• Trish Reeve with husband Adam. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Growing up, Trish Reeve always knew she was different. But it wasn’t until she was diagnosed with ADHD at age 38 that she finally understood why.
By
Trish Reeve, Presented by
Yasmin Noone

28 Oct 2016 - 2:34 PM  UPDATED 28 Oct 2016 - 3:00 PM

If you are like me and have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), then you may not have enough focus to read to the end of this article.

So just in case I lose you throughout this piece, here's my most important message directed at all girls and women. If you regularly hear five or more of these 10 comments below – comments that made me realise I should seek an ADHD diagnosis as an adult woman – then the chances are that you might be a female with ADHD.

It does occur in women. Please know you are not mad or alone. 

To some people, ADHD is just “a label". To others, it’s a stigma – something to be ashamed of. But my ADHD diagnosis helped me to calm that voice in my brain that had always told me I was just a freak.

My female ADHD story

I had always known that I was different to everyone else. But I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until I was 38.

It hit me while I was investigating my son’s ADHD that I was told: ‘it is likely that you or your partner has the disorder’.

I realised I identified with many of the ADHD traits. I also found out that genetics account for 70 to 80 percent of your individual risk, so if your son has ADD or ADHD but your male partner doesn’t, then the chances are you may be another woman who has it too.

The fact is that you don't get ADHD as an adult. It's something you develop in childhood but for some, the disease will never go away. According to the Australian Guidelines on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, around five to 10 per cent of population diagnosed with ADHD will continue to have it as an adult.

"I was never climbing the walls and starting fights, I wasn’t loud, I never hung out with the other girls nor understood how they knew what to say..."

To some people, ADHD is just “a label". To others, it’s a stigma – something to be ashamed of. But my ADHD diagnosis helped me to calm that voice in my brain that had always told me I was just a freak.

I had never understood why I was so different to everyone else but after I was diagnosed, I realised I finally had a name to explain why – and thus, I had a community I could turn to for support, to help me learn what steps I could take to minimise the effect ADHD has on me.

Having a label also helps me understand that I’m not “a bad person” or someone who is defective.  It helps me understand that there are just things I find more challenging than others.

Prior to receiving my diagnosis however, there were many ‘labels’ swung my way, to describe my strangeness and personality. These labels, I now realise, weren’t statements about me but rather about ADHD. Now I realise these labels are common behavioral traits found in girls living with ADHD.

Girls don’t fit the loud, irritable boy stereotype: the image of the 'naughty boy' who can’t sit still, is climbing off the walls, can’t sit down, and is always fighting or back-chatting.

These labels, I now realise, weren’t statements about me but rather about ADHD. Now I realise these labels are common behavioral traits found in girls living with ADHD.

I was never climbing the walls and starting fights, I wasn’t loud, I never hung out with the other girls nor understood how they knew what to say, when to say it and how to get along with other people.

Girls are also the least likely to be diagnosed with ADHD because they either present as a “daydreamer”, “tomboy” or a “chatty Kathy”. They are not typically loud and over the top people and so they often fly under the diagnosis radar.

I can see the condition in my six-year-old daughter. Now that I have received a diagnosis and have the ability to look back at my own personal (and neglected) hallmarks of the disease in childhood, I can also recognise her signs. 

Here are the childhood comments that hurt but helped me to later realise I was ‘different’. They are the phrases that helped me to also accept that I am a woman who also had ADHD as a girl.

  1. You’d lose your head if it wasn’t attached to your shoulders. Where are your shoes/jacket/hat/matching socks/homework?
  2. Earth to student: are you paying attention? Could you join us back here on Earth in the classroom please instead of daydreaming?
  3. You’d do so much better in class if you paid better attention/finished assignments/stopped chatting/stopped doodling.
  4. You know it would be great to hear from someone else in the class – stop putting up your hand all the time.
  5. This is math class, not science – why don’t you have the correct books with you?
  6. Stop interrupting me. I was talking. You talk too much and what you say is boring.
  7. Could you please just finish the first assignment/task before you move onto the next one?
  8. Why can’t you be like the other girls and like dresses, makeup & music, why do you always have your nose in a book/climbing trees with the boys?
  9. Why are you so messy? Your handwriting is ineligible, your desk/locker is messy, your schoolbag is a monstrosity and your bedroom is a pig-pen.
  10. I know that you know this topic – you’ve shown extreme intelligence – way above the other students – why can’t you write as well as you talk?

Life is slightly sweeter today

I’d love to say that comments like these days are behind me and my social awkwardness has vanished since I became an adult. But I haven’t.

But the bonus is that when I focus on a task or topic – I tend to understand it in its entirety. My family know I love them with the force of a thousand suns. They understand that I can’t lie: my honesty is sincere.

I don’t play “head games”. For obvious reasons, they know where my personal boundaries are.

I believe that ADHD comes with a host of pluses and minuses – and by understanding my label better, I am able to function better.

 

If this article has raised issues for you or you are in need of support, visit Adults with ADHD or call 02 9889 5977 on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday between 10:30am and 4pm. Otherwise contact Lifeline 13 11 14. 

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