Dealing with ADHD: Better Late than Never (Republished)
By Nura Mein
We never fully know and understand how deep the stigma of mental illness runs until we are confronted with our own personal experiences. My fourth-grade class teacher told my mother that I exhibited symptoms and behaviorisms that indicated Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Understandably, when my mother heard this, she was furious. Soon after, I sat for exams and I performed quite well. “See? My daughter was one of the top students, how could she have ADHD?” she remarked.
Life went on despite the diagnosis. I went through adolescence and the pains of high school. I enrolled to college and reached the final year of my undergraduate studies but I always knew that something felt off. By the time we were meant to stay home from university at the start of the Coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, I started to feel like a shell of a person. Being stuck in the same four walls for the majority of 2020 made me face some of the darkest parts of my persona.
It was during the end of December 2020 that I finally decided to seek help. I went to see a psychologist for my unnaturally long depressive episodes. He said something that hit me like a truck: “okay, I’d like you to do a few written tests to determine if you have ADHD.” It was a full circle moment.
Research indicates that the impulsive type of ADHD (formerly known as ADD) is strongly linked with depression. Many medical professionals have pointed out that some patients’ ADHD symptoms aren’t recognized in life, it is even more common for girls and women who have the inattentive form of ADHD.
Up to ninety percent of individuals with ADHD are diagnosed with at least one other psychiatric, developmental, emotional, and/or other psychological or neurological problem. Such disorders are considered “secondary” to ADHD, this means that they manifest when the symptoms of ADHD are left untreated for too long. Fortunately, most of these secondary problems disappear once ADHD symptoms are under control.
When I told my mother about the diagnosis, it broke her, because I could have gotten help much sooner if she actually listened to my fourth-grade teacher. As a 21-year-old Somali woman, I always prided myself over my mother for being so liberal and worldly. Still, generations of longstanding cultural practices and stigma still shaped her view on mental illnesses and disorders. Every time she’s struck with guilt, I jokingly tell her that it was better late than never.
Jokes aside, I am very fortunate that I got help immediately when I needed it. There are countless Africans that fear seeking professional psychological help because of the shame and dishonor it brings. There is a general preponderance among a majority of African communities that mental health is associated with supernatural factors and the mistaken belief that mental illness is untreatable. How did it become socially acceptable for a diabetic person to say that they depend on insulin shots to survive, but a mentally ill person cannot say the same about their antipsychotic medication?
It is already hard enough for neurodivergent individuals to function in a society built for neurotypicals, and yet there is the fear of having to face beratement for our neurological make-up. Often times my psychologist has advised me to not mention having ADHD in a professional setting because of this, he believed that mentioning my ADHD would bring me a lot of prejudice about poor work ethic and an inability to focus. Do you see the problem? Even our mental health professionals have little faith in our society, they also see the stigma that comes with having a mental disorder and how one would be treated differently for having one.
I was struggling with several ADHD symptoms for years before I got help. Ever since I was a child, I had to mentally exert myself to do the bare minimum when it came to focusing on my work and conversations, trying to remember things, and living a functional life with structure. But now that I am regularly getting treatment, I’ve seen great changes in my lifestyle. For the first time ever, I feel like my potential is limitless.
I haven’t lost hope in our society entirely. I come from a generation of outspoken individuals who fear little, especially societal shame. My story is one of many, we aren’t afraid of being different. I am a firm believer in accepting what is meant for me, if I lose an opportunity in life because of the person I am, then it was never meant to be. Nothing in this world can get between what I truly deserve in this life and the next. This philosophy isn’t unique to me, I’m surrounded by inspirational people in my life that share it too, and I hope that the person reading this also finds their people.
Nura Robin Mein is an International Relations student with a minor in Journalism. She has a keen interest in African, Middle Eastern, and Asian political and developmental affairs. She is a strong advocate for mental health, women empowerment, and enjoys participating in activities for community-based development.