurodiverse individuals, criticism presents itself as completely fatalistic, burdening them with debilitating emotional pain, or wounds that become so hard to forgive. It can emerge on the surface as mood swings with tantrums often directed at loved ones. Sarah says, 

"I take on other people’s emotions as if they were my own. I’m super sensitive and intolerant to noise like people snoring on the same floor and I will search for a clock until I find it and dismantle its batteries like punishment if it keeps me awake at night.”

What’s the major reason ADD in women is overlooked in later life?

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Many women cope by training themselves to become experts at pressing the override button. By developing organisational strategies such as list-making, or setting alarm reminders at work, they wear their fully fledged façade that buzzes, “I’m sorted, no fake Gucci here ma’am”.

Erin Eliza, a primary school teacher from London reveals her constant daily invisible struggle:

"I work really hard in my teaching job. I make countless to-do lists, alarms go off to remind me of my appointment times (otherwise I'd forget) and I cross my fingers, hoping nobody can tell. On the surface I can look collected and grounded, yet inside, I’m screaming...panicking endlessly. Always caught in an endless hamster wheel of rapid, disjointed thoughts. If it weren’t for my fear of being judged, I would be biting my nails 24/7 to siphon off my nervous energy.”

Ms Eliza sheds light on her lockdown experience:

“Lockdown unravelled the masquerade. Staying on the sofa with no real structure makes me feel like I'm drowning, it's as though I'm dipping beneath the ocean waves, just waiting to resurface.”

The guilt burgeoning from being in a productive mindset one minute and then slouching like a couch-surfer the next is crippling to women’s confidence and exacerbates that deeply rooted fear most ADDitude women have that they are simply “not enough”.

What can friends and family do to provide support?

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Constantly losing car keys, forgetting to take the washing out of the machine and leaving Friday night’s dinner to burn on the hob while they answer the front door is a recipe for disaster in any relationship and can take its toll over time – not to mention being faced with a stash of bills that probably should have been paid months ago. But by focusing on the positives of your relationship and reminding yourself why you fell in love with their quirky features in the first place can bring a little ray of hope to your day. 

Remember that your support is vital to them and can make all the difference in helping them to overcome feelings of shame and guilt that become attached to a neurodiverse individual. They are struggling to achieve their dreams like everybody else and will be grateful for all the encouragement they receive – even if they don’t always tell you! Just the reassurance that you believe in them can be surprisingly empowering. It can even trigger their motivation to change.

While every ADDitude woman is unique and will have different needs as we all do, here are some of the best strategies from Dr Russell Barkley, PHD that may be helpful if you are looking to provide positive support to your loved one:

  1. Learn the symptoms 

  2. Understand the potential impairments 

  3. Acknowledge the impact it has on you

  4. Assess your loved one’s readiness to change

  5. Know the best treatments 

  6. Decide what role you will play

For further information or advice on supporting loved ones with ADD visit: 

https://psychcentral.com/blog/5-suggestions-for-supporting-a-loved-one-with-adhd#1

Helpful books to read:

  • More Attention, Less Deficit by Dr. Ari Tuckman

  • Driven to Distraction by Drs. Edward Hallowell and John Ratey

  • Taking Charge of Adult ADHD by Dr. Russell Barkley

  • 10 Simple Solutions to Adult ADD by Dr. Stephanie Sarkis

Header Image Credit: Photo by Ty Feague on Unsplash

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