Misdiagnosed and Misunderstood: ADHD in Women

“Look! A squirrel!”

“You’re running on dial-up while everyone else is running on WiFi.”

“You’re such a blonde.”

“What are you looking at? Are you paying attention?”


These are just a few of many phrases I’ve heard as a woman with ADHD. I do have to admit, the dial-up comment is hilarious and was said out of love from a friend. But you get the idea.

News flash to all the assholes out there: ADHD is more than having “squirrel” moments. It’s being withdrawn, having anxiety, low self-esteem, medication shame — the list goes on, y’all.

And the worst part? Even though we are making strides towards the issue…

it’s still a man’s world.

According to verywellmind.com, ADHD is a condition traditionally thought to affect mostly males. Not only that, women often don’t show as many physical symptoms as our male counterparts. Women are more prone to have inattentive ADHD, to where males deal more with hyperactivity/impulsivity. Luckily, thanks to knowablemagazine.org, I found that the diagnosis rate is now approximately 2.5 boys to every one girl.

For those that don’t know, ADHD/ADD manifests itself in three different ways: hyperactivity, inattentiveness, or a combination of both. I’d say I’m about 75% inattentive, 25% hyperactive (some may disagree on that with me though LOL).

Women are often called spacey, chatty, forgetful, air-headed… what great names to be called for a condition we were born with! Just because we’re not bouncing off the walls doesn’t mean we don’t struggle with remembering what we had for dinner last night, feel ALL the emotions VERY strongly, or my favorite, having a full-ass conversation with someone but not mentally being there the entire time. I have had so many conversations with people that after we’re done I have to sit there and recall what was just said. It’s both a blessing and a curse to be able to zone out that hard. Maybe this is what my old doctor meant when she said it’s my “superpower”.

So why are ADHD symptoms glossed over in women? Stephen Hinshaw, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley started studying women with ADHD back in 1997.

*Let’s pause for a brief eyeroll on a study about women done by a man.*

Anyway, Hinshaw found that women not only suffer the same problems as boys do with ADHD, but they have even more problems! Yay! He discovered that women “internalize” their behaviors, meaning they take all their problems out on themselves rather than other people. Of course it’s harder to diagnose a woman with ADHD if you can’t physically see her struggling. Because of things like this, girls often suffer from more anxiety and depression.

By Amber Lewis/Corvophobia on Tumblr

And then there are periods and hormones. Oh yes, these make ADHD symptoms even worse. Everydayhealth.com says, “During the first two weeks of a menstrual cycle, estrogen levels are high and women with ADHD may be in better control of their ADHD symptoms. As estrogen levels drop toward the end of the cycle, symptoms of low estrogen may start to make usual ADHD symptoms worse.” I feel this to my core. Even with my medication, that time of the month makes my ability to focus, control my temper, racing thoughts, etc. that much harder.

The article goes on to say that symptoms of ADHD have a lot in common with when your estrogen levels drop right before your period, or the years right before menopause. Estrogen affects receptors in your brain responsible for serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.

Serotonin: The key hormone that stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness.

Dopamine: A neurotransmitter released when your brain is expecting a reward.

Norepinephrine: A stress hormone and neurotransmitter released into the blood as a stress hormone when the brain perceives that a stressful event has occurred.

The levels of these receptors dropping + ADHD = straight up recipe. for. disasterrrrrrrrrrrr honey! And if you do the math in the menstrual cycle of a woman, it leaves about one and a half weeks of having to manage ADHD without the worry of hormone/estrogen levels being affected. So ladies, take it easy on yourself. Know when to take a break.


It’s not a catchall, but luckily there are things like medication and therapy to help. Please remember that you’re not alone — I like to talk to my sweet husband when I’m having trouble (and I don’t have a therapy session coming up). Other things I like to do when my ADHD wants to get the best of me:

  • Meditate
  • Write my feelings/thoughts out in a journal
  • Take a nap
  • Talk to a friend/family member
  • Play with my doggy
  • Take a walk
  • Dance
  • Clean something
  • Breathing techniques
  • Listening to uplifting podcasts (my blog here lists some of my favorites).

And most importantly, as I already mentioned, take it easy on yourself! You don’t have to get everything right, finish your to-do list, or even keep a conversation on-track to be a good person. ADHD isn’t a superpower, but it is a part of you (and me), so we love her. We have to learn to love all parts of ourselves, even the less glamorous.

If you haven’t been formally diagnosed but feel as if this blog resonates with you, consider having a conversation with your doctor to see what you can do to get help. You’ve got this, babe.


More ADHD/ADD resources: