Feature

Always late but worth the wait: “ADHD is my superpower”

Illustration by Jaz Davies

This year The Independent reported that hundreds of thousands more women tested themselves for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD is a condition that is estimated to affect 1 in 20 adults, however four times as many boys are diagnosed in comparison to girls.

Why?

ADHD presents itself differently in women, and it does not fit the stereotype of a disruptive young boy pinging around a classroom. The condition was long thought to be a ‘male disorder’ and/or a ‘childhood disorder’. Even the suggestion that a woman has ADHD, is often met with scepticism.

This is starting to change as more and more women are recognising their own struggles and symptoms as ADHD. The women being diagnosed in adulthood were often labelled as chaotic, forgetful, and quirky, which undermines the internal and external struggles they really face.

Tamsin Rose-Palmer was diagnosed with ADHD when she was 22, she said she “begged” NHS staff in various settings to finally get on the waiting list for a diagnosis.

She said: “I thought about going private and that’s always an option for people who are struggling to get a diagnosis, but honestly I couldn’t afford it, its so expensive.”

“Initially I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, which I was suffering from, but they missed that it was a result of my undiagnosed ADHD.”

The symptoms of ADHD can be categorised into 2 types: hyperactivity and impulsiveness, and inattentiveness. A woman is more likely to suffer from inattentiveness with or without the hyperactivity, another reason why ADHD is often overlooked in women.

The NHS provides the following list of symptoms associated with adult ADHD:

  • Carelessness and lack of attention to detail
  • Continually starting new tasks before finishing old ones
  • Poor organisational skills
  • Inability to focus or prioritise
  • Continually losing or misplacing things
  • Forgetfulness
  • Restlessness and edginess
  • Difficulty keeping quiet, and speaking out of turn
  • Blurting out responses and often interrupting others
  • Mood swings, irritability, and a quick temper
  • Extreme impatience
  • Taking risks in activities often with little or no regard for personal safety
Photography by Jaz Davies

A neurotypical person might exhibit some of these behaviours too, like losing or misplacing things, and forgetfulness. Everyone loses their car keys, right? But not everyone loses them 3 times a week, pays hundreds of pounds for a new set, and then finds the missing set in the fridge a few days later.

Tamsin struggled to keep on top of work invoices, even though she was desperately in need of the cash, “I’ve nearly missed huge amounts of pay, just because I haven’t been able to write and send off invoices, a production was about to shut down for good and I still hadn’t got paid because I just couldn’t bring myself to finish the paperwork.”

Tamsin also suggests a generational shift in thinking around ADHD “I found it easier to talk to friends when it came to wondering whether I had ADHD, I could ask them, do you think I interrupt, or I’m overly chatty?”

“Whereas when talking to family members about it, they might think they’re the reason you have the disorder, and if they coped with it, then they don’t want to know because of the stigma still attached to the condition”

The exact cause of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is generally unknown, but it is believed to be a genetic condition that is passed down and is a neurodevelopmental disorder.

Watch Tamsin’s full interview here, where she talks in depth about her experience of growing up with undiagnosed ADHD, and how it may have even helped her to excel in the film and TV industry.

Untreated or misdiagnosed ADHD can have a serious impact on somebody’s health, wellbeing, employability, and their life chances. In her piece “The lost girls: ‘chaotic and curious women with ADHD all have missed red flags that haunt us” Noelle Faulkner explains “the default assumption about ADHD is that its what makes little boys disruptive. But it can also make little girls feel like they’ll never be good enough”. Carrying this into adulthood results in frequent burnouts and meltdowns and trying to keep up with “normal” expectations.   

She goes on to say, “sometimes we feel like superheroes; other times super-failures”. Women with ADHD become experts at masking symptoms and aren’t often flagged for a diagnosis because they appear smart and gifted. They are smart and gifted, but this is because they’re more likely to be perfectionists, working extra hard to prove themselves.

Tamsin puts down some of her achievements to her hyper-focus, “I completed a whole BTEC science in a week, I wouldn’t have been able to do that if it wasn’t for my hyper-focus, and I also wanted to prove everyone wrong”.

In a world not designed for neurodivergent people it can be hard to fit in and find success, but Tasmin says “its not like we appeared out of nowhere, we’ve always been here, its only now that you’re seeing us”.

“ADHD is my superpower!” she exclaims, “everyone deserves to know if they have it no matter what their gender is”.

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