I can't count the number of times I've heard (or read) someone point out the fact that "ADHD presents very differently in girls vs. boys." And I would nod in perfect agreement, because yes! I have heard (or read) that many times!
But if you'd asked me just how, exactly, ADHD presents in girls, I'd have absolutely no idea.
"Differently," I'd probably answer in a serious and authoritative tone, because I love to bullshit my way through questions. "ADHD presents differently in girls."
I mean, not shocking, as I do not have a daughter and certainly never struggled with ADHD as a child myself.
Until I learned that actually, I probably did.
(Struggle with ADHD as a child, that is. I did not discover the existence of a long-lost daughter I forgot I gave birth to. Just wanna make that clear,)
Still maybe not all that shocking! I only learned the specifics of how ADHD presents in adults like, last month! And only went to my doctor two weeks ago like, uhhhh I think this is me? And I was right and it totally was me and now I'm finally medicating the right part of my brain for the first time in my freaking life and oh my God, I get it now. I get how all you other adults manage to adult so well without plummeting ass-backwards into a self-inflicted crisis every few months. (Or weeks. Or days!)
I'M ONTO YOU, FELLOW ADULTS. AT LAST I HAVE LEARNED YOUR SECRET AND CANNOT BE STOPPED. MWA HA HA.
So I figured "how ADHD presents in girls" was probably worth a Google now.
- talking all the time, even when parents or teachers ask them to stop
The first time I ever got in trouble at school was in kindergarten, because I could not keep myself from talking to the other kids while we were seated on the carpet for story time or a lesson or whatever. Usually because we'd started a conversation before we were seated on the carpet and I vividly remember the twitchy agony of that unfinished conversation. Surely, if I just barely whispered what I had left to say, I could make the twitch go away and then I could be quiet and pay attention like a good girl.
- frequent crying, even from small disappointments
I also vividly remember the scolding I got from my kindergarten teacher (who I loved and adored and wanted nothing more in life than to please) and getting moved to the opposite side of the carpet from my best friend. And how I cried. And how embarrassed I was that I was crying, which made me cry even harder, and then I made eye contact with my best friend (who was NOT CRYING) and panicked. Why wasn't she crying? Did she not care? Were we not friends anymore? The twitch came back.
"Are you still my best friend?" I silently mouthed to her.
She nodded. I nodded back and turned my attention back to my teacher in relief.
I hadn't noticed she'd stopped reading and was staring right at me. So was everybody else.
She told my mom about it. My mom gave me a look. I burst into tears all over again.
Later in elementary school, it was common knowledge that Amy cried over everything, so be super careful about what you say to her. In middle school, Amy was known as kind of a Drama Queen.
In high school, Amy was just...ugh, she's so exhausting, yanno?
- constantly interrupting conversations or activities that include their friends
HA. HAHAHAHAHA. Oh, it me. IT ME.
Another article I came across mentioned girls blurting out inappropriate things without thinking. For me, this definitely manifested as a million pointless, inane white lies. I'd say I listened to bands I'd never heard of, that I liked TV shows and movies I'd never seen, or that I I got my skirt at The Gap when it obviously came from Marshall's. I'd claim to have read some random article or news story somewhere to either support or oppose someone's argument or opinion when I had no idea what I was talking about. Lies that fell apart completely after any sort of follow-up questioning, and I'd be left struggling to double-down on the lie or somehow convince my friends that they'd all misheard or misunderstood me in the first place.
I hated that I did this. Just...hated it. I knew it was stupid and wrong and annoying. But then I'd get caught up in a conversation (or worse, overhear someone else's conversation) and damn it, why in the world did I just say that I've been to Europe? I've never even been to Canada.
- trouble paying attention
- frequent daydreaming
These two sort of go hand in hand, I suppose. As a child I constructed an elaborate fantasy world in which I was a famous child actress. The MOST famous child actress. And whenever I was bored -- at school, in church, at the grocery store with my mom -- I would disappear into that world and view whatever was happening to me through the lens of my "character." My classmates became my adoring co-stars getting tutored on set; the shoppers at the grocery store were starstruck fans. It was deep and detailed and I would be 100% mentally immersed in it and 100% checked out from anything actually going on around me.
(This "daydream" was also how I coped with an inability to fall asleep at night, and I'd spend hours in bed conjuring up my latest movie or conducting a TV interview or designing the mansion I lived in.)
I remember, at some point in my teens, realizing that the long-running Amy Corbett Show in my head was...pretty silly and childish. That I shouldn't still be pretending that the reason I didn't have many friends at school was because school was just part of my latest movie, in which I played a social outcast in a teenage romcom who was totally going to Win Everyone Over in the end.
But then I'd start walking down the hallway to math class and like, oh man, perfect time for an imaginary slow-mo walk scene set to whatever song was stuck in my head that day.
I read a Dear Abby or Ann Landers column in which someone -- an adult, I presumed -- confessed to doing something eerily similar to cope with boredom. Abby or Ann said it sounded like the letter writer just needed more outlets for her obviously deep wells of creativity and imagination and suggested checking out a local theater or creative writing group.
I was already doing theater and creative writing, so I didn't really know what to make of my own situation.
- having a messy bedroom, desk, or backpack
Ugh, yes. I would go on organizing tears (I now recognize this as "hyperfocus") and clean my room, my desk, or my locker. I'd get everything perfectly, immaculately clean and organized. I'd promise myself that this time would be different, and I'd keep everything tidy. But then the clutter blinders would come back, I'd wander away from something without cleaning it up, I'd be in a rush because I had terrible time management skills, and...yep.
This is still my life, if we're being honest.
- difficulty finishing assigned work
This is one that -- if my parents and teachers were filling out a rating scale -- would likely solidly mark this one off as "Nope, never." I did well at school! I never missed an assignment or failed to turn in a project on time!
But like my secret little daydream world, I managed my schoolwork via a series of elaborate yet rickety coping methods. I decided I simply "worked best under a deadline" and did everything at the last minute.
And I mean the. Last. Minute. That's when -- and only when -- I could magically turn on the "hyperfocus" like a superpower. Failure (OH GOD NOT FAILURE! MY PERFECTIONISM, IT BURRRRRNS!) was not an option. So completing a 10-page essay or a project I was assigned a month before in a single evening was just what had to be done.
I was a natural speed reader, which helped. As did a series of minor yet chronic health problems -- ear infections, kidney issues, mono, migraines, etc. -- that I could occasionally yet conveniently complain about to either 1) stay home and buy myself another day or 2) get myself sent home from school before it was time to turn in whatever thing I'd completely forgotten to do and remembered in a cold dead panic during morning announcements.
Girls may also be affected by ADHD if they experience:
- low self-esteem
There are a lot of variations on this symptom list, but the gist is the same. Before I read them, I would've sworn up and down that I never exhibited anything close to "hyperactivity" in a physical sense -- I wasn't really good at sports, although now I'm remembering multiple times a ball or stick whacked my face out of nowhere because I wasn't paying attention. But after reading them, oh. Yeah. I bit my nails, I'd braid my hair over and over, fidget endlessly with my jewelry, and doodle all over my notes.
And yet nothing I've described in this post so far was any sort of terrible, how could nobody have noticed sort of thing. I liked school and made the honor roll. I did band and chorus and drama and at least gave a couple sports a try, I had friends and boyfriends, and the usual amount of drama that goes with both. I went to church and youth group and I stayed out of trouble. What problem even is there to solve?
Plus I had not-terrible-sounding excuses for a lot of those other symptoms.
I talked a lot because I was smart. I daydreamed all the time because I was creative. I cried over everything because I was sensitive. I did things at the last minute because I was efficient.
And I can now look back and start to unpack where and when, exactly, the wheels started to come off and my scaffolding began to collapse. When the anxiety crept in and social issues cropped up and my self-confidence took a nose dive. And also when I stopped labeling the symptoms in nice ways.
I interrupt people all the time because I am annoying and self-centered. My daydreams are childish and pathetic. Grow up, Amy. (And stop crying over every stupid little thing while you're at it.) My house gets messy and disorganized because I am messy and disorganized. I wait until the last minute to do things because I am lazy. I don't don't know where to start on this work project because I am bad at this work. I never wrote a book because I tried and I never got past the first chapter and that's because I am a disappointment who never lived up to her potential.
(Why, it's almost as if having all that negative self-talk bouncing around your brain 24/7 might cause a little bit of anxiety! Or an eventual collapse into major depression!)
I went out for dinner and a movie with a friend the other night. (No one in my house wanted to see Little Women with me! Unbelievable!) After we sat down in the restaurant I felt strangely overwhelmed by everything. I was talking and I could sense that I was talking kind of fast -- to be fair, it'd been ages since we'd hung out in person and were both kind of overflowing with STORIES and INFORMATION and UPDATES -- but suddenly I felt like the words were just...skipping over my brain and going straight out of my mouth? And inside my head there was like...a completely different and separate topic of conversation going on?
And I needed to decide what to eat but the menu had too many pages and sections and pictures and that's when it occurred to me that the Vyvanse had worn off.
"I'm sorry," I laughed. "I cannot deal with this menu right now."
I closed the menu and decided the salad bar looked pretty good. We had a great time talking (veryfastbutthat'sokayitworksforus) about anything and everything, and the movie was wonderful.
I cried, of course. But hey, it's Little Women! And I'm actually really sensitive!