Having ADHD is hard. However, I’d like to bet that being a woman with ADHD is harder.
First and foremost, research on ADHD is inherently biased towards boys, and as a result, we’re often misdiagnosed for years until we figure out the right answer. We develop co-morbid conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, OCD, and eating disorders when left undiagnosed and untreated. But research shows that more and more women are getting diagnosed and treated for ADHD: in recent years, the use of ADHD medication by women between the ages of 24 to 36 increased by 85%. Clearly, that means we’re now being diagnosed at a higher rate, too.
Despite that, finding information on ADHD specifically aimed at women is still tough. While I have found a community of brilliant women on Twitter and other social media, the experience of women with ADHD is still near-invisible unless you know exactly where to look. There’s no denying that amount of women who likely struggle alone in silence is immeasurable.
Personally, I would argue one of the hardest parts of being a woman with ADHD has all to do with hormones. Whether it is a result of scientific bias, hormones are arguably the reason why women are more likely to have their issues dismissed or misdiagnosed. According to Patricia Quinn, M.D (via ADDitude), the average age of diagnosis for women—who weren’t diagnosed as children—with ADHD is 36 to 38 years old, and up until that point, we are often misdiagnosed as having mood or anxiety disorders. Let’s not forget that I was diagnosed at 26, despite showing symptoms of ADHD as a young girl.
Then there’s the menstrual cycle.
The average menstrual cycle lasts approximately 28 days, and hoo boy, it is a ride from start to finish, especially if you suffer from PMS as I do. In the lead up to my period, it’s almost as if my meds don’t work—all my symptoms worsen. I feel like I’m in a fog of forgetfulness and zero focus. All this, on top of means I’m essentially useless one week out of the month, even if I’m taking my meds as usual. Apparently this has something to do with higher levels of progesterone.
Admittedly it took me a couple of cycles to put two and two together and realise the reason why I felt my meds weren’t working well at all during a Certain Time of the Month. In a nutshell, I was just a tad too satisfied with my diagnosis and wasn’t really paying as much attention as I should have been in the beginning.
When I finally figured it out and told my doctor, he prescribed me with Chinese medicine to help my meds absorb better in general (which I’ve since gone off of as I didn’t feel they were really helping). Then, when I told him for a second time, he finally made a more proper plan to deal with my hormonal ups and downs by increasing dosage before and during my period. Finally, something that made sense—that’s not to say that I don’t believe in Chinese medicine, more that I understood that the issue was hormonal, not anything to do with absorbing the meds.
Unfortunately, this only seems to help if I get the timing exactly right which is kind of hard given the somewhat inconsistent nature of my menstrual cycle as of late (too much information, I know, I’m sorry.) As someone who actually tracks their menstrual cycle, this is quite frustrating. But in reality, it probably just means that I need to pay more attention to my body and my moods throughout the month in order to get the timing just right. That, or I need an even higher dosage during my period. One of the two. Probably both, to be honest.
Given that I am a young single woman in her twenties, I’ve yet to experience the two other major hormone-altering events in my life—pregnancy and menopause. Based on what I’ve read… it doesn’t sound all that fun. I suppose the best I can hope for is that the resources available to me once I reach those milestones in life will be much better than what is currently available to women with ADHD.
At least I’ve got time, I guess?