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Harriet Grayson

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ADHD is one of the most commonly diagnosed childhood disorders, yet for many women it isn’t until they reach their twenties or thirties that they finally receive a diagnosis.

By: Harriet Grayson

For many young girls, the terms “daydreamer” or “window-gazer” are commonplace. They may have trouble paying attention in class or focusing on a task, but it is just because they have over active imaginations. No one would stop to think that this daydreaming could in fact be a symptom of ADHD, that while everything might seem normal up close everything is “chaos”.

ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is one of the most common neurodevelopment disorders that arises in childhood and lasts well into adulthood. In Australia alone, it is estimated that one in 20 children suffer from ADHD. While ADHD is often perceived as a child who simply can’t sit still, there are in fact two very different types of ADHD. 

One is the hyperactive-impulsive form, the most commonly recognised form of ADHD. Children with hyperactive-impulsive ADHD typically squirm or fidget regularly, are overly talkative, have trouble taking turns with others and find it difficult to focus on one task at a time. 

The less common form is the inattentive form of ADHD. Children with this form often daydream a lot, regularly forget or lose things, and make careless mistakes more often than most children do. 

Little girl daydreaming

According to child and adult psychotherapist, Fran Walfish, boys tend to exhibit the hyperactive form of ADHD while the inattentive form is more common in girls. Because its symptoms are not as easily observable, inattentive ADHD is often hugely undiagnosed in children, especially amongst girls and young women. Boys are over three times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ADHD, and even in adulthood they are still twice as likely to be diagnosed.

There are a number of reasons for this, one of the main ones being ADHD in women remains significantly under-researched to this day. Women weren’t included in findings from studies on ADHD until the late nineties, and weren’t given their own long-term study until 2002. 

Another crucial reason, and one that has no doubt contributed to the lack of research into ADHD in women, is the way gender norms in society to this day have created a sense that women are inherently sensitive, emotional and passive, while men are more serious and active. When girls and young women exhibit symptoms characteristic of inattentive ADHD, they are dismissed for being silly daydreamers. If they act impulsively, which in boys would be identified as a symptom of hyperactive-impulsive ADHD, it is simply because they are a bit of a tomboy. 

Girls and young women are also more likely to cover up their ADHD symptoms by adopting the behaviour of those around them. Maddi Derrick, a clinical psychologist who directs an ADHD specialty clinic in Hobart and who herself lived with undiagnosed ADHD for much of her life, says that ADHD can also be under-diagnosed in girls and young women because they mature socially and emotionally more quickly than boys. 

According to Derrick, this means that they are “probably a bit more aware and focused on how others are viewing them” than boys with ADHD. Girls and young women with ADHD often try very hard to concentrate to hide the signs of their ADHD, so that in school teachers see someone who is just talkative or “daydreamy” rather than someone struggling with ADHD. 

Derrick describes experiencing a sense of “internal hyperactivity” throughout her school years, getting easily flustered or blowing up as her ADHD made it difficult to control her emotions. Yet she says it took her many years to realise not everyone felt the way she felt, and that not everyone’s mind is all “very, very busy, quite noisy, sometimes irritatingly so”.

While ADHD tends to be diagnosed early in boys, it is often overlooked in girls and young women until much later in life. Once women with ADHD reach their early to mid twenties, or their university years, their lack of self-regulation and self-management becomes more noticeable. Anthony Rostain, professor of psychiatry and paediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, says that in University, women with ADHD have more of a risk of being susceptible to negative pressure from sororities or getting involved in things like recreational drugs because they have trouble managing impulse control. 

For many women, it isn’t until their thirties or forties that they are finally diagnosed. Noelle Faulkner, a journalist for the Guardian, has lived with ADHD for most of her life. As a child, she recalls being repeatedly told to “stop daydreaming”, “slow down” and “act like a lady”, while she herself felt “overwhelmed by the world” to the point where she disassociated from it to cope. 

After six visits to her GP in the space of two years, each one for the same unexplained exhaustion, she saw a psychologist who responded to her complaints by asking her if she was simply aiming too high. Her exhaustion was put down to the pressure for perfection faced by all women in her industry. It took experiencing numerous severe burnouts from feeling chronically overwhelmed and countless visits to various GPs and psychologists to finally get a diagnosis in her thirties.

Her experiences are similar to those of many women struggling to live with an illness they do not know they have, battling symptoms they cannot explain or seem to overcome. This struggle is multiplied for women with ADHD who are also mothers, juggling the never-ending demands of childcare as well as those of their career while their disorder wrecks havoc on their mental health. The medications many use to treat ADHD may get them through the day at the office, but tend to wear off by the time they get home, meaning that they have to manage the various demands of organising the house and taking care of their children with their ADHD at its full force. 

Mother at computer with children

For any woman with ADHD, managing their disorder so they aren’t completely overwhelmed can seem utterly impossible. It can be challenging, but there are a number of simple yet crucial steps women can take to make life not merely bearable but enjoyable. Medication, psychotherapy and mental health counselling are a few of the most common treatment options both for coping with symptoms of ADHD and for offering support for those with the disorder and their loved ones. 

Terry Matlen, psychotherapist and author on ADHD in women, offers some easy survival tips that women, especially mothers, with ADHD can employ to improve their lives. The first, and possibly the most important, is that women accept that they have ADHD. Matlen says it is hard for women to acknowledge that they aren’t perfect, and particularly that they need help, but that it is essential women just “accept (their) ADHD and go with it”. The second is to ask help from their family members in whatever way they need it. 

Matlen states, delegating tasks around the house not only gives mothers with ADHD the help they need but also helps teach their children responsibility. She also recommends that mothers explain their symptoms to their family, keep a calendar with colour coded schedules for each family member, and establish quiet zones free of technology to minimise distractions during quality family time. 

While the use of marijuana is largely discouraged within society at large, patients around the world have sworn by the medicinal benefits of one of its central compounds, CBD.

By: Harriet Grayson

After being diagnosed with her second bout of breast cancer, Olivia Newton John described the pain she was experiencing as “excruciating, sleep-depriving, crying out loud pain”. Initially treating her pain with morphine, with the help of CBD oil she was not only able to wean herself off of the morphine but get rid of her pain completely.

Olivia’s story is shared by millions of people around the world, with many claiming CBD oil has been the only medicine to offer them relief. Yet, in spite of its growing popularity, official studies into medicinal marijuana, particularly its individual compounds such as CBD, are few and far between.

What is CBD?

CBD stands for cannabidiol, one of the most common active ingredients in cannabis. However, it doesn’t produce the feeling of being high, which is often associated with consuming cannabis. Instead, it works alongside the cannabinoid that does produce this feeling, THC, which stands for tetrahydrocannabinol.

While THC interacts directly with the body’s cannabinoid receptors, CBD stimulates these receptors so that the body produces its own cannabinoids, known as endocannabinoids. These endocannabinoids help regulate important bodily functions such as sleep, immune system responses and pain.

Because of this, CBD has been increasingly recognised for its medical potential. Not only is it anti-inflammatory, it is also anti-anxiety, anti-epileptic and has anti-oxidant properties. CBD treatments come in many forms, most commonly in oil, but also in creams or as a vapour.  

person holding CBD oil in front of cannabis plants

The History of CBD

The heavy stigma surrounding cannabis can make it seem like CBD’s medicinal benefits are only a recent discovery. In fact, they have been acknowledged for centuries. The first documented use of cannabis-derived medicine dates back as early as 2737 BC by Chinese Emperor Cheng Ng.

Since then, CBD has been recognised around the world for its numerous medical benefits. Queen Victoria is said to have used it to treat menstrual cramps during her reign.

While it has been around for centuries, it wasn’t until 1839 through a study done by Irish physician William B. O’Shaughnessy that CBD gained traction in the medical community as a viable treatment. O’Shaughnessy’s study established a variety of possible medical applications for cannabis, but to this day these applications remain largely under the radar.

CBD’s Uses

While worldwide legal restrictions on cannabis have limited research, CBD has become increasingly popular as a natural alternative to prescription medicine for a wide range of conditions. According to a study of CBD users in 2018, some of the most common conditions people use CBD to treat include:

  • Chronic pain
  • Arthritis or joint pain
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Sleep disorders
  • Migraine
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Nausea
  • Cancer
  • Epilepsy
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease

Treating Pain and Inflammation

One of CBD’s most commonly recognised benefits is its potential as a natural alternative to prescription pain medication, especially in treating chronic pain. A study conducted in 2018 reviewed studies published from 1975 to March that year that included the words cannabis or cannabinoids and pain in their title or abstract. These studies examined using cannabis or its extracted cannabinoids, specifically CBD, to treat a variety of different types of pain, from neuropathic pain and inflammatory pain to chronic pain and the pain produced by cancer. Based on their evaluation, the researchers conducting the 2018 study found that medical cannabis, including CBD, was proven effective in treating chronic pain amongst adults with little to no serious side effects.

While human studies demonstrating the benefits of CBD are limited, stories from patients around the world testify to these benefits. One such patient is Stephanie Wray, a mother-of-two who describes her experience of using CBD oil in an interview with Body and Soul magazine.

Stephanie has suffered from carpal tunnel, insomnia, depression and migraines for over a decade. On top of this, a few years ago she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a condition that causes chronic pain all throughout the body, and bursitis, a condition that causes extreme pain in both her shoulders.

Since being diagnosed with fibromyalgia and bursitis, Stephanie’s pain soon became debilitating. She felt exhausted, unable even to do the most simple day-to-day tasks around the house. She was taking “Nurofen, Panadol and Endone and antidepressants” but none gave her enough relief to “just…live.”

Her doctor eventually referred her to Cannabis Doctors Australia, an organisation that helps connect patients like Stephanie with licensed doctors who can provide patients with medicinal cannabis. After a month, Stephanie was given CBD oil that she takes as droplets on her tongue twice a day.

Since then, she has stopped taking all of her other medication and antidepressants. She now has energy she never had to “do jobs around the house” and “get outside again.” She is still taking it “day to day”, but having access to medicinal cannabis has made her feel “more positive about the future.”

Hands holding CBD oil

Accessing CBD oil in Australia

In Australia, you can only access any form of medicinal cannabis, including any CBD treatment, with a doctor’s prescription, and only doctors are able to access them on behalf of their patients.

Any general practitioner, or GP, can prescribe medicinal cannabis, but they must first demonstrate that it is the appropriate treatment for the patient’s condition and they have the right to refuse access if they decide another treatment is safer or more effective.

While it is legally accessible, many users are often unaware of these requirements. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, of the 60,000 Australians currently self-medicating with cannabis, only 30,000 are doing so legally. Even if patients are able to access CBD legally, it can be incredibly expensive, costing an average of ten to thirteen dollars a day.

Potential Risks of Using CBD

While it has helped thousands of patients such as Stephanie, much like any prescription medicine taking CBD is not without its share of risks. The greatest concern for users is that CBD can potentially interact with other medications such as blood thinners, heart medication and immunosuppressants in ways that can potentially change the levels of these medications in the blood. And unfortunately, due to worldwide legal restrictions on cannabis, there is a considerable lack of evidence from human studies on CBD’s effects on the body.

Always discuss with your doctor before trying CBD oil as a treatment for any medical condition.

From growing up on a small family orchard in quiet, rural Morrinsville to running the country while pregnant with her first child, Jacinda Ardern has never forgotten her roots. Her humble beginnings have been key to shaping her into a thoughtful, kind-hearted and relatable leader changing the face of politics today.  

By: Harriet Grayson

Until the day before she took office, Jacinda Ardern says she never saw herself as the future Prime Minister of New Zealand.  Although passionate about pursuing a career in politics from a young age, Ardern was always content with her position as a member of Parliament. She didn’t want the intense spotlight or endless long hours that come with leadership positions, and wanted to build a family with her partner, Clarke Gayford. 

It is this humble, down-to-earth attitude, along with a kindness rarely seen in modern politics, that helped her become New Zealand’s youngest Prime Minister, at only 37 years of age, in more than 150 years.  It is also what won her a second term with enough votes to lead a majority Labour government for the first time in decades. 

Ardern was born in Hamilton, yet spent her early years growing up in Murupara, a small town mostly known for its heavy gang presence. Ardern’s father, Ross Ardern, was a dedicated police officer who spent 40 years in the force, while her mother Laurell was a school cook. The family lived right in front of Murupara’s only police station and felt directly the ever-present threat of violence hanging over the town. 

Ardern recalled one night when the house was pelted with bottles, and another where, sneaking out through the back fence, she saw her dad being confronted by a group of large men. Following her dad’s instructions, she just had to keep walking as if nothing had happened. Although just a child at the time, the inequality Ardern remembers seeing firsthand in Murupara is what first ignited her passion for social justice. 

The family did not stay long in Murupara, moving to Morrinsville after Ardern’s sister was physically abused at school one day. The rest of Ardern’s childhood and teenage years were spent in Morrinsville, where she had what is regarded as the classic Kiwi childhood. She drove tractors around her family orchard, once crashing one into a tree, and raised her own lamb for her school’s agricultural show. Her first job, and her only job outside of politics, was working for the local fish and chip shop.

Jacinda as a young girl riding trailer with friends

It was during high school that Ardern began to put her interest in politics into action. She joined various Human Rights Actions Groups and was the founding member of her school’s Students Against Driving Drunk Group. One of her earliest ‘political victories’ was managing, as a student, to convince the Board of Trustees at Morrinsville College to incorporate trousers as an acceptable part of the girl’s school uniform. In her final year of high school, her peers voted her Most Likely to Become Prime Minister, though she wouldn’t see this quality in herself for many years to come.

Ardern’s parents were heavily Mormon, and their faith was a significant presence in Arden’s childhood. Religion was in many ways one of her foundations, and despite disagreeing with the church’s conservative perspective on gay rights for many years she avoided thinking about what this meant for her as someone who avidly supported gay rights. Living in a flat with three gay friends in her twenties, however, made her realise that, while she still went to church on occasion, she had to choose one or the other. In not taking a side, she felt she was doing a disservice both to the church and to her friends, so she eventually renounced her faith. She did not speak to her father about it, but spoke about it with her mum who was disappointed by her daughter’s decision. 

Her political career kicked off at just 17 years old, when she joined the Labour Party and, with her aunt’s assistance, worked in the office of Harry Duynhoven, a Labour member of Parliament, in New Plymouth. During her time there, she distinctly remembers at one point someone coming in and voicing the various problems they were confronted with. Hearing this made her think how incredible it was that “you can be in Wellington on the one hand changing everything, and then come back here (to New Plymouth) and just change the world for one person.” It was this experience that she says made her truly fall in love with politics and the power it has to change people’s lives, even in small ways. 

Jacinda sitting in front of desk

After graduating high school, she studied at the University of Waikato where she graduated with a Bachelor of Communication Studies. Once she had finished university, she took some time to travel overseas to the United States. Even while travelling, she channeled her political ambitions to ‘change the world’ for people, working for a soup kitchen in New York where she served food to the poor and homeless.

This desire to a make difference in people’s lives through politics has stayed with her throughout her career, from the time she entered Parliament as a candidate for the Waikato district in 2008 to her recent re-election as Prime Minister of New Zealand this year. Her leadership, both of the Labour Party and of the nation, has stood out around the world as it is displays not only authority but kindness, empathy and authenticity, qualities that seem to be severely lacking in the current political climate. She has repeatedly emphasised the importance of allowing people to see her ‘failings’, that she is as prone to failure as anyone else. She feels that above all leaders need to be authentic, rather than try to present some impossible notion of flawless leadership. 

This has been particularly crucial over the last couple of years, as Ardern and her government were faced with the Christchurch terror attack, a devastating volcanic eruption and most recently an ongoing global pandemic. In the wake of the horrific terror attack on a mosque in Christchurch, Ardern held a press conference and spoke a message of unity, diversity and kindness against the hatred that shook the country. The day after the attack, she flew to Christchurch with leaders across the political spectrum and stood with Islamic leaders and mourners, hugging those grieving their losses. And earlier this year, in the midst of lockdown while the pandemic was at its worst in New Zealand, she filmed regular Facebook live chats at home to offer guidance to everyone struggling with being stuck at home. 

Jacinda holding Neve wearing traditional Maori dress

On top of all this, Ardern has had to juggle full time political leadership with parenthood, as just three months into taking office she announced her pregnancy. She gave birth to Neve Te Aroha in June 2018, taking only two months maternity leave before returning to office while her partner, Clarke, took on the role of stay-at-home dad. She has embraced her newfound parenthood the same way she has her leadership, posting photos on Instagram of her various parenting fails from collapsing birthday cakes to Neve’s refusal to share her full plate of toast with her mum. 

The last few years have by no means been easy for Jacinda Ardern, and the next few are likely to be just as hard as New Zealand, let alone the world, is far from out of the woods of the coronavirus pandemic. It will be a huge test of her capacity as a leader, not only as Prime Minister but as head of a party governing with a large majority in Parliament. If she maintains the kindness, compassion and authenticity guiding her, however, the odds are in her favour.