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How I Learned to Laugh at My ADHD

11/01/2013 08:17 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

2013-10-31-TheRealZoKesslerAuthorofADHDAccordingtoZo.jpg I nearly snorted my beer out my nose. I couldn't help it. Over dinner at my place, Chris had just finished yet another hilarious anecdote from his ADHD life. Chris had been the classic hyperactive little boy; as a teen, he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

While I was still laughing, Chris said, "I think you should check this out for yourself." I thought he was joking. After all, I was a 40-something woman who'd known him for over 20 years, since our university days, not some kid bouncing off the walls.

He was relentless. Caving in, I turned on my computer and took the Jasper/Goldberg Adult ADD Questionnaire. By question four, I panicked. I had no idea why these questions were even on the test. Wasn't everybody like this?

Apparently not.

Chris' insistence that fateful night came at a time when I felt completely overwhelmed, my life spinning out of control. I'd recently lost my dad, my full-time job, and my focus.

With my diagnosis, suddenly my life made sense. I resolved to learn everything I could about ADHD. What I learned was that women (who represent about 50% of adults with the condition) are grossly underdiagnosed. We're just discovering why, but the fact that girls and women have slipped through the cracks has left a legacy of unmet potential.

I should know. As a once-hyperactive but intelligent little girl whose academic achievements fell far below her success as class clown and as a woman with a lifetime of über-disorganization, chronic lateness, serial job losses, hypersensitivities, and relationship breakdowns, I can attest to the destruction of undiagnosed ADHD.

Like me, around 60% of kids with ADHD continue to suffer negative effects throughout adulthood. Females with undetected ADHD can have even more challenges than their male counterparts, beginning in public school. Much more than boys, girls with ADHD internalize shame and blame when they're criticized. This is one of the reasons girls aren't detected: like a duck gliding along the water, we try not to make waves. Below the surface, we're paddling as hard as we can trying to keep up.

Being different leaves us feeling like ugly ducklings: not understanding why we don't fit in, we're ashamed and confused. Because our ADHD goes untreated for longer, this can lead to a steady erosion of self-esteem and self-confidence.

Once diagnosed and treated, the ugly duckling persona can be shed, replaced by maybe not a swan, but at least by a more positive, authentic identity (I like to think of myself as a loon. After all, I now embrace my quirkiness. Plus, I'm Canadian).

Feeling a positive shift in self-perception (and learning how to laugh at my ADHD foibles) was the single most helpful benefit of my diagnosis. And while I found some great resources, I couldn't find a first-hand account of this transformative process. I decided to dive in, writing ADHD According to Zoë - The Real Deal on Relationships, Finding Your Focus & Finding Your Keys.

If you think you have ADHD, please take the time to find out. Here's a hint: it's highly heritable; if one of your biological children has it, chances are you or their other parent have passed it on to them. Knowledge about ADHD will set you free from a path of unmet goals and unanswered questions.

For a quick screener for ADHD, check out coulditbeadhd.ca. For a more complete assessment, visit the Jasper/Goldberg Adult ADD Questionnaire. These screeners won't give a diagnosis, but they'll let you know if you should explore one with your doctor.

Stay tuned for my next post which will offer tips for women with ADHD in the workplace.

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