The tension was thick between my supervisor and me. She’d rightfully run out of verbal warnings and patience with me. I was in month six of my first real “big girl” job in my field of study as a communications specialist, and my ADHD was the star of the show.
Six months prior, I felt on top of the world. I was ready to embark on this new journey of adulthood until “the plateau” happened. I was late almost every day, missed deadlines, misplaced important documents, forgot meetings and for the life of me couldn’t figure out what to do first or last. I was silently drowning, and this feeling of dread was all too familiar.
The “plateau” always happened midway through either a semester in school or at the halfway mark of a job. Although my motivation dwindled, my intent was to always do my best, but my brain usually lost interest and my progression quickly followed suit. It was the same feeling I had when I’d almost dropped out of college just a few years earlier because I just couldn’t seem to keep up. It was just like the feeling I got before abruptly leaving a work-study position after feeling bombarded with all the responsibilities expected of me.
My work never adequately represented my effort or my intelligence. No one saw how often I stayed up late to finish projects or how many used sticky notes were pasted all over my room and planner to remind myself of tasks. I felt alone, incompetent and lazy. But this time, I didn’t have the training wheels and comfort of college to fall back on. I was on my own, and my poor performance landed me a spot in my supervisor’s office on the receiving end of a termination letter and at the front of yet another unemployment line.
I felt like a fraud.
“How could I go back to my family and friends and explain this again?” I asked as I sat in the front seat of my car with a steering wheel covered in tears.
Fast-forward three years and an attention deficit hyperactive disorder diagnosis. It turns out that I am actually grateful for the experience, which ultimately forced me to deal with my then-undiagnosed ADHD.
What Is ADHD?
ADHD is a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with the functioning or development of an individual. It can include the stereotypical hyperactive fidgety type, the inattentive type (which would include someone who is easily distracted or forgetful) or a mixture of the two, according to the DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria. Though ADHD may appear to be a condition of simple “willpower,” it’s actually neurological, significantly impacting executive functioning of the brain, which controls one’s ability to regulate emotion, motivation, effort, etc.
ADHD in Girls and Women
ADHD has not garnered widespread attention among girls and women—particularly Black women—because it is commonly seen as a “boys” disease with a current ratio of diagnosis of 3:1. Many factors play into this phenomenon, such as the criteria used to measure boys is often unsuitable for girls. For example, like many girls, my symptoms as a child rarely interrupted a classroom or set off any red flags. I spent many days staring out of windows, casually forgetting homework assignments or speaking out of turn. Girls with similar tendencies are, mistakenly, referred less to therapists by teachers and adults because these behavioral symptoms (distractibility and/or talkativeness) are easily misunderstood as her being ditzy or academically poor. When left untreated, ADHD in girls and women is likely to manifest as self-harm, low self-esteem and negative internalized thoughts and even depression, according to a 2014 report by the American Psychological Association.
Living Your Dreams with ADHD
Though ADHD impacts all areas of one’s life, the workplace can be a peculiar challenge. Before being diagnosed with ADHD, I lost several jobs that I loved due to my inability to focus. I was routinely on the chopping block for missing key points during meetings, not completing projects and simply not making important connections. According to the Attention Deficit Disorder Association, this experience is common and costly, with adult ADHD sufferers earning a whopping $5,000-$10,000 less than their counterparts.
Regardless of whether you’re at a job that aligns with your ADHD, seeking and receiving treatment for your disorder may significantly improve your productivity. Divulging your condition if diagnosed, however, may not be the best idea. Instead, ask for accommodations to help with symptoms, such as a quiet area to work or breaking down larger projects.
ADHD, Black Women and Societal Factors
Traditionally, the experience of African-American girls and women has consistently been left out of the conversation regarding research around ADHD. In addition, inaccurate cultural beliefs and unrealistic societal pressures placed on Black women to appear to “have it together” breed internal environments of constant chaos with little to no recourse for this demographic, who already face peculiar barriers to proper treatment and diagnosis.
Though I was relieved to receive a clinical diagnosis for my condition, I still battled with personal feelings of shame and guilt as a Black woman, and I still encounter skepticism and negative feedback from friends and family members who do not understand. My experience living with ADHD has not been perfect by any means, but it definitely has curated a more accepting mindset. In a world where Black women are so often expected to take care of everyone else but themselves, it feels revolutionary to make myself and my mental health a priority despite the negative stigmas.