As a woman with ADHD, you might try your best to keep everything together. But because of your symptoms, it’s that much harder to pay attention, prioritize, perform, get organized and complete tasks. ADHD affects every facet of your life. It comes with a variety of challenges — some of which are especially unique to women.
The good news is that you can successfully navigate these challenges. The key isn’t to work “harder,” which you’ve likely already tried. And tried.
Instead, it’s to be open to other strategies and perspectives; and be OK with seeking help. Below, Terry Matlen, MSW, ACSW, a psychotherapist and ADHD coach, shared three challenges and tips for overcoming them.
1. Juggling responsibilities.
Today, men are more involved in parenting and do more around the house. However, research shows that women still shoulder most of the responsibilities. That means that for women with full-time jobs and kids, the to-do list never ends. Often women are “cooking, cleaning, [doing] laundry, making appointments, handling school-related issues, planning social events, and keeping everyone and everything in balance,” said Matlen, who has ADHD.
This can be overwhelming for anyone. But “for a woman with ADHD, juggling all of these responsibilities can put her over the edge.”
One of the problems is the belief that women with ADHD should be doing everything on their own, Matlen said. “ADHD is an invisible disorder, so it’s hard for many to accept the help they so badly need.”
However, getting help is vital. Help isn’t “a luxury; it’s a necessity.” If your spouse is unable to help with cleaning, hire a housekeeper, whether it’s once a week or once a month, she said.
If you’re a mom, especially a single mom, get help with your kids, she said. Even having someone watch your kids once or twice a week can replenish some of your energy.
Also, get help with homework. Let your partner or a tutor (such as a high school or college student) take on homework battles, Matlen said. “It’s more important for a mom to have a good relationship with her child than for him or her to bring home all A’s on his report card.”
Lower your expectations. Don’t expect to have a spotless space, a multi-course meal and laundry put away every night. As Matlen said, there’s no law saying you can’t grab clean clothes out of the laundry basket if you’ve had a tough week. You also can have take-out meals and create shortcuts in the kitchen.
Remember that you aren’t a failure because you didn’t complete your to-do list or fulfill society’s sky-high standards.
“In short: Make it work for you,” Matlen said.
2. Hormonal changes.
Hormonal changes tend to exacerbate ADHD symptoms, Matlen said. For instance, women with ADHD often experience more acute symptoms of PMS than women without ADHD.
“In addition to fatigue, cravings, bloating, cramps, and emotional unevenness, cognitive abilities are also impacted for the woman with ADHD, resulting in symptoms like confusion, irritability, forgetfulness, brain fog, and impatience,” writes Matlen in her latest book The Queen of Distraction: How Women with ADHD Can Conquer Chaos, Find Focus and Get More Done. As women with ADHD enter perimenopause and menopause, they start to experience changes in mood, cognitive functioning and short-term memory. For instance, they may experience mood swings, sadness and irritability, Matlen writes.
She also notes that they can struggle with chronic worrying and sleep disturbances. They might forget a person’s name after just being introduced. They might find themselves searching for the right word in a conversation.
If you’re noticing these issues, talk to your health care provider. If you’re taking medication for your ADHD, it might need adjusting, Matlen said. “It is essential to have whomever is prescribing your ADHD meds to partner with your gynecologist or other health care provider. [This way] optimal functioning can be enjoyed during these sometimes difficult years.”
Matlen also noted that for many women hormone replacement therapy is helpful. (Learn more here about how menopause affects ADHD and what you can do.)
3. Co-occurring disorders.
“Women with ADHD are more likely to experience depression and anxiety,” Matlen said. Sometimes, the stresses of having ADHD pile up over time and trigger these disorders. Before being diagnosed or receiving effective treatment, women with ADHD can spend years feeling like failures. Their self-esteem plummets.
Matlen often hears clients say: “How can I be an attorney/teacher/entrepreneur (fill in the blank) yet I can’t get the laundry done?”
Other times, these disorders are separate from ADHD. Either way, it’s important to get treatment for both your ADHD and any co-existing conditions, Matlen said.
“Typically, clinicians will treat whatever appears to be the most debilitating of your symptoms.” For many people, once ADHD is treated properly, depression and anxiety lift, she said.
To help you figure out whether these issues are separate (or not), Matlen suggested asking yourself: “Do I feel anxious or depressed even when things in my life seem to be under control? Do I feel depressed regardless?”
When you have ADHD, you may feel alone and inadequate. You’re trying so hard to keep up with everything, and feeling exhausted and depleted in the process. But remember that you’re not alone. Seek help and support. Work with a therapist and/or ADHD coach. Consider taking medication (if it’s appropriate). Join support groups. (Matlen offers a private Facebook group for women with ADHD.) Read books about ADHD, and attend conferences. As Matlen said, these things can truly change your life around.
She also stressed the importance of focusing on your strengths. “Don’t define yourself by your ADHD, but instead, recognize that this is just one part of who you are.” Focus on what brings you pleasure and gives you a good sense of your identity, she said.
And, again, do what works for you — minus the “shoulds” and impossible expectations.
Busy woman photo available from Shutterstock