What ADHD Looks Like In Women And How It Challenges Our Relationships
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What ADHD Looks Like In Women And How It Challenges Our Relationships

I have struggled for years socially, and I am not alone.

Love & Relationships

I was diagnosed with ADHD in the 7th grade. Whenever I reveal that, there’s always that great debate of whether my doctor is simply trying to dope me up or not. While I do agree that this occurs, I also believe it was the correct diagnosis for me. With that said, I have struggled for years socially because of what may appear to come across as my being rude or unorganized.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more aware and often feel the need to throw out a disclaimer whether I’m on my meds or off my meds, because truly, you cannot win on the social side of things. When I take my meds, I’m hyper-focused and lose my personality for a touch of time. I tend to not laugh, catch jokes as quickly, or my own humor is nonexistent. When I’m off the meds, especially after taking them for some time, I drift in and out of conversations that last for longer than five to10 minutes. And overall, I often find myself apologizing for my ADHD in social settings.

This doesn’t even begin to touch on the disorganization: losing car keys for days on end, locking myself out of the house, and forgetting things. The irony of it is that people with ADHD are often advised to make lists which is something that requires you to have some semblance of organization skills. I make mention of all of this because I often feel the perception regarding me in both my professional and personal relationships is that I’m this hot-ass mess–that’s the extent of the explanation. In reality, there’s so much more to unpack here.

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What I didn’t know was that ADHD could present itself differently based on factors like gender. In a 2019 study, it was shown that men displayed external symptoms more often than women, leaving women with ADHD misdiagnosed or undiagnosed. I have only recently discovered this and in learning this, I further wonder how it might show up differently for Black women as a whole. As with anything, culture has the ability to change the way disorders manifest within a community.

Furthermore, I became curious about how ADHD affects Black women in relation to our dating lives and challenges in our relationships. To confirm some of my thoughts, I reached out to Angela Banks, a licensed professional clinical counselor (LPCC) and clinical supervisor known as The Strong Friend's Therapist.

How ADHD Presents in Women

“ADHD tends to manifest as inattentiveness in women. It can impact their ability to focus, concentrate, complete tasks and stay organized,” Banks says. “These symptoms can cause people to stereotype Black women and assume they are ‘lazy’ or ‘have an attitude.’ These types of stereotypes can play into a woman’s self-esteem and cause her to feel like she is lazy, or it can cause her to work overtime to prove the stereotype wrong and overperform.”

According to Banks, this further impacts Black women, generally speaking, because they “are often viewed as ‘strong’ which means that people have higher expectations for them, and they also have those same high expectations for themselves. These types of expectations cause Black women to feel overwhelmed by obligations and feel the need to do more with less resources. When a Black woman’s functioning is affected by ADHD, she may view herself as a bad mom, wife or friend if she’s unable to meet those unrealistic expectations or perform at the standard that society has created.”

In addition to ADHD manifesting in women as inattentiveness, another symptom is indecisiveness. Banks explains, “Black women are at the bottom of the totem pole and already must make decisions while encountering oppression at almost every turn. There’s also a stigma related to mental health in the Black community, so even the idea of treatment or intervention can be overwhelming for a Black woman." Banks concludes that plus limited access to culturally responsive mental health providers sometimes influences whether or not Black women seek treatment or evaluation for ADHD.

Black Women, ADHD, and Romantic Relationships

And just how does this all affect Black women’s romantic relationships?

Banks notes that when we are not meeting expectations based on the role we assign to ourselves, it can be easy to feel less than and therefore less deserving of love. “Black women may find themselves feeling insecure in their relationships because of these challenges with ADHD. Black women have been expected to equate their value to their role in others’ lives for many years, which creates that insecure feeling. If I don’t value myself outside of that role, and I’m not meeting the perceived expectations of that role, it can ultimately impact self-esteem."

She concludes, "If one believes they are not performing well in their role and not reaching certain expectations, they may start to feel like they are not deserving of receiving healthy love. We sometimes call that ‘imposter syndrome.’ This can ultimately cultivate mistrust and might make it difficult to build those healthy romantic relationships.”

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Getting Out of Your Own Way: ADHD Help for Adults

Banks remind us to seek support, therapy included, in order to help us develop various coping skills but especially the ability to be vulnerable and transparent in turn helping to improve our relationships all around. From my personal experience, I will add that the difficult part about being vulnerable enough to seek help from the various systems in our lives will be the side-eying that occurs from doctors who think because you’re Black you’re abusing your meds or because you use Medicaid they don’t prioritize you or generally don’t view you as an autonomous being. For instance, my doctor refuses to give me my meds during my pregnancy because he thinks I need to wean myself off. This is despite the fact that my OB (not the same as my prescribing physician) has warned me that expecting moms who are ADHD have an increased risk of postpartum depression.

While I pray this isn’t so, this will impact every aspect of my life from my financial well-being to my ability to build a bond with my son, not to mention those who didn’t come from my womb. I said a mouthful to point out that support can feel difficult to access – easier said than done for sure – but despite this, we must continue to reach out for it. “A good therapist can also teach strategies to cope with ADHD and will provide an opportunity to practice that vulnerability and transparency with a person. Also, becoming okay with experiencing unpleasant feelings and emotions is a good way to be more transparent with others. The best way to be more open with others is to practice and put yourself out there to be uncomfortable. Once support is given from others, it will become easier to open up and build a solid support network.”

As far as expanding access to support based on cultural beliefs and systemic racism, Banks holds society accountable as well. She states, “Society needs to be understanding of how years of trauma and oppression have affected Black women. We need to be humanized and treated with compassion and empathy. Try putting yourself in our shoes and see if that helps in understanding a Black woman’s experience.”

And by society, this extends itself to significant others and potential partners. Be aware of comments and thoughts that suggest ADHD is fake – read the room. I think healthy dialogue is fine, but accusations are not, especially if your person feels the diagnosis and medication help.

Essentially, the key to improving your romantic relationships while coping with ADHD will be the same key that allows you to improve every other relationship in your life. And much like anything in this life, the last, and the next – it requires two! You can do all you can to be vulnerable and that won’t mean much if your partner refuses to acknowledge your diagnosis. Meaning it also requires you to be conscious and have discussions around belief systems.

While ADHD doesn’t seem like that big of a deal to those on the outside, it is a lot for those of us dealing with it from day to day. Practice empathy.

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