ADHD In Middle and High School as a Girl
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So I want to talk about why ADHD goes missed in young girls or even more. I feel like it’s important to discuss why people don’t recognize ADHD in women and why nobody recognized it in me. Looking back, when I look back at my academic life, my adolescent life, it makes perfect sense. But that was before I had this lens of, I have ADHD to view my life and all the decisions that I had made. And it’s one of those things where for so many years, and for so long as a woman with ADHD, I just thought something was just wrong with me.
I didn’t have certain abilities that my peers had. I didn’t have the self-discipline that they all seemed to just have. So I think to talk in this episode, I really should talk to you and tell you about my story.
At least my story from elementary school, through my adolescence, my twenties are a whole ‘nother story in themselves. Lots of different ups and downs and different things like that. And I think my twenties deserve their own episode.
So for now let’s just discuss the things that I feel looking back now are blinding neon lights that, “Hey, this girl clearly has ADHD and somebody should tell her.”
So my academic struggles definitely began somewhere around third or fourth grade. I started lying about my homework. I would come home and my mom would say “Hi, do you have homework?” Nope. Just roll right off my tongue. Nope, don’t have any. I definitely had homework, but I think in the back of my mind, one, one thing I noticed a lot with girls with ADHD or even women with ADHD, we are people pleasers to a fault entirely.
I didn’t want to disappoint my mom. So I lied and I also didn’t want to do my homework. So I lied. If I really lookback and I’m like, why didn’t I want to do my homework? Was it because I was struggling academically to understand the work? Yeah. Yeah. It was, it had a lot to do with that.
Dr. Daniel Amen, A M E N. He talks a lot about this in his books and he says every ADHD person hits their wall. Sometimes it happens in third grade, sometimes sixth, sometimes not until college.
I think even for women, a lot of times it doesn’t even happen until motherhood. All of a sudden you have been struggling your whole life to manage just yourself and now you have to manage your children and their lives and their important dates and working memory for them. It makes sense that motherhood would be that, you know, straw that breaks the camel’s back of ADHD manageability. But coming back to third or fourth grade. Yeah. I became a liar and didn’t want to do my homework because I felt stupid.
I also, as an ADHD person, how can I explain this? Every small task that we have feels like a mountain. And I know I briefly mentioned this in a previous. And I think that part of this is what gets mistaken for women that we probably have anxiety.
I do have anxiety, but I think when I’m battling just my ADHD, I assume that that overwhelming feeling of I can’t possibly do it because it’s such a big thing, or it just sounds like it will take forever, or I don’t know where to start. Or I can’t even look at it because it’s so overwhelming. That gets mistaken as anxiety all the time.
And in young girls, when we start doing things like avoiding our homework, avoiding our projects, lying to our parents, saying that we don’t have homework. It is strictly an avoidance measure because we are so overwhelmed by what we actually do have to do, but it’s our ADHD. It’s not anxiety. And here’s why we’re overwhelmed because we lack this skill in our brains to process and sequence the order of getting things done together. Not to mention, we also don’t feel time. So we see, okay. I remember one night when I was in, I believe third grade. I procrastinated on my science project. I had a science display, display science project due like the next day.
And finally, I went to my mother and I said, um, I’ve science project due tomorrow. And she was like, what tomorrow? And science projects for us at this time, they were every year. I believe it was. Third grade and on had to come up with their own question for science variables that they would change and what they were looking for in the answer.
And then you had to create this giant poster board and display what the question was that you were asking, and if you had, you know, examples later, This is the stereotypical science project you see in like the movies where they, you know, the creative volcano or whatever it was that kind of science project guys I had that do.
And I had known about it for three weeks and I was avoiding it because in my mind, the avoidance wasn’t from anxiety.
The avoidance was because I couldn’t figure out what I needed to do to do the project. Now that sounds so silly, right. Because, okay. Clearly there’s a physical checklist that I can go through as to, okay, well, I have to get this done.
Well, I didn’t develop figuring out a checklist of items that are tasks to do for large tasks until I was an adult. And I had no choice as a child. It just was. Insurmountable, this project is so big. I can’t figure out where I should start it, what I should do, how to do it. And then it’s also a matter of, even though I knew the big overarching questions.
Okay. Clearly I need a, I need a question or what not and I need variables. It also was all the small pieces in my mind, getting from point a to point B didn’t have a path, even though physically, I knew it, it had to. But the overwhelm would come from my brain, not being able to figure out how I was getting from point a to point B.
I only knew in my mind, I needed a completed science project full of all the bells and whistles and all the words in all the things. And I couldn’t figure out in my head how I was going to get there, or at least my brain wouldn’t allow me to cope with that large task by telling me well, let’s just start here and finish this task first.
So this was all how I was dealing with my ADHD in elementary school.
My grades obviously started to slip around this time because I wasn’t turning in my homework and I never had behavioral issues, which I feel like is such a. Common occurrence. I can’t tell you. Even when I got my son diagnosed, how many times they were telling me, well, does he have behavioral issues?
No. He didn’t have behavioral issues in school. He has later told me that actually in second grade he hit a lot of referrals. He did get in trouble a lot, but it wasn’t because he was fighting. He wasn’t being defiant. He wasn’t, he wasn’t the typical ADHD child that everybody thinks of. They think of this defiant, rebellious little boy, and he wasn’t, he erred on the side of me a, we are people-pleasers.
We want to make people proud and happy, and we want to make the people around us happy with us. And when our brain doesn’t do the things that we needed to do to succeed, we find alternate routes of keeping the status quo, not drawing attention to ourselves, and also making sure that everybody thinks we’ve got it together.
So he didn’t tell me. And just like that, I look back in my past and I’m like, I didn’t tell my parents when I was starting to struggle, because I didn’t want to disappoint. And I didn’t want them to know that I was struggling. I didn’t want them to think that I was not smart. So moving into middle and high school, I started to be very prone to social relationships.
And obviously every middle schooler, every high school girl goes through periods of time where they care a lot about what people think of them.
That’s all part of puberty. It’s all part of adolescence. What I will say as far as like my ADHD, I started to rely on those social relationships for my dopamine.
So at the core of it, ADHD is a lack of chemicals.
There is some debate between certain doctors, certain clinicians, that ADHD brains aren’t necessarily lacking anything, but instead are just a different wired brain. You’re wired for hard labor. You’re wired for this. Well, somebody who has actually experienced ADHD, I really resent that statement.
That idea that my brain is just different and I just needed to find a workaround for it. Yeah, that works for some, I think that there’s a lot of other factors that when it comes to your brain’s malleability or its ability to grow evolve, change can hinder that. And if you’re working with a child with ADHD and they’re already feeling like they there’s something wrong with them because they can’t do the things that their peers can do by telling them that they just have to figure out a workaround for them.
Or that their brains just different from their peers and that they’re just going to succeed more at these things. And not at these things. I feel like that more or less affirms that, you know, they’re, they’re different or there’s something wrong. And I don’t like that idea. Maybe I’m misinterpreting it.
That’s fine. But what I can tell you is. Once I got to middle school and high school, one of the biggest things that I look back and see as my reliance of that lack of chemicals, that dopamine, that I needed on my social relationships and being well-liked on being pretty on, being noticed by boys, on fitting in, on being accepted.
I needed all of those things. So I could remain assuring myself that there was nothing wrong with me. Now ADHD does not mean that there’s anything wrong with me, but when you are a child or you’re an adolescent and you are looking at your peers, I remember being in high school and looking, and actually I asked a girl, this was probably my junior or senior year of high school.
She always had her hair done and her makeup done.
And I could only do that like once a month. Mornings for me were so hard. I almost always would just get up, put my hair in a bun, throw sweat pants on, get to school. It was like a miracle that I could get myself up and get to school waking up in the morning.
I hear people say, you know, Oh I was groggy this morning. Listen, when you have ADHD, you’re groggy every morning. When you become an adult, you start doing something called drinking coffee, but just getting out of bed. Is such a huge task. And I remember asking a girl in high school, how do you do your hair every day?
And I think she thought that I meant like the technique. Does she round brush it or does she, you know, but I literally, I had to correct her when she tried to tell me that I said, no, no, no. How is it that you get up every day and do your hair and like make yourself presentable for school. And she said, Oh, well, I get up at about 5 (school for us, started at about 7:30,
so she gets up two and a half hours early. ) I get up at about five and I take a shower and then I blow dry my hair. And if I want to, I go back to sleep for like 45 minutes. And then when I wake back up, I straighten my hair and I get dressed and I leave. And I was flabbergasted.
What, you get up at 5 to do your hair? How, how can you do that?
You just get. Like what it made no sense to me. And I remember thinking, okay, I’d like to try that also. I don’t think that’s physically possible for me. Well, if it’s not physically possible for me to do things that. My peers can, can make themselves do. I think that is one of the biggest things, especially for me going through middle and high school.
There’s this disconnect between I want to do this thing. Okay. I want to get a better grade in this class. I want to show that I’m a smart woman. I want to clean my house daily. I want to keep my house clean. I want to be able to get up in the morning and get ready for school in look presentable every day with my hair done and my makeup.
And I couldn’t. And why couldn’t I, it becomes, especially for us girls who don’t have the hyperactivity presentation, who internalize everything, who can clearly succeed in certain academics and not succeed in other academics, we internalize all of it.
What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I do these things? It must be because there’s something wrong.
Well, there’s nothing wrong with you. You have ADHD. It’s just like, if somebody has depression, they can’t just flip a switch and be happy and joyful in, in what will always be shocking to people when people have depression is when they see the person who says they have depression out and about enjoying themselves seeming to enjoy themselves.
Right. But when you have depression, it’s a lack of chemical. You can put on that face. Okay. You can put on that mask and you can go out and you can have one night of fun. And it’s when you’re home by yourselves that you sit there and you’re thinking to yourself, I’m so unhappy. And I have no joy. And I feel like there’s just this overwhelming doom and gloom.
When you have ADHD, the internal conversation becomes what’s wrong with me.
Why can’t I do these things that I know I want to. That when my other friends or when my other peers say that they want to do them, they just do them. Or at least they find a way to take a step in the right direction to do them.
Why can’t I, and as a woman, as a girl, you know, when you’re relying heavily on your social relationships to create your dopamine for you, you know what you do, you continue to people please, you face. And you don’t tell them, you don’t tell them, man. I, I can never get up in the morning or, you know, I really struggled with my grades.
I can’t tell you how many people that I’ve met since high school. When I tell them I graduated high school, barely and I had less than a 2.0 grade point average because I failed so many classes. And if I didn’t just fail classes, I was getting DS and barely passing. They are shot. What you, I thought you had like straight A’s or that you were on like the national honor society.
No my friend, no, I barely graduated.
When I look back, I am like, well, that makes sense. That makes perfect sense because why would I tell anybody, why would I tell anybody I’m struggling this much internally? Why would I say I don’t understand how come I am such a gifted writer. I was such a gifted. That I failed my junior English class, my 11th grade English class.
Okay. I failed it. 12th grade. I got the same teacher that same teacher said to me, I kid you not, you are so talented with your writing. I want you in my AP English class. What I said, you do know I failed your class last year. Yeah, I know. But I think that your writing is super talented. You are really good at writing and you don’t need 12th grade English.
You know, going to focus on grammar and composing writing. She said, you need literary analysis. That’s the next step that you would be in based on your ability to write. And I thought you’ve lost your mind. I failed your class last year. I’m literally in 12th grade, also still taking English 11 because it’s required for me to graduate.
And you’re telling me you want me in AP English class.
So where is this disconnect?
Between what I could do when it was engaging to me and what I couldn’t do when it wasn’t, it does not help that I was struggling with toxic relationships, because like I said, I started relying heavily on my social relationships to give me that boost of dopamine, to reaffirm for me that I was who I was, that I was a good person, that I was smart, that I was pretty, you know, I started looking for my identity in my ability to succeed.
And that’s not really where my identity comes from. That’s not where my worth comes from. That’s not where my value comes from now as an adult, as an adult Christian woman, I understand that my value and my worth entirely comes from God, deciding that I’m worthy of something, regardless of all the mistakes I make, regardless of how many times I fall, regardless of that, He says, I have loved you.
And so I am worthy of love.. But I could not love myself at this time in my life because I couldn’t figure out why I would even be worth love.
So then comes in I’m in high school and I end up in a toxic relationship. And how does this happen? Well, this happens because I was using my relationships entirely to give myself that reassurance that I was good and that I was worthy of being loved.
And as an ADHD woman, we want more than anything to not have these struggles in it. It doesn’t even make sense to us. I remember my dad telling me how come you have an, a minus in French class, but you have a D in algebra. And I said, I don’t know, because the truth was, I don’t know. I didn’t know. I didn’t know why.
When I went to French. I could engage and I could learn, and I was fine. It was just as difficult. If not more difficult than learning algebra, algebra was based on formulas. All I had to do is memorize them, but it comes down to the fact that the way that the information was presented to me in French class and my teacher that I had was engaging in.
It was fun for me. It was fun for me to learn and I could short circuit my brain’s inability to process sequences and jumped straight to hyper-focus and I could hyper-focus on the material in that class. Therefore, I could learn it, but it, when I was in algebra, the stuff was not interesting to me. I couldn’t relate it to my life.
I couldn’t see how it would grow me and therefore my brain would shut off.
And even if I tried harder, because that’s what everybody would tell me. Well, you just need to try. When you try harder as an ADHD person, your brain actually shuts off worse. It dampens the activity. And this isn’t something that I’m just saying off the top of my head.
This is actually stuff that has been scientifically proven by Dr. Daniel. Amen. Because he is one of the only neuropsychiatrist neuropsychologists that actually looks at the brain. He doesn’t diagnose just based on symptoms and struggles. He looks at the brain with. Brain imaging using a specific type of ink so that he can actually see what sort of brain activity is turning off and turning on.
Based on the person’s ADHD, he has actually decided, uh, based on his studies and finds that ADHD has seven different presentations, not just three based on the psychology side of things.
ADHD has three primary types. Inattentive hyperactive and combination, but Dr. Daniel, amen actually says that there are seven different types.
And based on those seven types, it has to do with where the brain is lacking and where the brain is turning off and where the brain is not turning off. And in those presentations, that makes sense because that’s where you have this difference between medication works. For some people, medication doesn’t work for others.
Where you have certain types of diet work for some children, other types of diets don’t work for others that all comes down to physiology biology, but coming back to my brain in high school and my need for reassurance that there wasn’t something wrong with me. So I got that out of my relationships. And when you do that as a girl, it opens you up.