Living While Black With Adult ADHD
While Black culture is rich in its beauty and tradition, living as a Black person in America can be a complex, layered, and often dangerous identity to occupy. The challenges of daily life are already numerous. Add mental health issues to the mix and often any cultural conversation about how this impacts our community not only stops but goes completely underground due to the stigma and shame that so frequently accompanies these conditions.
One of these mental health issues, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), is not only highly misunderstood but it can pose very serious consequences for Black adults and Black families when it goes undiagnosed and untreated.
ADHD is characterized by difficulty with working memory and executive functioning challenges. These include time awareness, impulsivity, prioritizing, organizing, time management, getting started, sustaining and completing tasks, goals, etc. As a result ADHD affects an individual’s family, education, relationships, work and society at large.
The feel-good neurochemicals, dopamine and serotonin, are disrupted in neurotransmission making everyday tasks, responsibilities and relationships tough to manage. ADHD can also show up alongside other mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.
Unfortunately it is often understood as a condition that only affects children. The reality is that this is not true. These same children grow up and do not “outgrow” ADHD. In fact 85% of adults who have ADHD are unaware that they have it.
One study found that 40% of the prison population in which Black adults are overrepresented as a result of mass incarceration, are struggling with ADHD and most are undiagnosed. ADHD is also connected to eating disorders, obesity, unplanned pregnancies, addiction and a higher incidence of suicide. ADHD has largely been viewed as a genetic condition. However, in his book, “Scattered Minds,” Dr. Gabor Mate, a psychiatrist and leading researcher in both ADHD and addiction has stated that ADHD has its origins in multigenerational family trauma and in “disturbed social conditions in a stressed society.” ADHD is a very real condition and understanding it through the lens of trauma makes it that much more urgent in terms of how it affects the Black community whose members have endured and survived over 400 years of societal and intergenerational trauma.
Bottom line: there is hope.
Here are some signs that you might be living with ADHD:
1. You shop, eat, drink compulsively as a way to cope with your anxiety about managing your own life.
2. You often compulsively overspend to compensate for other difficulties. Example: you forget to do your laundry and you have an event to attend so you buy a new outfit on the way to the event.
3. After forgetting someone’s birthday, you buy an expensive gift because you feel shame and guilt for missing it.
4. You feel a lot of shame, sadness and confusion about why things that seem so simple for others are so incredibly challenging for you.
5. You know you are smart but you can’t seem to excel at school or work.
6. You excel at work but you struggle in your relationships.
7. You are always discounting or minimizing your accomplishments because you compare yourself and your achievements to those of others.
8. You have been diagnosed with and are getting treatment for anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder type 1 or type 2 but you still can’t get organized and can’t get through your day without feeling stressed.
9. You have issues with one or more addiction(s) or sometimes engage in unhealthy behaviors such as eating lots of sweets, overeating, drinking too much alcohol or using other substances to get you through the day or week.
10. You sometimes engage in risky behaviors but later regret your actions and feel unclear about why you engaged in them in the first place.
11. You feel like something is wrong with you because it seems as if everyone else got the instruction book on how to live a healthy and successful life except for you.
12. You are an artist or a highly creative person but you can’t seem to get started, sustain or complete your artwork.
13. You work for yourself and are frequently late on deadlines so you lose clients or can’t seem to get hired for jobs commensurate with your skill set and training.
14. You make vision boards, go to personal growth workshops, go to therapy, start reading self-help books or listen to audiobooks but often can’t remember what you just read, heard or learned and as a result you are unable to create change in your life.
If any of these behaviors or issues sound familiar to you there is hope because there are solutions. Living while Black on a daily basis is challenging enough but ADHD can create additional challenges that can be tough to manage without adequate support. This can include ADHD coaching, exercise, medications, individual and group therapy, support groups, etc.
The truth is that there is hope and possibility for adults living with ADHD and for parents of children who have ADHD. Know that not only are you not alone but there are very real and concrete solutions that are available to allow you to live a rich life filled with success, purpose and meaning. If you have ADHD or think you might have ADHD, identifying and utilizing the right supports can make the life that you want absolutely in reach.
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Ariel Davis is a biracial African-American ADHD & Recovery Coach. She guides Black professionals who have challenges with these issues to create more joy, flow, ease and healing in their lives to improve personal and professional performance.