Many women with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) don’t get diagnosed until adulthood, while men usually get diagnosed in childhood. There are many reasons for this: Stereotypes about who can and can’t get ADHD, research that traditionally focused on boys and men, and the way women’s symptoms often present differently. Alisa Modylevsky is one of these women. She was diagnosed at age 26. This is her story, as told to McKenna Princing.
Growing up, I was never tested for ADHD. It never came up when I was a child.
I think one reason is that I didn’t fit neatly into the stereotype of ADHD. A lot of people think of it and picture a 9-year-old boy who acts out and disrupts class, often referring to the hyperactive form of ADHD.
I’ve read that many women end up being diagnosed later in life. They often have the inattentive form of ADHD, where the symptoms are things like daydreaming, being easily distracted, having things slip from your mind.
I’d been thinking about seeking a diagnosis for a while. I’d always been asking myself, why is it that people tell me I’m intelligent but I struggle so much with things other people find simple, such as replying to emails?
Throughout my life, I took my symptoms as some sort of moral failing and blamed myself. I thought that I was just lazy, maybe I was stupid or I wasn’t trying hard enough. Those are just some of the messages you get from society.
I had to wait for a while due to health insurance constraints, but then I got a job with better health insurance. I read a lot of literature about ADHD and finally felt like I could explore a potential diagnosis. That led me to a psychiatrist, and I was diagnosed with ADHD for the first time at age 26.
It was a huge relief, a huge weight off my mind. It was really validating to know that this isn’t a moral failing, this is just how my brain works.
ADHD and work
I’m a search engine optimization (SEO) specialist, and I’ve known quite a few SEO specialists who also have ADHD. It’s a broader skill set that touches on content, data and technical aspects, so it works nicely with the ADHD mindset, which focuses on the bigger picture and how the smaller pieces function within it.
There are positives and negatives to having ADHD, especially with work.
One of the negatives is organizing. It’s hard for me to sit down and get from point A to point Z in a project. I’m also a perfectionist.
We live in a society that’s focused on 24/7 productivity and execution, but for individuals who have ADHD, we need to spend extra time processing and thinking about how things connect.
We don’t work well if we have to jump from meeting to meeting without any downtime, because we can be easily overwhelmed. I have to remind myself to do body scans and look for areas of tension, plus remember to eat, because sometimes my mind isn’t always aware of my body’s needs.
One of the positives is that people with ADHD can focus on details others might miss. We tend to be out-of-the-box thinkers, so we’re great if you need someone to brainstorm with or if you’re looking for innovative ideas.
I’ve found ways to make that work for me. With SEO research, I pick a point to start fleshing it out, then write each part out not necessarily in chronological order, just in bits and pieces.
I’ve also learned I have to physically write things down. I have a notebook where I write down all my priorities and deadlines for the week. It helps me to break things down in terms of weeks rather than day to day and keeps me from being surprised.
I like to play music when I’m working. I always light a candle next to me on my desk — anything that can be mood-boosting and help keep my attention when I’m working on more mundane tasks.
Overall, working from home during the pandemic has been positive for me. In an office, I get distracted by conversations and sounds around me. At home I have my own office, which makes it easier for me to focus.
Debunking ADHD myths
There are a bunch of myths about ADHD in the media that I want to correct.
I remember watching a South Park episode where all the children were diagnosed with ADHD and given Ritalin, but in the end the solution was just to spank them. It’s part of that school of thought that ADHD doesn’t exist, it’s just kids not being able to control themselves.
This is a harmful portrayal, because ADHD is a valid cognitive impairment. There are going to be things that a child with ADHD is going to naturally have a harder time with, and it’s important to assume the best of them in order to help with their self-confidence.
Some people with ADHD have rejection dysphoria, where we’re especially sensitive to rejection from others. It’s important to remember that and to approach us with empathy.
There’s also a myth that women don’t get ADHD. We do, we just often have inattentive rather than hyperactive ADHD. I get distracted, daydream and space out — that doesn’t mean I don’t care about you or the conversation we’re having, it just takes a lot more cognitive effort to keep and maintain that focus in an individual for someone with ADHD than for someone who is neurotypical.
It’s also important to recognize that ADHD symptoms fall broadly within a spectrum. There are a variety of ways it manifests, and everyone’s ADHD journey can look unique.
Moving forward confidently
I’ve been in therapy since age 16 and I credit that for why I function as highly as I do. Even though I didn’t know then that I had ADHD, I feel like just talking through what I had experienced helped prepare me for success as an adult.
Having supportive people around you is important, but when those people are having a bad day — or if they’re frustrated, because people with ADHD can sometimes frustrate others — it’s important to have things that build your confidence.
My thing is singing. It makes me stop focusing on my thoughts and allows me to connect with my body. It grounds me in the present moment.
When I’m singing, I’m not anxious or thinking about all the things I have to do in that moment, I’m just focusing on my breathing. I like the improvisation of jazz, and I also like the power in opera singing.
For anyone reading this who has ADHD or think they might, I want you to know how important it is to be your own source of validation. We live in an imperfect society that doesn’t always recognize your struggles. Talk to yourself the way you would want a friend to; be your own best friend.