SERIES PART 1

by Sara Herell

Lovely readers, I’ve tried to write this piece FIVE TIMES at the very least. I can’t even remember how many others I’ve started that are just waiting to be loved on and written. 

It might be three, probably closer to five.

Why? MY EYEGLASSES WERE DIRTY.

Enter stage left, the adult female version of “If you give a mouse a cookie” style hijinks after the kids have maybe decided to sleep for the night. 

If somebody cries and needs mommy it is GAME OVER. 

Kiss the to-do list goodbye. 

If you ask an ADHD person to sit and write, well…

I sat down to write but,

My glasses were dirty.

So I got up to clean them.

The cloth is in the kitchen above the sink.

The sink is full of dirty dishes.

I need to do these dishes NOW. 

Halfway through the dishes, I start setting the coffee pot for the morning.

I could also set up the boys breakfast for the morning. 

Now the dog NEEDS to potty. 

Shoot, I’m hungry, I forgot to eat all day (yes, really) 

Start making a peanut butter sandwich, continue boys lunch prep.

Well, it couldn’t hurt to set up the crockpot for lunch right?

Dog needs back in. 

That lands me next to the dryer. 

Those clothes need folded NOW. 

Take clothes to steps and hope they make it upstairs, washcloths immediately to the bathroom.

The bathroom floor is wet from bath time. 

I can brush my teeth and wash my face while I’m in here, (ya know, self-care)

Walk around brushing my teeth because why sit still?

My left hand is still mostly free.

Check on Superman. Make him a snack.

Sweep and mop kitchen.

Start water for tea, maybe center myself to focus. 

Replace toothbrush and rinse. 

The dishwasher is done, may as well put these away while I have time and it’s quiet and distraction-free. 

Pour tea. Migrate to desk (in living room).

Living room is cluttered, quickly reorganize so I can focus while tea cools.

Sit down, figure I can make a google tasks list for tomorrow before my thoughts fly away.

Maybe a grocery list too.

Sip tea, fight the urge to reorganize the bomb testing zone that is my desk.

SLIP INTO HALTING PHYSICAL EXHAUSTION AND MENTAL HAZE.

But there’s just one last thing, it could help me get ahead later if I do it now

There is never not “one last thing” before I do the main “thing”.

This is my (female born, now a parent of small children) brain on ADHD, or 

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

yours might be different, but this is my experience

My time is continuously spent balancing between choosing the most efficient thing I can be doing right now/the task most easily done in my current environment versus not being able to executively function because my environment is too overwhelming to find a starting place. 

Welcome to my bouncy ball brain. Where every task has a never ending infinity of more important subtasks that need done before it. Settling on a starting task is often near impossible, much like catching a runaway bouncy ball. Once you’ve done the work to commit to and start the task, staying focused is a very fragile thing. It is either very easy to knock us off balance or not be able to get through to us while we hyperfixate. We’re either wind tossed or immovable. A feather or a rhino. We do not get to choose which one our brain wants to go with at that moment and have to work around it, go with it or fight against it. Whether it fits our plans or not. No matter how much we may dislike it.

Tornado vs Couch Potato is how I refer to this “balance”, though that doesn’t feel totally explanatory because I’m not choosing crippling sedentary dysfunction (waiting until the environment calms to move forward, or removing myself entirely) nor easily derailed hyperactivity (running-start-tackling a larger, more in-depth/physically demanding task and being diverted by outside distractions, necessary pauses or sheer exhaustion).

I am part of what some call the “Lost Girls”.

I didn’t coin this term but have stumbled upon it too many places to find the true source.

Females in their mid-twenties to early thirties and above finding that their comorbid (coexisting) anxiety, depression, disordered eating, and/or other mental health and neurodivergent factors are stemming from undiagnosed and unmanaged ADD/ADHD. 

**If you grew up in the 1990s, you might remember the boom in the ADHD diagnosis of adolescent boys that I remember followed by the wave of the medical miracle that is stimulant style medication. This great wave washed out and marooned what would come to be the Lost Girls. 

If you’ve found yourself in the Lost Girls Club, WELCOME, I’m new here too. 

Let’s see if we can’t find where we left our coffee?

Often thought to be “gifted” (intelligent), quiet, shy, introverted, lazy, daydreamers, creatives, bookworms, picky, antisocial, anxious interrupters, emotional, sensitive, forgetful, inattentive, night owls, sometimes loud, typically bored, and often “space cadets”, we didn’t fit the mold of the typical “male child” symptoms associated with ADD/ADHD (typically more physically hyperactive vs mentally). It truly was considered a “little boys” disorder.

It left girls undiagnosed/underdiagnosed and more likely to develop and be treated solely for comorbid disorders as noted above.

(I was treated for ONLY depression and insomnia in my high school years and on).

Why the Lost Girls and the blatant Boys’ Only club style diagnosis? 

Quality of life is a big factor

I know what you’re thinking, but nope, I’m not talking about the ADHD person’s quality of life (we haven’t known anything else, so we operate under the assumption this IS the quality of ALL lives). I’m talking about their caregivers. I don’t mean this in an accusatory fashion, but little boys with ADHD can be annoying (because their brains are low on residual dopamine and require regular hits of new dopamine, and “hyperactivity” fits that bill perfectly, adrenaline and dopamine are great friends –  I’m not a monster, I just understand outward activity can be annoying to our neurotypical friends, it’s just reality)

As a result, boys were overwhelmingly taken to see doctors so they could be diagnosed and  “fixed” with medication to curb the over activity that was bothersome (to their adults) solely so as to not interrupt their caregivers’ quality of life.

**I am not anti-medication, I am currently on my own brain calming regiment, stay with me here. I am anti catering solely to adult comforts when a child’s needs are being overlooked and treated as one size fits all.   

Where does this leave girls with ADHD? 

Underdiagnosed, dismissed and left behind to develop their own coping mechanisms. Lost.

Our tendencies and symptoms were/are typically more internal or dismissed as other introverted personality characteristics or emotional sensitivities. Our hyperactivity is usually in our brain, rather than in major physical activity. 

This isn’t boys vs girls. This is neurodivergence vs gendered medical bias.

ADHD & Me

My red flag? The little bird that told me?

Hearing the experiences of other women my age understanding their diagnosis, listing symptoms/tendencies in passing, and for months thinking “that’s funny, I do that too”

And then I remembered, my younger brother has been diagnosed with ADHD since elementary school. It was definitely looking like a possibility at that point, so I took a borderline obsessive deep dive (as one with ADHD might ought do) and did my homework on the disorder and its varying symptoms and qualifiers, more specifically for females and/or adults. 

It all made sense. Most everything “fit”. I sat on my findings for a few more months and finally mustered up the courage to talk to a doctor about a screening for a formal diagnosis. 

What better time than Covid Era 2020 than to advocate for a better future while the world stood still?

What’s the difference between diagnosed and undiagnosed? 

Why did it matter to me? 

Honestly, having a formal diagnosis let me feel seen and supported. It finally felt like I had the correct map for my own brain when I’d been trying to use one in another language for my entire life. I’d hung onto assumptions, good ‘ol fake it til you make it, and self-imposed systems to make it work up until now. It gave me the option to choose and explore medication for the things I could not work around alone.

** stimulant medication typically helps dopamine stay in the brain longer as it would in neurotypical people, making it feel more like landing five planes at once versus maybe one thousand – to quote my doctor. Some with ADHD may unknowingly or purposely self medicate with caffeine for the stimulant dopamine effect. It helps bring the brain back to “normal” levels rather than having the “wake up” effect neurotypical people might experience. 

Most importantly, a diagnosis came with a dose of GRACE. With it, I finally allowed myself to not feel less than for being a fish not knowing how to climb the tree like the monkeys all around me. Allowing myself to accept that I am not stupid, my brain is just wired a little differently. My brain is a sort of stick shift  while it feels like everyone else is rocking an automatic. I understand more of what I’m working with now and can advocate for myself to get where I want and need to be. I can make better choices in relation to life decisions based on what actually works for me rather than forcing myself to fit a neurotypical mold and being miserable. I can connect with others like me and crowdsource for better techniques to manage/work with my symptoms. 

Now I know, and knowing is half the battle. (*G.I. Joooeeeeee”)

I am finishing the chapters of my twenties and this entire time I thought this was just how everyone’s brain worked. 

I always wondered why…

  • I was always tired. Or raring to go. No inbetween.
  • Why did everyone else have more steady energy than me? 

Rather than bursts of energy and lengths of exhaustion.

  • Why did caffeine not help me? And why did I crave it anyway? 

(**hint, ADHD meds are stimulants, just like caffeine)

  • Why even though I had a great academic career on paper and tested so well through school did it feel like my peers were light years ahead of me?
  • Why couldn’t I remember to call my friend even though I’d been missing her dearly? 
  • Why did two hours feel like five minutes or vice versa?
  • Why I was always running late or way too early. 
  • Why was everyone and everything SO LOUD 

and certain noises were physically painful to me? 

  • How could everyone tolerate such loud music or television?
  • Why did the smallest of noises bother me but no one else?
  • Why could everyone else wear those cute Christmas sweaters or pajamas but the texture distracted me?
  • Why did I need subtitles even when I can technically hear just fine?
  • Why couldn’t I hold my thoughts longer? 
  • Why did I hate being given ANOTHER random errand on the end of my list?

and even, Why did I constantly lock  myself out of my car – (**hint, it’s because my brain was trying to stay three steps ahead and forgetting the task I was currently executing.)

  • Why could I never just stay on ONE task?
  • Why did I immediately forget what I was reading?
  • Why couldn’t I REMEMBER that one important thing?
  • Why were my responses always better in my head after the conversation had ended?
  •  Why did I hate making eye contact? 

And all of this left me feeling exhausted, less than, stupid, slow, lazy ( I have a genuine fear of being considered lazy ), frustrated, anxious, and mentally spinning out regardless of my volumes of goals and ideas tucked away in the black hole of my brain.

Executive dysfunction, a leading symptom of ADHD is the name of this game, and it feels a lot like trying to hold everything in your life in your arms (work, family, friendships, relationships, chores, errands, health, hygiene, maintenance, daily tasks, working memory,long term memory,  everything) when everyone else seems to have a nice, neat, sturdy suitcase instead while trudging through a lake of Jell-o during mosquito season.

 If you drop something, it’s gone for good. Small distractions feel huge. Getting started takes a lot of energy but once you’re going it’s hard to stop (if you do stop you’re going down and it’s going to take a while to get back up and going) and you’re definitely exhausted at the end.

Does any or all of this experience resonate with you?

If you feel like you might be part of the Lost Girls Club, it never hurts to talk with your doctor, counselor, therapist. Mental health is just as important as physical and bridging the gap in Women’s Health is a whole-body mission. Your quality of life matters.

Even if medication isn’t the path for you, there are multitudes of techniques and strategies to manage the mental turbulence and use symptoms to your advantage instead of your detriment. 

Not to mention,, ADHD is a protected disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and with that protection, some reasonable accommodations may be options for work or school alongside your formal diagnosis. 

Until the next installment

Do small things with great love,

Be scared and do it anyway,

You are your own best advocate,

Sara

**hyperlinks provided are not sponsored or endorsed by the author or Positively Balanced, LLC

They are provided as starting points for self research and resource compilation.

This article is a retelling of personal experience and encouragement to self advocate,

 it is not intended as medical advice.