Cover image: Meshach Pierre (Public Domain)

Acronyms:

GAD: Generalized Anxiety Disorder
MDD: Major Depressive Disorder
ADHD-C: Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder – Combined Presentation

Content warning: Suicide (briefly)

After I received the results of my comprehensive psychological evaluation done by the University of Florida’s Counselling and Wellness Center, I posted everywhere about it. I was insufferable. For a solid weekend, it was the only thing I wanted to talk about. After 6+ hours of testing, it was quantitatively (computerized and physical tests) and qualitatively (interviews and self-reported surveys) demonstrated that I had ADHD-C! This wasn’t really news – I had been diagnosed in early 2020 – but this time there was no room for doubt. I had ADHD-C whether I wanted to accept that or not. So naturally, in keeping with my commitment to be open about my mental health, I posted just about everywhere: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram… the usual suspects.

Reactions varied, although most were supportive in one way or another. There was, however, one comment left by a friend on one of my many posts about my diagnoses: “I love that you are sharing your story, but I also know that you as a person are much more than your diagnosis.” This stuck with me, but not in a bad way that leaves a taste in your mouth. It just got me thinking: was I letting the label define me?

I’ll skip straight ahead to the point: My final verdict is no. But the label is pretty special and important to me. Why? While ADHD-C doesn’t completely define who I am as a person, it is a part of it, whether I like it or not. A big part of my life up to now has been the many nameless frustrations I’ve experience growing up with ADHD-C. I’ll go into the details another time (more posts to come) but I think this statement sums it up quite well: I’ve spent my entire life up to this point at war with myself to function as a “normal” person. This war has had great costs to my self-esteem, self-confidence, self-critical inner voice, and sense of self-worth.

What does the label mean for all that? In my experience, having gone through my friend’s suicide in high school, I found that with nothing and no one external to blame other than the person I was grieving, I turned right around and blamed myself. It’s quite the same with mental illnesses in my experience. Especially with something like ADHD-C, which affects you in seemingly inconsequential but insidiously impairing ways as a whole, without a label that explains your difficulties, you turn right around and blame yourself. The fact that I couldn’t motivate myself to do work or stay focused to study – when I could motivate myself to do other things, and even study or work on things I found exciting or novel – was a reflection of myself as a person. I was the one at fault. I had to be just lazy and unmotivated. Maybe everyone was wrong, and that I wasn’t smart and had little real potential. That’s just one of the many examples of the insidious nature of undiagnosed ADHD. It eats away at you, bit by bit, over time, until you’ve thoroughly internalized every negative way of thinking about yourself. It is through that effect on my thoughts about myself, as well as all the way it directly impacts my life, that I’ve lately begun to think about ADHD-C as perhaps the most impactful of my triad of diagnoses. Although I don’t long for this future, I do wonder: if I had been diagnosed with ADHD-C when I was younger, taught about how it affected me, and learned skills and coping mechanisms, whether I’d even know I was predisposed to GAD and MDD.

Although it does feel like it still to me sometimes, the ADHD-C label isn’t an excuse. I still take responsibility when I interrupt people, head down a long unrelated tangent, or lose track of my thoughts and forget what I was trying to say. I apologize to people who don’t know that it’s just ADHD-C coming through. My mental health is my responsibility in the end. What the label does is make me much kinder to myself. Doing something I’d rather not have done is still frustrating, but not as much. I have a new lens through which to look at and understand myself, as well as my past. I am working on toning down the impact of my heavily self-critical inner voice. The ADHD-C label turns these many small, frustrating moments from dark marks against myself as a person into understandable mishaps that come about as a result of conditions I’m living with. I still try to work on them, but I am now much kinder and more self-compassionate than I have ever been before.

There are also new ways to think about myself that I’m still reckoning with. According to the US Disabilities Act, I’m considered disabled. The same may be true in Guyana. The National Commission on Disabilities lists ADHD as a “learning impairment.” Especially that I am open about my mental health, there’s the reality of potential discrimination, as well as the possibility of accommodations that might help me realize my potential in school and in the workplace. At least through the University of Florida, I can access distraction-free testing environments, for instance.

Perhaps the most important contribution of the label to my life was the sense of community it brought with it. I follow fellow ADHDers on Twitter, and frequent ADHD communities on Reddit. Through my oversharing, a few friends reached out to talk about their diagnoses and we now meet regularly and talk about life, the universe, and everything ADHD and Guyana. Mental illness quite often makes you feel like you’re alone in your experience. Community is rather important in addressing and treating mental illness.

It’s of my view that these artificial labels and boxes are rather important, but that they don’t define who we are – at least not completely. I have ADHD-C, but I don’t plan to let that become my life. I’m open about it because I feel it is important for my circles: academia, Guyana, and the wider Caribbean. That is my choice, and not something that anyone else should feel as an obligation. But I am more than just someone with ADHD-C. I am a Radiohead fan, a therapy patient, someone who lives with GAD and MDD, a guitarist, a Studio Ghibli movie aficionado, a biologist, a conservation social scientist in training, an international graduate student, a University of Guyana alum, an Oxford alum, a citizen of Guyana, and so many more. I am all of those things. None of them singularly define me.

I thought it relevant to end with a line from r/ADHD‘s statement on the neurodiversity movement:

“We do not encourage giving our disorder the credit for the things we achieve. Our achievements are in spite of the challenges we face, not because of them.”

r/ADHD

Resources

The Mental Health Unit at the Government of Guyana’s Ministry of Health has a 24 hour hotline 655-7233 .  

The office numbers are 2261405, 2261407, 2261402 . The public health services are free.

There is also a publicly contributed list of the mental health resources available in Guyana at: https://www.facebook.com/notes/documenting-mental-health-resources-in-guyana/some-mental-health-resources-in-guyana/171658783505271/

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