My take on dating as a woman with ADHD

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I’m always intrigued when I encounter other ADHDers’ writing on life with ADHD, especially in blog form. But one recent post, in particular, captivated me and spurred me to write up something in response.

Penned by Terena Bell, the post in question bears the compelling headline “Dating with ADHD: When do I tell a new partner about my health condition?”. Continue reading

The hidden reason ADHD girls are going undiagnosed

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It’s no secret ADHD women often go undiagnosed until well into adulthood — years and even decades later than their male counterparts

According to a recent CNN article, this is due in part to the fact that, “As a disorder traditionally seen as affecting males, and with males referred more often for a diagnosis, research to assess ADHD has been based on samples largely consisting of boys.”

A related explanation is that unlike little boys, whose hyperactivity sends up a red flag to teachers and parents, little girls tend toward symptoms of inattention. They struggle to concentrate and can often be found daydreaming — or so the existent literature on the subject says — and such behavior is less noticeable to adults who are in a position to get a child the help they need. So it goes that boys, at 12.1 percent, are more than twice as likely as girls, at 5.5 percent, to have current ADHD, according to the National Survey of Children’s Health 2003-2011.

But you know what? I call bullshit. That’s only half the story.

Continue reading

Countering the ADHD half-ass curse

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I love the show “Parks & Recreation.” One of my favorite moments of the NBC series is in Season 4, Episode 16, when Ron Swanson sagaciously tells Leslie Knope, “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.”

That’s great advice. One, problem, though: I struggle to whole-ass even one thing. And I’m not alone.

What motivation?

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is, at its core, a problem with motivation. As I noted in a previous post, according to an article published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry in 2011, “Disruption of the dopamine reward pathway is associated with motivation deficits in ADHD adults.”

In other words, a person with ADHD has a lack of motivation to get motivated. And that, in turn, results in a whole lot of people, myself included, unable to get things not only done but also done well. The obvious solution is to sacrifice quality in the name of punctuality. But it’s not exactly ideal to have approximately 4 percent of the U.S. adult population not living up to their full intellectual potential. Remember, ADHD and intelligence aren’t mutually exclusive: Many ADHDers are born with an unusually high level of innate intelligence; many ADHDers tend to relish conducting research, especially online (more on this in a future post). 

Speaking, I flatter myself, as an ADHDer of both of those kinds, I can tell you firsthand how incredibly frustrating this is. I often have what I, at least, feel are genuinely brilliant ideas, but even if I manage to get them out, seeing a project or task through to completion always feels like a pipe dream for me. After all, the more complex your ideas, the harder you have to work to take them out of the realm of the hypothetical and put them into practice. 

Fighting back

Woman-in-cafe-with-laptopThe fact remains that ADHD or no, ideally, we’d all be able to work. It’s a source of financial security and the key to realizing the American Dream. Plus, much as we may deny it, life without some work is frankly kind of dull.

So what’s to be done?

First of all — and this is essential — you have to find work you like. I’m not saying you have to love every single moment, but you have to be interested in whatever the object of the work is and be enthused by the prospect of doing that work. This advice applies to job-related work and regular, everyday tasks, as well. Last year, I had a brief stint as an office manager at a nonprofit — I know, I know, nothing says ‘bright future in administrative work’ like chronic ADHD *ironic face*. But I believed in the mission of the organization and hoped that eventually, I would be able to move on to a position more suited to my talents. Yeah, that turned out to be a terrible strategy. If I never see another copy machine again, it will be too soon!

Likewise, you have to work within the constraints of your ADHD, dedicating your most focused time to the task in question, even if it means having to neglect (temporarily) household responsibilities or reschedule (politely) social commitments. That is a lesson I’m just now learning. In the past, I’d put other areas of my life on the back burner because I felt I had no choice; often, I wouldn’t even realize I was doing it until after the fact. Now, however, I prioritize with intentionality. 

Finally, you must, must, MUST play to your strengths. To establish myself as a name to remember in the blogosphere, I’m supposed to have an active presence on multiple social media platforms, promoting every post multiple times. But with only 10 hours a day in which I can concentrate, I just don’t have the time to play the social media game. One thing I do have going for me, though, is a natural talent (again, I flatter myself) for writing. So I’ve chosen to focus on producing the best content possible for every single post, rather than attempting and failing to give my blog an ongoing active, involved social media presence (and I hope I’m succeeding).

Conclusion

The ADHD half-ass curse is no laughing matter. When you’re in thrall to it, it can derail your life, and thus, your happiness. But if you find work that is meaningful to you, work that you could see yourself doing if you didn’t have ADHD, and find innovative ways to do it with ADHD, you can face the working world like any other woman. Good luck!

 

7 decidedly fab examples of disability in fashion


fullsizeoutput_21b3I don’t mean to brag, but among my friends and family, I’m kind of known as the resident fashionista. I have a penchant for finding unique clothing pieces and putting them together in cute, original outfits; and I love looking at online slideshows of the latest haute couture shows.

One thing about which I’m even more passionate than fashion, though, is disability justice. It is defined by Mia Mingus as “a multi-issue political understanding of disability and ableism, moving away from a rights based equality model and beyond just access, to a framework that centers justice and wholeness for all disabled people and communities.” 

You might think these two things are incompatible; and in the past, perhaps, they were. However, I’m delighted to report that in recent years, there has been an upsurge in disabled bodies integrating into the world of mainstream, contemporary fashion.

Here is a roundup of some of my favorite real-world examples of the intersection of disability and fashion at work.

1. Ad[dress]ing Ableism

In April of this year, five students at Cornell University, including two fiber design science majors, created an exhibit utilizing fashion to raise awareness about disability, “acknowledging the broad spectrum across which disability is defined, and changing the way students across campus think about disability and respond to it.” Each of the participating students was either involved with Cornell disability services or self-identified as “disabled.” 

2. Chairmelotte

In The Netherlands, there is a clothing brand called Chairmelotte Wheelchair Couture, “a company offering exclusive, in-house designed, specialised fashion for ladies and gents who live in a wheelchair.” Their website declares, “The clothes are distinct from other brands thanks to a perfect fit tailored to the sitting position, concealed adaptations and extras, and the use of high-quality, mostly natural fabrics with stretch.”

3. Design for Disability

In May, the Cerebral Palsy Foundation launched a six-part web series created “to challenge perceptions and increase public awareness about the need to include people with disabilities in the fashion and design industries,” partnering with fashion designer Derek Lam and six young designers from Parsons School of Design, Pratt Institute, and the Fashion Institute of Technology to create the accessible outfits featured in the series. 

4. Inclusive Fashion and Design Collective

Also known as the INFDC, the Inclusive Fashion and Design Collective is “the first fashion trade association for people with disabilities.” 

5. FTL Moda

During New York Fashion Week in February 2016, the FTL Moda shows, an Italian fashion platform that brings designers together to show their collections in a cooperative setting, featured a number of models with disabilities, including Madeline Stuart, the first runway model with Down Syndrome, and Shaholly Ayers, a fashion model born with a congenital amputation.

6. Seated Design

Back in 2015, Parsons alumna Lucy Jones won the Parsons Fashion Benefit Womenswear Designer of the Year award “with a collection designed for self-propelled, seated disabled people — a segment of society completely ignored by the fashion industry today.”

7. Nike FLYEASE

According to TIME, in 2012, high-school junior Matthew Walzer, who has cerebral palsy, wrote a letter to Nike in which he said his dream was to go off to college “without having to worry about someone coming to tie my shoes every day.” Thus, the Flyease 8, “a LeBron James-branded basketball shoe with a one-handed fastening mechanism” in which “wearers yank on a strap, which zips around the ankle as they pull,” was born.

 What about ADHD?

As is so often the case, while doing research for this post, I encountered a lot of information about physical disabilities and other, more outwardly apparent mental disabilities, but there was a decided lack of references to my disability, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Granted, disabilities such as paraplegia inherently require more physical adaptability. Nevertheless, ADHD does impact a person’s embodied existence, and it would be refreshing to see fashion reflect that.

Imagine, for example, if shirts were produced with heavy fabric, thereby compressing the wearer like a weighted blanket. Or failing that, it would be great if some garments could consist of flexible, durable fibers less likely to rip should the wearer trip or fall, as ADHDers have a tendency to do. Likewise, now that Nike has conquered zip-up shoes (see above), I would love to see its product designers turn their attention to creating a running shoe with extra traction to prevent unintentional slipping. In fact, I would like all shoes to be designed this way, including non-utilitarian styles such as high-heel booties or Oxfords. After all, ADHD-induced spazziness isn’t confined to the fitness domain — trust me!

 

Women and ADHD writer’s block: a crash course

From time to time, I suffer from a terrible side effect of ADHD — not of ADHD medication, but of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder itself. It is highly destructive, perhaps especially for women, and it has a name: ADHD writer’s block.

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What is ADHD writer’s block, you ask? Well, first you have to understand the science behind ADHD. Now, full disclosure: What I am about to tell you *may* not actually be correct. You see, even though I’m confident that the cause I’m going to provide is right, so far, it’s politically correct just to say ADHD is thought to have that etiology. I know in my bones this explanation is accurate, and I’m pretty sure scientists haven’t thrown their weight behind it definitively only because they’re terrified they’ll turn out to be wrong. Still, this should not be taken as credible medical advice. Having said that, the primary source of ADHD is almost definitely, in a word, dopamine — or rather lack thereof. I think Jessica McCabe explains it best:

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that’s part of the reward system in our brain. We do a thing; we get a hit of dopamine; we feel good. The problem is, in ADHD brains, there aren’t as many dopamine receptors as there are in the average brain. We kind of have to flood our brain with dopamine to feel the effects. You’ve heard of heat-seeking missiles? We are dopamine-seeking missiles.

The kicker is that estrogen modulates dopamine systems. According to a November 1988 article in the New York Times, “In two studies involving 200 women … the women performed better on tasks involving verbal skill or muscular coordination when estrogen levels were high than they did when the levels were low.” In other words, the higher your estrogen levels, the higher your dopamine levels; and the higher your dopamine levels, the stronger your verbal acuity. Thus, women are left experiencing heightened difficulty expressing themselves, both in conversation and in writing, during certain times in their monthly menstrual cycle and throughout their lives. 

During a bout of ADHD writer’s block, I, for one, feel tremendous amounts of frustration. I cannot overstate how aggravating it is to have half-formed brilliant ideas floating around in your head, but then be unable even to start typing when it comes time to write them down. Sometimes snatches of individual sentences will flit in and out of my mind, but when I set out to complete them and commit them to paper (well, to WordPress, anyway), they come out as gobbledygook, or worse, they don’t come out at all. This was a dangerous game for my brain to play with me back in grad school when I would need to write multiple-page papers on very imminent deadlines. And if you’re a professional writer, like me, it can actually put your career in jeopardy. Not to mention, it’s just plain annoying!

OK, great. But what are we supposed to do about it? Is there even anything to do about it? The answer, fortunately, is yes, there is:

Coffee.

As Devon Frye explains,

Caffeine is most commonly used to overcome sleepiness and increase productivity; in some people with ADHD, it’s thought to combat common symptoms like distractibility and inattention in the same way that stimulant medications do. […] Caffeine works by stimulating the autonomic nervous system — responsible for regulating heart rate and other involuntary bodily functions like digestion. In the brain, caffeine stimulates the release of certain neurotransmitters, like dopamine, and blocks the absorption of others, like adenosine — a chemical linked to sleep and relaxation.

So, there you have it. I usually am able to get my writing work done thanks to caffeine* — caffeine delivered in coffee form, that is. Personally, I get the most potent benefits from a regular coffee drink such as a Starbucks Grande Caramel Frappuccino (100 milligrams of caffeine) with an added shot of espresso (about 64 mg caffeine) thrown in. Of course, your mileage may vary. After all, I’m pretty sure I have the severest ADHD in literally (yes, literally, literally) the whole world; you may need less caffeine to achieve the same effects.

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In any case, after about 15 minutes of intermittent sipping, I’ll suddenly notice myself finishing incomplete thoughts and finding the language that will enable me to evoke them. Now, that’s my kind of ‘java-script!’


*For the record, coffee is not the only palliative for ADHD writer’s block. More suggestions on how to combat ADHD writer’s block can be found in Beth Harvey’s February 2016 post on her blog Smart Girls with ADHD.

5 videos that women with ADHD should watch ASAP

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers! One thing for which I’m very UN-thankful is ADHD writer’s block. I’ll go into more detail about it in a future post, but suffice it to say that I’ve started writing about five different blog posts but haven’t been able to finish any of them. Rather than renege on my goal of posting every Monday and Thursday, however, I thought that today, I’d change things up a bit, and let others do the talking for me. So I combed YouTube and came up with five videos that are seriously worth a watch if you’re a woman who has ADHD or thinks she might. 

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The videos

1. “ADHD and Relationships: Let’s Be Honest” 

Jessica McCabe is an ADHD goddess. The vlogger’s popular YouTube channel, “How to ADHD,” has been comforting and informing ADHDers and neurotypical allies alike for a few years now. I chose this particular video because of its applicability to the lives of adult women, but seriously, check out the whole series when you get a chance.

2. “Russell Barkley: Is ADHD Different in Women?

Russell Barkley is one of the foremost experts on ADHD, and this video offers a rare opportunity to get his take on ADHD and adult women, specifically. One interesting moment in this five-minute clip is at around the 02:57 mark, when he explains the relationship between gender roles and niche picking in the lives of women with ADHD.

3. “ADD and the Female Brain — The Answers!

This is a delightful little video from ADHD expert Daniel Amen and his ADHD wife Tana, a health and fitness expert. Their back-and-forth in this video is really entertaining; plus, it includes excellent advice on how to keep those dopamine levels up all day long (I’ll explain more next week about dopamine for those who are unfortunate not to know about it yet).

4. “Ask Sari: ADHD & Estrogen

In this video, Sari Solden, who is one of a handful of experts on women with ADHD, gives us a refresher course on the impact of estrogen on symptom severity in ADHD women and offers advice on how to manage the fallout resulting from hormonal fluctuations. Short, sweet, and very relevant.

5. “Failing at Normal: An ADHD Success Story

Another gem of a video featuring Jessica McCabe front and center. Grab the Kleenex box and watch this TEDx Talk RIGHT NOW. Just…trust me.

 

The lie we need to stop telling women about ADHD

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Girls are less likely than boys to be diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. The general consensus is this is because for boys this tends to manifest in hyperactivity, which is much more noticeable to parents and teachers than inattentiveness, the type of symptom most common in girls. Luckily, as awareness spreads (albeit sometimes at a seemingly glacial pace), more and more women are eventually finding out the distress they’ve dealt with for their whole lives has a neurological explanation, and it’s called ADHD.

The long-delayed moment of diagnosis is often held up as a new beginning for the diagnosed. But while being diagnosed may very well be the most significant event in an ADHDer’s life, it’s not the be-all, end-all everybody makes it out to be. No, ADHD diagnosis is a new beginning — just not of pure, wholesale relief forever after. Instead, it’s the beginning of a life of newfound clarity about enduring struggles, for enduring they indeed are: Even if she starts an ADHD treatment regimen, pharmacological or otherwise, post-diagnosis, the ADHD woman faces an uphill battle that will continue for the rest of her life.

Nobody ever seems to talk about the extreme fallibility of ADHD medications, at least those currently on the market. In truth, ADHD is often treatment-refractory or treatment-resistant, meaning an ADHD medication may only have potency in a given person for a limited period of time, if at all. Now, there are two primary classes of CNS stimulant medications: amphetamine, aka Adderall, and methylphenidate, aka Ritalin. Most people respond better to one type of stimulant than the other. But many people, for whatever reason, don’t get symptom relief from either.

Moreover, you can have the most positive response possible to a given medication, but still not experience complete ADHD symptom relief, even temporarily. Unfortunately, the neurotypical expect us ADHDers to perform at their neurotypical levels if we’ve been “lucky enough” to be diagnosed and treated. Promised patience tends to run dry.

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This is particularly unfortunate for women, who earn the censure of society for displaying ADHD symptoms that tend to be revered in men. For instance, a man who doesn’t follow directions is deemed an “out-of-the-box thinker,” while a woman gets a reputation for recklessness. And a man who speaks out of turn is viewed as assertive; a woman, lacking self-control.

On top of that, women are tacitly expected to assume and maintain responsibility not only for themselves but also their entire household, both in its upkeep and of its members. Many women discover their ADHD at some point during or after their child’s diagnostic process. The upshot is these women being responsible for a higher than average degree of care for children with ADHD when they, in fact, need to expend extra effort just to take care of themselves. 

Just to put it into perspective, for you, I’ve been aware of and received treatment for my ADHD since early childhood, yet even I have to strive every single day just to avoid falling behind. Getting ahead, excelling almost always feels like a pipe dream — this, despite the fact that I’m on the highest possible dosage of all of my medications; not to mention, I live with my parents, rent-free! 

All of this is to say, it’s time to infuse a little honesty into the adulthood-diagnosis narrative, especially for women. We need to stop leading these ADHDers to believe everything is going to be OK because frankly, it’s highly unlikely that will turn out to be 100 percent true. Again, this is in large part because of the tacit mandate to fulfill traditional gender roles. As Kathleen Nadeau, one of the foremost experts on women and ADHD, explains,

Society has a certain set of expectations we place on women and ADHD often makes them harder to accomplish. … They are supposed to be the organizer, planner, and primary parent at home. Women are expected to remember birthdays and anniversaries and do laundry and keep track of events. That is all hard for someone with ADHD.

Honesty, it seems to me, is what’s called for here — honesty and compassion. And in that vein, there’s also a great need to reconfigure the typical response to a newly diagnosed ADHD woman, which right now is something to the effect of, “Congratulations! You have ADHD. Good luck!”

In this day and age, that kind of MO is unrealistic, and as such, utterly unhelpful.