I’m no stranger to mental illness, but I’m not an expert either. That being said, I have picked up a few nuggets of information along the way, especially those pertaining to capitalism and injustice in modern health care. Oh, and the poor handling of mental illness in both public and private educational institutions.
With that out of the way, let’s carry on.
In this day of age, ADHD and ADD are basically slapped on anybody with a hyperactive mind. These diagnoses usually stamped onto the identities of children when they are quite young- more often in boys than in girls. While women are just as likely to have ADHD as a man, the stereotype seems to be that only men are diagnosed with the disorder. For this reason, ADD and ADHD are overwhelmingly underdiagnosed in females who are less likely to exhibit signs of hyperactivity.
In my case, for example, I never had any issues with sitting still in elementary/middle school. In high school, I actually rather enjoyed sitting and taking notes. The only reason I excused myself from class to get my body moving was if I felt a panic attack coming on- not because I was bored. Perhaps the reason I never suspected I had ADD was because of this reason- I wasn’t loud, I wasn’t disruptive, and I wasn’t a “problem.”
The problem is, I did have symptoms of ADD, I just didn’t realize that that’s what they actually were. Looking back, I never had the slightest clue what my math and science teachers were talking about. Lectures, graphs, and numbers would go in one ear and come out the other within seconds. I could study data for hours on end, and my brain still wouldn’t be able to comprehend what I was seeing. Did I feel stupid? Absolutely. Did I think these issues, in fact, were attributed to a learning disability and thus not my fault? No, it never crossed my mind.
And THAT is the problem.
I got through public school with decent grades and a clean record of good behavior, but I did it through what I call intuitive learning. Rather than fundamentally understanding the material itself, I watched the other students and mimicked exactly what they did. I sure didn’t learn anything, but I earned myself the grades I needed.
In science classes which required physical labs, I probably would have seriously injured myself had I not been paired with a lab partner. No matter how hard I tried to listen to directions and visualize the steps in my brain, I just couldn’t grasp the concepts. I obviously wanted to understand the safety procedures and do the work properly, but no matter how hard I tried to focus, I always found myself completely tuning out and focusing on nothingness. No, I wasn’t even just daydreaming, my mind was literally blank.
As I said, these intuitive-learning and people-pleasing tactics got me through high school with decent grades- enough to get me into college at least. I wasn’t the smartest in my class, but I also wasn’t the dumbest- hence why I was never detected as a “problem.”
What I excelled at the most in my high school career were art and English classes, which probably comes as no surprise. I have a much easier time focusing and absorbing information when I’m provided with colors, shapes, textures, pictures, etc., and these types of classes were excellent for my talents. Not only was I flourishing and having a good time learning, I was also recognizing my strengths and realizing that this was what I wanted to do with my life.
Of course, like many other underfunded public schools, my high school didn’t see art and imagination the same way I did. These classes were apparently not as important as mathematics and sciences, as demonstrated when we almost lost ALL art/music classes to budget cuts.
Can you imagine being a right-brained woman with undiagnosed ADD going through four years of schooling without any clue what’s going on around you?
Luckily, we artists and musicians fought the budget cuts for the classes that we deserved. That’s another story, though- one I’ll surely go into another time.
Anyway, on with the key point. The United States is building a wall (ha) of misdiagnosed mental illness, and the building blocks are ignorance and bias. I could have gotten the help I’d needed earlier and had a much more enriched learning experience in high school, had I known my learning disability was something to be taken seriously. Until we, the adults and the professionals, put more emphasis on true signs of ADD, girls (like younger me) will still avoid coming forward and sharing their struggles. If we all paid a little more attention to how our children, then perhaps these disabilities would be properly diagnosed and treated.
Works consulted/further reading: https://www.additudemag.com/add-in-women/