Life has always felt like a complex puzzle, and for the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why my pieces didn’t quite fit. Growing up, I had been described as “scatterbrained,” “forgetful,” and my favorite one, “smart but lazy.” I knew I was different, but I couldn’t pinpoint why. As an adult, my struggles only intensified, affecting my personal and professional life. Little did I know that my journey to self-discovery would lead to an unexpected but life-changing revelation: I have ADHD.
The first thing that comes to mind when you hear ADHD is usually small boys running around, screaming, and unable to sit still. However, it’s not limited to them. It affects grown-up women too. And the case with girls is different. From a young age, we are taught to sit still, be nice and quiet, act like a lady, not run, not get dirty—in general, not act like a boy! So, I sat still with my legs tapping under the table or sticking out my tongue while reading or drawing. But in this stillness my brain was going wild.
What is ADHD?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Personally, I’m not a big fan of this name because it’s not about an attention deficit but about regulating it. People with ADHD sometimes can’t focus on one thing but get hyper-focused on another. The same with hyperactivity, which is not always obvious in women. In general, people with ADHD often function on the principle of extremes—either they do something too much or not at all. The hardest thing for us is to find a middle ground, and this manifests itself in many areas:
- We either sleep most of the day or don’t sleep at all.
- We either eat too much or forget to eat all day long.
- We either enjoy company or stay alone within four walls with no contact with the outside world.
- We either decide in a second (especially important decisions) or we think for weeks (when it comes to trivial things).
Additionally, ADHD is often associated with children, but it doesn’t magically disappear as one grows older. In fact, many adults, especially women, continue to grapple with the complexities of ADHD throughout their lives.
Understanding Symptoms and Typical Behaviors of Adults with ADHD
ADHD is characterized by core symptoms that include inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. In adults, these symptoms may manifest differently than in children, making diagnosis more challenging. Here are some common ADHD symptoms in adults:
- Difficulty with Time Management: Adults with ADHD often struggle with managing their time effectively. They might underestimate how long tasks take or constantly feel like they’re running out of time. This can lead to chronic lateness and missed deadlines.
- Procrastination: Procrastination is a common behavior among adults with ADHD. They may have good intentions but find it challenging to start tasks or projects until the last minute, often relying on the pressure of imminent deadlines to kickstart their focus.
(I always say, “I don’t need time, I need a deadline.” I postponed writing my thesis at the university for 2 years, only to write it during the May break in 4 days!)
- Chronic Disorganization: Executive functions such as planning, organizing, and prioritizing can be impaired in people with ADHD. This can manifest as messy living spaces, disorganized work environments, and difficulties in following through with long-term goals. This disarray can contribute to feelings of overwhelm and stress.
(This is where lists come in! And then lists of lists to keep track of it all.)
- Frequent Forgetfulness: Forgetfulness is a hallmark of ADHD, and adults often struggle with misplacing items, missing appointments, or forgetting important details of conversations. This can lead to frustration and feelings of inadequacy.
(Yeah… what can I say?)
- Overcommitting: Women with ADHD may tend to overcommit themselves, saying “yes” to too many obligations or tasks. They may want to please others or fear saying no, resulting in overwhelming schedules and increased stress.
(It took me many years to realize that agreeing “for the sake of peace of mind” costs me much more than the momentary peace of mind – but these are stories for the therapist.)
- Difficulty in Self-Care: Women with ADHD may struggle with self-care routines, neglecting their own needs, like forgetting about food or drinking water, or not being able to dress according to the weather. But also, in favor of caring for others or attending to their responsibilities. This can lead to burnout and diminished self-esteem.
(This may be a reason why most of my adult life my mom called me to check if I ate something that day.)
- Impaired Impulse Control: Impulse control issues can manifest in various ways, such as impulsive spending, overeating, or making decisions without considering the consequences. This can lead to financial, health, or relationship problems.
(I won’t even start with this one!)
- Sensitivity to Rejection: Women with ADHD may be particularly sensitive to perceived rejection or criticism. This heightened emotional sensitivity can lead to anxiety in social situations and impact self-esteem.
- Inattention, Inability to Focus: Struggles with reading and listening. Some adults with ADHD may have difficulties in reading comprehension and active listening. They might find it challenging to follow lengthy instructions or stay engaged in conversations, especially if the topic doesn’t captivate their interest. Difficulty maintaining focus on tasks, especially those that do not pique their interest. This can affect their work, personal life, and overall daily functioning.
(That’s why I listen to podcasts or audiobooks at 2x speed.)
- Not finishing sentences and interrupting others: Having imaginary conversations in your head and getting confused about what was said out loud. Changing your mind mid-sentence and therefore not having to finish it. Interrupting others’ sentences because if you wait until the end, you will completely forget what you want to say. These are behaviors that are particularly irritating to people close to adults with ADHD.
- Emotional Dysregulation: Women with ADHD often report heightened emotional sensitivity and mood swings. They may be more prone to anxiety and depression due to the challenges posed by ADHD.
It’s essential to remember that ADHD manifests differently in each individual, so not all adults with ADHD will exhibit the same behaviors.
Differences from Men
While ADHD symptoms can be similar across genders, there are notable differences between men and women with ADHD. Coexisting conditions, the ability to mimic and compensate for their difficulties, hormonal fluctuations, and upbringing conditioning all play a role. This leads to girls and women being less likely to exhibit hyperactivity, making them less visible in diagnostic criteria that were historically based on male symptomatology.
Adult women with ADHD navigate a unique set of challenges that often differ from those faced by men with the condition. Understanding these differences is crucial for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.
In my adult life, things didn’t change much. I had many jobs and professions. I traveled and moved quite often, I had a busy social life, and a whirlwind of thoughts constantly swirling in my head. I struggled to stay organized, often forgetting important tasks or appointments. My impulsivity led to crazy decisions that frequently landed me in tricky situations—too frequently! Relationships were challenging too, as I often misread social cues and struggled to maintain focus during conversations. Once, someone even told me that I had the emotional level of an orange!
During one of these mindless scrolling moments on social media, videos about neurodiversity started popping up. In the beginning, I suspected something else, not ADHD. I was nothing like that boy in my class, loud and fidgety. Then, I stumbled upon an article about Adult ADHD. The more I read, the more I recognized myself in the symptoms described: chronic forgetfulness, impulsivity, difficulty with time management, and a never-ending inner restlessness. I felt a mix of emotions – relief, validation, and a tinge of sadness for all the years I had spent struggling without understanding why. Some symptoms surprised me. Like the fact that it wasn’t normal, and not everybody experienced life that way. For others, I was relieved that I wasn’t crazy; it’s just that my brain works differently.
Taking the initiative, I reached out to a mental health professional who specialized in ADHD. The diagnostic process involved an extensive evaluation that explored my childhood and adult experiences, my daily challenges, and my family history. After several sessions and numerous questionnaires, I received a diagnosis of Adult Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Another specialist confirmed the diagnosis, so I decided not to leave it there. I was tired of living in this vicious circle of my life, moving, quitting, leaving, and starting everything all over again.
Receiving that diagnosis was both overwhelming and liberating. It was overwhelming because it felt like a mountain of difficulties suddenly had a name, and I realized the extent to which ADHD had impacted my life. But it was liberating because, for the first time, I could attribute my challenges to something specific, rather than feeling like a failure or a weirdo.
Armed with this newfound knowledge, I embarked on a journey of self-discovery and self-improvement. I started therapy where I learned about strategies and coping mechanisms tailored to ADHD, such as time management techniques, setting realistic goals, and using organizational tools. It was the first time I didn’t quit therapy after a few sessions of not seeing immediate progress. Medication was also an option, and after careful consideration, I decided to give it a try. I hoped it would be like in the videos when someone turns down the noises in my head. It wasn’t so obvious, but I noticed the difference in my performance while on medication and after the effect wore off. They allowed me to focus and think more clearly.
Being who I am — a herbalist and a nature way of living enthusiast — I decided to look for ways to achieve this state of focus and clarity without medications. Just with everything nature has to offer: adaptogens, herbs, diet, supplements, somatic movement, breathwork, and many other practices I will talk about later.
With time, I began to understand my ADHD as both a challenge and a unique aspect of my personality. I embraced my creativity and energy while learning to manage the downsides of impulsivity and forgetfulness. I also sought therapy to work on my self-esteem and emotional regulation, which were often affected by my ADHD-related struggles.
The journey to managing my ADHD is not without setbacks, but with each obstacle, I grow stronger and more resilient. I keep experimenting to find natural ways to improve the everyday lives of people like me. I found ways to channel my energy and creativity into productive endeavors, I turned my passion into my career, so I can help people. My relationships improved as I communicate my needs and challenges to loved ones, who were supportive and understanding.
Looking back, I can’t help but feel grateful for my ADHD diagnosis. It opened a door to self-discovery and personal growth that I had never anticipated. It taught me that there is strength in acknowledging our weaknesses and seeking help when needed. Today, I am a more empowered, self-aware, and confident individual, living a life that is uniquely mine, ADHD and all. And I am excited that with my knowledge and experience, I can help others with their struggle.