I’ve been opening the box lid on whether I’m ADHD and, if so, how ADHD am I, what does it look like, what are the clues (a topic I touched upon when I first wrote about VASTness, which was at a stage I wasn’t quite ready to embrace the full-blown ADHD possibility for myself) and what does this mean to my daily life going forwards? What’s happened since is that, a lot like when I realised I am autistic (when I was 51), I am learning (at the age of nearly 54) that this is a defining trait, in fact so defining of me that it almost overshadows those that could be lumped together as “autistic”, which are more to do with my social skills, or lack thereof. Even sensory processing challenges turn out to be as much of a huge part of being ADHD as they are of autism, so that factor about me (sensory processing issues being one of my very biggest things, as regular readers will know) leans me even further into the ADHD possibility.
What I’m actually feeling (from weeks of deep diving this from every single angle I can, including the studies, the anecdotes and real-life accounts of actual women with ADHD; in fact, especially feasting on those as they are a goldmine of relatability and far more “real” than any text books written by non-ADHD individuals!) is this. At some point in the not-too-distant future, the line between what is autism and what is ADHD or various other sensory, social or other challenges will start to blur, and we will all become less fixated on the labels and much more interested in how each individual presents, what are their unique symptoms, what do they struggle with, where are their strengths. Then, we might start to really get somewhere but, for now, that far healthier trend is starting to appear, quite organically, as a grassroots movement of women who are prepared to talk about these topics amongst themselves in blogs, videos and podcasts and that is where I am searching for relatability (not in the “science”).
This attitude is shared by autistic author, scientist and speaker Temple Grandin in her book The Autistic Brain, which I have been pouring over lately, in which she refers to the present culture of “label-locked thinking” and of studies that have “routinely emphasised only the negative aspects” (of autism or the same could be said of ADHD). Instead, as she points out, when we look at the individual, we can better determine the fix and celebrate the strengths, and that’s the angle that motivates me to explore these areas of my own wiring…not to pick fault with myself, to find things that are wrong, but to work on my strengths, to know better what I am dealing with. For the moment, I am far more likely to find those fixes and strengths being shared and discussed amongst other women wired somewhat like me than in any textbook or science journal, or sat even in front of a psychologist eager to hang a label around my neck.
That other thing, the elephant in the room, of course, is that so much stigma still lurks around these topics which can put us off from opening the lid on them, especially if we have already spent a lifetime feeling like we are “different somehow” to other people when, really, that is the best possible reason to seek answers and explore. When we find our own tribe, all that stigma is gone, it quite simply evaporates, and we are just one more of a vibrant group of women who “really get each other” far more than anyone we have ever met, who are so bizarrely similar to each other (with a myriad unique twists) that we can’t quite believe that we are part of a collective and not sticking out like that sore thumb so much at last!
So, personally, I have gained so much from this exploration, perhaps even more than I got out of exploring autism since ADHD gets closer to the way I think, the way I feel, what motivates me, what crashes me if I overdo it. What I really find in all the first person accounts of ADHD women I have now listened to is a giant fragment of me that almost defies description, one that was staring me right in the face all these years, in fact I tripped over it most days of the week. Whilst I still struggle to define it, its the underlying reason why I burn out yet I still can’t seem to stop, why I put myself under so much pressure, why I am always “on” until I am suddenly “off”, how I can be such a control freak yet struggle with executive function (especially when I am not interested or engaged!) and can be so impulsive, why diaries or being pinned down make me want to run to the hills, the sheer yo-yo intensity of my emotions and how frequently I feel “rejected” or “criticised” in everyday situations, the sheer paralysing anxiety in certain situations, how I get dragged off down one rabbit hole after another, the struggle against linear-thinking, how I am such a last-minute Charley though I loathe stress, can’t even begin to cope without daily routine yet abhor dullness or lack of adventure, why I crave exceptional stimulation yet get just so over-stimulated by ordinary things, how I can be both amped up and crashed out all at the same time, why I never give myself a break, why I get so hooked on things, often so compulsive and compelled, always so driven…even though I don’t know what I am driving towards half the time!
I also find my non-stop father, in spade loads, and all the hypertension he cranked up in himself, the same trait inside me if I let it, but at least I’ve learned (through all the years of chronic fatigue and sensory overwhelm) that I do have to pull back…at least sometimes…and have learned lifestyle approaches, mindfulness and natural means that help me to do that better/more often (otherwise I might already be a lot more like he was in his 50s, which wasn’t a healthy place). I also find at least two of the female members of my family that I can think of, with so many parallels between us all and the women I am hearing on my favourite podcast, interview after interview, that its like finding a sense of “tribe”.
Which urges me to say this, women with ADHD tend not look like men with ADHD; we often hide it, we work around it, we express it differently and we harness it in ways that allow us to excel and do our suffering in private, we even seem to feel about it a different way to most men, so its absolutely essential to find other women and hear what they have to say if you are going to work out if this is really you!
What I am also getting from this is one enormous sense of relief, of release, of letting go into the arms of the way I am made, instead of holding myself accountable for all my differences, trying to force such an unfeasible change in myself that it routinely breaks me down into despair since I am going against my very nature to do so. For years, I have pushed soooo hard against the way I am hardwired and now I can take a breather (I won’t quite say “stop” since I literally don’t know how…), to take stock and learn tactics, approaches, fixes and hacks, not only to make my life better but to harness this team of horses that seems to be attached to my head!
I was daunted by the prospect of ever writing on this topic, even though I knew I had to, as there is just so much to say if I get into symptoms and traits and I am sure I will branch out into sub-topics as they come up (sensory sensitivities in relation to ADHD is the one I really want to write about at some point soon) but for now I’m not going to overstretch myself as I want to relish my own maiden voyage of discovery. There are plenty of resources out there about ADHD…but then there aren’t enough, and certainly not about the female presentation of it, especially in women who didn’t realise until they were much further into their lives (as with autism, there is a rapidly growing cohort of us, in all walks of life) so I know I need to be around other women who have been through this process of later-life discovery, to see what I can learn from them.
Also, granted not everyone has ADHD and times of stress can sometimes make us feel like we are when we are not (you will hear people say things like “everyone is a bit ADHD”, but don’t let them brush you aside if you feel what you have is more than just “a bit”). Or, menopause and times of stress can actually make genuine ADHD traits more pronounced so that we notice them (or, can’t explain them away, manage or hide them!) for the first time in our lives, as happened to me. Comparing with other women who have ADHD is the only sure-fire way to assess for yourself and you will know, deep down, if this is you (as I really do, with absolutely no doubts now) when you spend time hearing them talk about their traits and experiences.
So, what I urge you to do, to save time and effort or trying to bore you with a long-winded account of my traits in common with dozens of other ADHD women which, if you are like me, you won’t want to read, is to go explore Tracy Otsuka’s podcast, ADHD for Smart Ass Women (on Spotify, Itunes and other outlets), which is not only the ADHD podcast that everyone seems to be talking about but one of the most highly rated podcasts in general. Its about exploring “your strengths, your symptoms, your workarounds…and how you proudly stand out instead of try to fit in” and has everything you need to make giant inroads into this topic, to try it on for size until you’re sure. If you happen to “find yourself” in there, you will love it…because its vibrant, varied, engaging, chatty, asking all the questions you would want to ask yourself and literally full to the brim of other women who may very-well remind you of yourself. Above all, I love it because its angle is “could ADHD be your greatest strength” which fits exactly with how I have approached all my foibles and so-called challenges. For me, its been like a little piece of heaven to find myself in there day after day since I first began gorging on its (so far) 164 episodes and I am thoroughly, true to type, addicted!
If you give it a try, and then this sounds like you, you will at least know where you are with this question and I will have done my work pointing you in the right direction. Meanwhile, you will have found a much cherished resource to help you through the early-days territory of finding out what being ADHD means to your life, how to work with it to support yourself and other people in your life through the transition of coming to terms with it and then how to harvest all its gifts. Go explore!