ADHD is a complex disorder that affects every facet of a person’s life. A late diagnosis can amplify the negative effects, as sufferers lack the “tool box” of strategies developed by doctors and long-time ADHD whizzes. Late diagnosis, unfortunately, is particularly common in women.
Symptoms from girlhood
Lots of the women I’ve spoken to have displayed what they now recognise as symptoms of ADHD for a very long time – going all the way back to primary school.
However, as the disorder is most obvious (and thus more studied) in boys, it was rarely caught.
In fact, anyone at school just 15-20 years ago probably had teachers who thought ADHD was a boys’-only disorder.
Girls are more likely to have inattentive ADHD – less of the H, still plenty of the AD!
Women with late ADHD diagnoses are often unpleasantly familiar with such refrains as:
• “Clever, but just doesn’t apply herself…”
While the boys bounce off classroom walls, causing enough trouble to get themselves assessed, their female counterparts are drifting off into daydreams; quietly struggling to juggle responsibilities and often slipping into underachievement. This, as you might imagine, comes with low self-esteem and anxiety.
As time goes on, unchecked ADHD becomes more destructive. The disorder in teenage girls is a dangerous thing. Puberty hits hard. A tangle of temptations and mental distress comes knocking… and untreated ADHD leaves the door wide open.
Teenage girls with ADHD are particularly vulnerable to things like eating disorders, depression and various anxieties. The social and academic pressures pile up while the girls feel increasingly inadequate – they don’t know why they can’t do things like everyone else.
This article, from Voice, is about teenage girls – I think it straddles the two ‘eras’ of childhood and teen years well. It has a lot of poignant and useful information, but one quote sticks out to me enough to pull it out:
Many women with ADHD often recall feeling “different” from the other girls when growing up and being marginalised by their peer group. The need to overcome this apparent “difference” and to be accepted by the peer group during the teenage years is intense and in an effort to “belong” it may lead to dangerous or self-destructive behaviour.
How is it hidden?
Many girls (and then women) with ADHD curate impressive “coping mechanisms” and veneers of cool to hide their problems. This is partly due to higher social pressure to be put together and ladylike (the male equivalent is not, generally speaking, pressed upon boys so early).
Unfortunately, if the disorder is undiagnosed, these coping mechanisms are often sticking plasters rather than long-term solutions.
Their existence further reduces the chance for diagnosis. Not only that, but a cool and calm exterior can make it more shocking when the person struggling beneath finally cracks in an emotional outburst or angry rebelliousness.
ADHD in adult women
Late diagnoses are common in women (although increased awareness of ADHD is shifting the bar encouragingly).
This delay can be damaging.
• Career progression is slowed
• Social bonds (both platonic and romantic) can be damaged and often toxic
• Substance abuse is more likely
• Impulsive spending affects finances
• Small lapses like unpaid parking fines can add up and hurt credit records
• Lack of follow-through with projects further damages self-esteem
• Anxiety and depression is common
Moving past the damage
A lot of the women I’ve worked with have felt bitter about their late diagnosis. How might things have been different, they ask? What pain might I have avoided?
It’s difficult not to go down that path of thought. Relationships, academia and career, health and finances may have all been impacted by uncaught ADHD. The knocks to mental health, which we can be ill-equipped to deal with because of our brain chemistry, are not trivial.
But more important is the drive to meet our potential in the present and future.
The kind of hypnotherapy I specialise in (see details here) doesn’t dwell on the past. We look at it to pinpoint current symptoms – but then our focus is pointed at finding solutions to those, more present, problems.
If you’d like to discuss this further, please don’t hesitate to contact me.