Diagnosed as an Adult: ADHD in Women

Confronting a Shame I Didn’t Know I had

A few months ago, I started a job as a piano and voice teacher off of the recommendation from my friend, who was looking for a teacher to fill her spot.
She was confident that I could take on the job- I was not. And not because I was being falsely modest, or anything even close to that. In the Zoom interview with her boss, I began by saying “Listen, I’m really not that good. I have a lot of, anxiety around the piano. I’ve thrown up before, at recitals, and stuff.” This was the truth I knew at the time: I was just, anxious and, bad, at the piano. My heart’s dropping just writing this. Ugh. If my friend wasn’t in such an urgent position to leave, I would’ve never taken the job or ever considered it.

Here’s what was really happening, though. There was a shame I kept with me all of these years that I only began to confront after I took this position. I had no choice but to confront it, because I was so sensitive about letting these kids down by me being a bad teacher. So I had to start asking myself the tough questions: how could I be and feel like such a bad pianist, even though I’ve been playing since I was 3? How does that happen?

The immediate answer was that I was lazy. I was ashamed that I was a person who loved music so incredibly much, and felt like I was a failure because I had little to show for it– I had so many shortcomings no matter how hard I worked.

Luckily, I started with a new therapist a month after taking this job.

In the start of these sessions, I never admitted how I ashamed I was of this scattered, inattentive side of me, because I figured that with the amount of effort I was constantly putting into address these problems, I’d eventually come out on top.
I’d eventually, with hard work, become organized, laser-focused, someone who could be relied on for any task. But I was always a person who didn’t pay attention enough, who didn’t work hard enough, who couldn’t finish things, who got distracted too easily, she’s a daydreamer, who could never be stable. I full on bought that persona and felt hopeless about going anywhere in my life. I worked so hard to fight this laziness, to pull my own weight, and I wasn’t moving.

And that was completely on me, so there was nothing to talk about.

I pushed down traumatic moments that shaped me and my confidence in who I was as a performer and as a person. I would cry, hyperventilate, my limbs would shake, I couldn’t eat, sleep, and was constantly told that this was my problem, and this was what my life was always going to be, just to hold down a job, just to finish anything, just to stay focused. It felt impossible for me and I had no answers, so I did what most kids would do– I started shutting down.

My Therapist says ADHD for the First Time

Two months ago, my therapist said to me, “Without judgement, see if you can keep eye contact with me.” And I was immediately embarrassed and worried that I was being rude or hurtful.
I had a hard time keeping eye contact. She reminded me that there was no judgement, she just wanted me to be aware of it.
“Is, that a bad thing, that I can’t keep eye contact?”
My therapist took a deep breath, said “well, screw it- it’s a symptom of ADHD. I had a feeling you had it, but in order to be sure, I had to wait until your depression and anxiety were more at bay.”

And I was flooded with very distinct memories of moments in my life when I should’ve known but instead pushed the possibility aside at the time.

The next week I took a test for ADHD, and it was hella obvious. But here’s something about ADHD that most people don’t know.

I’m 25- What Took So Long?

Don’t symptoms starting showing up before the age of 12?

Yes, but that’s mainly for boys.

The symptoms were always there- but they show up in different ways for women. It’s unfortunately common for women to be diagnosed later in their lives.

I’ll leave this section to the professionals: How ADHD Commonly Presents Itself in Women

As that article states, “Females often live with undiagnosed attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), partly because it’s a condition that was traditionally thought to affect mostly males, but also because females tend to have a less obvious type than males. In school, ADHD symptoms in girls may get overlooked because females are more likely to have inattentive ADHD, which doesn’t have the visible behavior problems that hyperactive/impulsive ADHD usually does.”

That’s the type I have, the inattentive type!

For women, ADHD is often explained away- as if it’s something we are unlikely to have, or something that is shameful to have. It’s more common that we will get blamed for it, rather than looking deeper into an actual diagnosis that should be addressed. We are just forgetful, we talk too loud, talk too much, too rambunctious- society dismisses us too easily, and is a large factor as to why women are overlooked. Girls in school much like myself who had ADHD too were considered ditzy, bubbly, talkative, annoying, strong personality, daydreamers, absentminded, careless, obnoxious. And then through shame, we work hard against our wiring and ourselves.

When we finally can’t take it anymore, when our jobs are at stake, when our home is chaos, and when are lives feel out of control, that’s when we tend to seek help for others things- and later come to this diagnosis.

Here Were the Collective Signs, as Verified by My Therapist:

Eye contact is hard when I’m over-stimulated.

-The organization of my school papers was always a note of feedback of something to work on, even though I thought it was, *chef’s kiss.*

-I impulsively jumped in on conversations, but because of shame and embarrassment and sensitivity around that, I learned to suppress that.

-My brain has 50 tabs open at once and since no one likes to hear all of them at once for good reasons, I just let my brain wander and talk to myself for a bit. There’s that inattentiveness.

– My humor is overly quirky. Thank you ADHD for making me fucking funny.
Speaking of, if anyone wants to join a cult about celebrating fish with human teeth, hit me up. We have two members. Both of us have ADHD.

– I impulsively spend money on books and I’m usually reading 6 different books at once, but usually outside, and I have a jump rope next to me. And a frisbee, because sometimes I try to play frisbee by myself.

Sleeping is difficult because my thoughts are always going. I exhaust myself because of them and my sleeping patterns are all over the place throughout the day.

-It’s difficult to practice piano, and I don’t even realize when I start physically wandering away from the piano.

-I played two unfinished pieces for a recital when I was eight, and then never performed at a recital again for eight years.

When I did perform again, I threw up Sorry, wrong list
(although TECHINCALLY speaking, anxiety and depression generally do follow someone with ADHD, so there’s that)

-I have a hard time paying attention, PARTICULARLY in the car, because I couldn’t move around and my mind would wander to wherever it could.

-I say “what?” like its my catch phrase. The weirdest part is I say it almost out of habit, even if I do know what you said. (sorry, ex-boyfriends.) Again, it’s like having 50 tabs open at once, so more often than not I caught it, just gimme a second to, click around for it.

-I would get told that I’m lazy and overly ambitious all at the same time. I was shamed by teachers all the time for being lazy, but was sorted into the Slytherin house in the Official Harry Potter quiz. Someone tell my teachers that.

I had a boss, with ADHD, who TOLD ME that I legitimately might have ADHD, AND I SAID, “NAH” because of the shame thing

-Then she told me I was at risk for losing my job because of it, so I decided to follow up with a doctor to get evaluated.

I missed that doctor’s appointment. Because I have ADHD. Me and my therapist laugh about this.

(My therapist confirms that this list is 175% correct.)

Lazy is a Catch-All Term

Any of the above data points, and so many more not even on this list, could be viewed as “lazy, irresponsible, scatterbrained,” but I encourage you too look past the guilt and shame for a second.

If you find yourself using a word like “lazy” a lot to describe yourself- there might be something else going on. I carried that label with me everywhere and throughout my whole life, while missing what all of these red flags actually were when combined in full swing.

Imagine caring so much about anything in the world, a person, a passion, and you dedicated so much effort, and the outcome was just never good enough. It felt like a full on curse, something I ran and climbed towards, and in the end exhausted myself for.

The reason therapy is so important is because anyone looking at these flags could put their own meanings on it. That’s what was happening to me, and that’s what happens particularly with women and girls who have ADHD. We “slip under the radar,” as my therapist explains, and aren’t given the help we need.

Okay, I’m gonna go to TJ Maxx now

Well, this is about all I can spit up for now, but I want to end on a very important note: carrying shame will never give you the happiness and answers you deserve, but a diagnosis can.

I cannot tell you if you have ADHD, and your parents cannot tell you that you DON’T have ADHD. A trained therapist can help you on your journey, to explore yourself, without bias or judgement.
But what I can say, is that after understanding my diagnosis, I don’t feel shame, or cursed like I used to. I’m thankful to have it, and ADHD has given me the greatest and most spirited parts of me. I embrace myself more than I ever have.

I used to be ashamed for the being the girl who may never be a stable person, or have a stable life. But, fuck stability. Think about it my ADHD friends- do you really want that stable life, just because everyone keeps telling you that you should want it?
We are wired for much bigger and better things. And more fun things, at that.

If this blog in some way helps you consider therapy as a way to finding answers about yourself, for anything at all, then I’m so proud of you. Every therapist is different- take your time in finding a good one. It’s not just worth it, it’s absolutely essential.

Thanks for reading, please join my fish with human teeth cult ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

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