'Very quiet, very bright,' no one knew she had ADHD

·3 min read
Maggie Henry was in university when she was diagnosed with ADHD. (Submitted by Maggie Henry - image credit)
Maggie Henry was in university when she was diagnosed with ADHD. (Submitted by Maggie Henry - image credit)

Two P.E.I. women are speaking out about missed diagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in women, with new research suggesting these missed diagnoses are more common than previously suspected.

Maggie Henry was partway through her undergraduate degree before she was diagnosed.

"My story is pretty classic. I was very quiet, very bright and a high achiever," said Henry.

"I don't really meet the stereotypes. Like, I don't lose things, very rarely lose things. I'm often overprepared. I'm rarely surprised or stuck having to improvise because I've anticipated any and all possible scenarios."

Henry was able to cope through to university, but then began to struggle. She couldn't keep the focus to get the grades she felt she was capable of, and she didn't know what the trouble was.

Decades of waiting

A recent survey by the Centre for ADHD Awareness Canada has found Henry is not alone in having to wait until she is an adult for a diagnosis.

The survey of women with ADHD found more than one in four had treatment delayed by two or more decades due to misdiagnosis.

Gina Ferguson was one of those who had to wait.

Ferguson says she was also a quiet child, but no one realized how hyperactive her brain was, always percolating over several things at once while still being able to pay attention to what was going on around her.

But with menopause, her ability to carry all those trains of thought left her.

"It felt like my brain just went to mush and it just wouldn't do anything anymore," she said.

"I had come to a really, really dark place."

Several times she contemplated suicide. With the help of counsellors, she got past those moments, but without ever getting to the root of her problem.

'I've never had life that felt like this'

Ferguson's diagnosis came just two years ago, when she was 56, but it has been life changing.

"The psychologist gave me a book. I started reading it and I started crying because I was like, 'Oh my God, this is me. This is what I've been all my life,'" she said.

"[He] gave me some medication and I tried it. And the next day I was like, I don't believe there's a life. I've never had life that felt like this. It was just amazing. And I'm still struggling, but better. Things are getting better."

Medication has also allowed Henry to focus more, and get her grades up to where she thought they should be. She completed her degree at Australian National University and is now a graduate student at UPEI.

Perhaps even more important is how the diagnosis has changed her outlook.

"When I have these moments where I'm like, 'Why am I like this?' I have an answer, one that's backed up by science and by shared experience," she said.

The Centre for ADHD Awareness Canada is calling for more awareness among clinicians about how the condition can present differently in women, in the hopes of getting girls and women a diagnosis and treatment earlier.

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