Last summer I was stopped at a red light in my hometown and I noticed this guy walking around. He had a receding hairline and was wearing a long sleeved windbreaker and matching pants In 90+ degree weather. He was pacing around talking to himself alone.
I don’t think I am going to lose my marbles, but I have been thinking a lot lately about mental illness and the way we deal with it as a society. ADHD is less of a mental illness and more of a neurochemical problem. Unfortunately, there are some mental health conditions that often accompany this diagnosis.
Regardless of origin, ADHD is still a controversial subject in many circles. Even some physicians doubt the existence of ADHD. It is not at all uncommon for us to be labeled as lazy or unmotivated. No wonder we go into hiding.
Where does this stigma come from?
Frankly, there is no easy answer to this question but I do understand why people, and women in particular, hide their diagnosis. Hiding was a way of life for me for quite a few years. In order to make ADHD and other mental illnesses more socially acceptable we have to look at the reasons why we are so afraid to talk about our diagnosis.
As women and mothers with ADHD we need to support each other by owning our diagnosis instead of hiding it.
5 practical reasons why women hide their adhd
Fear that people will think you have an intellectual disability
You are capable of learning almost anything you put your mind to. Chances are, if you are reading this, you still fear being labeled “dumb.” Trust me, I’ve been there. I have actually accused my husband of treating me like I am stupid, which is crazy.
My husband wouldn’t marry someone who isn’t a thinker. He enjoys intellectual debate entirely too much.
In high school I took all advanced courses. Working my butt off just to compensate for my inattentiveness in class and prove that I was not dumb.
At one point I did a short presentation on ADHD. Some of my classmates were interested. They asked really great questions and overall were very accepting.
I was humiliated. Even though I did fine in that English class, I was struggling in math. I continued to struggle in college. By then I was off the medication and living with the full weight of my paranoia about being “found out.”
Don’t do what I did. Realize that nobody thinks you are intellectually inferior. If anything, they are wondering how you hold it together as well as you do.
You don’t want to explain the diagnosis
Even now I will do anything to avoid explaining to people my diagnostic history, my symptoms etc..
Whenever I come out about my ADHD people start asking questions. Have you ever?…..Do you think? …..and they throw all these scenarios at me involving their own children.
Many people think ADHD is a childhood disease and they are shocked that you can have ADHD as an adult. While this is semi-amusing it is also embarrassing and annoying and frustrating.
Not all of us explain ourselves well verbally. Particularly if we are put on the spot and questions come at us in rapid fire.
Truth: You don’t have to explain your diagnosis. People will make their own judgements and there is nothing you can do about it. Just be honest.
You thought it would ruin your career
To this day I am still unsure how much my ADHD diagnosis has impacted my work life. I have developed some interesting systems to “support” myself in the workplace and get things done.
Over time I have figured out how to have a conversation with someone without completely zoning out. I also know how to manage my time so that I can get things done without burning myself out.
In all honesty though, I have never really established myself in any career. I was first on a retail buying track – then I was a paralegal – then a teacher for a short time. In each of these career incarnations I managed to perform at a high enough level not to get fired.
If like myself, you have never been employee of the year don’t sweat it. It is hard work, but you can develop systems to keep yourself in check in the workplace. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help and/or clarity at work.
You will be judged as a mom
As most women are aware, there is a tremendous amount of pressure on us to be the perfect wife and mother. We are expected to have a beautiful clean home, beautiful compliant children, a career (or not depending on who you hang with)- and most importantly, you better look damn good while you do it.
From the day my son was born I was constantly worried that I was being judged on my parenting skills. If anyone knew I had ADHD then they could blame me for his sensory defensiveness as an infant.
Now that people know I have ADHD they can see some of the behaviors in my child and blame me for them. It’s a painful truth that I am still dealing with. Now that we have an additional diagnosis of HFA for my son, I am keenly aware that people are watching.
This is my take on mommy shaming. Don’t do it and stay away from the people that do. There is only so much of your child’s personality that you can actually control, the rest is not up to you.
Also, nobody ever judges us as harshly as we judge ourselves.
You were hoping it would magically disappear
It’s true. For a long time I thought that if I compensated, or even overcompensated for my ADHD that maybe I could outsmart it. I made lists, put post-it notes everywhere, and shoved piles of crap into attic cubbies.
I pushed myself so far I went into OCD territory. I over exercised, over dieted, over analyzed. I became hyper vigilant about germs and breastfeeding.
Does any of this sound familiar to you? Did you try to wish it away?
You’re not alone. Far from it. But we are stronger together.
If we want the stigma of ADHD (and other mental health issues) to go away, we have to share our stories. No more hiding. No more shame.
Email me yours at HealthyADHD@gmail.com.