The Struggles of Being a Woman With ADHD

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when I’m around other women I get nervous. I always feel like an outsider. It’s as if they all studied some manual on “how to be a woman in today’s society”, but my copy got lost in the mail. Even participating in a normal conversation can put me on edge – I’m always scrambling to find the right words, hoping they don’t notice my hesitancy and realize that I’m actually an imposter. Women are expected to behave in certain ways, but to me, complying with those social directives feels like bending steel with my bare hands. Being a woman is complicated enough, but being a woman with ADHD? Well, some days it feels downright impossible.

Let’s face it; it’s still a man’s world. Yes, gender equality has evolved significantly over the past few decades, but we are still far from achieving true equality. For women, there still exist strict social norms that keep us “in control”. We can’t be too straightforward with our wants/needs, for risk of being labeled “bossy”. We can’t be too shy or quiet, for risk of being overlooked entirely. We can’t be too loud, too funny, too smart, too fat, too thin, too stoic, too flirty, too ANYTHING. And don’t even get me started on how we’re supposed to dress!

Men, on the other hand, are allowed to be reckless or methodical. Assertive or reserved. Obnoxious or pleasant. They have a choice of how to behave, and they can make that choice, in almost any social circumstance, without fear of any repercussion.

 

The problem with being a woman with ADHD

Men and women are still treated very differently, even in 2018. Recent studies show that people respond more favorable to those who conform to their specific gender role.

… The problem is I can’t always follow the rules of my gender. Like all women, I have thoughts, opinions, and viewpoints that are valid and that matter. However, whereas most women are capable of refining what they say when, I have not quite mastered that skillset. Let’s just say, filtering is not my strong suit. Having ADHD means I’m a highly impulsive and emotional person – and trying to control all those impulses and emotions is very overwhelming and can often prove too difficult for me. My opinions are often rooted in my emotions, which makes it hard for me to ignore them, or worse, try to stifle them.

Women have to tread lightly in our society. We have to always be aware of what we are saying, how we are saying it, and who we are saying it to. It’s exhausting, which is why I think a lot of times women are content to stay quiet in conversations, especially conversations with men.

For example, the other day my boyfriend and I went on a double date with another couple. Quickly into the lunch, I realized that the two men at the table where the ones dominating the conversation topics. Now, I’m not saying it’s the men’s fault – us women were naturally staying pretty quiet, but it was interesting to note how easily we all slipped into our roles. We sat down, and immediately the men began talking, assertively, loudly, and myself and the other woman just let them take over. It didn’t last long, however, because silence never works for me. I soon said something that changed the topic of conversation and started dominating the lunch myself, which thankfully, everyone seemed okay with.

 

ADHD manifests differently in women & men

My inability to adhere to female social norms can be very off-putting to some people. I have a tendency to interject impulsive statements into a conversation, or change the subject randomly, which some people find frustrating. It’s hard for people to relate to me, and I them.

ADHD is a gender-neutral condition, yet boys get diagnosed 3-5 times more often than girls are. One reason often cited for this disparity is that the symptoms of ADHD often manifest differently in boys and girls. Girls with ADHD tend to be less disruptive than boys – i.e. disorganization, distraction, and not following directions. Boys with ADHD typically utilize more disruptive and noticeable symptoms.

Another difference between girls and boys with ADHD is how society reacts to them. When a little boy runs wild in the grocery store, driving his poor mother up the wall, onlookers will often smile and say something akin to, “boys will be boys.” When a young girl is making a scene, the girl and her parents are often met with more criticism, one might even hear the oh-so-outdated sentiment, “that’s not very ladylike”. This idea that boys can act out and girls can’t is ingrained into our society and research shows that adult women with ADHD often blame themselves for all their “bad behavior”, whereas adult men with ADHD just blame the disorder.

 

Who needs to change? Me or Society?

I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve asked myself, why am I like this? Why can’t I just act like a normal person? Why do I keep making the same mistakes over and over again? I always blame myself.

So where should the blame be placed? Sure, society played a major role in shaping both my identity as a woman and as a person with ADHD, but that doesn’t mean I can relinquish all responsibility for my behavior. Even if I was a man, some of my actions would still be considered disagreeable, and I need to remember that sometimes it’s for the best to filter what I say. I will probably always feel a bit uncomfortable in a group of women, and there is no way I will be able to fully fit the mold of a woman in this society, but that doesn’t mean I can’t try to find common ground and be more careful regarding what I say.

We can all learn something from one another. I need to try harder to abide by certain social cues, but my ADHD gives me an edge – the type of edge that I think a lot more women should seek to develop. It’s time we start appreciating ourselves as women and applauding other women when they dare to stray from the norm. If you can appreciate me, I can appreciate you, because you are more than good enough.

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