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  • Writer's pictureCheryl Gigler

Wired & Tired: A Day in the Life of Women with ADHD


Are you the woman who is up to all hours of the night, unable to drag yourself out of bed in the morning? You may stumble to the coffee pot, trying to gear up for another day in the world of the scattered. You are pedaling as fast as you can, but things seem to always fall through the cracks, and not for the lack of trying. There is always one more thing to do, and you’re late for everything.


Once you get going, you don’t want to stop. Not only do you have a lot to make up for, but you may never get started again. You are paralyzed by your to-do list and get buried under the pile of laundry and mounds of paperwork. With each passing day, your fuse gets shorter and you fall more behind. You forget to send that birthday card in time and the thought of having company strikes fear into your soul. You dread after-school time as you try to dredge up the energy to work with kids on homework. Suddenly, it is 6 p.m.! Your spouse walks in the door and wonders what’s for dinner. By the time the kids are in bed, you are wiped out. Nonetheless, you stay up to get things done while it’s quiet. You struggle with getting yourself to go to bed, and then you are lucky if you can shut your mind off to fall asleep. Suddenly it’s morning. You hit the snooze button repeatedly, crack open your eyes, and it starts all over again!


Welcome to the world of women with ADHD!


Issues Unique to Women

Women face a number of unique issues when it comes to ADHD. Chief among them is that that they are likely to struggle for years with undiagnosed ADHD, leading to deep feelings of inadequacy. They may wonder why everyday tasks feel so overwhelming, when other people seem to manage them so easily.


Diagnosed later in life

Women who weren’t diagnosed with ADHD as children are typically 36 to 38 years old when they learn they have the disorder, according to Dr. Patricia Quinn, director of the National Center for Girls and Women with ADHD. Before that time, women are likely to be diagnosed with a mood disorder or anxiety, Quinn says. Though these two conditions often coexist with ADHD, these diagnoses don’t get to the root of the issue, Quinn explains.


Diagnosed less frequently than men

A 2017 report issued by the National Institutes of Health stated that males are three times as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD as females. Linda Roggli, an ADHD coach who specializes in women’s issues, says that it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that women and girls began to be diagnosed with ADHD at all. This was due in large part to the groundbreaking book by therapist Sari Solden, Women with ADHD.


Girls and women tend to have the inattentive presentation of ADHD, according to Solden. This is one of the reasons that their symptoms often go under the radar. Women can also have a hyperactive presentation, but it may look different than it does in men. For instance, they may “hyper talk” or have trouble relaxing.


Inattentive girls and women often lose things, make careless mistakes, and get distracted easily, according to Roggli, host of the ADHD Women’s Palooza, a yearly online conference. They also may avoid tasks that take a lot of mental energy and focus, be disorganized, lose track of time, have trouble following through, and easily get overwhelmed and anxious, Roggli said.


Traditional Role Expectations

No matter how wonderful our partners are, there seem to be many unwritten expectations that fall to women. Day-to-day living is hard enough without thinking about major holidays such as Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, or Christmas. There are often expectations placed on women, such as shopping, cooking, cleaning, entertaining, baking, etc. You may feel “under the microscope” to perform, or to measure up to cultural standards or stereotypical expectations of women.


Perfectionism

The pressure that you feel may very well come from within. Procrastination is very connected to perfectionism. Having to do something perfectly makes it very difficult to start. We often feel so out of control that we become rigid in our thinking: all-or-nothing. Our popcorn thinking can get us into a great deal of trouble, because we get off on too many tangents, complicating the task at hand.


We, like the general ADHD population, have a hard time selecting. Planning a menu can be difficult when there are so many choices. Creating a 45-minute presentation can be a challenge, because how can you narrow down and choose the most relevant information?


Hormonal Fluctuations

There is an important connection between hormones and ADHD that affect girls and women. We know that hormone levels fluctuate monthly as well as over a woman’s life. As a general principal, when estrogen in low, ADHD symptoms are worse. This can look like a young adult, right before her period, a woman after giving birth, or a woman in peri menopause or menopause. Low estrogen leads to a decrease in serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain, causing symptoms such as moodiness, irritability, fatigue and memory lapses. ADHD meds at their normal dose don’t seem to work as well. There are providers who work with women to increase their dose of ADHD meds in order to accommodate shifts in estrogen. This can be very important for women post menopause when there is a natural cognitive decline.


While estrogen may enhance the effectiveness of ADHD medications, it may not be the case for girls in puberty where there is also an increase in the hormone progesterone. Patricia Quinn, M.D, asserts that women with ADHD experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS) more acutely than women who don’t have the condition. In addition, treating ADHD can improve the symptoms of PMS as well. Learn more in an article by Laura Flynn McCarthy, “Women, Hormones, and ADHD.”


What Can Help:


  • Get a Physical: ADHD is considered a “rule-out” diagnosis. Getting a physical is recommended to rule out other medical conditions that can mimic the traits of ADHD, such as impaired thyroid function, for example.

  • Check your hormone levels: The better your estrogen levels are, the more ADHD symptoms are controlled and the more effective your ADHD medication will be.

  • Get the diagnosis: If you even suspect that you have ADHD, get an official diagnosis from a psychiatrist or psychologist. Check out local providers from either CHADD or ADDA.

  • Consider Medication: Though medication may not be for everyone, when it works it is a beautiful thing. About 80 percent of people with ADHD respond well to stimulant medication. Women in childbearing years my benefit from increasing ADHD meds prior to their monthly cycle, when estrogen tends to drop. This can also support menopausal women who experience a decline in estrogen.

  • Drop Perfectionism: Procrastination is often linked to perfectionism, which tends to freeze us up. What does a “good enough” job look like in any arena of life? If a task is “not perfect” and we tweak it too long, it may never actually get done.

  • Simplify: One way to simplify is to ask the question, “what is today’s priority?” Priorities are like the bumpers used in bowling for children. Bumpers allow the ball to stay centered and to actually hit the pins. Priorities support you in prioritizing: keeping some things in and keeping other things out.

  • Delegate: The problem with delegating is that you have to be organized in order to do so! Looking ahead and having a plan is a prerequisite to asking for help. Many of us believe that we “should” be able to do this or that.

  • Eliminate: We all have the same number of hours per day and are not often realistic as to what we can accomplish. Where can you streamline any process? It might look like eating out or picking up take-out food to eliminate hours of cooking and clean-up.

  • Under promise and over deliver: Many women are afraid to say ‘no.’ My coach would say to me: “If you say ‘no’ to this, what are you saying ‘yes’ to?” For example, if I say ‘no’ to a last-minute request, then I am saying ‘yes’ to sticking to my plan for the day.

  • Subtract before you add: If you choose to add an activity or task to your schedule, then what thing will you take away?

  • Put yourself in the equation: Many women resist the idea of putting themselves first, but how about at least considering yourself in any situation? You are no more or less important than any one else. If you pay attention to what you need in any area of life, then others will benefit as a result. Not paying attention to what we need often results in anger, resentment, and frustration.

  • Restore: What brings energy back to you? It might look like putting your feet up for a few minutes each day or doing a mindless activity that gives your brain a rest.

  • Know your strengths and use them: Do something that you are good at, as often as you can! As we manage challenges, it is equally important to use our strengths.

  • Get support: Where do you want to go, or what do you need? Who can help? If certain areas of life were so easy, we would have conquered them a long time ago.


Sign-up you or your loved-one for a complimentary coaching session today!

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