‘I Thought I Was Stupid’: The Hidden Struggle for Women with ADHD

Women with ADHD have to deal with symptoms that range from disorganization to OCD-like rituals—as well as the fear of being found out. At the Better Together Festival attendees are encouraged to doodle in notebooks or walk around.

On a bumpy shuttle ride to the Better Together Festival grounds, I sat next to Courtney, a woman I instinctively cast as “having it together.” With wide eyes, an exuberant laugh, and the sort of blonde hair I’d bargain with God for, at 27 she seemed to be everything I wasn’t: a poised, upbeat woman who doesn’t cry on the toilet. Two minutes of conversation revealed a more complicated reality. Courtney was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in middle school, anxiety and depression in high school, and ADHD just five months prior to the festival. Now, she wonders if the childhood OCD was a misdiagnosis, as she’s learning that many of her rituals stem from the chaos of navigating ADHD.

“If I’d had a diagnosis in college, if I had known, college would have been 100 times different. I failed a class my first semester, and it completely shattered my self-esteem,” Courtney said. “I thought I was stupid. I couldn’t figure out this material. I would read the same page over and over again and not retain anything. It felt like there was a missing piece. People told me, ‘You need to study harder!’ But there was no one who studied harder than I did.”

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