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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

“You don’t realise that other people don’t feel like you do in your mind, where it’s all very, very busy, quite noisy, sometimes irritatingly so.”

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. 

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.

Little girl daydreamingThere 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

 “I used to love gardening and weeding, but had to stop, and since taking CBD oil I get outside again.”

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.

There’s been a sizable amount of overt fat shaming during the COVID-19 pandemic which adds pressure to the great number of people with a Binge Eating Disorder in Australia. People make jokes casually to their friends, family and co-workers about how they’re going to come out of this a lot fatter or how they’re avoiding ‘ISO-ARSE’.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is one of Australia’s most prevalent eating disorders but perhaps the most under-recognised, and the extreme uncertainty of COVID-19 has exacerbated the symptoms for many.

For example, seeing photos of supermarkets filled with empty shelves, home isolation’s increased exposure to food, disruption to food shopping, increased focus on our bodies and the inability to receive face-to-face or group support are all triggers for people with BED.

BED is a psychological illness thatis characterised by a person frequently eating excessive amounts of food and feeling that they’re unable to stop, often when not hungry. In Australia around 913,986 people have an eating disorder, of those people 47 per cent have a binge eating disorder.

BED can be triggered by an inability to cope and process emotions such as stress, anger, boredom, distress, traumatic experiences and genetic predisposition.

Psychologist and Manager of the Butterfly National Helpline Juliette Thomson says during isolation, stress and a change in routine can cause anyone with BED to have increased behaviours and thoughts about their illness.

Ms Thomson says eating disorders thrive on isolation environments and that people with BED should turn to crafting, journaling or reaching out to friends to distract them from their eating behaviours and thoughts.

Perth Psychologist, Sherry-Lee Smith says that people with BED may have increased behaviours at this time. “As people with Binge Eating Disorder often use food as a way to soothe emotional distress and boredom,” say says.

She says “We know from data from other outbreaks, such as SARS and Ebola, that the psychological impact of quarantine, including isolation and loneliness, is likely to increase the incidents of acute stress, post-traumatic stress, depressive symptoms, low mood, irritability, insomnia, anger, fear, sadness and grief.”

Many people who suffer from an eating disorder have suffered psychiatric comorbidity whereby linked additional conditions co-occur with a primary condition such as anxiety or depression.

Research shows that women with eating disorders have a higher prevalence of anxiety than men.

Jerita Sutcliffe is a 25 year old young woman from Perth, Western Australia who has BED and says it has affected every aspect of her life.

“It’s a vicious cycle of a poor and unhealthy coping mechanism,” she says, “I then get depressed about my weight and appearance and binge eating then transforms from an unhealthy coping mechanism to a method of self- harm.”

Jerita Sutcliffe and her husband Ash Sutcliffe on their wedding day.

Due to a weak immune system from her chronic illness, Jerita is in a high-risk category and hasn’t been seeing her friends or her family during COVID-19 which, she says, has negatively impacted her mental health.

As a result she has turned to food to numb the pain of isolation and loneliness, although this is only a band-aid solution.

Not everyone recognises BED as a serious condition and in fact the condition only received formal recognition as a distinct eating disorder in 2013, in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5.)

It is no wonder people with this condition feel this illness is misunderstood as it has only been accepted as a formal illness in the last decade.

Jerita feels people don’t take an eating disorder seriously when one is overweight, she says “It’s just easier to see a person as ‘lazy’, ‘overweight’, ‘a slob’ or ‘a glutton’ rather than see the truth that this is a serious mental illness.”

Contrary to popular to belief, having BED does not necessarily mean someone is overweight, but it is a serious mental illness affecting a large proportion of our population.

People with BED often have feelings of shame or guilt about eating, and eat in private or avoid social situations, particularly those involving food.

“I don’t enjoy eating out in public or even simply being in public because I am constantly worried about the opinions that strangers have of me, based solely upon my appearance.”

Lucia Picerno, a designer from London took to Instagram with a powerful message; “the pandemic is not an excuse to fat shame” she continues, “A lot of people are posting memes that make fun of fat bodies … is it really your worst nightmare in this pandemic to end up looking like me?”

While the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the behaviours and thoughts of BED for many, treatment has become less accessible.

Ms Smith says the pandemic has created barriers for people to seek usual treatment including group programs, and “inability to attend even telehealth sessions if their significant others are unaware of the eating disorders.”

If you need help with your Binge Eating Disorder here are some tips:

https://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au/blog/stop-binging-and-start-building-a-healthy-relationship-with-your-food-2/

Did you know that anxiety is the most common mental illness found in Australia? On average 1 in 3 women will encounter anxiety, meaning a large chunk of Australian mothers take on the mental condition. Read this honest experience of anxiety from an everyday Aussie mum.

Heart racing.

Shortness of breath.

Sweaty palms.

Thoughts so loud, I turn the radio off.

Distorted vision.

Alaia crying.

Migraine onset.

Welcome to my world.

They say a photo speaks a thousand words well, not always. The smile on my face and the gleam in my eyes is definitely deceiving, under the surface lies a whole other story.

It’s something I was always unsure if I would share just yet but, with my sole purpose of wanting to inspire and help others, how could I possibly not be real with you all?

Anxiety. That seven letter word that has seemingly taken over my day to day life over the past three months.  If I had to put my finger on a moment or event that triggered it, I would say it was my ectopic pregnancy loss but, I also believe it is a culmination of life events, motherhood and a recent drama which funnily enough really flipped the switch into full force.

So, what is it? Let’s start with the textbook definition:

“the state of feeling nervous or worried that something bad is going to happen”

My first thoughts – understatement at its best. So here’s my definition which I hope does more justice for sufferers:

An intense state of feeling overwhelmed, nervous and worried, sometimes for no good reason, accompanied by sweating, a significant increase in heart rate causing heart attack like symptoms, loud and overbearing thoughts and a gut wrenching feeling inside your stomach or chest also causing nausea. Sounds dreadful right? Well it is.

 

“Motherhood brings with it, its own share of anxieties – how will I get this all done? Am I doing a good job? What will other mothers think of me?”

To onlookers, anxiety is often not detected. It’s silent and mostly only affects its victim. Because it comes with such a stigma, people often shy away from sharing their feelings. Society expects sufferers of anxiety to be weird, introverted, crazy or different in some way, but this couldn’t be more far from the truth.

More often than not it’s the so called “normal” person sitting right beside you, the girl with the bubbly personality, the overachiever at work who always gets a promotion, the clown of the group or that mum friend you think always has her shit together that in fact is suffering in silence.

One thing for certain, anxiety does not discriminate. Sadly, a staggering one in four Australians will suffer anxiety at least once in their life – one in four!!!! So why aren’t we talking about it?

It’s time we raise the lid on it and become more transparent and educated on it.

You see for me, I am totally new to this anxiety world, I am still identifying my triggers. And, while some days I am completely unaffected, other days I am so consumed and would like nothing more than to stay in bed all day and sleep it off, but I can’t because we all know a mothers job never sleeps.

Motherhood brings with it, its own share of anxieties – how will I get this all done? Am I doing a good job? What will other mothers think of me? I want to be a mum but also want to work and have a social life – how do I manage that? The pressures we put on ourselves are endless.

Some days, you just want to throw your hands up and claim defeat, we all have those days right? But, instead, I find solace in retracting to a quiet room while Alaia plays, just to gain bearings again or even meditate. If I am out, I remain quiet or withdrawn which can make me seem socially awkward at times but it’s what gives me comfort in those moments. I know some people reading this will be shocked as it’s a far cry from my old bubbly, carefree, lively and social butterfly self, but lately it’s been my reality.

It sucks, it really sucks.

And while I kept convincing myself I didn’t chose anxiety, it chose me – I would be lying. A lifetime of high standards, perfectionism and people pleasing would lead me to this point. But, I am learning.

 

“I am finally making ME a priority because sometimes as mothers we lose sight of this.”

I am learning that firstly, I am not alone. SO many share this struggle with me and some are far worse. I am learning that I can manage the symptoms – I am finally making ME a priority because sometimes as mothers we lose sight of this. I am now on a mission to work on my mind, body and soul daily – I exercise, meditate and invest in self-development on a regular basis. And lastly, I am learning to love myself – would I be so hard on someone else as I am on myself? Definitely not. It’s time to be gentler on me.

The point of my article is far from a pity plea, but instead an arm reaching out to someone else out there suffering in silence, to shed light on a topic on that for so long has been taboo.

It’s a reminder for us all to really think before we speak. Is what we are saying going to add value to the people around us? If not, then why say it?

We may assume to be good judge of characters, but as I always say, never judge a book by its cover. Unless you have read every single chapter, you don’t know someone’s full story.

Moral of the story – be kind, always. Everyone has a story, every mama has a story and this is just one chapter of mine.

Articles courtesy of Solonge at Simply Solonge. Check her out on Instagram and Facebook.