It took me a long time to recognise that I might have ADHD. After all, I didn’t exactly fit the stereotype we’ve all been taught. You know the one: a seven-year-old boy, who runs around the classroom when they should be sitting down, interrupting everyone and throwing paper planes. Who is overly obnoxious and loud and energetic.
But, alas, I am not a seven-year old boy. I’m a 25-year-old woman. And therefore, instead of ever being recognised as a woman with ADHD, I have always been described as a bit of a ‘loose unit’, who jumps from job to job, who ought to just chill out, settle down, and ‘bloody stick at something for once, Bronte’.
For me, and for many women, ADHD presents itself very differently to that image of the naughty seven-year-old.
And because of this, I didn’t get diagnosed with ADHD until I was 24.
This is becoming increasingly common, too. In US women aged 26-34, prescriptions for ADHD medication increased by 85% between 2008 and 2012.
But why? Surely the actual rates haven’t increased that much, I hear you say.
And you’d be right. They haven’t.
But the signs and symptoms of ADHD in women are now being recognised. The seven-year-old boy isn’t the only image that represents this disorder anymore.
Instead, researchers and the medical world are realising that ADHD can present itself in other ways, and have expanded their diagnostic criteria to recognise this. Rather than defaulting to a diagnosis of anxiety, depression or OCD, which are strongly associated with the disorder, ADHD is now being looked at as a potential diagnosis.
In women, it may look like severe disorganisation, coupled with chronic forgetfulness, a side of anxiety and depression, an inability to retain information, and a sprinkle of low self esteem, just for fun. Mix it all together and you’re in for a right barrel of laughs and a very frustrating and demoralising way to live your life.
For me, like most women, there was very little of the stereotypical hyperactivity described above. It was the opposite, in fact.
All the ADHD symptoms I missed
I was seemingly ‘lazy’.
I was out of bed at the last minute, with assignments and work tasks started moments before they were due.
I’d gone through 19 jobs by the time I was 24.
They say that the average millennial will have 17 jobs across their entire working life.
This was the biggest factor that led to me seeking a diagnosis. I would master a job, and then once the thrill of something ‘new’ faded, bam, thank you, next.
Similarly to university degrees. I enrolled in seven different courses over just five years, and have yet to finish even one.
No, I do not recommend asking me about my HECS debt. And no, I still do not have a completed degree.
I had chronic procrastination.
Diamonds are made under pressure. Other, non-diamond things shatter like a glass under one of those hydraulic presses. I am the glass. My chronic procrastination led me to start work tasks at the last possible moment, motivated by pressure rather than sheer will. And by last minute, I mean literally hours or minutes before it was due. As a result, the work would be terrible, unchecked, unedited, riddled with mistakes and generally submitted late, if remembered at all.
I searched for dopamine hits everywhere.
In food, it could go one of two ways: binging or restriction, depending on if the hit was coming from the consumption, or the number on the scale.
In money, it was by buying anything I liked the look of. At 23, I needed a $200 repair on my car, and I didn’t have the money to pay for it, despite having worked since I was 14.
I was forgetful.
I’d leave the car in the ignition or the door at least five times a week, pack just one shoe, forget to show up to a shift, not realise I was still on the train until 20 minutes past my station, I’d take the wrong bus, submit the wrong work, book an appointment at a place in a whole other town, and leave the stove top on for a whole 24 hours.
I have comedic fodder to last a lifetime. I also had symptoms that were making my life unnecessarily difficult.
I couldn’t pay attention.
I would have no recollection of whole conversations. Instead of engaging, I was having another conversation, exploring a different world I’d created in my own mind.
I had chronic social anxiety.
This led me to talk too much. I could never enjoy a comfortable silence. For me, it was excruciating. I had to fill every deafening silence.
I experienced shame.
The result of all this, as it is for many women with ADHD, was shame. So much shame. A sense that I was a failure. Every mistake at work would lead me to watch my email, waiting for a ‘you’ve been fired’ email. A feeling that I am always the weak link, the liability. Once I even dropped out of uni because I got 78% on an assignment. Not good enough.
But I learned to compensate, as most women with ADHD do (which is another reason we’re so underdiagnosed). Notes, so many notes, of every conversation ever, or I’d forget I even had it. Notes of every single task I’d done at work, so I knew I’d actually done it or I wouldn’t be able to recall. Alarms, reminders – though these quickly lose their significance when there’s a ding every 15 minutes. They become the noise, rather than the thing that cuts through the noise.
In the end though, I was lucky. I had the means to go through the diagnosis process and the education to know how to navigate an unnecessarily difficult system. The multitude of doctors appointments and psychiatric assessments. Permits from the Health Department to get the medication that would finally calm my racing brain.
And they did.
Today I am calm, I get out of bed on time, and I have done my work and checked it twice. I’ve learned that you can always find something new in the details, if you just pay attention. I’ve enjoyed the comfortable silence of my partner’s presence. My house is clean and my clothes laid out for tomorrow, two shoes, not one. My keys are safely hung on their hook, my cat is fed.
And my uni homework… well, medication can’t fix everything.
Bronte Harrop is a Communications Advisor in the education space, where she writes speeches and makes up reasons to create entirely unnecessary but cool excel spreadsheets. Her writing has been featured in Pedestrian and Mamamia, where she overshares personal stories because #ADHD.