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The Rise of the ADHD Women; Despite Your Potential

Sophie Boulderstone and ADHD women in business

It is estimated that 3% to 4% of adults have ADHD, but with a male-to-female ratio of approximately 3 to 1, it is likely that there are far more undiagnosed women. As children, girls with ADHD tend to internalise, whereas boys externalise. Girls can be inattentive and quietly zone out without the teacher's awareness, whereas boys are more likely to be hyperactive. In a loud, busy classroom, you can see why girls get overlooked, but no one can ignore a boy without impulse control, disrupting the class with attention-seeking behaviour. Girls are more likely to have conditions such as depression and anxiety which can confuse diagnosis because they can result from the shame and masking of the disorder. They are also more likely to work harder to develop coping strategies. 

For those unfamiliar with the rollercoaster of ADHD life, here is a quick run-through of some common patterns in adult women;

  • Procrastinating on tasks until the last possible moment and then super intense hyperfocus to pull it out of the bag in the last minute

  • "Spacing out" during conversations and in meetings, even with people you madly love and are fascinated by.

  • Really needing a tidy organised space but finding it near impossible to tidy or be organised.

  • Constantly losing things even if you just had them in your hand.

  • Frequently missing appointments or forgetting to return calls/texts/emails.

  • Building up important tasks to the point that they become overwhelming and impossible for you to start.

  • So empathetic and generous to others that you have no energy and resources for yourself.

  • Always being late or being so anxious about being late, always early.

  • Difficulty making decisions despite being extremely opinionated.

  • Not knowing when to speak in a conversation so often interrupting or biting your tongue until the 'right time'

  • Cries easily, even from good feelings like being accepted and understood.

Behind The ADHD Mask

Many women have been unconsciously masking their ADHD symptoms from the world; you don't want to be thought of as messy, late and disorganised, so you create this hugely stressful set of self-inflicted routines and defences to try and come across as normal. The downside to masking is you hide who you are from the world, leading to superficial relationships and missing out on getting close enough to someone to reveal your true self. Your constant fear and anxiety of being 'found out', which is not the easiest way to live and perhaps the saddest of all, is you lose your light. The beacon of positivity and creativity that is the upside to ADHD is dimmed in the process, and the world misses out on your greatness. 

Shame and not reaching your potential.

At school, my ADHD traits, such as the ability to hyperfocus on my current obsession and incredible speed of work when there is a deadline, especially combined with the need for the dopamine hit that follows praise and high marks, as well as internalising my ADHA symptoms, I was given the label of a gifted child, rather than the neurodivergent diagnosis that could have made my life a lot easier. I am not alone in this, in the past few years, the amount of women being tested for ADHD has risen from 7,700 women in 2019 to 254,400 women in 2021 and that curve is not subsiding. 

Despite living what many would consider an exciting life, I've got four children, and I've travelled, run my own businesses and built my own Tiny house, It was not so long ago, I was lower than I had ever been. I had another 'failed' company under my belt; I was flat-out broke, regularly counting the pennies in Lidl and hiding from the pile of unopened bills. I just couldn't understand what had happened to me and why I had never lived up to my supposed potential as a 'gifted' child.  

Having the label of gifted or 'having potential' is about meeting someone else's vision of what you can do. Being surrounded by people you can be yourself with, having opportunities to be creative and sharing (free from judgement) where your weaknesses lie, so others can support you, might just be the way to living up to your true potential. Letting go of that and other people's expectations can be liberating to the ADHD women, and the most challenging and rewarding step you can take. 

Luckily I have a supportive partner, who managed to get me off the floor and try again, and I am in a networking group with others who share my pain and still find ways to find joy. And that I have FINALLY found a business that suits my ADHD symptoms. Where I can shift from one topic to another; if I am stuck trying to write a blog on menopause, and I have been unable to write more than a couple of sentences despite forcing myself to stare at the screen and chanting menopause, menopause like a crazy person. I have permission to park it and move on to something I can hyperfocus on, like writing 1000 words on my ADHD journey without going to the loo or having a glass of water. 

Even though I still have days where I have crippling anxiety that I will lose everything and so I work until midnight trying to do better, or the next where I quite honestly believe I should be on the leadership team helping drive world change, my happy place is in the middle. 

I have finally found a path that utilises the wealth of skills I have accumulated throughout the diverse businesses I have worked on (not quite sure if the Thai Massage qualification or my Personal Alcohol Licence will be needed), somewhere where I have the freedom to work on the project that demands my hyperfocus powers. And the encouragement to be creative and permission to be me (for the first time in my life) negates the need for the mask's safety. 

Wherever you are in your life path, if you have ADHD symptoms or even a diagnosis, maybe it is time to let go of the shame and guilt of your childhood potential. I hope you too can find a way to feel safe to de-mask and let your ADHD symptoms show. We can work towards a future where there is more understanding for ADHDers, where we can actively find ways to support the struggles and reap the benefits of the powerhouse that is an ADHD woman! Sophie understands the unique challenges faced by those with ADHD in business. That's why she ensured Inkie offers a dedicated Access to Work package to support neurodiverse individuals. Discover how Inkie can assist you at Inkie's Access to Work


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