Look through most lists of famous, successful people who have been open about having been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and you'll find mostly men — from James Carville to Channing Tatum to Justin Timberlake — being celebrated as trailblazers who overcame their disorder. Many describe being the class clown in school and then going on to do amazing things, from earning Olympic gold medals to receiving critical acclaim for their art and music. What you don’t see too often on these lists, however, are women.
The lack of female representation on these lists shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the idea of women having ADHD is still a concept we’re trying to wrap our brains around as a culture. In fact, the symptoms of ADHD often manifest themselves differently in women, so the whole "class clown-turned- high achiever" narrative isn’t necessarily something that women with ADHD are likely to identify with. ADHD is typically considered a “little-boy thing” by many, which might explain why boys are diagnosed far more often than women, though recent research reveals that the cases in female diagnosis are on the rise.
Whether leaving women off these lists is intentional or accidental, a lack of female role models can perpetuate the myth that ADHD is only a male issue. And there's another hurdle when it comes to women making these lists: they have to have publicly talked about their diagnosis — something many women struggle with, due to stigma.
But while you may be hard-pressed to find women on celebrity ADHD success story lists, they're out there. The five notable women below are part of an even shorter list — women with ADHD who have spoken up about it in the press — but when it comes to successful women with ADHD, they're just the tip of the iceberg.
1. Lisa Ling
With hard-hitting journalism exposés via National Geographic, CNN and beyond under her belt, Lisa Ling’s courage isn’t something to be questioned. It’s no surprise, then, that while covering the issue of American families battling ADHD, Ling wasn't afraid to get to the truth when she felt that she started to relate a little more than normal to her subject matter. At age 40, during filming of Our America With Lisa Ling, the mother of two was diagnosed with ADHD for the first time in her life.
"My head is kind of spinning, but I feel a little bit of relief because, for so long, I've been fighting it and I've been so frustrated with this inability to focus," she said in the episode, describing how she was always able to have laser-like focus on her stories, but was unable to concentrate her attention when not on a specific task.
2. Karina Smirnoff
“I’ve always been hyper, and dancing has helped me with it,” Smirnoff told ABC. She credits medication and behavioral modifications with helping her gain control of her inattention and impulsivity.
3. Mary-Kate Olsen
Fashion empress and former child star Mary-Kate Olsen hasn’t let her diagnosis get in the way of amassing a $300 million net worth with her powerhouse sister, Ashley (who was also diagnosed with ADHD in childhood). In fact, while attending New York University, Mary-Kate was very candid about her condition, reporting that “I get extra time to take the test because of my ADD. Everybody's brains work differently and I just need longer for things to register.”
4. Katherine Ellison
Winning a Pulitzer at the age of 27 has been just one of Katherine Ellison's many accomplishments. Ellison has written multiple books on the topic, drawing from both her own ADHD experience as well as her experience as a parent of a child with the condition. It was her son’s diagnosis that ultimately led to her own, which is detailed in the memoir Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention:
And maybe there's something both of us can learn by looking through this Attention Deficit lens, murky prism that it is. Perhaps it can even help clear up the mystery of my own history of unreasonable extremes: of screw-ups alternating with heady success, of buying high and selling low, and — so like my Buzz — of constant cravings for conflict and caffeine. It may even illuminate how I managed to win a Pulitzer Prize just three years after being sued for $11 million for a careless reporting mistake, then realized my childhood dream of becoming a foreign correspondent, only to break my leg by running into a manhole in Managua while chasing Nicaragua's newly elected president — and did I mention that she was on crutches at the time?
5. Cammi Granato
Olympic Gold and Silver medal-winning hockey player Cammi Granato may have been on a Wheaties box, but she admits she still isn’t immune to the havoc ADHD can wreak in somebody’s life. The athlete struggled while at the peak of her career, which she recalled in an interview with ADDitude magazine:
"My life began spinning out of control...the number of voice messages and e-mails I received became overwhelming, I couldn't return them all. My bills didn't get paid. My house was a mess. I bought every anti-clutter book out there, but they just became part of the clutter."
But accepting her diagnosis and working to make changes in her life made all the difference for Granato:
AD/HD comes with certain strengths and weaknesses that have made me who I am, and I wouldn't trade that for anything.