The Forgotten Women

Series Bar ADHD & Me
This is article one in my new series, which is all about women being diagnosed in later life.

Welcome to my first blog article in my ‘The Late Bloomers of ADHD’ series. A series dedicated to women who have struggled for a long time before being diagnosed with ADHD at a later stage. It’s no secret that woman are usually better at hiding ADHD than men. This stems from women being more adaptable in different situations and therefore can mimic peers or develop their own coping strategies a lot easier.

You may think I am one of these women, but that’s not true. When it came to the ADHD of my childhood, I had what many would have describe as a boy brain. I was loud, restless, hyper, and extremely sociable. Jump forward to today and most people that I meet don’t even realise I have ADHD. In fact I’ve talked about this previously, but sometimes that can be extremely annoying. They think that because I am relatively successful and I look like what is supposed to be a fully function adult, that I just don’t struggle, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

“There is a whole generation of older women who have only just begun to feel validated and understood.”

ADHD Girl

The reason for this dramatic change in behaviour has nothing to do with medication (I was medicated for 7 years and have been medication free for 16 now), but everything to do with developing my self-awareness. The more I’ve experienced in life, the more I’ve got to know what things  I respond to and what things don’t work for me. Using these experiences, I’ve developed coping strategies for dealing with my ADHD traits. It’s not that I mask my ADHD, I wear it proudly, but my coping strategies are now so effective that to the untrained eye, my ADHD doesn’t exist. It’s almost like a magic trick, where I perform a slide of hand so quickly that people just don’t see it.

Sadly, for many women who perhaps weren’t as loud, outwardly hyper or weren’t as sociable, their ADHD went unchecked. It may have even been because of the time of their childhood, not much was known about ADHD. It also might stem from not having a good enough teacher, SENCO or doctor that spotted the signs. Whatever the reasons, there is a whole generation of women who only got the validation and treatment at a later stage. Some of them have bravely come forward to share their stories of what led them too get diagnosed and the whole process.

“One woman reveals that she felt like she had reached the reveal in a detective story of her own life”

~ADHD Girl

“I saw similarities in my daughter who had been diagnosed with ADHD and then I realised it’s hereditary.” Says one woman, who was finally diagnosed at 50 years old. Finally receiving that confirmation of a diagnosis led her to  whole barrage of emotions. “I had very mixed emotions. Like I’d been let down , sad I didn’t know and had struggled through life.” She confesses, “I was unsure who I was anymore, I felt really alone, it was like a grieving process.”

For another woman I spoke with, who got diagnosed at 42, there was more of an initial sense of relief than anything; “I felt like the detective of a lifelong murder mystery where I  had finally found the killer! I was so relieved to have the answers. I felt a sense of knowing about myself the more I read about ADHD.” However, soon the feelings of relief gave way to more negative emotions; “I went through a period of anger and sadness for what I felt were lost years of not knowing and all the unhealthy coping mechanisms I had acquired. Not to mention the shame and hiding of what I assumed to be my personality flaws.”

“I would do three exercise classes a day to combat my ADHD symtoms”

~ A woman who was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 31

Getting the answer to the mystery of why they have spent most of their life struggling is one thing but what about the treatment prescribed. Does it have any impact on that later stage? Well I spoke with a further three women with very different views on the subject.

“I was prescribed methylphenidate, but it turned me into a zombie. I then tried combination of atomoxetine and methylphenidate and it was worse.” Says a woman who was diagnosed at 47, “. I then almost gave up. Shared care was very tricky to convince my GP to agree to. Luckily I eventually did.” Shared care is where a GP or general practitioner agrees to share responsibility for treatment with the patient, it can be very controversial but effective for some.

Another woman diagnosed at 31 states, ” I’m on 50 mg of Elvance and then another 20mg after lunch. I’ve been on this for nearly 2 years, which is the most content I’ve been on a medication. When not medicated I would train obsessively  hard in the gym classes and do 2 or 3 classes a day.”

A woman who was diagnosed at 52, has disclosed that she doesn’t “take any medication because of a heart condition.” I asked her what ways she has learnt to manage her ADHD in lieu of this. “I’m not really sure to be honest. I only got diagnosed last month and have just spent more of my life ‘coping’ really. It helps to know that it’s not just me though, that’s it the ADHD.”

“When some of these women were younger there was no such thing as ADHD, yet they knew they were different. Though they have now recieved a diagnosis there are still stigmas attached”

~ADHD Girl

Through all these conversations with these remarkable women, one thing is predominantly clear; that they all agree there is a stigma which comes with having ADHD. “It’s just naughty boys right?” says one of the women, “Disruptive, rude, impolite, dumb, chaotic, weird. I’m only the last two.  People don’t realise just how many people have it.” The idea of naughty boys having ADHD it’s something that seems to resonate with a lot of these women as another says, “it’s still seen as a condition that “naughty boys” have and there is not enough information about how it affects girls and also adults.” Another woman adds “Yes some don’t believe in it some don’t understand it.”

The fact that so many women came forward when I disclosed that I was doing a blog article on women who are diagnosed with ADHD as adults, suggests that there are so many emotional stories at the centre of this important issue. These women have spent their whole life knowing there is something not quite right with them, but lacking the validation, explanation and understanding that comes with that.

“Some of these women have really powerful and emotional stories to tell regarding their ADHD and their late diagnosis.”

~ADHD Girl

That’s why over the next few weeks I’ve pledged to tell some of their stories in this blog series ‘The Late Bloomers of ADHD’ All about the women who struggled and fought to be accepted as ADHDers. I have a great respect for these individuals and I’m sure by the time this series is over you will too.

The first story (released next week) is about one woman who had a run in with the law before finally getting referred for ADHD while serving an 18-month supervision order for drug possession. She even has proof of a psychologist trying to talk the psychiatrist out of an ADHD diagnosis based on the fact that she can’t have had “impaired executive function if she was working as a hairdresser” Read all about her powerful story in the next article of the ‘The Late Bloomers of ADHD’ Series.

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