"I'm not hyperactive." 3 women on what life is really like as an adult with ADHD.

ADHD often goes unrecognised in women and girls, or is misdiagnosed as depression, anxiety, or BPD. 

But a correct diagnosis and the right support can make all the difference for women with ADHD.

Mamamia spoke to three women about being diagnosed with ADHD as adults, and what it means for them in their day-to-day lives.

From overwhelmed to accepting.

Sue was 51 when she was diagnosed with ADHD. “I was really struggling to cope with keeping things in order, procrastinating, over committing, losing things, become fuddled over lots of things. In other words, overwhelmed,” she said.

But it was an off-the-cuff comment that got her looking into being assessed. “I made a joking remark to a friend, 'I’ve probably got ADD' and she said, 'Duh, yeah!' To her it was obvious, to me, I’d never seriously considered it as it was a ‘naughty boys’ disorder. I’d always been very quiet and compliant as a child.”

Listen to Mia Freedman speaking about what happened when she was diagnosed with ADHD at 49 on No Filter. Post continues after audio. 

There are three different types of ADHD: hyperactive, inattentive, and combined. As more women have the inattentive type, they are less likely to be identified as having ADHD, according to ADHD Australia.

Gail Nott found this out when she was diagnosed with inattentive ADHD this year at age 46. The stress of moving and selling her house led Gail to research ADHD in women.

“I was researching resources for my husband who has ADHD… The stress was negatively affecting him. I came across a video on women and ADHD. I've been wondering if I had it too, but I didn't rate high on the self-assessments I found online. After watching the video, I learned that symptoms for women can be different for men.” 


Gail had always wondered why she’d felt lost for most of her adult life. 

“I'm not hyperactive, but it is difficult for me to focus,” she told us. “I'm messy, I procrastinate on complex projects, and I have trouble following through and completing complex projects.”

She also finds it difficult to manage her temper and being diagnosed has helped her understand why. 

“Knowing that emotional dysregulation is another symptom of ADHD has been helpful in knowing that I’m not immature. Knowing that my frustration and temper is a symptom, it’s given me the confidence to work on stress management, emotional regulation, and self-care skills,” she said. 

Being diagnosed has also helped Sue understand herself better. “I cut myself more slack than I used to. It’s taught me I have to live within my limitations and not try to be someone else.”

“Most people don’t know about my ADHD but those that do give me grace when I struggle. Knowledge of myself has been the most valuable tool. Acceptance is even more powerful.”

Day-to-day impacts.

Emily Thiede wasn’t diagnosed yet when she was studying to become a primary school teacher and found it very overwhelming.


“I was an over-achiever and always managed to do well academically despite always forgetting assignments and daydreaming in class, so it was an unexpected hit to my self-esteem when I struggled with the many demands of becoming a teacher,” she explained.

Emily was diagnosed in her 30s and decided to switch to a career that suited her more.

“I'm a full-time author and parent, which are much more flexible professions,” she says, “but I often struggle with starting writing sessions or staying focused unless that hyper-focus kicks in, in which case I lose all track of time and can write or edit for hours with no idea how time has passed. Those are the good days.”

Parenting is often the life stage when women become aware that something is going on for them. 

“As a parent, ADHD makes it extra difficult to keep track of the many forms, appointments, and tasks that come with being a caregiver,” says Emily, “but I'm fortunate to have a wonderful family who knows we're all trying our best and it's okay if life gets chaotic sometimes.”

What helps, and what doesn’t?

For some people medication is incredibly helpful. It can take a bit of tweaking though to get one that works well for you and some women, like Sue, decide to manage without medication.

“I tried medication for a while but it became a hyper-focus and only worked for a couple of hours at a time,” she said. “And it disturbed my sleep.”

She’s found putting good systems in place a better approach, especially tips from other ADHDers. “Knowledge is power, so learn as much as you can about it and look for tips and hints from others with ADHD that they have found useful to be more productive in their day.” 


“Find methods you can use to help yourself, some of them are strange to others but if they work for you, go for it.”

Emily finds medication has been helpful for her, as well as good support from her partner. “Instead of getting annoyed that I'm always hunting for hair brushes and scissors, he just orders a half dozen of them and leaves them all over the house.”

“For the most part, I've been surrounded by wonderful people,” says Emily, “but I've had a few hurtful encounters with 'friends' who made me feel bad or pushed me to 'fix' certain aspects of my personality. 

“Part of my journey toward self-love has been learning to let go of people who aren't willing to try and understand me. I'm not shaming myself for my ADHD traits anymore and I won't let anyone else do so, either.” 

She agrees with Sue that knowledge is power. “The knowledge has probably been the greatest gift. Like so many people diagnosed in adulthood, I had internalised a lot of feelings about my 'flaws' and 'failures' and now that I understand why I am the way that I am, that guilt and shame is gradually being replaced.”

Practically, Emily says there are a lot of small things you can do to manage your day. “Set a lot of phone alarms and reminders, remember to hydrate, and get some exercise in nature when your brain is foggy.”  


Gail is newly diagnosed, so isn’t on medication yet, but she’s found online community groups helpful in understanding herself and ADHD.

“What’s working for me first of all is compassion for myself. I’ve been so hard on myself. I found several helpful Facebook groups for women with ADHD that have been helpful, both in sharing what works for each person, and knowing that I’m not alone.”

Embracing neurodivergence.

There’s been a shift away from seeing ADHD as a condition to “fix”. ADHD is a form of neurodivergence – a different way of operating, which has challenges, but also bonuses.

Emily says she loves her busy brain as it makes her a better writer. Her YA book, she says “is a love letter dedicated to the little girls who talk 'too much’ and feel ‘too intensely,’” and she hopes books written by neurodivergent authors can help the next generation feel seen and grow up with greater acceptance for themselves and those around them.

She hopes her own children grow up to see that “all people have different strengths and challenges, and that the world is a better place because of our differences.”

Want to read more about other women's experiences with ADHD? Check out some of the articles on Mamamia:

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Feature Image: Getty.