I’ve always found it hard to make friends. In most of my memories from ten and under, I’m alone. Don’t misunderstand me – I had friends, but only a few and I found the rituals of girlhood mostly very confusing and never quite got them right. Of course I know why this is now, as the knowledge and understanding of ADHD today is a world away from the ‘barbiturates and brain scans’ approach of the 1980s, but knowing the cause and knowing what to do to make things easier are very different. And I still for the life of me can’t work out what I’m supposed to do in matters of female friendship.
These days, women are expected to have a group of close female friends or a ‘squad’ (whatever the fuck that is), yet I find myself at nearly 43 years old and without any kind of ‘girl gang’ with whom to ‘brunch’, or text when I’ve had a shit day to insist on that incredibly strange group therapy thing that women do in Maltesers adverts. Women like doing that, I gather. The idea of sitting round a table with half a dozen people, drinking coffee and talking about relationships is about as appealing as an all you can eat Chinese buffet at the Jasmine Peking (that restaurant makes me heave. You may as well just drink a bottle of Crisp ‘n’ Dry. Vom).
My Facebook newsfeed is full of photos and statuses of women who’ve had the same friends since childhood. They go to each other’s weddings and have girly dinners, their children play together and they are pictured on godparent duty. I often wish I had that, but I don’t and never will – my ludicrously wired brain put paid to that. When I look back on my childhood and teen years, I always felt like I never quite fitted in, no matter what I did. As the wise and venerable Thom Yorke once said “the words are coming out all weird”. I had a habit of saying the wrong thing, acting the wrong way and never knew what was required in the maintenance of female friendships. Like the ability to braid hair, use scissors, shut the fuck up or add and divide, it’s simply something my brain doesn’t compute.
Apparently, I’m also prone to doing things that I think are entirely normal, but are distinctly weird. Like changing my contact lens in the chilled aisle at M&S or going out with no trousers on (who knew?? Not me). I understand that this can make people uncomfortable. But I don’t know how to predict what people find acceptable and what they don’t.
I used to feel quite isolated in this, but as I got older I discovered that there are quite a few of us out there. Unusual, kooky women who always feel like there’s some kind of secret to the world that no one is letting us in on. Women who appear incredibly normal on the outside, but feel lonely and adrift. They dress fashionably, have good jobs. You see them at the gym. Or at playgroups. They can appear very, very normal indeed.
I’m probably the exception to the rule in that I wear my strangeness on my sleeve and find life easier by broadcasting my differences, rather than hiding them. But the truth is, you simply cannot know what goes on inside someone’s head. We inherently know that we’re not the same as everyone else, but the world tells splendid, different, kooky women like us that we’re not what’s acceptable. We have to look a certain way, conduct ourselves in a certain way… have ‘squads’, the right handbag, be sweet, don’t stand out. So we layer ourselves in bullshit, skim the magazines so we know what we should be doing and then fake being just like everyone else.
Pretending to be something you’re not is exhausting. And it always goes to shit eventually. No matter how normal you think you’re being, you’re still the person who talks too much, is unknowingly inappropriate, forgets their trousers or just does something that doesn’t fly in Girl World. It’s not deliberate. It’s just who we are. Know this – we desperately want to be like you. We just don’t know how.
This exhaustion is dangerous. You see, in women and girls, the symptoms of ADHD manifest themselves differently to boys. It can trigger all sorts of risky behaviour – promiscuity, drug taking. It can cause eating disorders or self harm. But crucially, the thing that sets female ADHD apart from that of men and boys is that we are often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Why? Because we work so fucking hard at fitting in that it can be really hard to know that there’s anything wrong at all. When I Googled ‘Female Adult ADHD’, I was inundated with stories of women who felt just like me, but only received a diagnosis in their thirties or even forties. Imagine feeling so removed from life for so long and not knowing why. It’s no wonder ADHD, depression and suicide go hand in hand.
It’s not all doom and gloom. Occasionally I meet someone who I think is brilliant. Someone intolerably weird, or fascinating or hilariously funny. Someone who I love to spend time with and who doesn’t give me side-eye when my eyeliner takes on a life of its own or I bore them to tears talking about Drunk Rory Breaker (ask me about him. He’s a legend).
Usually, that person is a boy.
My male friends see the problem, but don’t actually care. My occasional lack of trousers is entirely unimportant to them. As is my faddy nature, obsession with leopard print and absolute lack of tact. My lovely boy-chums simply don’t give a shit about those things and instead cheerfully take the piss out of each other, sink bevs and blissfully know nothing about celebs, the gym or Great British Bake Off (except when slagging off Noel Fielding – they may be boys, but they can be bitchy AF).
I was my best friend’s best man. And when my daughter went on her first residential school trip, it was my endlessly patient husband plus Adam, DC and Pete who fed me, took me to an exhibition, gave me cocktails at 2pm and did me the favour of getting me comprehensively shitfaced.
I used to be ashamed by my lack of female friends and even more by the difficulty I have connecting with people generally, but when you get older you see things for what they are. In adulthood, friendships become even harder to form and more complex in nature, which leaves fuck-all chance of me ever having the sort of female friendships that we’re told women are supposed to have.
So, I guess I do have a squad. They’re probably not like yours and the closest we get to brunch is pork scratchings and a lunchtime pint, but when I’m with them I have no need to try and be something I’m not. Which is a far, far harder thing than you could ever imagine.