After a lifetime of forgetting her cell phone, losing her train of thought during meetings, and having to use 1,000 Post-It notes a day to get things done, Courtney kept seeing social media posts about ADHD and something clicked. Could this explain why she had to work harder in life than her friends? After a few years in therapy, Courtney was tired of hearing that she just had “anxiety.” It felt like she had tried a million different types of treatment, and yet she still had huge piles of paperwork on her kitchen table and was consistently leaving coffee mugs on the roof of her car.
How many days would she have to spend knowing she is smart but overwhelmed by life? How many coffee mugs would she have to lose before someone acknowledged that anxiety can’t make a person drive off with a coffee mug on the roof of their car…three times in the same week?
Simply put: adult women with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are often underdiagnosed and misdiagnosed. For decades, the world has mostly seen an ADHDer as an out-of-control boy flipping over desks at school or an impulsive, risk-taking teenage boy. In fact, a large part of ADHD research is based on studies that lean very heavily on samples of male participants. ADHD affects more than 16 million U.S. children and adults. But, there continue to be large disparities between women and men diagnosed with ADHD. Why are so many adult ADHD women being misdiagnosed or overlooked? The answers might surprise you.
It’s fairly common for girls with undiagnosed ADHD to grow up hearing themselves mislabeled as “spacy” or “disorganized.” If they slip academically, it can be common to hear things like “you’re so smart, if you only applied yourself.” Despite obvious ADHD symptoms, girls with more inattentive-type ADHD symptoms (such as daydreaming or forgetfulness) are often not disruptive and don’t trigger the same level of concern from teachers.
Unfortunately, we live in a world filled with rigid gender biases. (And since equality is still finding its way in mental health care, we’ll need to acknowledge some of the societal inconsistencies placed on women to get to the root of the issue.) From an early age, stereotypical “gender roles” have often given women the expectation of being the “good girl.” Little girls don’t always get the same permission to be rambunctious that little boys do, leaving childhood ADHD symptoms easily overlooked.
Then in adulthood, women have historically found themselves shouldering a larger portion of the burden when it comes to housework or raising kids. Add a full-time job and the hope of a social life and that plate starts to look a little too full. For an adult woman with ADHD, this level of expectation can cause a great deal of turmoil, as their executive-functioning struggles often have them working even harder to get things done. The interplay between their social demands and the ease at which they can meet them is a setup for….
Toxic shame is the “I’m not good enough” emotion. It tends to fester and can even be linked to ADHD and anxiety symptoms or ADHD and depression symptoms. Toxic shame is hard to get rid of, as it tends to alter one’s self-image and adjust what one believes they are capable of achieving. Plus, toxic shame can then lead to…..
ADHD in Women: Masking
ADHD masking is part of the reason adult women with ADHD are overlooked. Research shows that women with ADHD are highly motivated to conceal ADHD symptoms. (Gotta keep up with those societal expectations, right?) Where the hyperactive behaviors of men with ADHD are normalized, the ADHD traits that impact women are shamed.
Toxic shame can ultimately create a lot of “overcompensating behaviors,” such as perfectionism. It’s common for adult women with ADHD to be incredibly organized or on top of things…but not because their brains aren’t wired differently. Rather, the ADHD mask makes them work extra hard to have it all together on the outside. Thus, stopping everyone from digging deeper into their symptoms.
Plus, when women do go to receive treatment, those masking skills show up again. While a man might feel comfortable saying, “I’m a mess” or “I can’t focus,” a woman might say something like “I’m just anxious.” Enter misdiagnosis. The tug of war between one’s scattered mind, the demands of life, and maintaining the ADHD mask is…well…exhausting. But Courtney was done with all of that. Done with endless conversations about self-care. It was time to get to the root of the matter.
The Next Steps: Adult ADHD Testing
Deciding that enough was enough, Courtney realized she needed to find an ADHD specialist for ADHD testing. Only then did she learn that anxiety doesn’t make you chronically late or have you losing your keys daily or avoiding paperwork like it’s the plague. These can often be signs of an executive-functioning issue, the brain-based functions that control attention, concentration, planning, etc. And ADHD could be what is causing the symptoms. After getting diagnosed, Courtney received proper ADHD treatment. She was then able to learn skills to improve her focus, alleviate toxic shame, and tap into her ADHD superpowers to achieve her goals. And the ADHD mask? She didn’t need it anymore, because she learned to value the person underneath it.
Begin Adult ADHD in Women Testing in Columbus, OH
You don’t have to live your life feeling overwhelmed. Testing can help you find real understanding and real solutions. Our Columbus OH-based counseling practice has caring adult ADHD specialists. To start your journey with our adult ADHD specialist, follow these simple steps:
- Fill out the contact form to schedule a free consultation
- Meet with one of our adult ADHD specialists
- Stop searching for answers. Start finding solutions.
Other ADHD Services Offered at Focused Mind ADHD Counseling
We offer a variety of mental health services that go beyond adult ADHD treatment at our Columbus, OH counseling practice. As an adult with ADHD, Focused Mind ADHD Counseling understands you may also benefit from anxiety treatment for ADHD, counseling for men with ADHD, or depression counseling for ADHD. You can also view our blog for more resources and helpful info. We look forward to connecting with you!