Intersectionality is the unique experience that emerges when two or more identities coexist or “intersect”. These identities could include ethnicity, gender, sex, socioeconomic status, disability, or more. This effect can be positive (for example, granting privileges) or negative (for example, resulting in discrimination). My identification as a female student with ADHD has led to many unique experiences that I hope will encourage you to analyze your own intersectionality.
I found out I was on the ADHD spectrum a few months ago, and I still have a hard time believing it. I often turn the diagnosis over in my head, questioning both my doctor and my experience. I often wonder if I am apart of the over diagnosis crisis in ADHD that I hear so much about as a psychology student. I can objectively acknowledge that these thoughts are lies, so why do they continue to linger? I believe my denial is due, in part, with being a woman.
When I picture ADHD, I picture Mateo from the TV show Jane the Virgin—a young boy who can’t sit still long enough to do his school work or calm down when the situation demands it. We hardly ever hear about young girls with ADHD in the media, let alone adult women. This is part of the reason why women so often don’t get the diagnosis they need.
Research shows that women with ADHD are “less overt” with their symptoms, falling on the less severe end of the spectrum. For example, while a girl with ADHD may not be jumping out of her seat regularly, her restlessness may manifest in other ways. Women also attempt to compensate for their inattention more, exhausting themselves to achieve what others can. A less commonly discussed symptom, emotional dysregulation, is also shown to be more prevalent in women. The fact that female symptoms of ADHD have not been studied until fairly recently just shows how unrecognized it has been in our society.
I have felt many of these symptoms as a student. When I’m studying, my hands and feet are always moving, but I rarely leave my seat on impulse. Meanwhile, my attention feels sticky. It’s either clinging to everything but what I would like to focus on, or unwaveringly attached to the task at hand to the absolute exclusion of everything else in my life. This includes chores, communication, and sleep. I have always fought for this state of hyper focus, but it is often exhausting to reach and maintain.
As an overachiever in school, lagging behind in other aspects of my life is difficult. For example, I have had friends tell me I am smarter than I appear because while I talk very fast at social gatherings, I am calm and collected when it comes to focusing on an academic project I care about. At work, I have gotten formal reprimands for forgetting important details on forms, and confused glances for saying I’d make a change to a document and then neglecting to. I have been pressured, as a woman, to excel in all areas of my life, including cooking, cleaning, and dressing nicely. As an exhausted student, these things are not my priority, and neglecting them creates conflict—both with others and within myself.
With effort, I manage to maintain an excellent academic standing on paper. This is not what our society thinks of when it pictures a student with ADHD. However, no experience is invalid, however different it may be from what society has seen. Take a moment today to reflect on how your experience has both shaped and been shaped by your intersecting identities.