I Was One of Those Girls: Growing Up Misunderstood with ADHD

I was one of those girls. The one that was laughed at for wearing the wrong clothes. The one who sat alone at lunch or with the other girl who was rejected and scorned by the kids as well. The girl who got one Valentine in 6th grade while the others had a lunch bag full of them. 

I hadn’t thought about those days- 6th grade through middle school- in a long time. Or rather, I hadn’t accessed the feelings I felt about those days until the other day, following a dream I had that triggered this memory.

I was born and grew up in Detroit. Though I struggled with undiagnosed, untreated inattentive ADHD and anxiety, I was extremely popular at school and wore the “teacher’s pet” badge proudly. Back in those days, children in elementary school were not given homework until 6th grade. At least, not much. Which worked to my advantage. Because historically, once homework assignments began, I never did them. I couldn’t be bothered, and I didn’t have the staying power to hold my attention long enough to manage to get through it. I had a hard time paying attention in class because my mind traveled while my stomach lurched with anxiety.

When I was in 6th grade, my newly widowed mother moved us to the suburbs to be closer to her sisters. We had one of the smallest houses in a popular neighborhood of mostly professionals with young families. My mother, with no college education or employable skills, found odd jobs and relied on Social Security checks she got after my father died.

Unfortunately, the move occurred during school break in the middle of semesters. I was ushered into a classroom of boisterous, high-achieving 6th graders who had all grown up together and been classmates since kindergarten.

As a city girl coming out of Detroit schools where we were socially and economically behind the wealthy suburban kids, I arrived wearing all the wrong clothes. My anxiety, ADHD, and sensitive, introverted nature made it hard for me to acclimate into this fast-paced group of kids who looked and acted more like older siblings than my peers. They gave me no space to enter their world.

There were couples making out. Girls with full bosoms already dating boys, generally 2 inches shorter. I moved as if in a dream.

It became clear from the start that these kids rejected my presence. I was an outsider. And a target, whom they practiced on daily by either snubbing me, or worse. That single Valentine I got in 6th grade was the first example of many hurts that burned my soul and crushed my self-esteem.

It reads:

Dear Terry,

You’d be nice if you hadn’t moved here. Ha! Ha! – From Greatness.

Of course, I was destroyed. Some of the nicer girls identified the boy through his handwriting and tried to be kind. But the damage was done. Welcome to 6th grade in the suburbs! I went from being the beloved student and friend to the trash pile. Overnight.

Sadly, almost every grade has an identified “loser” and if you study the psychology of this, it’s quite fascinating. It has to do with projecting one’s own sense of insecurity and failure onto another who generally cannot fend for themselves. It has to do with the need for feeling group acceptance. It has to do with the discomfort some feel when around others that represent a threat or difference (yikes- could this happen to me, too?).

What happens when these kids- kids like me- grow up? I ask because I’m guessing many of you reading this experienced something similar growing up, especially if you hadn’t been identified and treated for your ADHD and whatever else might have traveled with that: anxiety, depression, or any form of neurodiversity.

Many women whom I’ve worked with over the years or who have boldly shared their feelings and experiences in my Women with ADHD Facebook Group, have similar experiences. Some overcame much of it, though some or much still lingers…somewhere. Others of you have battled bravely your entire lives in jobs where you’ve failed (sometimes these failures are your perceptions of failure, which are just as painful as real ones- of getting fired, being written up, being excluded, etc.).

Others of you have used your past painful experiences to give you an interesting inner strength that allows you to move forward and challenge yourself to find work and careers, healthy life partners, friends, hobbies, and a general sense of contentment, maybe even happiness.

Often, this occurs through therapy (often with medication), support systems, inching forward through small successes that help your self-esteem grow, meditation, reading, and…finding others like yourself.

I have faith in you. You’re reading this because you’re curious and it takes curiosity to live a happier, more fulfilling life because you want to change it.

So what happened to me after 9th grade? I suffered through another year as I entered high school but then something wonderful happened. I found myself. I learned that I didn’t have to fit into their group; I found my own. Kids who, like me, were creative types and where it was ok to be off the beaten track. I had an art teacher that believed in me and who opened the door to the idea that I could be an artist.

In two weeks, I will- at my ripe older age– have my first solo exhibition of my oil paintings. I’ve been making art since I was 18 and have shown my pieces all these years. But this is another first for me.

Back to high school: I found kids who, like me, were musical, and I formed a few musical groups during those years. Finding my own way led me to lifelong friendships with people who, like me, continued to be involved with music at some level. After high school and earning a degree in Art Education, I learned in my last year that teaching wasn’t for me, so I spent two years studying painting at Wayne State University in Detroit. I then realized that, with my early history and all the pain that went with that, I wanted to help others, so I returned to school to become a psychotherapist via my MSW degree.

And that led to my work in the ADHD world and the publication of two books on the topic. In 6th grade (or 11th, for that matter), I never would have believed it.

Perhaps I should write another blog post about how I fell into becoming an ADHD specialist and expert. Yes, I think I’ll do that, as this is already such a long read.

What is my message? That our early (and current) hurts can be our launching pad for using our gifts, our strengths, our inner resources, to open up a pathway for finding what we can do and do well. We all have that within us, and it may take some therapy and loads of self-reflection and support systems to allow ourselves to let that light shine in.

When will you make that leap?

Please share your personal story!  Drop a comment below in the comment section.

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What? You Haven’t Read This Yet?

The Queen of Distraction: How Women with ADHD Can Conquer Chaos, Find Focus, and Get More Done

By Terry Matlen, LMSW (that’s me!)

I always forget to mention my book as one I really really feel should be in your home library. I cover all kinds of topics related to women with ADHD:

  • How to manage clutter
  • Dealing with hormones
  • Relationships
  • Hypersensitivities
  • Moms with ADHD
  • …..and lots more!

Order your copy here!

Where’s Terry?

I’m on TikTok!

Short blurbs and tips for women with ADHD. C’mon in and visit me there:

Meet Me at My Art Show!

Are you in the Detroit area? Come to my art opening
April 28 5-7pm EST. The show runs until June 1.
I’d love to meet you!

And visit my artist website at www.TerryMatlenArt.com




I get a lot of emails and guess what the #1 question I get is:

Where can I find a professional in my area who can help me?

Hop over to www.GetADHDhelp.com and find help in your area. I will be adding new listings daily.

** If you are a professional or have a service or product and would like to be added, you can do so at https://getadhdhelp.com/add-listing/. Want to learn more? Email me at support@addconsults.com.

Some of the top ADHD experts have already joined and you can, too. You’ll be in good company with Dr. Ned Hallowell, Sari Solden, Dr. John Ratey, Dr. Thomas E. Brown, Dr. Ari Tucker, Dr. Ellen Littman, Linda Anderson, Dr. Sharon Saline, Linda Roggli, Laurie Dupar, Alan Brown, Jeff Copper, Rene’ Brooks, and more.

Add your listing today!

Terry Recommends

Lid Organizer

Don’t you HATE having to search for the lid to your food storage containers? Problem solved!

Expandable, comes in a variety of sizes.

Order yours HERE

Exclusive! Looking for One-on-One Help with Me? Zoom Consultations

Feeling stuck? Need to get your life back in order? I can help! 

Let’s work together to help you get back on track (or get started on your journey!). I provide short-term sessions offering psycho-educational information, resources, support, and mini-coaching to help you get started- whether you’re looking to find someone to evaluate you or if you’ve been struggling your whole life and are ready to get unstuck, I can help.  

I get it. Because I have ADHD, too, and over 25 years of experience working with adults with ADHD.

(I have a limited number of slots available; if you don’t see a time that works for you, email me at terry@ADDconsults.com).    

The Queens of Distraction

Struggling to tackle paper piles, toy piles, projects and more?

Then join me and your fellow Queens of Distraction online in a private, secret room where we Get Things Done. We “get” it and are here to help you.

Where to find Terry Matlen:

Website: www.ADDconsults.com
Coaching:  www.QueensOfDistraction.com
TikTok: www.tiktok.com/@terrymatlen

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* Disclosure: I may earn commissions (usually less than the cost of 1/2 cup of lukewarm coffee) for Amazon purchases made through links in this post. The good news is, I don’t sell your information or steal your cookies.