Episode #2: Do You have ADHD or Did the Tooth Fairy Steal Your Keys?

Episode two of An ADD Woman

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So, on today’s episode of An ADD Woman, I want to talk about this question, this idea, is it ADHD or did the tooth fairy steal my keys, basically? How do you know whether you have ADHD or ADD? Now I’m not a doctor and everything that I say in this podcast is not to be taken as medical advice, but I think that it’s fair to say that as a diagnosed women with ADHD, there are some telltale signs that I might be able to help you recognize … basically, because I’ve lived with them. 

So, the American Psychological Association defines ADHD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as a behavioral condition that makes focusing on everyday requests and routines challenging.

Hmm. People with ADHD typically have trouble getting organized, staying focused, making realistic plans, and thinking before acting. Basically, life is pretty hard for us because we are disorganized. We are unrealistic and we’re impulsive.

I’d say that that’s correct. Except for the fact that many ADHDers along with myself (which you’ll find me saying the words, “ADHDers” with the “ers” at the end, it’s this kind of silly-cool name us people with ADHD call ourselves. And I guess myself included sort of resent the idea that we have an attention deficit, because the truth of it is, based on several studies, ADHD is less a lack of attention and it’s more a lack of regulating that attention.

In fact, we tend to pay too close attention to the wrong things and less attention to the correct task at hand, so to speak. Not to say that there is a right and wrong thing to focus on, because let me tell you some of the things I’ve spent my life focusing on, I don’t regret those things. Even though at the time it might’ve grew me, or it might have been more beneficial to me to pay attention to, you know, algebra and algebra class.  But at the same time, I don’t regret taking the time to focus on them. 

They probably weren’t or shouldn’t have been as important to me as they were at the time, but I will say, so I would like to give you some examples or give you some context for this. So, in school and throughout school, I could read really well.

In fact, I’ve found one of the misnomers about ADHD kids is their lack of reading skills or their assumed lack of reading skills.

But as a young girl, I was the exact opposite. I can read entire books and, I still can, in 36-to-72-hour increments. The only reason I don’t read books that quickly these days is because, you know, I have children.

I’d say that having children is probably the one thing that having ADHD kind of, it, it trumps it. Um, and I don’t mean that in the way that my ADHD is an important, or, you know, if I want to read a book really quickly that I couldn’t, it’s just, you know, I’m recording this podcast late at night, once all my children are in bed and that’s not because I lack the attention to do so during the day.  It’s because my kids have questions for like every five seconds. And if you have kids, you know exactly what I’m talking about. 

So back to what I was saying. When I was a girl, I definitely could read entire books in 36-to-72-hour increments. I was considered advanced for my age in reading, but I couldn’t turn in homework or remember to do it.  I could not keep my room picked up. And I know that lots of kids can’t keep the room picked up, I hear that all the time. It seems like every other time that I say something like, oh yeah, well, when I was a kid, I struggled with this. Well, lots of kids struggle with that. Yes. Yes. Karen. Lots of kids to struggle with that.

What I’m trying to say is I struggled to a point to where it did start to affect my life.

Um, so I couldn’t keep my room picked up. I could not memorize the algebra formulas I needed to know for math. So, you know, my teachers would say, how was it that this clearly bright and smart girl (right? because I could read at like an 11th grade level when I was in fifth grade) how could she have ADHD? Clearly, I could read. So, my struggle is not with attention… or is it? 

I think that one of the most common mistakes I see when it comes to differentiating women with ADHD or girls with ADHD, from boys with it is the idea that it looks the same for everyone, which is funny because we’ve done enough research to realize that mental health diagnosis like autism or fetal alcohol syndrome are on spectrums. Yet we still assume ADHD means “hyperactive, speaks out of turn and has lack of motivation for anything academic related.” And for us girls and women, it’s simply not the case.

I have talked to several women who have said, and asked other women who have ADHD, “did you find that you liked school, that you liked to learn?”  So, because you were able to get A’s and Bs in school, you got kind of “passed up” as being ADHD, but yet you were having to work three times as hard as your peers to maintain those grades.

The other thing too, is we have this whole idea that, you know, us girls and us women. (It’s… sorry, let me go back. I kind of lost my train of thought there.) So, the majority of society seems to assume that ADHD means hyperactive. Those of us women with ADHD, or even with ADD, especially the ADD presentation, which is the primarily inattentive type. I could hyper-focus on the book I was reading because it would basically short circuit, my brain’s normal interest engager, which I know I’m using super science-y terms here, but AKA your prefrontal cortex, in a way that I could get just go straight for the hyperdrive.

And I know I’m mixing science talk here with like science fiction but stay with me. The idea is, you know, if I was interested in something, if I liked it, if I found it engaging, my brain would literally, you know, just kind of, not really flip a switch, but it would like jumpstart and all of a sudden I could focus, but it had to be what I wanted to do, it couldn’t just be what I was supposed to do. 

I’d say most neurotypicals are wired to do the tasks given to them because the reward is, the work is finished and that feels good. Right? So, like, if you talk to ADHDers, we will tell you we want to do all these things.

We want to keep our house clean.  We want to keep our car clean. We want to get better grades. It doesn’t come natural to us. And it’s not in a way that you would think it’s not like we sit around and think, you know, I just, we don’t purposely ignore the messages in front of us, just so you know, or the fires in front of us, you know, I’ve met ADHD people who struggle with their finances to a fault.  You know, they have eviction problems, or they have their power shut off notices. Okay. But they also struggle with the idea of it’s got to just be something wrong with them. So, they can’t bring themselves to admit that, you know, maybe they need extra help. 

And I think that that could be the other problem with us girls, you know, we’re in school, we’re getting good grades.  We’re working three times as hard as our peers, but we’re making good grades, right? And we’re enjoying what we’re doing. We’re not going to open our mouths and say, “Listen, I’m really struggling. And this is really hard for me. And I don’t know why it’s so hard for me.”

You know, my dad has a story of my sister, crying at the table while she was trying to do math because she just couldn’t get it and didn’t get it. I don’t know whether or not my sister has ADHD. I would kind of assume she might, but she’s a rock star who owns her own business and works out for a living because her business is a gym. And so, she’s probably never going to be one of those women that ever really finds out if she does. But that is like the emotion I felt like I had all through school, you know, I was working so hard for those classes that I wanted to keep A’s and B’s in. And then I would get a class every once around, that I just couldn’t, I couldn’t, I’d get to fifth hour and I was like, my attention is gone, and I need to sleep. And I think that also comes down to the way our brains are wired. So, ADHD brains are not wired in a way to just see the reward as what we’re working towards. We actually have, a lot of us and I’m working on this with my younger son, we have processing delays.

Our processing delays are basically… they teach us to sequence things together. Right? So, if we are struggle with processing, that means that we can’t understand this.

So, we know, like how can I put this, when I sat down to write this podcast or to talk about this podcast or to draft it or brainstorm it, I had to sit down and start typing before, get out the thought, that I knew eventually I would have about it. And I know that it doesn’t really make sense. But for us with ADHD, we find we must start doing it before we realize how to do it. And that’s like the silliest thing ever, right? Because most of us should just like read the directions, but we don’t have natural directions in our head.

We don’t really have the short-term memory that everybody else seems to have.  I read it online somewhere, this woman related having ADHD to like making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And she said, if you don’t have ADHD and you decide I’m going to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the first thing you imagine in your mind, The peanut butter and jelly sandwich finished.  Okay. And then you don’t realize that, but then your brain actually works backwards for you. And you know that to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you need two slices of bread and peanut butter and jelly and a butter knife. Right. And if you’re like my family, some of us like to toast our bread. So, you need the toaster, and you work backwards so that you can eventually get to that picture in our brains.

We don’t have that “working backwards” ability. It’s not that we can’t learn it. We can, but it takes us much longer to learn it, and a lot of times, I find we have to get it outside of our heads.

So if I know that I need to do this, this, and this to complete tasks, I have to complete A and B first, then what I’m going to do is I’m going to make sure that task A and task B are written out in front of me, either on a sticky note or on a whiteboard or, you know, anywhere on a note and a notepad and a planner.  And then because we struggle with short term memory, we forget, we write those things down. It’s really ridiculous to be completely honest. Let me come back to my experience in school. 

So, you know, I may have been lacking the processing skills to recognize the correlation with the reward of the work is done. I did know that if I didn’t do my homework for math, that tomorrow I would have a knot in my stomach and avoid eye contact with my teacher, but my brain did not grasp, or at least it wouldn’t give me enough fuel, so to speak, to kickstart my engine and get me to complete the task I needed. I read in one of Dr. Daniel Amen’s books, in his studies on ADHD brains, that when it comes time to focus on anything. the ADHD or ADD person is not interested. Our brain does the exact opposite of what those without ADHD does, it literally shuts down. It’s like an off switch. The lights going dim does not mean that we are stupid, however! We just need more chemicals in our brain to get that to not happen.

And a lot of times, this is where people start to say, well, wait a second, you know, ADHD, isn’t that just something that hyperactive little boys have, and you grow out of it? There is some reason to believe from everything I’ve studied that, um, some ADHD kids can grow out of it. I don’t think it’s necessarily that they grow out of it.  I think that ADHD probably exists on a spectrum, just like so many other mental illnesses do for people. And that spectrum can go from meeting every single coping mechanism in the book to meeting like five. If you get those five coping mechanisms and you teach your brain to process, there are ways out there to teach your brain to process faster.

If you can get your processing ability to go up then, yes, ideally you would grow up. You’d get older and you’d no longer have the classical symptoms of ADHD. But let me tell you something… I also talked to so many women who say that they didn’t realize they had ADHD till they got to motherhood because motherhood was the tipping point for them.

There was a woman who wrote a guest post on my blog about ADHD. And I love the way she explained it because it is exactly how I felt my entire life. Especially before medication. (Full disclosure, I am medicated. I do take medication daily for my ADHD. I’ll do a whole podcast on another day about what medication I take, why I chose it and how it affects me and how I think it helps me.)

She mentioned in her guest post on my blog that she didn’t realize that the volcano she had been trying to swallow her whole life was actually ADHD.

And I thought, oh my gosh, that is exactly how it feels. You feel like, yes, you can get through those tasks, but, oh my goodness. If you are not just a volcano waiting to erupt either with anxiety and stress from being so overwhelmed or just emotions from dealing with it all. I can’t tell you how many times I have sat down to figure out my grocery list or figure out my task list for the week or figure out all the things I need to get done.  And once I’ve written out six or seven, I want to cry. This is not because I can’t handle it. And it’s also not because I’m dramatic. Even if I’ve been told that my whole life. It’s because the way my brain is wired, all of those things that may seem like typical day-to-day tasks for anybody out to me, just seem insurmountable.

Like you just asked me to sit down and figure out how to climb.

How am I going to do that? I have no idea. I don’t have any experience. And it’s not to say that I don’t have experience with day-to-day tasks, like grocery shopping and cooking and all those things, because I do. But my brain doesn’t know how long each of one of those tasks take, because my brain doesn’t recognize time.

That’s another issue with ADHD.

We literally don’t recognize time. I don’t feel it. I don’t feel it passing. I have no concept of how long, certain things. I have learned over the years, that when I think certain things take a certain amount of time, I need to add at least a half hour to what time I tell other people, because the fact that if I don’t add that extra half hour, chances are I’m going to disappoint them because I’m going to underestimate or overestimate the amount of time. I assume I’m going to.

So, our brain shuts off. We figure that out. So, what does that mean? What does it look like to everybody else around us? It looks like laziness. It looks like we don’t care. I remember being in high school and I had a D in algebra or a D in science. Math and science were just not my… well, it’s not to say they weren’t my forte, but if the teacher wasn’t engaging, I was not playing it.

And I think this all comes back to, it’s much less a struggle to pay attention because we can totally pay attention when it’s something that’s engaging. So, the lack of attention is really the wrong word. It’s not an attention deficit, it isn’t! It’s a regulation of attention deficit. We can’t seem to regulate the attention.

We have to make it go on the things that we need it to go on. What does this mean for those of us who are just now figuring out, okay, maybe I have ADHD. Maybe losing my car keys four or five times a day is not something everybody struggles with. I will tell you as a woman with ADHD, I totally thought everybody had all the struggles that I had.

They all did, right? Or if they didn’t, then that had to mean something was wrong with me, like wrong, wrong, not just like, you know, “diagnosable and find a solution” wrong. Like I’m just broken. Well, I’m here to tell you, I, I wasn’t broken. I’m different. And if you’re struggling with a lot of these things too, you’re not broken.

In fact, I’d actually say you’re probably more gifted in other aspects than our neuro-typical counterparts or that neuro-typical people would be envious of!  

There is one thing that I have found that a lot of us ADHD people can do and a lot of the other people who don’t have ADHD cannot do, and that is we can take risks.  Now, the problem comes in, when we take too many risks, well, we are impulsive by nature. So being impulsive, that means that a lot of times, I’m willing to say, okay, I’m all in. I have a crappy hand, but I’m going to bluff my way through this poker game. And I’m going to win all these people’s money. Now, speaking of gambling or anything unhealthy, being risk-taker is probably not a strength.

But when it comes to entrepreneurship, it is a huge advantage. We are willing to be vulnerable. We are willing to say, “Hey, you could totally cut me where it hurts, but I’m going to take that chance and the risk that I help more people.” And I have a greater payoff and ultimately, I think the last time I looked, the chances of a person with ADHD growing up to start their own business is about 300% higher than our neuro-typical peers! That’s huge. 

Neuro-typical people, they have this great processing ability. Okay. They can sequence together, almost everything. So, let’s go back to that definition in the American Psychological Association, right? Where they said that people with ADHD typically have trouble getting organized, staying focused, making realistic plans, making realistic plan.

Realistically, the people who start a business would never start a business, YOU would never start a business, if you knew all the things that you would have to learn to get to where you want it to be. If you knew all the things you would have to deal with to get to where you want it to be, you wouldn’t start that business.

I will tell you, there is a side of entrepreneurship and probably ADHD people with entrepreneur skills within the entrepreneurship hub that totally fit this mold of making unrealistic plans or they lack making realistic plans. They’re great risk-takers, they start businesses. But then they struggle to force themselves to do the hard things like bookkeeping or filing for their licenses or doing anything along those lines.

Now, if you have flourished with your ADHD or you have at least talked to a therapist for like six months or even life coach, or like your best friend, you’ve probably at least figured out by now that you have to surround yourself with people that have strengths that you don’t have.

Accountability is a huge factor in that and us with ADHD, whether or not we want to stick with our accountability, we really don’t.

I’ll be honest. We don’t care. We don’t care too much about being accountable. You can set the stakes high. You can tell us we have to do it, but the truth of the matter is if we don’t want to do it, we don’t do it. But if we are going to be risk-takers and we’re going to be the ones that want to start this business and make it go right, we have to be willing to do that thing where we’re vulnerable again.

And we can say, “Okay, I am not so good at bookkeeping, or I am not so good at time management, or I am not interested at all in figuring out the license I need to have for this. I’m going to go find somebody who has that strength and who enjoys doing that, and I’m going to get them to do it for me.” That is the difference between an ADHD person and a nonADHD person. And those two people become entrepreneurs. 

Now, the nice thing is, if you’re like me, business and all things to do with business and marketing and all that stuff became fun for me. So when I decided to start my business, I fell in love with all of the things I had to do, but I can’t tell you how many people I meet, who are like, I’m just going to ignore my profit margin and I’m going to make this fun because I need it to be fun or I’m not going to stick with it.

Well, here’s what I can tell you. You’re still allowing your ADHD to create. And I’m not saying that in a way of trying to make you feel bad, but I’m just telling you, you have lived your life long enough now to know that if you make decisions like that, they eventually implode. You have to learn as an ADHD person or an ADHD woman to utilize your strengths in a way that allow you to continue to grow them without pretending or shoving everything under the rug that we don’t want to deal with. We’ve been doing that our whole lives. I did that all through elementary school. I don’t need to do it in my thirties. That’s stupid and lacks poor judgment.

We are different. We see things differently. We don’t process things properly. You know when we start a business, we say, I’m going to do this one thing. And then six months from now, or like, okay, we got into the business and realized that we had to shift and shift and shift again. And we finally figured out that if we do this thing over here, or just slightly different from what we began with, we can flourish and we can make money and we can have a revenue and we can be successful.

This comes back to our impulsive thinking and our impulsive doing and our ability to become resilient. That’s the other thing I’ll say about ADHD women. We are some of the most resilient women I’ve ever met. And I think that’s because we’ve spent our entire lives having to figure out, you know, how to make Rube Goldberg machines!

Rube Goldberg, you know, complicated mechanisms in place of what could be an easy button, those easy buttons for our neurotypical parts, are Rube Goldbergs for us. And if you don’t know what a Rube Goldberg is, which I didn’t for quite a long time, it’s if you’ve ever watched like those old eighties movies where, uh, you know, I think Ferris Bueller might have had one, if not Ferris, Bueller, I definitely know there’s a Rube Goldberg in Back to the Future and in Back to the Future, I think it’s to make toast or eggs or breakfast or something, but the character Doc has a Rube Goldberg set up for toast, coffee or something. And it’s one of those things where, you know, you have a marble here and it rolls down here, and it flips a switch there and that touches this. And then that drops here and like a bunch of millions of different steps just to get to this one tiny task. That’s a Rube Goldberg. And when you have ADHD, that’s your whole life, you know, we, we have to do all these tiny, weird steps that nobody else would have to do.  Just to get our brains to do these tiny little tasks. How many alarms do you set? You know, both me and my husband (I’m like 90% positive my husband has ADHD, but he seems to do fairly well even having it) but we both have to set 10 alarms in the morning. And even at that, I mean, he still sometimes cannot get out of bed.

My twelve-year-old, he can’t get up. Are you kidding me? I have to wake him up like four times in the morning and that’s physical. You know, I have to go in there and touch him. He says he wants to go in the military. I look at him sometimes, and I’m like, you do know that your sergeant or your commanding officer, he’s not going to come in and just gently shake your hips and be like, hey, it’s time to wake up. We got to go out there and crawl in the mud. You got to go out there. Climb a wall or, you know, scale a rope or whatever. (Anyways, I digress. You will find, if you start listening to this podcast for any length of time, I’m going to go off on tangents for long, long periods of time and find it hard to come back to from them.)  

Ultimately, what I was wanting to say in this specific podcast is how do you know if it’s ADHD? And if it’s not, here’s what matters: how much is your lack of short-term memory affecting your life? Do you forget your keys often enough that it’s frustrating for you or for everyone around you? Do you say you only need 15 minutes when clearly you need 35, but for whatever reason, it felt like you would only need 15 more for you?

Do you, you know, go to school, and want to get good grades, but feel like you are just constantly peddling uphill on an incline to get those good grades? And I’m not saying that college or high school or any of the schooling that, you know, you might be in while you’re listening to this, this is easy. I’m not saying that you will still have subjects that aren’t difficult.

What I am saying is, it shouldn’t feel like you are running a hundred miles an hour all the time. There should be a walking pace to your life. And in that walking pace, every once in a while, you have a pitfall, you lose your keys. You don’t know, you forgot your homework, your dog ate your homework, you forgot to do laundry.  

These happen, it happens rarely, or it happens at least minimally for a lot of people, but when you have ADHD, that’s likely every day. I remember just before, or just after I got diagnosed, can’t remember which it was, I lost my keys and I lost my keys and this was like the fifth or fourth, fourth or fifth time. I lost my keys that day and I started crying. Now again, I’ve been told I’m dramatic my whole life, and we’ll eventually get to an episode where I talk about the way emotions play a role in us ADHD women, and how they really feel for us. But ultimately, I started crying because I lost my keys and my mother immediately was like, why are you crying?

And I said, because I want a different brain. I am so tired of having a brain that just works against me all the time. That was how I felt now. That was me, pre diagnosis. Just after diagnosis, it was right around the time I was really coming to the realization that my whole life would look so different. Had I known I was battling this like silent enemy now? I don’t think, and I don’t still feel that ADHD is my silent enemy. I actually think that it’s kind of secret superpower, but I’ve have had to find ways to tame the beast. I feel like by either taking medication, doing talk therapy, exercising.

Oh my gosh, exercising to a huge extent. And I wish I exercised more. Exercise can be the reins you put on, you know, your wild horse of ADHD and it really does become something you have to learn to harness. And once you’ve harnessed it, though, man, we can do a lot of stuff. I’m starting a podcast. I wrote a blog. What about you?

I found a way to write a blog about the same subject for four years. And that was before I was medicated! I mean really, the sky’s the limit for us once we learn to harness the way our brain works and how we do things. We find ways to do everything faster, quicker, more efficient than most people I meet.

That’s not all of us, okay? And I’m not saying it’s everything. We still can’t really find ways to be more efficient when it comes to cleaning up. But we will find ways to start a business and make enough profit that we can hire a housekeeper. And if that’s not a shortcut, I don’t know what is!

We are some of the most gifted people. We just must make sure that we work *with* our strengths and not *against* our strengths. So how do you know if you have ADHD? Well, is it affecting your life or all the things that I’ve listed out here? Do they sound familiar to you? Do you feel like you’ve been at a point in your life where everything has felt hard for so long? You don’t know what it’s like for things to be kind of simple.

If that’s you, maybe you have it, maybe you don’t.

Ultimately, no, you should keep listening because even if you’re just one of those silly people who has a type B personality and, you know, you’re less task oriented and more idea oriented, or you’re a, INFJ or IMTJ or an ENFP, which I really don’t buy into very many personality quizzes and tests that tell you why.

In another episode (stick around with me because I think that even if nothing else, even if you’re like, you know, I don’t think I need a diagnosis of ADHD, maybe I have it, maybe I don’t) I’m going to give you my audience practical ways to deal with it. Whether you decide to get medicated or you don’t decide to get medicated, regardless there’s children and adults in my household who are medicated for their ADHD and some who are not, but I will help you learn to recognize in yourself.

Where your struggles are what’s worth dealing with and what’s not worth dealing with and where to watch yourself out relationships being one of the big ones, us, people with ADHD, we really struggle with relationships. And I think that comes down to making sure that we better understand ourselves and how our brains work before we get into a relationship.

Do you have ADHD? If you think you do, especially after listening to (or reading) this, I want to congratulate you and welcome you to the greatest club. It may not feel like the greatest right now, but it really is an awesome community. We are such a cool group. Every woman that I’ve met that has ADHD or ADHD, she is a freaking rock star.  She is usually a businessperson. She’s business oriented. She enjoys talking to people. She enjoys meeting people. She loves knowing how people feel. She loves servicing others. She is a rockstar. You can be a rockstar. You probably already are. I’ll talk to you soon.

American Psychological Association on ADHD, https://www.apa.org/topics/adhd

Daniel G. Amen, MD books: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Daniel+G.+Amen

Email: [email protected]
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Website: www.lacyestelle.com

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Lacy Estelle

Lacy Estelle is the writer of Lacyestelle.com and the Podcast host for An ADD Woman.

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