Realizing I have ADHD in my mid-forties felt like finding a flashlight in a dark room. All of a sudden I was able to shine a light on aspects of my childhood, teenage and college years, relationships, parenting, and just everyday life. Before this realization, I often felt frustrated, sad, and anxious because I couldn’t understand why things just felt so difficult for me. Like I was a square peg constantly trying to fit into a round hole. As I learned more about ADHD not only did the flashlight shine brighter, but I stopped trying so hard to fit the square peg in the round hole and instead went looking for a square hole.
Maybe you’re wondering why I found out about my ADHD so late. In actuality, many women don’t get diagnosed until they’re in adulthood. There are numerous, outdated stereotypes surrounding ADHD and it’s often thought of as a “male disorder,” which is why females can get overlooked, especially young girls. I didn’t come to the realization of my ADHD until my younger daughter was diagnosed with it and years later my oldest daughter was too.
My mom has worked with individuals with special needs since I was a young child and I knew of a few male relatives with the diagnosis. I thought I understood ADHD and what to look for, but I only knew the stereotypical signs and symptoms that presented mostly in males. When I started researching more about ADHD, to better support my younger daughter, my inner flashlight turned on. It was dim at first as I tried to make sense of what I was reading and as I was researching, I was surprised at how much of it pertained to me as well. The more I read (cue: Google, Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook) the brighter the flashlight became.
Let’s take a 40-year step backward. In third and sixth grades my teachers referred me for testing. I found my testing from sixth grade (thanks to my mom who saves all these things), which noted that I am very sensitive, overly suspicious about people talking behind my back, have a strong need to be liked by friends, my self-esteem depends too much on peer acceptance, I don't do well when others don’t agree with me, and my greatest worry was if everybody will like me. These are some traits of Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria (RSD). A few other key aspects of RSD are: Individuals are people pleasers and often avoid activities or situations where they are worried they won’t do well or fail at. Totally me…But that’s a whole other blog post.
I also found my report cards and teacher conference notes from elementary and middle school with key themes: Daydreams and has difficulty paying attention, easily distracted, talks too much, late with assignments, difficulty with organization of ideas, forgets text books at home, doesn’t complete homework, and needs better concentration. As I headed into puberty I struggled with regulating my emotions and feelings of anxiety and depression (although, I didn’t understand or know what those feelings were until I was older). I had friends, but I never quite fit in with the majority of the other girls and was usually excluded from hanging out with them. I constantly wondered what was wrong with me and why was I so “different” that other girls didn’t want to be with me. In my late teens, I developed an eating disorder that I struggled with for many years. This is not uncommon in those with ADHD, especially those that have not been diagnosed yet.
Jumping ahead to my adult years – I have spent many hours in therapy and been on and off medication for depression and anxiety. I got married in my mid-twenties and had two kids. When my younger daughter was two years old, after a lot of introspection, I realized for my own health I needed to end the marriage. The divorce process was contentious and really challenged my already struggling mental health issues. I felt easily overwhelmed and struggled to manage my emotions. I loved being a mom, but I always felt that I was falling short. I would be around other moms and wonder how it seemed so easy for them. I found myself yelling at my girls for the smallest things and putting too high expectations on them. I felt so out of control inside that I was doing whatever I could to control the outside.
I remember when my oldest daughter was in middle school and she had a friend over. They were doing some kind of art project and accidentally got marker on her expensive duvet cover. I got very upset with my daughter and embarrassed her in front of her friend. I felt so much shame and remorse afterward because I knew she hadn’t deserved the reaction she got from me. I was also incredibly embarrassed about the situation and didn’t know how to address it and apologize to her. When my youngest daughter was struggling with potty training I found myself getting frustrated easily, impatient with the process, and sometimes yelling at her. Afterward, I felt the shame creep in, because I knew I had overreacted. My mom friends didn’t seem to have issues like this and I didn’t understand why I struggled with these emotions and reactions the way I was.
As I was researching ADHD I came across many articles on emotion regulation. Those with ADHD have strong emotions that stem from issues in the brain. ADHD individuals are often easily overrun by a single emotion and their emotions directly affect their actions, which means their reactions can escalate quickly. The ADHD brain isn’t always able to differentiate between a minor and a major problem, which is why these individuals often overreact to problems that don’t seem very big or important to others. This helped make sense of the two situations I discussed above, as well as many more.
The process of shining the flashlight on my ADHD includes learning and understanding it, working on ways to manage it, and acceptance. Acceptance is the hardest part for me. I have spent so much of my life feeling that I’m not good enough and that if I just work harder, things will get better. I see other women in my life who (appear to) have it all together and I want to be like them. I look around my house and see multiple piles of papers, laundry, dishes, and more. Then I go to my friends’ homes and they’re so neat and tidy. I forget to respond to emails, pay bills, return unwanted items to the store, grocery shop, and the list goes on. My friends seem to do all these things with ease. I have to remind myself that I’m a square peg, actually probably more like an octagon, and that’s okay. My brain is just wired differently.
Shoshana Gordon is a NASM Personal Trainer and ACE Fit instructor. She's also an integral part of the Still I Run community having served first as an ambassador, and now helping out with the ambassador program! You can follow her on Instagram at sg_fitnesshealth.