When you picture someone with ADHD, do you think of a hyperactive little boy, bouncing off the walls? Many people do. But it’s not the whole picture.
ADHD also looks like me: a 30-year-old woman firmly planted on the couch.
In addition to dealing with the general joys of ADHD, women with the condition also experience a unique set of symptoms and challenges. Understanding them can help ease the guilt and confusion that can come from being a slightly messy woman in a world that seems to demand perfection.
If you didn’t know before, here are just a handful of the hidden struggles of a woman with ADHD.
Boobs, periods, and ADHD
Right out of the gate, girls with ADHD face an uphill battle. That’s because their symptoms are likely to go un- or misdiagnosed, since ADHD looks different in girls than in boys.
Whereas boys usually develop ADHD around age 8, symptoms in girls typically appear at the onset of puberty — because apparently boobs, menstrual cycles, and eyeliner aren’t enough to throw at a middle schooler.
In women, ADHD frequently presents as inattentiveness rather than hyperactivity — unless you’re like me and were lucky enough to have both. This means people frequently write our inattention off as a character flaw, rather than a treatable condition.
When girls with ADHD go to college and lose the structure of parents, curfews, and mandatory school attendance, things get really interesting.
For example, women with ADHD tend to be the fast-talking life of the party, while inwardly having a breakdown about the ever-growing mountain of homework they haven’t even started.
You know that nightmare where you’re late for an exam in a class you’ve never been to? I’ve lived that nightmare. It turns out you can’t BS your way through an astronomy final, after all.
More like manic pixie nightmare
Women with ADHD have an unfortunate tendency to let their problems (and their dishes) pile up in secret, telling no one about the chaos and anxiety that’s slowly taking over their lives.
That may be because they never received a correct diagnosis and don’t have access to the medications and coping strategies that would help. But even if, like me, you’re fully aware you have ADHD, it’s incredibly easy to lose yourself in guilt when you’ve fallen behind on your responsibilities.
And, unfortunately, the world we live in still expects more of women when it comes to some things. Did you forget to send that birthday card? Did your attention stray when your friend needed you to be deep listening? THEN YOU’RE A FAILED WOMAN.
Girl probs in a man’s world
Most people with ADHD have trouble keeping up with their keys and wallets, but it’s a lot harder when your clothes aren’t even designed with pockets!
And then, of course, there’s the aggravation of explaining your diagnosis to people who frequently don’t believe you because, “Can girls even have ADHD?”
The short answer is yes. But according to the , boys are much more likely to receive a diagnosis — and this isn’t because more boys have the condition. Research has shown that the adults in a girl’s life — like parents and teachers — just what to look for or if they do notice symptoms.
Let’s start fixing the problem there.
‘Having it all’ with ADHD
Despite my challenges, I still think I’ve got it easy compared to other women with ADHD.
For one thing, I’m a lesbian, which means I’m not expected to be the sole provider of organized feminine energy in my relationships. It’s true — society offers me a little more latitude to be a rough-around-the-edges tomboy.
I also work from home, which means I have a relaxed routine and can cultivate a stress-free jeans and T-shirt aesthetic and avoid the exhaustion of a complicated hair and makeup routine.
And I don’t have kids, which means I only have my schedule to keep track of (and my body to occasionally forget to feed). Straight women with kids, makeup, and ADHD? Y’all are the real heroes.
Regardless of your circumstances, if you’re a woman with ADHD, the best thing you can give yourself (other than medication and organizational strategies) is a break. Be thankful for all the things your brain can do, and set realistic goals about everything else.
And don’t be afraid to be loud and proud about your ADHD! We may be adult women with houses and cars and bank accounts, but we’re entitled to be just as distracted as the kids.
Elaine Atwell is an author, critic, and founder of . Her work has been featured on Vice, The Toast, and numerous other outlets. She lives in Durham, North Carolina. Follow her on .