How Women Can Win with their ADHD

I’d like to welcome the co-authors of a new book about ADHD to our TotallyADD blog.  Grace and Dr. Sarah have produced a powerful, practical ‘playbook’ about what you, as a teen or young adult can do to succeed in life, including dealing with your nagging parents.  It’s called Winning With ADHD.  And it’s a great read for anyone.  

We’re delighted to introduce you to them through this article they’ve written specifically for women.  I must say, as a “non-woman,” I really appreciated their practical perspective. 

Enjoy!  Oh, and please do share your thoughts or questions for Grace and Dr. Sarah in the comments below. 

– Rick Green

By Dr. Sarah Cheyette and Grace Friedman

We are Grace and Dr. Sarah, authors of a new book on ADHD titled Winning with ADHD, published by New Harbinger. Grace is a young woman with ADHD who is a writer, blogger and well known advocate for young people with ADHD. I am Dr. Sarah Cheyette, a Neurologist who treats people with ADHD.  In our book, we talk all things ADHD – school, friends, family, personal choices and successes – you name it. There is a lot to discuss when it comes to how our brains work, why we engage in certain behaviors, and how ADHD contributes to who we are as individuals.  Today we are going to share our thoughts regarding what women with ADHD must learn to thrive with their condition.

So let’s dive in. 

In our book, we talk about ADHD as if it was a large backpack on your shoulders filled with heavy rocks. Picture yourself in a race – life’s race – but you have this heavy backpack others do not have to wear. That is what it is like to have ADHD.

As Grace can attest, for women with ADHD, our backpacks may get heavier than need be because of extra burdens we add in ourselves. Self-blame, negativity, apathy, procrastination: these are just a few words for the extra weight we woman can add to our already heavy backpack. 

Winning with ADHD describes how to remove some of these rocks from your backpack so we can perform at our personal best.  So what does it take to lighten the load?

Acceptance

Having ADHD can feel like being in a crowded room full of people talking, and not being able to focus on the one conversation you need to hear. Just like how some people wear glasses to see better, people with ADHD need strategies to focus better- neither of these challenges should be shamed. Focused thinking means your brain automatically prioritizes one thought above all others. Thinking in an ADHD way can make this very challenging – but not impossible.  Just think about the race and the heavy backpack – wearing a heavy backpack will make you very strong – just as lifting weights can make you strong.  As a determined, strong woman, you can do it, but just recognize that carrying a heavy backpack- and having ADHD-  requires more effort, grit, and acceptance. Time to suit up.

Adaptation 

We women have a different life experience than men, and we juggle more tasks than men on average. How we women with ADHD manage our time, take care of ourselves, speak up for what we need, control our emotions and manage near-infinite inputs during the week requires adaptation. Think of it as a challenge rather than a problem.  If you think of what you need to do as a problem you tend to pity yourself and blame others, both of which make focusing on the tasks worse. By thinking of what you need to do as a challenge, you automatically start to focus: how am I going to get that done? In our book, we address the need for adaptation with specific step-by-step process that Grace created, which work well to break down challenges into smaller more manageable steps that can be practiced. Practicing how to adapt to life’s challenges adds more practical strategies to your life.

Time Management

Our lives have gotten very busy. In other words, our brains have a lot of inputs – things to which we must pay attention.  Women young and old have many inputs that men do not. The sheer volume of inputs today make life more complicated.  Attention gets easily diverted as inputs keep on coming. If you have hundreds of emails and instant messages to answer, it’s hard to focus on any one topic. If you have four tasks that all must be done, and three social events you must attend, it’s clear that prioritization and time management skills are vital. 

Studies have shown that men tend to work longer hours at work, and do less at home. Women also work — but we are also more responsible for home and children, more so than men. The net result is women tend to have more and highly varied inputs pushing them in different directions. Home responsibilities are particularly difficult for women with ADHD due to the unstructured nature of home life. Women with ADHD often function better at work than at home because the scaffold of work is helpful for those with ADHD. At work, everybody is, well, working. So you work too. There are meetings at a certain time. There are deadlines you must follow. All of these supports help people focus.  

But at home, it’s relative chaos. There is no feeling of being finished–the inputs never stop. There is always more to do. You are constantly getting interrupted. You can spend all your energy on one task–and then it’s the wrong task. Or you can spread your energy through multiple tasks–and never get any one particular thing done. Uggh.  

Let go of Perfectionism 

Women are plagued by the concept of perfectionism.  In magazines, social media, everywhere we are pressured by this. ADHD also tends to be worsened by perfectionism. If you see every detail and have to make it right, it’s much easier to procrastinate. Women also have added pressure to make things look perfect–and that kind of pressure can also turn you off from even trying anything in the first place. People used to make lunches without taking pictures of them.  If you feel like you have to make your kids school lunches look Instagram worthy, you may as well not even start making them because it would be too hard to do. Posts of engagement proposals and gender reveal parties? Those used to be what you just told people about. Now they require “perfect” appearances and clever hooks. For those of us with ADHD, perfectionism is an anchor we need to drop – urgently.

There are many challenges women face that men do not.  Having ADHD amplifies this problem.  To win, you need to acquire some grit, learn to accept who you are – and love yourself as you are – knowing that life challenges make you stronger. To win you need to learn to adapt, and run your own race – not anyone else’s. Whether you are 25, 65 or anywhere in between, your challenge is to find a way to do whatever you want to do. We are rooting you on!

————

Dr. Sarah Cheyette MD graduated cum laude in Cognitive Neuroscience from Princeton University, and received her medical degree from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA in Los Angeles. Following specialty training in Pediatrics at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and Pediatric Neurology at Seattle Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center, she settled with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area and established a private practice. She currently has a pediatric neurology practice at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, where she focuses on the treatment of ADHD.  She has two books out on ADHD: ADHD and the Focused Mind (coauthors: Ben Cheyette and Peter Johnson) and Winning with ADHD (coauthor: Grace Friedman). Contact Dr. Sarah Cheyette.

Grace Friedman was diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at twelve years old and has experienced all the life-challenging effects it presents. Grace is an advocate for young people with ADHD, author, speaker, and blogger and founder of the ADDYTeen.com community, which is visited by people around the world daily. She is a blogger at The Huffington Post, and at fifteen wrote Embracing Your ADHD, a guide for teens which has been downloaded by thousands from her website. Now twenty-two, after recently graduating with a BA in Psychology, she works with teens for the State of Washington, mentors others with ADHD, and has plans to become a clinical psychologist. Grace, now thriving with her ADHD, brings a spirit of generosity and purposefulness to everything she does. Contact Grace Friedman.

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