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ADHD: much more than daydreaming & fidgeting

Emily Brennan

Online Media manager

Photo via McMaster University

For women at the doctor's office, being misdiagnosed is often a huge issue. Passed off from doctor to doctor, deemed “emotional” and stamped with depression. This was my life in the year 2019. My number one symptom? Overwhelmed. I need to do it, I want to do it - but it's too much.

Attention-deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most stigmatized chronic conditions of all time. It is a consistent display of hyperactivity and impulsive behavior that makes it hard to accomplish the smallest tasks. There is an issue with the executive functioning system in the brain. Adult ADHD affects approximately 4.4% of the population, but is more commonly diagnosed in men than in women. Why?

ADHD in women commonly shows up as emotional disturbances or inability to regulate emotions. In fact, most women are likely to be misdiagnosed with a mood disorder or a “psychiatric illness.” Along with this, women with ADHD tend to “mask” their symptoms. They become “people pleasers” and do their very best to act like neurotypicals even though they are aware of differences. This often leads to emotional distress, social anxiety and nervous breakdowns.

The stigma behind ADHD is misleading. It is much more than daydreaming, squirming or “having too much energy.” ADHD for me is:

  • Impulsive spending on items I don’t need when I have to pay bills.

  • Mood swings.

  • Audio processing disorder. I struggle to understand directions spoken to me, and I have to write everything down.

  • Social Anxiety. I struggled with asking my boss for time off, asking for extra help from a professor or scheduling a doctor's appointment. I could not hold a job, starting a new task caused so much anxiety, until the point of breakdown.

  • Extreme frustration when my routine is broken.

  • Hyperfixation and “phases” - I am always fixated on my next “hobby.”

  • Inability to even accomplish a simple task. Sign a document, take out the trash, you name it - it was impossible for me.

ADHD is neither a learning disability nor a mental illness. It is a medical condition. My brain just functions “differently” - I am neurodivergent. To be neurodivergent simply means you process information differently than those who are “neurotypical.” Some other conditions that fall under the category of neurodivergent are Autism Spectrum Disorder, Dyslexia, Tourettes and Epilepsy.

I was diagnosed with ADHD in 2020. I still struggle to understand those who stigmatize the disorder and the medications around it. We have to work to change these stereotypes, especially the ones that women face.

ADHD is not a learning disability. It is not a mental illness. It is a superpower.


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