156 Comments

The part that really gets me is when you describe how many girls "internalized their ADHD symptoms as personal flaws." It rings true for so many things, even beyond ADHD. I think this says so much about the culture in which girls are raised and the subconscious messaging we pick up as children about what a "good girl" is.

Expand full comment
author

Yep. Boys with ADHD were considered energetic, girls were out of control.

Expand full comment

Or lazy and spacey ….

Expand full comment

Yep this was me, have internalized this so completely

Expand full comment

Like me,too. Hi Gen X! This 68-yr old Boomer wishes we all had the benefits of diagnosis and treatment way, way back. And even more, I wish we had had the understanding and even grudging acceptance by others. I was diagnosed only 10 years ago. Yeah my youth was a shitstorm. Much of my adulthood, too.

Expand full comment

I'm 76 and I've only been self-diagnosed and only about 6 years ago. Should I go to my doctor?

Expand full comment

Sure. I was referred to a psychologist who specialized in evaluations. My psychiatrist who treated me for depression (who referred) said also to evaluate for early signs of dementia. But, if you have ADD, you’ve had it your whole life, so dementia will be something else entirely. I think I had to pay out of pocket, but we got reimbursed for part of it.

The result saddened me and made me angry at times to think of how I could have lived differently. But getting on a prescribed non-stimulant medication, Strattera, saved my life.

Expand full comment

Thanks for the feedback…..I will talk to my GP. And yes,I’ve had it my whole life. I was an “A” student except for a “C” in conduct because I couldn’t sit still or keep my mouth shut.

Expand full comment

And symptoms were/are more forgivable for boys (whether or not there's a diagnosis).

Hyperactive boys = Boys will be boys

Daydreaming girls = Lazy/ditzy

Expand full comment

Amen

Expand full comment
Apr 30Liked by Shannon Watts

This made me cry. I was labeled a high achieving quitter as a kid. An ADHD diagnosis was not even in the realm of possibility in my world. I wasn't diagnosed until a trauma in my mid 30's. I started meds but dropped them over the course of having kids. A good diet and exercise helped me managed symptoms for periods of time until peri-menopause hit. I did not understand what was going on, made some horrible professional decisions as a result with impacted my family to this day and was overwhelmed by how my body and my brain were breaking down. Doc's never even mentioned it but immediately suggested anti-depressants and unhelpful tests for physical ailments that I did not have. Once I got proper medical advice and the breakthrough to HRT, I was able to address get back to treatment for ADHD. It has been life saver. To say that I am angry at the medical profession is an understatement of epic proportions. I feel like they abandoned women once child bearing was no longer primary. I have no doubt they are responsible for increases in suicide for women over the age of 40. Thank you once again for being a voice for women and speaking these experiences into existence.

Expand full comment

High achieving quitter. This was me too 😕

Expand full comment

I wasn’t called this, but it is what my higher education looked like. I couldn’t cope with time management and all the moving parts that had to be juggled. I burned out and hurt my health through lack of sleep. I felt worthless.

Expand full comment
May 13Liked by Shannon Watts

“All the moving parts that had to be juggled” is a perfect description.

They burnt me to a crisp.

Expand full comment
May 13Liked by Shannon Watts

I’m so sorry. I hope you have been able to or can begin to find a way to recover and find joy and peace in your unique gifts.

Expand full comment

So difficult 😕

Expand full comment

I hit that wall with work and two kids under 10, juggling capacity broke down.

Expand full comment

Thank you Shannon for this article! I have friends in this category for sure. And if it's okay to ask this here, where the ADHDers are gathering with some wisdom/experience...What advice would any of you have for a young woman I love, in her early 20’s? This article made me cry for her, who had ALL the risks mentioned (depression, anxiety, ED, high-achieving ability/glimmers/moments but no diagnosis or understanding until AFTER six traumatic teen years and finally letting go of trying to finish high school as all the juggling/avoiding exploded. She carries so much shame, even though now she's understands she has ADHD, she's holding a job (for a year, is managing others), and is in a happy relationship (two years)...I can see she's often surviving, not thriving. She's frozen/exhausted on days off, and unable to do anything but work on work days...so there are all the Other Life Things that aren't getting done (health appointments, car maintenance, annoying paperwork, etc.). I fear she will always only deal with things when they blow up b/c she's so tired from masking/managing all the time. Any suggestions for a younger woman?

Expand full comment
May 3Liked by Shannon Watts

I hear you.. I just found this writer here.. I struggled all my life., a wise teacher noted my struggles in third grade the second year she had me as a student.. she sent me to the school psychologist.. I was so scared.. he recommended whatever he did then.. my mother turned them all down and I just shut down.. that teacher tried.. she gave me the lead in the class play.. it helped me to feel better for a bit.. but I struggled academically.. ( especially math.. mental block I was told.. just work harder!) Yelled at for my behavior and I shut down for a long time.. never got to college.. did do Nursing for almost 40 years.. but, once computers were used… always called out for poor time management and later written up for that.. .. burned out.. hurt my health and income.. finally after I lost my position and hurt and hurting I used that darn computer to do research on what only I knew to myself…. Talked to my medical doctor and sent for testing which confirmed what I experienced and struggled to.. I was 56 .. .. but, finally .. answers.. it did not have to be that way.. i feel like you.. makes me cry too.. i gave it my all.. those young woman are amazing.. ❤️

Expand full comment
Apr 30Liked by Shannon Watts

YES YES YES!!!! They simply didn’t care — or said “it’s just perimenopause, it’s natural”.

Expand full comment

This makes me so angry. “Oh it’s just those weird women’s hormones again.” 😡

Expand full comment
May 2Liked by Shannon Watts

Made me cry too 💕

Expand full comment
May 12Liked by Shannon Watts

I remember a college-rejection letter - ‘classic under-achiever’. WTF if I have high test scores and makes As in some classes would I CHOOSE do to poorly?? Boggles the mind.

Expand full comment

Wow, “high achieving quitter” nails the description of my childhood through adulthood. I’ve never heard anyone describe it so well.

Expand full comment

:) You are not alone!

Expand full comment

Oof. Wow. High achieving quitter. That landed. Hard. Thank you for sharing. Your experience only boosts my curiosity around hope for HRT to help me. Good luck to you.

Expand full comment

I'm 65, and adhd has been my life long companion. The conservative parenting style of the 1960s and 1970s did not allow for neurdivergence; it wasn't really a thing and everything I ever did chaotically was put down to laziness, clumsiness and not maximizing potential.

I am currently tapering paxil, which I've taken for 6 years this month. I've improved my adhd dramatically through behavioral techniques, exercise and diet. It still kicks in with misplaced things, forgetting things and so on, but I also know that my adhd is my superpower for being very creative.

I want to hug every person who had to suffer with this iin childhood and the rest of life. My story leads me to say get help and get healthy. And love your creative, beautiful self. 🧡

Expand full comment
May 3Liked by Shannon Watts

I agree with this. I have a love/hate relationship with ADHD. It was the silent source of confusion and shame when I was young, but it has been a blessing in my adult life as an artist.

Expand full comment

I’m 59 and just looking at my life through an ADHD lens. Oof. And my symptoms are worsening with age, divorce, stress and menopause

Hugs back at you

Expand full comment
May 1Liked by Shannon Watts

Diagnosed a year & 1/2 ago at age 55 - 2 years after my 2 HS aged kids were. I took adderall for a while but I'd get heart palps & w/my family's history of A-fib I thought I'd see if I could manage w/o. But it worked SO well, omg. If I can't get my shit together I may try to go back - I don't know. I do use cannabis to sleep & to manage the anxiety that comes w/ADHD but it's not perfect & I've been cutting back.

So, I'm left with strategies - and as I read more and more about different ways to address things like procrastination & lack of exec function, I realize that these techniques do work! If only I could consistently do them! So I try new things like telling family & friends about what I'm struggling with - giving myself some outside accountability. And just this week that helped me finish something that I started months ago! But it's still a struggle & it gets frustrating. I feel tired a lot and like I want a magic bullet to fix this, but I try to remind myself that I am new to the diagnosis and the pandemic/my kids graduating HS wiped out a huge portion of my routine, which it turns out I desperately need.

But w/the continued struggles has come a ton of new realizations about myself bc I finally have the proper framework with which to examine my behavior. I've learned that I can be really really REALLY bad at estimating time & that I do need to be intentional about keeping myself busy/interested or else my brain will stop caring & tune out and there is almost nothing I can do to stop that from happening in the moment.

Most of all though I am profoundly grateful that I found out because ultimately what the diagnosis gave me was a way to begin to stop hating myself for all the times I fucked up & couldn't figure out why, so I decided I was a broken, terrible person. And that has been life-altering, in the best sense of the word.

Thanks for the opportunity to share - I appreciate you.

Expand full comment
May 1Liked by Shannon Watts

Hi! Just wanted to say that Adderall did the same to me. Fortunately, if I take a low dose of methylphenidate it doesn’t seem to cause the heart palpitations. If the dosage goes up too high sometimes I do experience the palpitations, so for now my doctor and I keep it at a low dosage. Also, there are non stimulant ADHD medications that might work for you. I have thought about trying them if the methylphenidate stops working for me. Good luck!

Expand full comment

I’ve been on regular adderall and the XR at different times, the XR always gave me palpitations. Just wondering if maybe it’s the same for others?

Expand full comment

Yes!! Regular dose has worked well tried the XR version and WHOA - ended up in the hospital having my heart restarted. XR needs to be handled with extreme caution. Not sure its meant for women in peri or menopause where heart palps are side effects to begin with. I am back to regular low dose with no issues.

Expand full comment

Yes!!! I was on regular adderall with miraculous results. I’m 52 now. After 5 years my doc switched me to XR version for some vague reason. I had palpitations and felt speedy and angry alll the time. I switched to another doctor 4 years ago and have been on 20mg twice daily with no issues.

Expand full comment

Sounds exactly like me and I’m also 52 now! Must be something with the extended release that increases the side effect. I’m very lucky to have found a younger doctor that truly listens to me and works with me, I hope you have the same now.

Expand full comment
May 1Liked by Shannon Watts

Thank you for writing this- I feel

less alone now! I’ve suspected for several years that undiagnosed ADHD was the culprit behind my chronic tardiness, inability to finish projects, forgetfulness, distractibility when trying to read books or long articles, hyper-focus on certain tasks or projects, and what I perceive as my “failure to live up to my potential” (though from the outside I don’t think I’m perceived that way). My brain has gotten even more foggy since I went through early menopause at 47. Even my teen/tween kids have started to say, “mom, you should really get diagnosed.” Last week I decided I definitely need to seek help after breaking down in tears when I couldn’t find orders for bloodwork I need to manage a thyroid disorder. My forgetfulness has negatively affected my career, my relationships, and is literally affecting my health!

I’m sorry for your struggles Shannon, & all you other commenters. It is a comfort to know we’re in this together.

Expand full comment
May 1Liked by Shannon Watts

Get the diagnosis! I can't tell you why but even after my 2 teens got diagnosed it still didn't even enter my mind that I could have it until they said (just like yours!), "uh, mom? We think you have it too." It was LIFE CHANGING.

Expand full comment

That’s what my daughter said to me too after she was diagnosed at 30. I still haven’t sought a diagnosis but a using several strategies to manage it. I plan to get an evaluation mostly for validation.

Expand full comment

I have a thyroid disorder also and that adds to the brain fog and forgetfulness. I think you will feel so much better when you get diagnosis and treatment. If nothing else, you'll understand that this is a medical issue and not a personal flaw. Good luck!

Expand full comment

Me too! Hashimotos?

Expand full comment
May 14Liked by Shannon Watts

Yep! 25 years ago I got the diagnosis.

Expand full comment
May 3Liked by Shannon Watts

thank you for posting this. it’s even more difficult as a black woman to be diagnosed. in western culture, we’re automatically treated with disdain and characterized as “angry,” “dramatic,” and “difficult.” this is the default particularly in countries like the US where we’ve got inherited trauma and are tormented in every facet of that society. expressing ourselves and having a wide range of emotions, which is considered normal and human in non-industrialized countries, is pathologized, especially when we do it. and you’re gaslit for responding to the inhumanity of being the bane of everyone’s existence and also needing to strive ten times harder for any and everything. it’s brutal. you’re also tasked with doing PR for and saving an entire race of people and it’s exhausting. i found out at 35 i have adhd and at 36 i am autistic & it blew my world wide open. being gifted but also disappointing everyone because i had no idea i needed more support, meant that i dealt with chronic housing and job insecurity while masking that i was ok. and no one offered any compassion or help because i’m a black woman, so i’m either a punching bag or someone’s personal oprah. autistic people are also 3 to 4 times more likely to suffer myriad forms of abuse and black women already deal with high rates of abuse, a lot of it coming from intimate partners, family and religious communities. it truly is a wonder i made it out of the US alive. i now live internationally in places where my neurodivergent traits don’t assign me to a life of instability, disrespect and ostracism. couldn’t have done that without my diagnosis, though. so grateful so many women are getting free.

Expand full comment
May 5·edited May 5

Where do you live? I’m white so our experiences are different but I’ve long noticed that NT white women more than anyone else treat me with disdain lol

Expand full comment

a life of state-sanctioned perpetual torture and accompanying gaslighting while cobbling together a semblance of an existence (by yourself) with nothing but krazy glue and prayer, seeing every day you don’t die by suicide as a victory while everyone around you pretends like you’re not being pulverized — but instead that you are the problem (and they repeal any reticence in telling you so) — and living in an alternate reality from the rest of the earth who watches the wealthiest country in the world in horror of the treatment of its own citizens (but they can’t say anything because the US is the world’s bully), never knowing you could just leave said country because even though everyone in it is absolutely miserable, they are also absolutely helpless and feel a dogged sense of loyalty to a country that facilitates their worst nightmares and also being a survivor of retaliatory homelessness, child abuse of every sort nearly from birth, quiet (and loud) firings, betrayal and abandonment, lawsuits, punishment for every accomplishment (just to put you in your place for being so audacious) and “disdain” from NT people of your own race are not the same.

Expand full comment

By disdain, I meant things like being sexually abused as punishment from an NY white woman family member 🤷‍♀️

Expand full comment

wow, my comment was not a space for you to unload your trauma. that is extremely triggering and inappropriate. black women expressing their pain is not an entry point for white women to us as a dumping ground or doing the oppression olympics. somehow my comment about black women has now become about you. you see how that happened? you could have just read my comment and kept it moving. this is another reason i’m glad i don’t live in the US — this type of casual violence that muzzles and erases a black woman’s pain and self-expression. i’d appreciate if you could erase your comments because they are extremely triggering, inappropriate and have absolutely nothing to do with the point i was making about my experience as a disabled black woman barely surviving the nightmare that is the US. if you want to express your opinion, you can do it on the original post by the author instead of piggybacking on my post and triggering me.

Expand full comment

WOW that is a definition of disdain that was not in my copy of Merriam-Webster.

Expand full comment

I’m grateful you found an answer

Expand full comment

yup, “leave the US,” “go no-contact with family and toxic friends,” “unlearn colonialism,” and “live in places where people care about human beings,” was a great place to start actually living and loving myself. i cannot be around people who do not evolve and live with integrity.

Expand full comment

Live in power, you have all my respect.

Expand full comment

thank you for your kind words. i’m a haitian new yorker and of west african descent. i’m only on this earth to disrupt systems, make art, set myself and my people free while looking damn good doing it and experiencing more joy than & redemption than i can describe in words.

Expand full comment
Apr 30Liked by Shannon Watts

I was just diagnosed two months ago at age 49 after my marriage counselor said she thought I had it. That’s crazy, I thought, couldn’t be me.

I think I just coped all these years. Then, the same week everything shut down in 2020, my 6-year-old was diagnosed with ADHD. Over the past four years my ability to focus and just to power through has seriously eroded. It’s impacted my job most critically but my home life too. Compulsive spending and overeating, anyone? Not officially in perimenopause yet but I’d be shocked if that wasn’t driving the pronounced symptoms too.

I’ve been prescribed meds but there’s still that national shortage. But I’m really curious to see if it helps. I can’t believe how much of a thing this is for Gen X and now it’s specifically my thing!

Expand full comment
Apr 30·edited May 3Liked by Shannon Watts

As we speak, I’m writing a paper for a psychology final (I’m a 48yo college student)on — get this — women and adhd/why have we been overlooked…

I really managed fairly well just by coping — though anxiety and some depression have been always present. Having my 3rd child in 2009 was the tipping point for me — things just got harder there, but still, I pushed through. Over the last 4-6 years, with perimenopause joining the fun, my distractibility, foggy brain, and scatterbrain-ness has gone into overdrive. I often joked about having adhd, but never sought help. (For the record — I’m pretty sure my husband is SUPER neurotypical, one kid is diagnosed AudDHD (autism & adhd), and my other 2 are likely adhd as well. When I finally did mention it to my doctor it still took almost a year for her to say — yeah see a psychiatrist. When I was finally working with a psychiatrist, being evaluated (SO VALIDATING!!), and ultimately on Adderall + therapy, things turned around. This is a real problem for us GenX-ers. I could never be a successful student without the treatment program — I’m finally close to getting my BS. I dropped out of college at 21 with 75+ credits because I just couldn’t handle a course load plus working full time. Now — I’m so close!

Full disclosure— I am also on hormone replacement therapy. Thanks, Perimenopause.

Teri

Expand full comment
Apr 30Liked by Shannon Watts

Thank you for writing about this! I feel so validated in your words and those of the women commenting. I was not diagnosed until my mid 40’s and as I look back I feel cheated and angry. There were so many signs; I didn’t speak until I was 3 yrs old, inattentive, detrimental procrastination even though I was and am normally such a compliant rule follower, stimming (hair twirler like my Dad among other things), hyper focus on things that I was interested in, always in trouble for being too talkative with my friends in class, anxiety, and intermittent depression, the list goes on. I also know I suffer from dyscalculia. I somehow was able to manage with strict routines and coping strategies, so I wouldn’t forget anything, which led to control issues and more anxiety. I wasn’t able to finish college, it was too overwhelming with working full time. My kids were diagnosed with ADHD (ironically although they are both adopted) and then eventually Autism and, through my journey with them, I began to recognize my struggles and see how neurodiversity ran throughout my family. Through it all I managed, until I couldn’t. Peri menopause started early and then menopause and with the pressures of advocating for services and benefits and school supports for my kids (that is an entire other journey/nightmare) and being the one to handle the executive functioning responsibilities for my kids and my ADHD husband (he was diagnosed as a young boy), I broke. And now at 52, I’m trying to put the pieces back together and continue to take care of my kids and it all feels so defeating most of the time. Hormones and medication have helped some and talk therapy was so enlightening and helpful, before my insurance stopped covering it. It’s been a journey and it feels so lonely. So I appreciate this conversation and I think it is so important for our children , especially girls today. It is what drove me to advocate so hard for my daughter and my son, and eventually as an IEP advocate for other children. Hyper focus does pay off sometimes! Also, I want to say that while reading your piece I had a light bulb moment, prior I understood masking as it pertained to Autism, but for some reason I never applied it to ADHD or to myself, and I now realize that is what I have done my whole life. It is changing my perspective of myself and my struggles and I feel an amazing amount of grace and empathy for myself with this newfound knowledge. Thank you!

Expand full comment
May 1Liked by Shannon Watts

You are soooo not alone!! We are your people 🩷

Expand full comment
May 1Liked by Shannon Watts

You are so not alone.

Expand full comment

“Executive Function Responsibilities” - Thank you for that term!!!

Expand full comment
May 2Liked by Shannon Watts

56. Diagnosed ADHD inattentive last year after the death of my husband. I have become a woman I don't recognize. The brain fog is the worst. I had a mental health emergency in March and I'm finally taking my mental health seriously for the first time in my life.

Expand full comment
author

I’m so sorry ❤️

Expand full comment
May 2Liked by Shannon Watts

I’m so sorry for your loss. I was diagnosed in 2020 and my husband died last year. It really does feel like the grief takes up all my executive function.

Expand full comment

Trauma and ADHD have a lot of overlapping symptoms, including inability to focus and other EF skills. So sorry for your loss.

Expand full comment
May 1Liked by Shannon Watts

This is so incredibly spot on.

I’ve not been diagnosed but after reading so much about inattentive adhd and math dyslexia, it describes so much of what I have experienced.

My issues caused me to drop out of college, which has led to a lifetime of judgement and shame as literally the only person without a degree in my family.

I made it work and ended up working in a sales environment but then got married and have been a stay at home mom to 4 kids.

My anxiety was through the roof as my kids were growing up - my time management is non existent so I am 1/2 hour early to everything and have a severe fear of not having enough time so only thinking I can accomplish a few things a day.

Now going through menopause, I am doing hormone therapy and that has helped but my self esteem is nonexistent.

I’m thankful that my husband and kids are a dream so it’s easy to hide but I struggle daily with even wanting to leave the house some days.

I could write an entire novel as to how this has affected my life

Expand full comment
May 1Liked by Shannon Watts

Wow! I relate to everything everything you’re saying!! Hang in there!!

Expand full comment
Apr 30Liked by Shannon Watts

I’m an “elder-millennial” “xennial” with a birthday in 1983 and I was just diagnosed with ADHD this past month. I’ve see therapists and psychiatrists since I was FIVE—always for generalized anxiety and then panic disorder. My therapist likened it to a pot of noodles that’s been cooked and then congealed-we’re just pulling them apart! I have definitely had some feelings of grief and an identity crisis. So many things now “make sense.”

Expand full comment

I was born in 1987, we started looking at ADHD diagnosis when my oldest was getting a lot of incident reports shortly after the birth of my second kid at the end of 2019. Once we started to learn more it became clear to me that my husband and I both had ADHD. None of us are on meds still but I often wonder if we weren’t self employed and able to set our own schedules how much harder it would be.

Expand full comment
May 4Liked by Shannon Watts

Thanks for your work on this Shannon — this is really important research. It’s quite shocking to see comments from so many women who have shared this experience, as it’s such a lonely one. Diagnosis in my early 40s has changed my life, but has also been very destabilising; it turned the volume way up on the awful negative messaging which had been playing in my head since I was a child. I had been repeatedly told that I was lazy, that I “wasn’t trying” and that I was a procrastinator. I internalised all of this and it festered, becoming chronic anxiety and debilitating depression. With my diagnosis, suddenly I could hear all that messaging for what it was, but the grief that came with this realisation has been enormous.

Expand full comment
May 4Liked by Shannon Watts

I feel this to my core. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cried on my way to something because I’m going to be late despite spending days planning for it.

The shame is huge and real….but also just some bitch in our head who suffers from faulty programming.

Hugs to you❤️❤️

Expand full comment

🩷🩷

Expand full comment

I’m a Gen X-er going through my ADHD diagnosis in my early 50’s after my Gen Z daughter was diagnosed aged 20. I relate to so much of this !

Expand full comment

“my separation anxiety made me flee friends’ sleepovers in the middle of the night” !!!!!!! I did this! I was also diagnosed w ADHD as an adult. When I told my stepmother this she said ‘but you were so organized—I’ve never seen such an organized child.’ Of course that’s a classic symptom of girls/women w ADHD. I struggled so much w school and didn’t start thriving until I started working. It’s enraging how girls and women are IGNORED by the medical establishment—when will it stop.

Expand full comment
May 2Liked by Shannon Watts

This made me cry too. I didn't know my struggles were because of ADHD until I was diagnosed at 48, following my son's diagnosis. Everything suddenly made so much sense - my "misbehavior," acting out, struggles in school, and on and on. I was in a fundamentalist Christian school in the 80s and would be sent out of class regularly for not sitting still and/or talking. The principal would spank me with a huge wooden board. I carried that with me. The shame of it. Now I'm a menopausal mother of 4, with a full time, high stress career, juggling all of the balls. Overwhelmed and exhausted. No time for therapy and still trying to find the right medication. Thank you for bringing this to light and helping us all to see that we are not alone. It means the world.

Expand full comment

I don’t want to shame you in any way whatsoever, and I know it’s difficult to access therapy for many. But if it helps, please know that space with my therapist to process how my life was and how it is changing post-diagnosis at 42 has been genuinely life changing. I don’t actually feel like there is time for it! But when I complain to her that “but saying yes to me is saying no to someone else,” she reminds me, gently, that yes, that’s the point.

Expand full comment