I’m a woman with ADHD – here are all the reasons why I'm proud of it | Mim Skinner

Thanks to a flourishing ADHD positivity movement, women like me who once hid their neurodivergence are finding ways to celebrate it

On any given day I will spend a considerable amount of time tensing my muscles to the rhythm of the national anthem. I might be driving, in a meeting or writing to a deadline, but my muscles will be sending our gracious Queen victorious, happy and glorious, long to reign over us. Other times, I breathe in sync with the sound of traffic going past, bite my nails or pinch myself when I’m trying to complete a task, so that if my brain decides to abandon its instructions, the sensation will serve as a reminder of them. I often forget to buy food or take my medication, and often can’t recall whether I’ve showered or not. My email inbox currently has 18,485 unread messages.

Still, I am luckier than most women with ADHD. I received a diagnosis at the age of seven after a school referral. But many women come to be diagnosed later, after decades of being called scatty or disorganised, plagued by guilt and anxiety. The latest NHS figures show that while more than 100,000 men were diagnosed with ADHD in 2019-20, just 33,000 women received a diagnosis. With diagnostic standards set by studies of boys and men – who tend to show symptoms such as hyperactivity, as opposed to the introverted and inattentive presentations more common in women and girls – we are often forgotten.

That is changing – thanks in part to a growing ADHD positivity community online. There’s @the_adhd_femme_collective, @female_adhd and my favourite, @Iampayingattention. The latter is run by Jess Joy and Charlotte Mia, two young professional women with ADHD and autism who founded the account and its wider members’ platform because they wanted to create a space where people could get to know themselves, and find a community who are trying to do the same. Users share advice on strategies to help them thrive, and on how to find treatment routes. They run online body-doubling sessions where you can log on and complete a frustrating task alongside others with ADHD. Women suggest coping mechanisms for concentration, such as the Pomodoro technique, which splits up work time into smaller bursts of focus. Their positive narratives around ADHD help you to train yourself out of the guilt that comes with the inability to concentrate. The BBC radio DJ Phoebe Inglis-Holmes credits the account with helping her “unpick [her] incorrect, preconceived notions about being neurodivergent”.

In contrast to the young women I see online now, I tried to conceal my ADHD for years. My sisters were sworn to secrecy at school, and I have spent much of my life in conflict with my brain, forcing myself into 9-to-5 productivity rhythms, chastising myself when my brain doesn’t comply. I did freelance jobs to avoid difficult office environments. The heart of the ADHD positivity movement though is about creating a shift away from seeing neurodivergence as a problem that needs curing, to seeing it as an asset.

Trying to see my mind as an ally is a long-term goal for me: I still feel very guilty claiming ADHD as a label. As someone who’s co-founded a successful social enterprise and is publishing my second book this year, I secretly wonder whether people will think I’m making a fuss, claiming a stake in an identity that I don’t deserve when other people have it worse than me. I still catch myself wishing my brain would “work properly”. I’m having a baby this summer and worry that my attention-deficit will let them down too. My husband helps keep track of my prenatal appointments and is in charge of lists.

When I catch myself thinking like this, I counter it by listing the ways I benefit from ADHD, which are many and varied. For starters, I don’t have the attention span for long-held grudges or neuroses. In contrast to obsessive compulsions, I often leave my door open with the keys in the lock and don’t think twice about it. This ends badly less often than you’d think and is quite a relaxed way to live.

Being very aware that my brain cannot perform all the necessary tasks means I’m never too self-reliant. I’m good at celebrating those in a team who have skills that I don’t. I’m able to have multiple interests and have a go at anything. Because I’m bad at planning, my coping mechanism is to be really good at troubleshooting. Knowing my flaws makes me a good team player; it can be fun and positive being impulsive.

Because I rarely feel wedded to a plan, I’m flexible – and am very happy to be guided by the enthusiasm and skills of others, which is quite an empowering way to be. Neglect of detail and structure means I find it easier to see the big picture, sweeping trends and new ideas. It also means I’m not able to comprehend some of the barriers and am comfortable challenging them. It makes me great at handling a crisis and working under pressure.

My life is quite interesting because I don’t have a particularly thorough outworking of consequences. I’ll attempt things that are audacious without much thought. Last year, we bought two train carriages from a scrap yard to eventually live in. I helped to found REfUSE, a company that has challenged unjust food systems. This year I’m staying in communes, co-living spaces and eco-villages to write about non-nuclear living. Often my ideas fail, but I can easily move on as I don’t over-focus on failure.

Narratives around neurodiversity are changing. Just as we’re realising that having all-white male boards in business and politics has led to weaker, un-critical governance, we’re realising that neurodivergence is an asset too. The gymnast Simone Biles has spoken publicly about her diagnosis and her use of medication, tweeting “it’s nothing to be ashamed of”; will.i.am has credited the condition with fostering the creativity that has helped him write music. Michael Phelps talks about how he used swimming to help him concentrate after his diagnosis aged nine.

Those of us who had whispered these combinations of letters behind hands are now claiming them back – and if not quite holding them proudly now, then at least trying to.

  • Mim Skinner is the author of the book Jailbirds: Lessons from a Women’s Prison and co-founder of REfUSE. Her second book Living Together, finding community in a fractured world will be published later this year

  • Additional reporting for this piece by Ashleigh Dick


Mim Skinner

The GuardianTramp

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