“In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” 
― Sheryl Sandberg

Adulting With ADD

Adulting With ADD

Sarah Preston


Disorganized, unprepared, unable to complete a project, messy, forgetful, out of control, catching up, covering up. This is the life of an adult woman with ADD. This is my life.

My younger brother was diagnosed with ADHD when we were very young. He was a textbook example of the disorder. Wild, inattentive and having trouble at school. He was quickly diagnosed and started a medication regimen early in life. I, however, was an avid reader and a straight-A student who appeared to have no issues with schoolwork. School came easily to me, and I could finish my work and then spend the other 90 percent of my time looking out the window and daydreaming. I flew under the radar because ADD presents differently in boys and girls. Girls with the disorder are more likely to be labeled as chatty or distracted than their male peers who are described as hyperactive and attention-seeking. Girls are less prone to being disruptive in class and, as such, don’t get diagnosed.

When I was in the fifth grade, my mom decided to homeschool me and my then-first-grade brother. We homeschooled for one semester before I decided I wanted to go back to school to be with my friends. When I returned to public school, my teachers and principal offered to let me take two end-of-year standardized tests, one for fifth grade and one for sixth grade. I passed both and was then eligible to skip the sixth grade. I was elated and terrified.

Around this time my ADD began to surface. I was no longer in a situation in which I could procrastinate and get away with it. I showed up to the wrong classroom on the first class of the first day of school, because I didn’t pay attention and instead daydreamed my way through orientation. I almost failed math (a subject in which I usually excel) because the teacher assigned a project to work on throughout the semester and I completely forgot about it until the night before it was due. I frantically tried to throw something together at the last minute but still received a failing grade.

In eighth grade, my family moved to a smaller town. The combination of being adjusted to my peer group and a slightly less rigorous academic structure contributed to the rest of middle school and high school being much easier for me. I could finish my homework in the morning right before class with few repercussions. I did fine in college, but struggled in courses which required large amounts of note-taking or hours of study.

Shortly after I graduated, I met my would-be husband. Our early relationship was fraught with arguments that swirled around my incessant forgetfulness. The arguments inevitably ended with me in tears trying to explain to him that I really wasn’t trying to leave my phone at the restaurant (at work, at home, at the beach, at my friend’s house) but that I genuinely couldn’t help it. He, being a highly structured type-A personality simply couldn’t understand how I could keep letting this happen. I had to cancel a flight to a friend’s wedding because I forgot I had a work event scheduled—we almost broke up over it.

The struggles I experienced soon started to affect my work. At my first job out of college, I had personal problems with a long-time, dedicated volunteer and called my then-boyfriend to vent about it—except, due to my inattention, I dialed the volunteer’s number and unleashed a torrent of insults directly to him. This ultimately resulted in the volunteer quitting the program. It wasn’t coincidence that I was the first to go when the company started laying people off during the recession a few months later.

After my volunteer fiasco, I decided I was going to get my life together. Other people were functioning completely normally in life, so why couldn’t I? I decided I just needed to try a little harder. I developed coping mechanisms to hide my problem. I furiously started making lists (which I would usually leave at home when I needed them.) I became obsessive about checking to make sure I had things, to the point of developing anxiety. I started taking intricately detailed notes on conference calls at work so I could pay attention to what was happening. If I needed to take something with me when I was leaving the house, I would place it immediately in front of the door so I would have to either step over it or pick it up to leave the house.

These strategies helped me mask the fact that my brain chemistry doesn’t work like a normal brain should. Some of the techniques I developed worked in my favor over the long-term. Paying attention on conference calls led me to be a subject matter expert in my field. People started to rely on my information and advice. I got promoted. Things were going great—until they weren’t, anymore. In 2016, I had a baby and my overworked, overtired brain started failing me again. I could feel myself slipping at work. I got impossibly overwhelmed in the middle of the day if someone added last-minute item to my agenda.

It got bad enough that I started Googling to figure out what was wrong with me. I found an ADD checklist and ugly-cried while reading it; I started to realize the issues I experienced my entire life weren’t just personality flaws. I wasn’t dumb or flighty, and there began to be a light at the end of the tunnel. (True to form, I printed out the checklist, highlighted it and made notes because I might forget what I wanted to talk about when I talked to a doctor.). I then immediately made an appointment to see someone.

I’m now in the early stages of living with an official ADD diagnosis. I’m still working out my medication dosage; some days are better than others. Being on medication hasn’t solved all of my problems, but it makes me feel like I’m finally on a level playing field with everyone else—and that’s worth the world to me.


Sarah has spent a decade navigating in the corporate world and is currently a Senior Data Analyst in the workers compensation industry. She also helps busy boss ladies #WorkitatWork with her blog Dressed to Impreston. Mom of one human child and three the of the canine persuasion, Sarah spends her off time as President of the Houston Area Seminole Club and reading everything she can get her hands on. Keep up with her on instagram @dressed2impreston

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