It might be your situation...or it might be your brain. While a trained professional is the only one who can tell you for sure, here are some questions to get you thinking.
By Corrie Pikul
Was your brother always referred to as "the naughty one"?
It surprised exactly no one that your brother was diagnosed with ADD (now more commonly referred to as ADHD): He was always fidgeting, disrupting class and tearing up the room. Compared with him, your parents thought you were easy. In the 1980s and 1990s, eight times as many boys as girls sought help for ADHD, says J. Russell Ramsay, PhD, co-director of the Adult ADHD Treatment and Research Program at the Perelman School of Medicine at University of Pennsylvania.
Why it might be ADHD: There tends to be a strong genetic component to the disorder, so if one person in a family -- like your brother or your son -- is diagnosed with it, there's a 25 to 35 percent chance that any other family member has it, too. Since 2012, the greatest increase in usage of ADHD drugs comes from adult women. As more females are diagnosed, experts are learning more about how ADHD affects them: In childhood, for instance, girls are likely to be more inattentive and distracted -- not necessarily the human mini-tornadoes we tend to picture.
Are you utterly dependent on time-management apps and tricks?
Without your alarms, lists, timers and motivational mantras, your life would collapse under the weight of obligations. If that's you, well, here's one less thing for you to worry about...
Why it might not be ADHD: Those who suffer from the disorder have also sought out coping strategies -- they usually know all the things they're supposed to do. However, they find themselves unable to implement them without extra help, in the form of medication, a therapist or coach, or some other form of intervention, says Ramsay, who is the author of the forthcoming book The Adult ADHD Tool Kit: Using CBT to Facilitate Coping Inside and Out.
When you were pregnant, did you find that you felt, paradoxically, more focused, attentive, emotionally rational and organized than usual?
Women's hormones have some surprising impacts on ADHD, says Kathleen Nadeau, PhD, co-founder of the National Center for Gender Issues in ADHD. Estrogen appears to influence the sensitivity receptors in the brain, blunting the severity of some of the symptoms.
Why it might be ADHD: When estrogen levels are consistently high, as when one is pregnant or breastfeeding, women who have been diagnosed with ADHD tend to report fewer symptoms, says Nadeau. This can be a welcome change…while it lasts. Once the hormones return to their monthly fluctuation schedule, those symptoms can surge like crazy. Never been pregnant? Try charting your feelings and behavior throughout your menstrual cycle. Women with ADHD often notice that their symptoms ebb and flow: The first two weeks of their cycle are fine and everything seems to be going smoothly, but then, right before their period, symptoms -- hyperactivity, restlessness, distractibility -- come crashing back full-force.
Are you chronically late -- for the same reasons?
You can't blame traffic, weather delays and last-minute phone calls that occasionally slow everyone down. The main thing slowing you down is you. For example, you realize that you have a meeting in five minutes. Instead of heading to the conference room, you decide to read one more paragraph -- yet 15 minutes later, you're still reading, and not sitting with the rest of your team.
Why it might be ADHD: People with ADHD have particular trouble with tardiness, due mostly to their distorted sense of time and their inability to shift focus. There's a saying that people with ADHD run on a clock with just two times: "Now" and "not now." When the "now" is filled with something they enjoy, time flies by and they have an extremely hard time pulling themselves away, says Nadeau, who is also the director of the Chesapeake ADHD Center of Maryland. When they're not engaged, time moves excruciatingly slowly, so they go out of their way to avoid boring activities -- like waiting.
Have you ever given a presentation wearing your bathing suit as underwear?
Yep, every last underthing was in the wash on the day of Very Important Event, so you had to get creative.
Why it might not be ADHD: For those with ADHD, their underwear -- or whatever other thing they need right now -- is always MIA. They put all of their available energy into their job and their public lives, and work very hard to maintain the façade of a put-together person, says Nadeau. But behind closed doors, there's an explosion of chaos. (In your case, bathing beauty, you were probably just overloaded.)
Are you an active member of a new-parent support group?
Missing a night of sleep impacts the prefrontal lobes in the same way ADHD does, says Nadeau. It can make you feel distracted, forgetful and jittery -- but not so out of it that you forget your Sunday-afternoon gripe sessions.
Why it might not be ADHD: While you may be able to find solace in the misery of other similarly overwhelmed caregivers, the new parent with ADHD probably can't even make it to the meetings. A major life change with new responsibilities -- like taking care of a baby, an elderly parent or an injured spouse -- also has the effect of bringing ADHD to the forefront. For those people, that double whammy is especially challenging.
Were you a good student through high school but then totally lost it in college?
For a spacey or unorganized child, Mom and Dad will often make sure she's doing her homework and studying for exams. Teachers tend to know their students' weak spots and may offer reminders and extra encouragement. Thanks to everyone's hard work, the student gets decent grades and scores acceptance to the college of her choice. "[But] we see a lot of women who got support from their families as children, but then really struggled when they were on their own," Nadeau says.
Why it might be ADHD: Women tend to get diagnosed much later than men, but when they look back, the signs were always there -- even if they weren't a problem until later in life. "ADHD doesn't suddenly come on out of nowhere," Nadeau adds.