Looking back I cringe, “Why did I waste precious time struggling alone? Why didn’t I see that other women go through the same thing?
Mostly, because I either wasn’t listening, or women are not talking enough or at all about this.
As an ADHD Coach I witness everyday how ADHD undermines your planning, organizing, prioritizing, tracking progress, finishing tasks, and managing time, right? We know these symptoms are a result of low amounts or sluggish dopamine and norepinephrine (neurotransmitters in the brain).
Well, there’s another culprit that drags women down. It’s hormones.I woke up one day, not too long ago, feeling like an alien in my own body. The physical symptoms of menopause were bad enough. I understood to expect these uncomfortable annoying things.
The fatigue, sadness, lack of motivation, negative thinking, forgetfulness, inability to focus…I never expected.
These symptoms smacked me upside the head and I couldn’t even see straight. The kicker was when my daughter said, “See now you know what it feels like to have ADHD.”
I know there is no such thing as adult on-set ADHD. But if there was, I had it.
I began to wonder, “Have I always had ADHD and I’ve missed it all these years.” OMG, I’m an ADHD Coach and I didn’t see this? I started questioning everything about myself.
My energy levels tanked. I stopped working out. I stopped socializing. I stopped working with the exception of meeting with clients. And those clients saved me. I had to be accountable to them. I got energy from our coaching sessions. It reminded me of my purpose.
Yet, I couldn’t find motivation to do more. I was literally in a fog. A fog so dense I was fearful of moving in any direction. So I stood still. Painfully still.
Is this what depression feels like, I wondered? Why would I be depressed? My life is good. I’d tally up all the good things in my life and think, “Ok, I should be happy. There isn’t anything wrong.”
A few weeks ago I tuned into The Women’s Palooza. Dr. Patricia Quinn gave an eye-opening talk on the effects hormones have on girls and women throughout our lives.
Women are riddled with hormone fluctuations from as early as the tween years and well beyond menopause in our 50’s. That’s a long time to deal with ups and downs that send us into unrelenting tailspin after tailspin.
Here’s the highlights:
1. Estrogen doesn’t only effect our reproductive system and skin. The brain is a target organ of estrogen.
This was discovered by scientists researching Alzheimers. They discovered that men’s estrogen levels remain stable until around the age of 70. This is when we see a spike in the diagnosis of different forms of dementia in men.
2. The research revealed the release of dopamine and norepinephrine (the two neouro-transmitters that are sluggish in the ADHD brain) is enhanced by estrogen. When estrogen levels decrease, we see a drop of approximately 30% in the release of these neuro-transmitters. Holy cow!!!
3. Women with ADHD already have low amounts or sluggish dopamine and norepinephrine. Then at hormone fluctuation times, their ADHD symptoms intensify. This explains why women with ADHD feel a double whammy during estrogen drops. It’s as if someone is kicking you when you’re already down.
4. Women’s hormones fluctuate monthly and throughout life as we age. This makes treatment of ADHD symptoms for women much more complex than men. Treatments that work for men, don’t work for women.
5. A lot of girls go undiagnosed with ADHD until around age 12-13. Puberty exacerbates the underlying ADHD and symptoms become more apparent. Teenage girls become more distracted, more forgetful, more anxious, and more emotional. Most girls diagnosed with ADHD report their ADHD symptoms get worse after the onset of puberty.
6. Women can be treated with a combination of oral contraceptives and ADHD medication. Dr. Quinn cautioned not to use an oral contraceptive with progesterone as it opposes estrogen, making symptoms worse.
It is important to work jointly with an ob/gyn and psychiatrist for best results. Unfortunately, many doctors are not educated on the combined effects of low estrogen and ADHD. It is up to each of us to advocate for what we need.
7. Many pregnant women reported their ADHD symptoms lessening in intensity. Some have said they thought their ADHD just went away when they were pregnant. This makes sense when we account for the huge spike in estrogen in pregnant women. On the flip-side, post pregnancy, estrogen levels plummet leaving women with scary feelings of depression and ADHD symptoms reappear full force.
8. Menopause! Peri-menopause happens mid-late 30’s for most women. Estrogen levels drop and we don’t even realize it. Women will see ADHD symptoms getting worse. Or some women think they have adult on-set ADHD. No such thing. You’re born with it. Early treatment with HRT, ADHD stimulants, natural remedies or a combination of them, can lessen cognitive decline that happens over a woman’s life-span.
9. There are natural ways to deal with symptoms triggered by ADHD and low estrogen. Some include exercise, meditation, yoga, omega 3’s, essential oils, proper nutrition and overall quality self-care.