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How my ADHD Diagnosis Gave Me Permission to Stop Trying too Hard

My impending return to the office a few months ago had led me to become extremely stressed. But I didn’t think it was actually the pandemic concerns that were setting me astir, so I resolved to investigate something about myself that I’d long suspected.

A few years ago, in therapy sessions, my then-therapist and I had mutually come to the conclusion that it was likely I had a form of ADHD. Getting to this understanding had given me some peace of mind, and I started writing about it in my research and scholarship. 

Reframing my past experiences and social struggles as a legitimate impairment had made me feel a little better, but we still live in a world where a lack of diagnosis creates a bit of a liminal state. 

Although I have no particular desire to inform my current colleagues, for the sake of any future jobs or professional and social relationships, I thought it might be useful to know once and for all.

As it turned out, what had started to stress me out about the office return was actually just being in an office at all. Just being in a workspace with many side conversations and small talk and elevators and semi-strangers so on until I wanted to scream.

So I went and I set up an evaluation. I have a lot to say on the process of doing so but suffice it to say that it’s rarely covered by the American insurance system if you make the choice to get an evaluation yourself as an adult. 

I was able to afford it, but this made me think about how many adults, particularly adults of color like me, are out there, unaware that they might have a divergent way of processing the world. ADHD isn’t just the kid who needs extra testing time, or the boy who can’t sit still in class, because these things weren’t true of me. 

It’s also emotional dysregulation, a deep fear of social rejection, difficulty blocking out background noises, poor short-term memory, an inability to be extrinsically motivated, and a whole bunch of other stuff they sure didn’t tell me about as a kid. 

You can imagine how these things show up in an adult’s work or social life, and how it can lead to isolation. It sure has for me, and all of this recent global isolation has forced me to really recalibrate who I open up to and spend time with. 

Despite how common neurodivergence is, it’s still deeply stigmatized, and I may never fully shed the impression I received from my childhood peers that I was fundamentally annoying. 

I got the evaluation and was diagnosed. This isn’t really about the diagnosis, so much as all the things I’ve done since then that represent the end of me trying so hard to match what I expect that people want of me, a gradual rejection of expectations that I have the capacity to do, and, now, the confidence to stick to.

First off, once I figured out that background noise at work bothered me, I went looking for a solution for that. I had heard about a type of earplug that many neurodivergent people recommended because it helped them be less overwhelmed. Now, when I’m not listening to a podcast or something, I wear them all day long. (The company is called Loop, though this isn’t an ad.)

Second, I was headed towards my first in-person academic conference since All This, and my usual plan would be to wear a button-down shirt, but it turns out that it’s easy for me to be distracted by tactile stimuli, too. So I decided not to be afraid of judgment and wear some comfortable but well-fitting sweaters. Additionally, I chose bright colors, because damn it, I like bright colors and I’m done trying to fit what people expect. 

A final aspect of my diagnosis is skincare. However many thousands of dollars I’ve spent on over-the-counter remedies in the last decade, it doesn’t really work so much as soothe the occasional discomfort. Lo and behold, the dermatologist said I needed four (!!!) prescriptions, and most of them work very well.

The diagnosis merely gave me permission to seek help and take care of myself in ways I’d long neglected. I was only able to do any of this because we as a couple can afford it, although, truth be told, the OTC remedies and various struggles were probably more expensive in the long run, so I might actually be saving money. 

Were I not someone who is about to complete a doctorate, deeply interested in the intersection of racial, linguistic, and neurological minoritisation, I might still be white-knuckling everything.

I can’t do that to my son, though. And whether or not his brain works the same way as mine, I can’t be the best father to him if I don’t take care of myself. I knew that, broadly, but I didn’t realize how many ways I was just letting myself struggle out of some ignoble desire to prove I wasn’t lazy or annoying. 

Of course, I think about every racialized parent, and particularly every Black dad, who might not get the sort of support I’ve been able to find since I let myself accept professional aid, from the therapy to the products that have been successful to the actual medical appointments I had avoided.

I also hope this can be useful to others, who might not realize all the aspects of life that neurodivergence (and ADHD in particular) can impact, who might need some extra support so that the wonderful brilliance of minds like ours can be free to build and create in the unique ways that only people like us can. 

I know that the world wasn’t built to listen to us, but that’s no reason we can’t have our voices heard.

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