I always thought I just had a lot of quirks. I've twirled my hair all my life, have the innate ability to find the most efficient ways to complete a task, memorize songs with complicated lyrics by listening to them on repeat, and consider myself a multi-passionate entrepreneur. Over the last several months of running my t-shirt business, I've felt something wasn't quite right, and these quirks might not be quirks after all. I completed an assessment and was recently diagnosed with ADHD at age 43.
Growing up, I’d see kids – mostly boys – get diagnosed with ADD because they’d be hyper or “bad”, and they’d be put on Ritalin. Not until recent history has science caught up and realized that many women, even adult women, can have ADHD, and they most likely aren’t “hyper” as the name suggests.
Now that I have this diagnosis, it explains a lot of the behaviors that I’ve experienced most of my life, and allows me to figure out how to work with my brain, rather than against it.
Let’s start with a little bit of science and nerdy stuff. ADHD, or Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is severely misdiagnosed in women. In fact, it is estimated that 50-75% of women are either misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all.
There are three types of ADHD (source):
- predominantly inattentive: easily distracted, difficulty maintaining focus
- predominantly hyperactive: difficulty sitting still when appropriate, fidgets a lot, impulsive behaviors
- combined presentation: symptoms of both
NEURODIVERGENT v. NEUROTYPICAL
People with ADHD, and other mental disorders, are called “neurodivergent”, whereas people who fit into the majority of society in the way in which they think are called “neurotypical”. Neurodivergent people’s brains don’t process information or external stimuli the way neurotypical people’s brains process these things.
A good example of the difference between neurodivergent and neurotypical is the way in which we are motivated to complete tasks. A neurotypical personal may be motivated by the desire to achieve something like a reward, money, or good grades in order to succeed. Pretty normal, right?
Neurodivergent people, on the other hand, may be more motivated by the desire to keep the peace, or to keep those around them from being upset. We may also be motivated by a deadline or due date.
Stimming, or self-stimulatory behaviors, are behaviors that help people like myself ease anxiety, frustration, or boredom. For me, that’s typically hair twirling, something I’ve done my entire life. My daughter bites her nails (she also has ADHD).
My ADHD Symptoms
I have the predominantly inattentive type of ADHD, which means I have a difficult time maintaining focus. But it goes so much deeper. As I said earlier, I have a lot of quirks that I though were just that – quirks. As it turns out, these are all very common symptoms of ADHD.
*NOTE: I am sharing this in an effort to help other women potentially realize their need for assessment and treatment. Please be kind. This is my own personal experience.
CHANGING INTEREST FREQUENTLY
When I was in college, I changed my major 7 times. SEVEN! And, fun fact – I never graduated. I got burned out, dropped out, got married and had a baby. I just thought this was me being a typical teenager not knowing what to be when I “grew up”.
At age 43, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, and I now realize that’s an ADHD thing.
Over the past 20 years, I have started and stopped more business ventures than I can count. I’ve started and stopped this blog several times, and even rebranded it several years ago.
I’ve sold Thirty-One bags twice, Premier Jewelry once, sold Young Living twice, owned a children’s clothing store for three years, ran an email marketing and blogging coaching business for a few years, worked as a communications director for a couple years, started a jewelry business, and now I run a t-shirt business.
The thought of a “career” and the idea of long-term planning is so arbitrary to me that I just can’t fathom any of it. I want to, but my brain doesn’t work that way.
EASILY DISTRACTED AND BORED
When I try to clean my house, I will get hyperfocused on organizing the inside of my pantry, for example, and spend hours doing it, then not have time to actually clean the space I wanted to clean.
When I’m working in my office at home and someone comes into my space, I get angry. I can’t stand to lose focus because it is extremely hard to get it back.
I’m often considered impatient when someone is telling me a story or there is a long dialogue, but it’s because my brain loses interest and I “zone out”. Even as a child, I hated for my mom to read books to me because I’d get bored.
ENERGY AND EMOTIONS ARE A ROLLERCOASTER
In any given 24-hour period, I will experience the full range of emotions. I feel my feelings very strongly, so when I’m happy, I’m ecstatic. When I’m sad, I’m devastated. I cry easily, even when I don’t want to. My anger presents itself as crying, as does embarrassment and frustration.
The same holds true for my energy levels. I don’t have consistent mental or physical energy throughout the day. I’ll hit rock bottom sometimes and feel as though any movement would just wear me out. And other times, I’ll be almost manic, doing tasks in warp speed.
SEVERAL LITTLE QUIRKS
I’ve twirled my hair since I had hair. I’ve had teachers and other adults ask me, “Aren’t you afraid you’ll go bald in that spot?” I don’t even know I’m doing it but I do it all the time.
I memorize songs. If I come across a song that is lyrically challenging – maybe a lot of words sung very quickly, for example – my brain sees it as a puzzle. I’ll listen to that song on repeat for days on end until I memorize it. And it’ll live in my brain forever.
I count things, particularly stairs. We have 76 steps from our back porch to the dock. There are 13 steps to the basement. I know this, yet I count them every single time.
Next Steps for My ADHD Journey
Now that I know I have ADHD, I can focus on working with my brain, rather than against it. Because I’m neurodivergent, and I know that arbitrary goals don’t motivate me, I have to figure out what will motivate me to complete day-to-day tasks for my business.
You see, that’s my biggest struggle – working on my business. I don’t have an issue motivating myself to do things around the house because I have people depending on me to do those things, and I don’t want to let them down.
In my business, however, I’m the only one who will be disappointed if I don’t accomplish a task, and that isn’t enough of a motivator.
I work better with structure and deadlines. I also know that I have to work my way up to more challenging tasks, rather than diving headfirst into them when I first start my day.
I know that I’m easily distracted, so I have to create a workspace that alleviates many distractions. I also need to figure out a work schedule that allows time for distractions, because they’re going to happen at some point.
So there it is. I don’t really know how to wrap this up in a pretty little bow. This will be an ongoing journey, and I hope to share as I find things that work and learn more about living and working with ADHD.