When it comes to house plants, my apartment is historically more of a burial ground than a safe haven. While I’ve tried and failed to become a green-thumbed millennial plant mom over the years, that aspiration intensified during the pandemic. Working from home for the first time in my life, I became smitten with the idea of making my space lush and aesthetically-pleasing, a comforting incubator safe from the unholy mess outside my walls. That meant investing in, and subsequently euthanizing, some in-home flora. My vacant ceramics heckled me from the sill.
Beyond the wasted money and dirty nails this habit wrought, caring for houseplants always caused me deeper frustration. It didn’t just reinforce my inability to make my own space restorative; it was another example of a simple task I couldn’t seem to complete. I grew up internalizing the decades-old, pop culture stereotypes of the common neurodevelopmental disorder that is Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. You know the tropes: an adolescent, disruptive class clown — always, always a boy — yammering incessantly, running around in circles until he spots a “pretty bird” out the window. ADHD was Dana Carvey air-drumming himself into a frenzy in a Saturday Night Live sketch, Mike Myers shouting at him to take his Ritalin. Today, the scientific community acknowledges that ADHD presents much differently in kids assigned female at birth than male, but many millennial women grew up with ADHD that was never recognized.
“ADHD is historically and chronically underdiagnosed in girls and women,” says Katherine Reid LMSW, a New York City-based therapist at the Hallowell ADHD Center. “It’s often missed because girls may present as inattentive rather than disruptive, and they’re typically better at compensatory behaviors like hyper-organization, working longer hours, and triple-checking their work. That can bring self-doubt and isolation that really builds.” Those strategies, unbeknownst to me, had kept me going until adulthood. I overcompensated for my inability to concentrate and remember tasks in school, but luckily, this drive was often interpreted by others as “overachieving.” I’d aced my SATs and college applications, yet still found myself finishing homework at 4 a.m., mysteriously losing hours like an alien abductee (a destructive study habit I can now attribute to time blindness, an underreported symptom of ADHD.) Good grades lined my report cards, but my absentmindedness had to leak out somewhere: misplaced textbooks and forgotten essays, lost in a locker that looked like a seagull’s nest made from found beach debris. I left college as a Division 1 athlete with internships, two theses, a master’s degree, and a stacked social life. Mentally, I was barely treading water.
By the time I started a career in an industry that seemed to value the eccentricity and creativity that made my messiness feel worth it, I was exhausted. Every degree, award, and byline felt less like a victory medal and more like a foil blanket donned after a marathon: proof for watching eyes that I’d made it to the finish line, as my legs were giving out underneath me. I now know that I’m far from the only woman with that story, both while growing up and living through an anxiety-inducing, routine-busting pandemic. Last fall, I finally broke down and made the doctor’s appointment that confirmed the suspicion my TikTok algorithm and career in wellness had eventually led me to: I have ADHD, and I probably always have.