If you're an adult female living with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), it's entirely likely that you weren't diagnosed until adulthood since more males than females are diagnosed in childhood. It's also expected that you didn't even realize that ADHD was your problem until you stumbled upon information that described your symptoms in shockingly relatable detail or until your mental health professional put the pieces together and explained it to you. You may have struggled with anxiety and depression before you ever received an ADHD diagnosis, and you may have had an epiphany when you realized that the two (or three) things are often inexorably linked and tend to feed off of each other, making ADHD even more challenging to spot. You probably understand the feelings of blame, guilt, frustration, and anxiety that go along with attempting to navigate life with a brain that feels like it never turns off, let alone slows down, and makes almost everything you do so much more challenging.
The good news is that treatment, whether medication, therapy, coaching, or some combination, can significantly improve your quality of life. Even just knowing what you're dealing with when you get that diagnosis can be tremendously helpful. As you put a name to the face of your ever-wandering mind, learning more about ADHD by talking to others and doing research is a great way to learn tips to cope with everyday life. You may see yourself or someone you know in one or more of these women's stories.
Though Melissa struggled with disorganization, forgetfulness, depression, following through, and planning throughout her life, she had no idea that she had inattentive ADHD until she happened to look through the book Delivered from Distraction while at the library one day. As she read, she found herself laughing at how much the descriptions sounded just like her father. “Then I browsed through the book's questionnaire and realized that I had answered ‘Yes' to every single question, except for the ones dealing with hyperactivity,” Melissa says. “I felt humiliated and excited at the same time. It was an ‘aha' moment: ‘So that's what's wrong with me.'”
Officially diagnosed at 44, Melissa felt hopeful about the future now that she understood why she had struggled so much. Having battled genetic depression her entire life, she realized that her ADHD made it even worse. “It's hard not to be depressed when you feel like you're working harder than everyone else to maintain a basic level of practical success as an adult,” says Melissa. Even though she did well in school, which helped “offset the depression somewhat,” she says, Melissa feels that her good grades and test scores also disguised her ADHD.
Medication has become a crucial part of Melissa's life. “I've been taking Wellbutrin for depression for about ten years, but life improved once I started taking Ritalin, about a year and a half ago,” she says. “After taking the first pill, I got more done with more focus in four hours than I had in the previous two weeks. It felt like a miracle like I had walked through a door called ‘normal.' And I thought, ‘Oh, so this is how regular people get things done.'” The intensity of the Ritalin has since worn off, but she still feels like she gets more done and can focus better when she's on it.
Good habits and self-discipline are something Melissa wishes she would have had more of as a child. “Even with medication, I can still zone out and fall a rabbit hole at home and hyper-focus on one exciting thing…and suddenly realize several hours later that the house is a wreck, I forgot to defrost dinner, and I haven't done what needed to be done that day,” she says. This is where she feels good habits would help her significantly.
To help herself plan and organize, Melissa uses a chore planner called Motivated Moms and timers to help keep her activities in check. She also made a reminder list with two columns: “Things I Can Do When the Kids are Home” and “Things I Can Do When the Kids Are Away,” she says. “Listening to audiobooks also helps me focus mentally when I'm doing boring household chores and keeps me from wandering off somewhere else.”
As a child, Candace felt like one of the “bad kids,” always in trouble for not paying attention, failing math, and getting negative feedback everywhere she went. She learned to act out on purpose so that she could get attention. Interestingly, Candace slowly pieced together that she had ADHD through using recreational drugs with her friends as a young adult. “I took a muscle relaxant a couple of times, but they always made me feel very focused, and I could never figure out why. One night, we had all taken Adderall,” she says. “Everyone else was all over the place, but I was like, ‘The world is real. Everything makes sense. What's going on?!' I had never felt more like I understood everything that was going on. It was amazing. I thought, ‘This is what it's supposed to be like,'” she says. “I felt bad for it, though. I felt bad that I felt good.”
When a friend told her several years later that she had been diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, Candace responded the way many people do: “There's no such thing as ADHD in adults,” she said. However, she began to notice how her friend acted when she didn't take her medication. “She was just like me,” Candace remembers. “I asked her what she took, and she said Adderall, exactly what I had taken (that one day). I was starting not to feel so bad anymore. I thought, ‘Maybe this is what I need.'”
Her breaking point came one summer when she became severely depressed. “I couldn't figure out why as an adult, I can't get it together. Why do I look so irresponsible? Why do I look like I don't care? Why does life make sense to other people, and I can't get it right?” she says. Finally, after having her child, she decided to determine if she had ADHD. “I decided, ‘I'm going in because I'm not going to short-change my child,'” she says. She received her diagnosis at 27.
These days, Candace is on Adderall, and she says it has improved her life dramatically. “I used to think that everybody was better than me, that anything that I put my hands to was going to be destroyed, that people liked me for a short time, but once they got to know me, they were gone. I had no self-confidence,” she says. “After my diagnosis, after I started taking my medication and I started getting things right, it was like everything was narrowed down for me, and I wasn't guessing anymore.” She also regularly listens to podcasts about ADHD from ADDitudemag.com and highly recommends them. “I would not know how to handle my relationship if I had not been listening to those,” she says.
Heather never considered the possibility that she could have ADHD until her ex-husband accused her of it during an argument. “At the time, I blew him off as a guy with a shiny new counseling degree needing to put labels on everyone,” she says. “I didn't fit the stereotypical image of someone with ADHD. I was punctual, easily met deadlines, and was reasonably organized. And most of the time, I was tired, not hyper. But the seed was planted, and years later, I did some online research.”
The research led her to realize that she fit other aspects of ADHD. “I talk too fast, interpret other people's conversations, have trouble staying focused, and am easily distracted,” Heather says. “I get lost in a project if I find it especially fascinating and can lose all sense of time. I'm also hypersensitive to random stimuli like flashing lights, high-pitched sounds, rough textures, smells, and tastes.” Her doctor referred her to a counselor to be tested for ADHD, but the counseling department she went to didn't even have a test for adults, so she had to take a test for kids instead. She was diagnosed at age 39.
After trying various ADHD medications, including Adderall, Concerta, and Strattera, with slight improvement, Heather's doctor put her on the highest dose of Wellbutrin, which helps her symptoms. Though she tried counseling for a while as well, “it felt like the counselor didn't know how to deal with an adult female with ADHD,” she says. “The whole office was set up for kids. I wanted to go play with the toys and ignore the counselor's manipulations.”
She was having a diagnosis of ADHD has helped Heather understand why she does some of the things she does and has helped her find tools and coping mechanisms. Using reminders with Google calendar on her iPhone helps her stay organized. At work, she uses one earbud to play music, which allows her to focus and tune out the noise around her. In the past, Heather used to change jobs every year or so because she got fired or was bored, but she has had her current career for six years now.
Kelsey's figured out that she might have ADHD when she was in middle school. “I owned a book called The Gifted Kids' Survival Guide. It talked about learning disabilities and how they can show up and affect students also labeled as gifted,” Kelsey says. “Based on the disabilities they talked about, ADHD seemed to make the most sense.” Because Kelsey has inattentive type ADHD, her pediatrician didn't think she had it. As an adult, she was missing work and school, which strained her relationship with her parents before finally getting a diagnosis at 23.
A few weeks before getting her ADHD diagnosis, Kelsey was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. “My anxiety is believed to be solely caused by my ADHD,” she says. “I'm not treating the anxiety with medication because my stimulant medication helps treat my ADHD and therefore treats my anxiety.” Kelsey is in therapy for both her anxiety and ADHD, but she feels like the two feed off of each other, making it more challenging to deal with one at a time.
Now Kelsey is on Adderall, which she says makes a huge difference. In therapy, she is working on learning to take care of herself and ways to help her ADHD and anxiety. “Understanding that I have ADHD changed my life for the better,” says Kelsey. “I now have access to advocates at my college, which leaves me less stressed when dealing with school because I have more help if something slips, and I'm able to focus more during class thanks to my medication.” One trick she has found to be helpful is to dedicate specific days or times of the week to particular activities, like homework or working out. This helps keep her more organized so that even if her schedule at work changes, she has those windows of time already blocked off.
Successful women living with ADHD
A shy, withdrawn ADHD student who turned into a beauty queen and advocate
Brookley Wofford builds brand awareness through social media, public awareness campaigns, and multimedia platforms. She has worked with small start-up firms, nonprofits, and Fortune 500 companies over her career. Also, Wofford was the first columnist for Kaleidoscope Society, an online magazine created to empower women with ADHD.
Wofford was diagnosed with ADHD in second grade. Before the diagnosis, teachers had suggested that she be screened for autism. In the gifted program, she read well above her grade level but preferred spending recess in a quiet corner reading a book rather than playing with her classmates. Doing group projects made her so fearful that she sometimes had her mother pick her up from school rather than face them.
Wofford daydreamed when taking tests, doodling as if she “had no control over her pencil,” even though she knew the answers. She did better on tests when taking them alone in a quiet room.
Wofford's mother wanted to know why her daughter struggled at school. When she found that her daughter had ADHD, many of her behaviors made sense. Wofford remembers feeling happy during the months after her diagnosis, and she blossomed socially and academically.
Wofford blossomed in other ways, as well. In 2012, she won Miss Mississippi International's title, and, in 2015, she crowned Miss Minnesota United States. Her program, “Unlocking Confidence Through the Arts,” is an effort to bridge students' educational gaps with ADHD, especially in low-income schools and schools without art programs. She is also involved with Art Buddies and is a national spokesperson for Children and Adults with ADHD (CHADD).
Wofford believes now that her ADHD gives her “a roadmap for success.” She uses medication on a limited basis and exercise and nutrition to curb symptoms. What helps her the most is art: being creative, helping others through Art Buddies, and advocating for the ADHD community. These activities relieve the stress that often accompanies her efforts to manage her ADHD symptoms.
Wofford keeps a notebook of her success stories and photos of past moments that make her feel proud. When she doubts herself, she looks through the book to remember what she has achieved. This helps her look to the future with confidence.
A self-described scatterbrain who forged ahead to become a top actress in Hollywood
Michelle Rodriguez is known for playing tough, sexy women in the TV series Lost (#CommissionsEarned) and in the Fast & Furious (#CommissionsEarned) movies. In 2006, Rodriguez admitted she had ADHD in an interview with Cosmopolitan magazine. She said she decided against taking medication, but she was afraid that her attention deficit would thwart her career dreams. “I want to write and direct, but it's not easy with ADHD. I have a hard time focusing when I'm alone. I'm a scatterbrain.” As it turns out, Rodriguez's concerns were unwarranted.
During her childhood, Rodriguez's family moved around a lot. She was born in 1978 in Texas, and she lived in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic before her family settled in New Jersey when she was 11 years old. She dropped out of high school but later went back to get her GED.
Any problems she had in school didn't keep her from a successful acting career. After several jobs as an extra in movies, Rodriguez saw a notice for an audition in Backstage and took a chance, even though she had never auditioned for a speaking role. She landed the lead in Girlfight (#CommissionsEarned), beating out 350 other women for the part. She received the 2001 Best Debut Performance Award at the Independent Spirit Awards.
When Rodriguez went on her second audition, she walked away with a part in The Fast and the Furious. She hasn't stopped acting since, appearing in over 20 films and several TV series since 2000, and doing voice work for several video games. In 2005 she was in the cast that won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series.
Rodriquez has had rough times in her life, like many people diagnosed with ADHD. In 2006 she was charged with a DUI and, in 2009, she attempted to attack a photographer who got too close to her. By her admission, she “partied hard.” Rodriguez discovered a pattern about herself: She rebels, realizes that she is hurting herself and works to get her life back on track.
In 2013, Rodriguez told Cosmopolitan Latinas that she planned to break from acting to try her writing and directing. “Sometimes you gotta believe,” she said. “And sometimes you may be wrong. But until you try it and put it out there, you can't let anybody have an opinion about it. That's how you get it done.”
A makeup artist to the stars whose goal is to accept, not hide, her ADHD
Modeling in New York City led Marta Bota down the makeup artistry path. She is a freelance makeup artist whose career has spanned more than two decades. She has done makeup for the on-air talent and celebrity guests on CNN, FOX News Channel, CNBC, MSNBC, and HBO. Working with makeup uses Bota's creative gifts. “Artistic expression has always been therapeutic for me,” says Bota.
Bota's diagnosis came about when her son was being evaluated for attention deficit. The doctor handed her a questionnaire about her son's behaviors. As she read over the questions, she recalled having the same challenges as a teen.
Several months later, after her mother's death, Bota found her old report cards stored in inboxes. On the back of them were comments such as “Trouble paying attention” and “Needs to learn to focus.” She was in the gifted and talented program, but she struggled to keep up with the work and stay on task. That was her Aha moment. She decided to get tested for ADHD and find ways to cope with it.
Bota had developed coping strategies before her diagnosis. She knew that a 9-to-5 career wasn't for her, so she started her makeup firm, MB Face Design. What she likes most about it is that there is no routine – every day is different. She taught herself how to get things done by moving among several projects to avoid being bored by one of them.
Bota focuses on the positives of ADC HD. She has more energy and gets more done in a day than many neurotypical people do, she says. She is creative and resourceful. Most of all, she learned to forgive herself and accept her condition.
In 2014, Bota received the title of Mrs. DC DuPont Circle America. Her platform was ADHD Awareness, Diagnosis, and Treatment. She also runs the ADHD Help and Hope Network on Facebook, giving inspiration and information on managing symptoms to thousands of fellow people with ADHD.
Ben Lesser is one of the most sought-after experts in health, fitness and medicine. His articles impress with unique research work as well as field-tested skills. He is a freelance medical writer specializing in creating content to improve public awareness of health topics. We are honored to have Ben writing exclusively for Dualdiagnosis.org.