The day I was diagnosed with ADHD, I was on a telehealth call with my therapist. I thought we would have our typical conversations about my anxiety, my mom, or school. She switched the conversation around and asked,
“Taylor, have you ever been diagnosed with any learning disabilities?”
I replied, “No, but I always thought I had one and wouldn’t be surprised if I did.”
She responded with, “I believe you have ADHD.”
I was relieved. I thought it was about damn time someone noticed. I was already 21, so it felt a little late, but someone finally noticed.
After that, I did some more research on the subject and found that there was more information than five years ago. The diagnosis of “ADD” was not an outdated term, it’s very similar to Autism, and women are less likely to be diagnosed with it. This meant plenty of young women received a late ADHD or Autism diagnosis.
Women, young girls, and teens can be undiagnosed for years after struggling with symptoms. Researchers believe they primarily have inattentive ADHD instead of hyperactive-impulsive presentation, which is more present in boys. Other mental health conditions co-occur with ADHD, like depression and anxiety, and women are more likely to be diagnosed with those before their ADHD diagnosis.
The long history of gender and racial bias in the medical field can contribute to this frustrating journey. Healthy concerns are often downplayed, mistreated, or ignored by doctors. When the patient is Black, Asian, Indigenous, or Latinx is often magnified.
By the end of my research, I was very annoyed because, once again, the medical system failed women and people of color.
I was even more frustrated with the fact that women were most likely diagnosed with mood disorders before getting the right diagnosis.
Dealing with misdiagnosis for years can lead many people to develop unhealthy coping mechanisms, or build upon an already-mounting sense of identity confusion.
“Why do I feel this way?” and “Who am I?” are questions we all ask ourselves at some point in our lives, but living with ADHD, and not KNOWING that you’re living with it, only intensifies these feelings.
So getting that diagnosis made me reconsider a lot of things–about myself, about my coping mechanisms, and about how I wanted to live.
Maybe you feel the same way if you too find yourself with a new diagnosis and a not-so-new adult life.
Now that we’ve reached adulthood, we have to learn how to change these habits we developed in our adolescents.
Not all of my research was disappointing, and I found information that has helped me live with my ADHD and other women who have had the same experiences as me.
It takes a lot of trial and error, and I’m learning new things about myself every day.
1. Remember your symptoms.
ADHD can be very confusing because of all the contradictory symptoms that come along with it. You can spend hours fixating on how to make kombucha at home but then have trouble focusing on regular tasks.
My symptoms change throughout the month and feel more intense when I’m PMSing. If you’re a person who menstruates and has ADHD, you can expect your symptoms to be heightened during this time. That means you are more prone to be impulsive, forgetful, and agitated. It’s very annoying, but there are ways to cope with this.
I know I have two weeks out of the entire month where my memory is fully intact, and I can concentrate a little. Then during the last two weeks, I’m not mentally available to do anything, but I have to implement different exercises to alleviate my symptoms.
It’s all about understanding your behavior and learning how to adjust to any changes that might occur. ADHD also changes as you get older, so it’s great to check in on yourself to see how you have to manage your symptoms.
2. Find your tools.
I have always been embarrassed to ask for help. When I was diagnosed, I was on the fence about telling professors or employers about it. Even though I could utilize my university’s disability services, I didn’t want to because I didn’t think I needed the extra help, which was silly.
There’s nothing wrong with finding and using resources that will make your life easier, and make you feel more understood by the people around you.
You don’t have to disclose if you have ADHD to anyone if you’re not comfortable with them not knowing.
Like many others, I feared that employers would hold the fact that I need accommodations against me even though they’re legally not supposed to.
There’s one thing I have had trouble doing, and that’s reading, yet, I chose to be a writer. To help me get through long readings, I would turn on my text-to-speech tool so I could read along with the robot’s voice. If I’m reading a book, I’ll place a bookmark underneath the sentence so I won’t get distracted by the other words. There are a bunch of text-to-speech programs available for anyone with reading difficulties.
Body doubling is another strategy you can use to make doing tasks easier. It’s when you have another person around you while you work on certain tasks. They don’t have to assist with the work you’re doing, but having a social presence can make the mundane activity more enjoyable.
You may not have people around you who can always work alongside you. You can join virtual body doubling sessions with people with ADHD.
3. Try to love and accept the parts of yourself that ADHD has made you insecure about.
Being a perfectionist is one of the wonderful traits of having ADHD– at least for me.
We’re people who are known for making little mistakes. We can struggle with deadlines, prioritization and completion of tasks and time management. All of this can be perceived very negatively by others who do not understand. We feel the weight of this all the time.
We know these things about ourselves.
I certainly do.
So we perfect everything to overcompensate for past mishaps.
But perfectionism is an ineffective way to cope with the anxiety you feel about your performance.
There have been plenty of days where I woke up and wished that I was “normal” so I wouldn’t make mistakes or so I could finally meet a deadline. I worry about being perceived as “lazy” or “unmotivated.” I question my own attention to detail and ability to self-discipline.
But all of those qualities are my brain, they’re not ME, as a person.
And they’re not you either.
Exerting all your energy into over-correcting can be exhausting and depleting, and you deserve more than that.
We all do.
The best thing to do is to accept the fact that you’re going to make little mistakes, and it has nothing to do with your character.
You are you, and that is more than enough.
4. Find your community.
It’s easy to feel misunderstood by people who don’t have ADHD.
This is magnified if you’re someone who wasn’t diagnosed until later in life.
I remember telling my mom that I had ADHD, and she didn’t believe me. I don’t think she believes me now because she dodges it whenever we have a conversation.
I still get annoying comments like, “Everyone is a little ADHD,” or “You just need to focus more.”
It’s just not that simple, and it’s important to know that statements like that can make people feel small and minimized when they are in fact dealing with a serious condition.
The best thing to do is to find a community of people who have shared experiences.
The first page I found was I Am Paying Attention which is an ADHD + Autistic community platform created by Jess Joy and Charlotte Mia. Then I found Rene Brooks, who started Black Girl, Lost Keys, to support Black women who have ADHD.
Here’s a list of more ADHD and Autism advocates, educators, and life coaches that may help you with your neurodivergent journey:
Sasha Hamdani, MD @thepsychdoctormd
Hayley Honeyman @hayley.honeyman
Sistas with ADHD @sistaswithadhd
Ariana Gonzalez @aaari.adhd
Torrian Timms @torrianisallthings
Irene C. @self_embark
ADHD is very complex, and everyone’s experience with it is unique.
Remember to have compassion for yourself and that you’re not alone in this journey.