Busy Philipps on the Subtle ADHD Symptoms That She Missed For Years


It was only a few years ago that Busy Philipps found out that her forgetfulness wasn’t just a quirky part of her personality. It was actually a sign of her attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Philipps, 44, vividly remembers the moment she first realized she might have the condition—which came about because her daughter, Birdie, was showing symptoms. “She was in fourth or fifth grade, and the school was recommending that maybe we get some of her learning evaluated,” the Mean Girls actor tells SELF. As the doctor ran through a list of questions to check if Birdie potentially had ADHD—like whether she had difficulty starting and completing assignments or figuring out which ones to prioritize—Philipps says she identified with almost all of the issues he mentioned. “I also mixed up dates all the time,” she adds. “I would write things down incorrectly. I’d double-book dinners with people.”

After that appointment, Philipps thought it was time she got tested for ADHD. “I talked about it with my now ex-husband and he was like, ‘You should go talk to your own doctor, because I was thinking, That is exactly you.’” So Philipps saw a psychiatrist who confirmed she did, in fact, have the condition.

Philipps says her diagnosis was a huge relief—because for years, her symptoms had made her feel like she was constantly falling short. “Back then, I would tell myself I just wasn’t good enough. Not smart enough. Other people get it, and I can’t get it,” she explains. Of course, she now knows this isn’t the case: “I didn’t choose my brain to work this way.”

As Philipps has since learned, it’s not uncommon for women to receive a diagnosis later in life: Girls with ADHD often don’t fit preconceived notions we have of disruptive or hyper boys and instead may seem messy, lost in thought, anxious, or sad, as SELF previously reported. Even when she was younger, Philipps says, “I had seen psychiatrists who never went through the ADHD symptoms with me or asked specifically about concentration and executive functioning. I would bring [these concerns] up, but I also wasn’t sure.”

Women with undiagnosed ADHD also sometimes develop coping mechanisms to mask their symptoms. While these strategies might hide the condition outwardly, it’s common for women to struggle with internalized shame, anxiety, or depression, which Philipps says she sought treatment for too: “Medication to treat that low-grade depression never worked, because it wasn’t addressing the root cause of why I felt inadequate—which was that my ability to organize my thoughts was just off.”

Receiving a diagnosis as an adult was a turning point, though: Finally having a name for her symptoms and an effective treatment plan helped Philipps feel more confident, she says. People manage ADHD differently: Some use stimulant medications like Adderall while others find success with behavioral therapies that focus on strengthening organizational skills. Philipps chose to take Qelbree (an FDA-approved nonstimulant medication, which she’s now a spokesperson for) because she had sleep issues, and stimulant medications can make it harder to fall asleep.

Philipps says her symptoms are now much easier to deal with. “I’m able to understand the things that need to be accomplished, both in work and in my personal life,” she says. “I’m able to organize it in my brain and make it make sense without really trying that hard. I just get it done.” And, ultimately, being able to manage—rather than mask—her symptoms “is a much better way to get everything done and feel good about myself,” she says. “It’s been an incredible gift.”


Originally Appeared on SELF