Can ADHD women help themselves? Why should they?


If you have ADHD or know and love somebody who does, chances are, you’ve heard of CHADD, “The National Resource on ADHD.” In general, it is, indeed, an excellent resource on attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder; I would say its website is one of the most comprehensive sites on ADHD now in existence. But something I just read, on its page on women and girls, gave me pause:

I have four words: Easier said than done.

Unrealistic expectations

Understanding and accepting, not judging and blaming yourself for your ADHD challenges is a complicated, lengthy process. My ADHD diagnosis came just after my fifth birthday. However, it took me 20 years to realize how pointless and pernicious feeling guilty about my symptoms really is. And I learned the hard way that self-acceptance often is confused with laziness by outsiders.

Also, the recommendation to pinpoint “the sources of stress in your daily life and systematically make life changes to lower your stress level” presumes a certain degree of privilege on the part of a woman with ADHD. After all, the source of stress could be a job without which a single mom couldn’t support herself or her family. And what if an ADHD woman has a child with the same disorder, causing the woman stress? Is that woman supposed to put her kid up for adoption?

It’s not as though you can just blink, “I Dream of Jeannie”-style, and, poof, your life has simplified.

Moreover, there are gender-role-related issues at play here.

According to Dr. Ellen Littman, a clinical psychologist,

Society still supports a woman’s obligation to accommodate others, and women with ADHD valiantly sacrifice their needs in their attempts to serve others–until their own unaddressed needs ultimately overwhelm them. Endeavoring to make connectedness a priority, women with ADHD may agree to, or even initiate, social engagements without thought of self-protection. Striving for acceptance, women with ADHD regularly take on more than they can manage. Even when their physical and/or emotional boundaries are being violated, they may not feel entitled to object. Sadly, they can become their own harshest critics, often assigning themselves negative, dismissive labels in reaction to perceived failures. Plagued by a continual sense of demoralization, it is not surprising that most women with ADHD struggle with low self-esteem and feelings of hopelessness.

It always falls to us

Something else rubs me the wrong way: All of these strategies are ways women with ADHD can help themselves.

Yes, “Seek structure and support from family and friends” and “Create an ADHD-friendly family that cooperates and supports one another” both hinge on loved ones participating. Even so, the onus is on the ADHD woman to create such a supportive atmosphere.

Why is that? Why should someone who is suffering be responsible for orchestrating the circumstances that reduce that suffering? Is it really so unreasonable to expect loved ones to help without having their arms twisted?

Why should someone who is suffering be responsible for orchestrating the circumstances that reduce that suffering? Is it really so unreasonable to expect loved ones to help without having their arms twisted? Click To Tweet

What’s the alternative

I have a fair amount of familiarity with the female ADHD experience and with how neurotypical people tend to respond to it. And if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that our loved ones do want to help, but we have to show them how.

The key, though, is not being apologetic about it. Don’t feel remorseful for expecting your partner or your parents to pick up the slack and do the laundry or remind you of an appointment when your ADHD rears its ugly head. After all, you’d do anything for them. It just so happens that in this case, they’re the ones who have to do something for you. Don’t let the neurotypical people closest to you think it’s anything but ordinary for them to help shoulder your burden.

Yes, ADHD is a burden; it’s just more burdensome to the person who actually has it: you.

1 Comment

  1. Meli Hull January 3, 2018 at 11:11 pm PST

    All the things in that list seem like pretty good ideas that are indeed easier said than done, but, also, none of those things should be specific to women????


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