I am a grown woman person. I think of myself as generally capable and responsible, but I do get help with the REAL scary stuff like taxes and bills and dishes (Thank you, husband).
In my adulthood, I have noticed that I may have tendencies towards deficits in attention. I could flit among several tasks within an hour, noticing that if I force myself to continue something until it’s done, I end up staring off into space and nothing gets done. But then there are other times when I become hyper-focused on a task, and even if it’s a really inconvenient time (like trying to get out the door with three kids on time), I have trouble pulling myself away (Sorry, husband).
Even in college, I would set 15 minute timers and switch tasks each time the buzzer rang to make sure I stayed productive, even if it meant 5 things got partly done. That worked for me. I still do it when I am cleaning at home, which I occasionally do (Quiet, husband).
It turns out, adult women with ADHD don’t necessarily present how we were all “taught” to identify these tendencies in children. We can hold down jobs, have self control and generally function while still struggling with ADHD.
Some symptoms I have include overwhelm, zoning out, thoughts jumping around, worrying/anxiety, being a disaster under the surface, procrastinating and then hyper-focusing, having a hard time with criticism, and feeling disorganized. I often feel utterly stuck- not like writer’s block, because I have plenty to say- but it’s like I’m standing at the starting line and I need someone to push me over it because I simply cannot do it myself.
After looking up this exact phenomenon, it turns out it’s a common ADHD symptom, even in kids. It is related to executive functioning which is a topic for which I literally provide therapy to adults in my day job. Oh, the irony. Executive function involves active cognitive planning, problem solving, attention and working memory. As a Speech-Language Pathologist working with the adult geriatric population, this is a major facet of my job- at which I am quite okay, I must say.
In my personal life, though, it’s a different story. If I know a task is difficult or will require research or organized thinking, sometimes I avoid it- even if it’s a task I know that I WANT to do, have CHOSEN to take on and know I would enjoy in the end. It can stall me for WEEKS. And then I beat myself up for not starting, and I think about all the wasted time and progress I could have made in that time. I busy myself with other, less important things, just to prove to myself I AM, in fact, busy and productive. Just not with the thing I *should* be.
As a child in elementary school, I was referred by a teacher for an ADD evaluation because I was inattentive, a “chatty Cathy,” and I would get up from my desk and wander around the room during class. The evaluation came back without a diagnosis, and with encouragement for my teachers to provide me with more structure and discipline (namely, “Tell her to sit back down)!” I was and am grateful to my parents for pushing back on the pressure to medicate me as a child, but it is somehow validating that someone else noticed tendencies in me “way back when” that I can see now as well.
In grad school, when I would get an assignment, I would come home immediately and open the Word Document for it. I’d give it a title, the required header and *maybe* would jot a few ideas down, but then I’d close it. I came to realize it was MUCH easier to come back to the assignment after that, because it was STARTED. The things that we realize in retrospect were strategies never cease to amaze me. I am sure there are tons of undiagnosed cases of ADHD and other learning disabilities that people don’t realize they have because they are intelligent and have learned compensatory strategies over the years that mask the symptoms. I never turned in an assignment late, and I never pulled an all-nighter to get work done. I just learned to open the document as soon as I got the assignment.
To touch on the “having a hard time with criticism” symptom, this is apparently a thing, too. I am an Enneagram type 2, meaning I am someone with a core motivation for being useful and helpful to others. Before you think I am altruistic (which is actually the goal attribute of this type 2), it can manifest in less-than-ideal ways. This means I can be needy for praise, I can insert myself into situations in which my help/input may not be welcome, and I spiral into despair if someone dares to communicate that they don’t need me desperately for something. So I thought my aversion to criticism was just about my need to feel needed- and maybe that’s a huge part of it. But I have also learned that persons with ADHD may tend to have overblown reactions to outside stimuli, especially if that stimuli is rejection (perceived or intended). It sends a surge of stress hormones raging that can result in sharp-tongued responses out of defensiveness. As I have gotten older and (hopefully) more mature, I have dulled my sharpness a bit, but I still remain sensitive. One “troll” comment online will SEND me. What on earth will I do if I actually become popular?
All this to say, I have still not gotten myself evaluated for this diagnosis and therefore I am not sure I really fall into this category. However, doing some research on it myself has helped me organize my symptoms and has helped me understand myself better, even though I don’t have a distinct answer yet. I don’t *think* I am seeking medication for my symptoms, but I do think I would like to keep an open mind and listen to the clinical opinion of a professional. I have given consideration to the possibility that I have postpartum anxiety, which could be the case. But some of my symptoms seem to lie outside that diagnosis.
I will update as I get more answers. As one might expect, I am having a hard time initiating the task of calling a professional.
I have made steps toward finding out if I have a diagnosis, but the final verdict isn’t in yet. I participated in a full battery of tests today and I have a followup scheduled in about 2 weeks to discuss results. Initially, I went to see my PCP for initial inquiry regarding my symptoms. They referred me to the Behavioral Health department of a local hospital, where there is a group specializing in differential diagnoses of ADHD, meaning figuring out whether it’s that or something else entirely. I had an initial interview there, where they determined I qualified for additional testing. Today, I underwent a full psychological panel in addition to the attention testing, as my other suspicion was that I have postpartum anxiety. Will update when results come in!
I DO NOT HAVE ADHD. I wasn’t sure whether to put an exclamation point there or not, because I am neither completely relieved nor disappointed. It just is. I didn’t necessarily WANT to have a diagnosis of an issue that would have to be managed chronically. I also was looking for answers, and what I got was somewhat of a non-diagnosis diagnosis.
I have been diagnosed with Adjustment Disorder, which in essence is when you are having an outsized emotional response to a stressful life change or event. Basically, I am having a hard time coping with the big responsibilities and life changes that have accompanied parenting, it seems. I agree with it, but say that with my eyes squinted like I am still unsure. I am still processing, but I am writing a full blog post on my experience and the findings they reported to me.
Thanks for joining me on this journey of self-discovery!
Read my post about Adjustment Disorder here