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ADHD Often Presents Differently In Women, And These Stories Are Eye-Opening

"Now that I know...it's made a world of difference in my life."

Lately, thanks to online resources like TikTok, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) in women has become a much larger conversation in the mental health space — particularly, how it's often overlooked in women and girls due to the fact that it often presents differently than in men and boys.

@samisays_

TikTok led me to get a diagnosis. I hope this helps. Make sure to ask your doctor & do not self-diagnose! #adhd #adhdtiktok #adhdinwomen #fyp

♬ Emotional Piano Instrumental In E Minor - Tom Bailey Backing Tracks

So to help increase visibility and understanding, we asked women in the BuzzFeed Community who have been diagnosed with ADHD to share their symptoms and experiences. Here are just a few of the hundreds of poignant responses we received:

Note: This post is not intended to treat or diagnose. An official diagnosis for ADHD can come from a licensed professional. If you're thinking you may have ADHD or ADHD symptoms, please consult your doctor.

1. "Having a younger brother with autism, I recognized that his struggles during childhood were always accepted as difficulties. As a woman, the symptoms of ADHD I had as a child were always named 'bad behavior' that 'needed to be corrected.' Even after my diagnosis as an adult, my parents still find it hard to understand, especially because I spent most of my childhood masking symptoms from them."

squirrelhiral

2. "I was diagnosed at 40 years old. I’m Hispanic, a femme lesbian, an academic, and athletic overachiever. When I was growing up, ADD/ADHD was for the little white boys who were literally bouncing off the walls. Finally, after years of pressure and performance, I confided in a dear friend what was happening in my head, and they asked me in all seriousness if I had considered an ADHD diagnosis. They pulled data, related it to what they saw/experienced with me, and it blew my mind. I felt seen and heard."

 "I went to my doctor, and she was amazing. I talked with her about my internal struggles and explained how it felt like I was constantly walking six different little dogs on six separate little leashes ALL the time. Cooking, getting ready, working, cleaning the house, researching, writing, shopping…everything I did, I had to do managing these six different little dogs, and I was exhausted but had no relief in sight. She immediately had me tested, and that confirmation lifted boulders of weight. High-functioning ADHD! I went on Vyvanse, and I could finally sleep without sleeping pills and melatonin. It was an amazing relief. I still have anxiety and depression, but even that is more manageable."

drmc31

3. "I never thought I would be diagnosed with ADHD, as I was a good student in high school, but I developed it more as an adult. I get easily overwhelmed, especially during work, and I have a really hard time completing a task. My mind goes into a thousand directions during said task, mostly about the other things I need to do."

"I either start a million projects and don’t finish them, or shut down completely, usually both. I need a lot of downtime to recover from overstimulation at work. I feel like a mess and a failure because I can’t keep my house clean, or keep up with making doctors appointments."

lnicolek012

A woman looking distressed and holding her head in her hands
Kseniya Ovchinnikova / Getty Images

4. "My experience with ADHD is mostly frustrating. It’s like having your mind bound by restraints, or having areas of your mind sealed off with blockades that only open briefly if given the correct passcode, but you’re never really certain what the passcode is."

—Anonymous

5. My mom tried to get me diagnosed with ADHD as a kid, but they told her I couldn't possibly have ADHD because I liked reading — despite having memory problems, trouble focusing, executive dysfunction, etc. Instead, I got put in the 'gifted and talented' program. When I got to college, I had a roommate with ADHD, and we were pretty similar, so I went to the school health services to do a test."

"They talked me through how to find out if my insurance covers the test and which forms to fill out. One of the questions on the diagnostic test was 'Do you have problems filling out paperwork?' and I'm 99% sure I missed a page when I was filling it out.

I got prescribed meds on my follow-up. Now that I know I have ADHD, I can work with it instead of feeling guilty when I can't do something, and it's made a world of difference in my life."

lepord257

6. "I was diagnosed by accident. After a sleep study, I was prescribed Provigil for excessive daytime sleepiness leading to chronic insomnia. My sleep neurologist asked me if I was having side effects like rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, and the like. When I said no, he said, 'You have ADHD. There's no other explanation for why you're not experiencing these side effects.' I was 50 years old. A few months later, I went to my headache neurologist. When I told him about the new medication, he asked the same questions, then also said, 'You have ADHD. Otherwise, you'd be having side effects.' It explained literally everything about my life."

nikkisevven

Alexis on schitt's creek saying, "now this all makes sense"
CBC

7. "I was diagnosed in my 30s. I always had difficulty with focus, emotional regulation, occasional hyperactivity, and hyper-focus. But I was a kid in the '90s, when ADHD was only for the boys who couldn't stop bouncing off the walls. I was well behaved in school because I was obsessed with learning things. I was lucky that despite my issues focusing, I still got decent grades so, y'know, there was NO WAY I could have ADHD in many people's minds."

"I got diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in my 20s, but the diagnosis never fit right with me, as I don't have abandonment issues or relationship problems. Eventually, I went to someone who was certain that I never had BPD, and diagnosed me with ADHD. Starting medication has been life-changing for me. I can get hold of my thoughts and deal with them now! I wish I was diagnosed as a kid, though."

elliewoolstenholmes

8. "I was diagnosed as a 33-year-old, married, mother of two. I was losing my mind and everything else. I couldn't remember anything, couldn't keep up with the cleaning in our house, and constantly interrupted people. I felt like a complete failure in every aspect of my life. The PA I see also works part-time in mental health. She immediately recognized the complaints I had as ADHD and sent me for testing. When it was confirmed, we've tried several different medicines, and I feel like a changed person. This is the person I always knew I could be. I just couldn't comprehend why. Being on medication has been life-changing."

—Anonymous

9. "The first time I thought I might have ADHD was when I saw a vlog from Colleen Ballinger stating that she was diagnosed with it after years of treatment. Her symptoms, like being disorganized, becoming hyper-fixated, etc. were mine too. I went to a psychiatrist for my depression, and while I was describing how I felt, he told me that my depression worsened my ADHD symptoms. I was very sad and disappointed in the system that didn't catch it earlier, and I can't stop thinking of all the difficulties I've gone through not knowing life's not as hard for neurotypical people. "

stardust98

Colleen Ballinger / Via youtube.com

10. "I was diagnosed with ADHD (combined type) last August at 28, and it started with a Reddit post in r/writing. Someone else had written about feeling like the creativity had been wiped out of them, and someone else in the comments section noted that they'd felt similarly and had recently been diagnosed with ADHD, and felt like it explained a lot. Something in their post caught my curiosity, and I started doing some research. The more I read about how ADHD presents itself in adult women, I just sat at my desk sobbing, because for the first time ever, I felt truly seen."

"I actually went through an online service to get a diagnosis since it was in the middle of the pandemic. I did my research to make sure it was reputable and talked at length about the report with the psychiatrist that made my diagnosis. I immediately made an appointment with my primary care doctor to get on medication. She put me on Adderall, and my whole life seemed to change. For the first time, all of the chaos in my head seemed to quiet, and I could really focus. I lost about 50 pounds and learned that I’m actually a bit of a neat freak. My relationships started to improve because I was actually responding to people in a timely manner and remembering birthdays again."

jennr4ab11fa64

11. "I was diagnosed in my late 20s, midway through my PhD. I thought my doctor wouldn't take me seriously since I was successful 'on paper,' but I'm so happy I brought it up. Medication helps a bit now, but really the main benefit for me was a formal diagnosis and hearing that it wasn't all 'just in my head (pardon the pun).'"

—Anonymous

Marge Simpson saying, "Much better
Fox

12. "One of the biggest surprises of finding out I have ADHD is understanding how wide ranging the symptoms are. It’s so much more than just hyperactivity (which I don’t even really have). My biggest ADHD issues are executive functioning and working memory. It’s very hard for me to begin tasks, even simple tasks, and to understand which tasks in my day need to come first based on importance. I'll forget to do something important for days, like buying something that I need (milk, a new headlight for my car, etc.)."

"Some months, I completely forget to pay rent until I hear the landlord opening the drop box outside my door. I’ll make to do lists and then completely forget I made the list. I’ve had to get in the habit of writing everything down and putting it on dry boards and Post-its where I can see them. Once you can accept that your brain works completely differently than most folks and you’re not just lazy, it becomes easier."

christadavis

13. "Here's how I describe my ADHD: Imagine you're the batter in a game of baseball, but there are two types of baseballs. One of them is a baseball you want to hit, and the other, you don't even want to swing at. Basically, the pitcher is moving at four times the speed that you are, so it's impossible to keep up, and you're either just wildly swinging at every ball or letting them all whiz past you."

"For me, Adderall speeds up the batter part of this game, so I can keep up with the pitcher, which I don't think a lot of people understand. Nothing is slowed down when I'm on Adderall; it's a stimulant. I'm not smarter when I'm on Adderall — I'm just keeping up with myself."

mermaid04

14. Not only am I a woman who was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult (technically, I was 18 years old), but I’m a mental health clinician. I’ve definitely seen an increase in ADHD concerns lately. Whether clients come to me with a suspicion or a diagnosis in hand, they all seem to have one thing in common — none of them have any idea of the true extent to which ADHD can and does impact their day-to-day lives. And I didn’t either. Not until recently.

"My origin story is like many others, I’m sure, but contrary to popular belief, being diagnosed and put on medication is not the end of the struggle. Here's what I can tell you as a clinician: We’re not given any education on ADHD in school. Like the rest of the world, many clinicians tend to assume ADHD is a behavioral disorder that impacts attention. Even those who aren’t overlooked until well into adulthood are typically prescribed medication and sent on their way. Being diagnosed and put on medication helped me. Truly, it did. But it wasn’t until a decade after receiving my diagnosis, after I was a licensed and practicing mental health counselor, that I finally took time to educate myself on the full scope of ADHD. And THAT was the game changer."

—Anonymous

15. "When I was diagnosed and medicated for the first time, I was sitting doing schoolwork, and I just started to cry. I was actually completing and understanding the assignment at an average pace. So many things began to make sense. I have ADD, so I'm not hyperactive. Therefore, I just got looked over. I was a pretty good student and worked really hard for good grades, but I would take three times as long to get everything done."

Did any of these stories resonate with you or surprise you? Share your thoughts in the comments. And again, if you think you may have ADHD, contact a medical professional for an official diagnosis.

Note: Submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.