It’s Women’s Month, the month where we are reminded of all the great and powerful women that lived before us, as well as the “mbokodos” of today. We see women dominating in their respective fields, women raising families on their own and those that choose to do both. 

Growing up, I heard the phrases “women are multitaskers” and “all women have maternal instincts” everywhere. Women have this innate superpower that men don’t; an ability to juggle her demanding career with making sure her children’s homework is complete every night and waking up earlier than everyone else every morning to prepare lunch for the family.

They’re natural multitaskers; beings that can do it all and have it all.

So imagine my surprise when I couldn’t tap into this superpower.

Since I was a little girl, I felt like something wasn’t quite right with me. I couldn’t keep quiet in class, nor could I sit still for more than five minutes. Women teachers would tell me that my behaviour was not befitting of a young lady. I tried my best to be meek like all the other girls. 

By the time I got to high school, I was good at hiding what was going on in my head, but it came at a cost — anxiety. The frustration I felt with not being able to control my scattered thoughts, the lack of restraint that would rear its head once in a while and the perpetual zoning out that would happen 10 minutes into a class became unmanageable. Depression kicked in when I couldn’t keep up the act. 

I told my mother that I couldn’t do it anymore and we decided it would be best to go to a psychiatrist. Expecting the doctor to say “she has depression but don’t worry, it’s just a phase”, he called in my mother and said I had something called attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Initially I laughed and thought, “What? Only boys have ADHD. Actually ADHD isn’t even real. All it is, is a bunch of spoiled kids with parents who can’t discipline them properly at home so they come to school and they behave poorly”. Turns out the joke was on me.

What I came to understand was, despite what we think, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is not gender biased. Granted, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tells us that about 12.9% of boys are diagnosed with ADHD compared with 5.6% of girls. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that boys are more prone to having ADHD. Outdated diagnostic criteria and stereotypes have contributed greatly to the underdiagnosis of ADHD in women. 

To better understand ADHD, it’s useful to have a brief look at ADHD symptoms. ADHD symptoms fall into three subgroups:

Mostly inattentive: difficulty concentrating, easily distracted, making many careless mistakes.

Mostly hyperactive/impulsive: restlessness, difficulty remaining seated, excessive talking, often interrupting.

Combined: both inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive symptoms

Most girls fall into the inattentive category for a variety of reasons including but not limited to gender norms. When it comes to girls with ADHD symptoms, health professionals are likely to diagnose them with anxiety, depression or other mood disorders. Because we know that one doesn’t simply “outgrow” ADHD, this childhood trend is mirrored in adulthood. But most women with ADHD are misdiagnosed. 

In a society filled with mbokodos everywhere, it becomes difficult to navigate ADHD as a woman, especially if it is undiagnosed. A lot of women with ADHD will experience:

  • Difficulty in achieving academic goals;
  • Anxiety, depression and even eating disorders;
  • Low self-esteem;
  • Conflict in relationships;
  • Poor time management; and
  • Forgetfulness

These ADHD symptoms are often seen as markers of what it means to be a “successful” woman. Pressure to multitask and juggle family and work makes it increasingly difficult for women to hide or manage ADHD. As we debunk the fallacy of the independent woman and consider it’s harm, I think about those like myself who depend on support structures that help us reduce the balls we need to juggle rather than shaming us for not being able to do what supposedly comes naturally to women.

There is so much pressure on women to perform, pressure to bring in folding chairs when they’re not given a seat at the table. While women around the world call out the notion of “independent women” for the fallacy that it is, I think about all the women out there with ADHD and other mental health disorders who are struggling to “keep it together”. Women that society often deems lazy, clumsy or incompetent because of the psychological battle they face every day, often in secret.

Remember, you’re doing the best you can.

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