It has been my experience – both personally and professionally – that there are three distinct stages of ADD and ADHD recognition and acceptance for women.

Stage One: Nuts and Bolts – OMIGOSH, I have ADD! When women are diagnosed with ADD, there is often sigh of relief (“Ah, so THAT’s what it is. Thank goodness it has a name!”) followed by a dig-in-and-fix-it determination (“Let me try everything and see what works”).

Unfortunately the sigh of relief phase is usually quite brief.

The ‘let me fix it” stage is agonizingly long. Women read books on ADD, take a few of their children’s Adderall, talk to their doctor who refers them to a psychiatrist who may or may not know much about ADD. They scour the internet for help, seek out a support group for women or adults and find only a handful, usually not in their area.

They try medication, hate medication, give up on medication, get desperate and try medication again. Sometimes they are lucky enough to have a physician who is willing to run through the ADD arsenal again and again, fine tuning their prescription to the sensitive ADD body and brain. (That’s when medication works … and works well.) They try exercise, meditation, coaching, psychotherapy, vitamin supplements, balance therapy, yoga – you name it. Until they finally reach Stage Two.

Stage Two: “I’m stuck with ADD, but hey, I like myself anyway!” Yep, this is the reality of ADD phase when women recognize that ADD isn’t going away. In fact, it will be their constant companion for life. As that realization sinks in, there may be some depression or anxiety over the finality of the diagnosis. But there IS light at the end of women’s ADD tunnel.

The truth is that ADD offers – at the very least – a unique perspective on life, one that is sorely missing from other brain patterns. And as long as ADD will be their companion, women can eventually make it their friend, as well.

This is a phase of new awareness and acceptance about the highly personal idiosyncrasies of ADD. Women take another look at their own patterns of ADHD, often by looking back at the “aha” moments from their childhoods and adolescence. They can then apply those insights to create a different outcome in the present time (“I’ve always worked best under deadline pressure, so I can clear my calendar the two days before quarterly reports are due so I will finish them!”)

During this phase, women begin to trust themselves – a BIG issue among ADHD women. It’s only a tiny bit at first, then the feeling is stronger and more confident. That translates to a marvelous transformation in attitude from “there’s something wrong with me” to “there’s something different about me” to “there’s a lot good about me!”

One morning an ADD women in Stage 2 wakes up, smiles at her reflection in the mirror and winks: “OK, where are we going today on this wild and wonderful adventure known as My Life?” That’s the day that Stage Three begins.

Stage Three: Digging Deeper – “I deserve to live my dreams” Many women arrive in ADD-land accompanied by a cartload of low self esteem and buried aspirations, so Stage Three is often a complete surprise. The intensity of surviving day-to-day can be so taxing that some women have precious little energy left to listen to the songs that play in their hearts. Until now.

This is the stage at which ADDivas give themselves permission to be themselves in the world, to dance their own magnificent dance and to allow their tremendous gifts to be fully expressed. It can be intimidating for an ADDiva to hold onto her fragile self trust as she tests the waters of new adventure.

That’s why ADD women in Stage Three need a nurturing environment in which peek behind that dusty curtain that protects hopes and dreams. With their deeply-embedded memories of “tried and failed” forays into this arena, they may roller coaster from absolute optimism to complete despair. So they need constant (and authentic) encouragement from someone they trust.

The good news is that women can emerge from this phase with a renewed sense of purpose and passion. Women with ADD (and even those without ADD) begin to manifest their dreams. And isn’t that what life is all about, anyway?