Black Girl, Lost Keys Founder Empowers Black Women with ADHD

Black Girl, Lost Keys Founder Empowers Black Women with ADHD

René Brooks had to get diagnosed with ADHD three times before finally getting the right treatment. And now she’s using her superpowers to empower other black women with ADHD through her blog, books and brand, Black Girl, Lost Keys.

In this episode, René shares the struggles she faced as a smart young girl who felt defective because she couldn’t keep her room clean or do her homework. She shares the moment she knew medication was right for her and talks about how getting properly diagnosed with ADHD was critical to her success and happiness in life.

Check out René’s most recent book, Everything You Need to Completely Clean With ADHD.

Do you have a question or comment for us? Email [email protected].

Thanks to our sponsor, OmegaBrite Wellness! Ned takes their supplements every day. Distraction listeners, you can SAVE 20% on your first order with the promo code: Podcast2020 at OmegaBriteWellness.com.

Click HERE to learn more about our sponsor, Landmark College, in Putney, Vermont. It’s the college of choice for students who learn differently.

Distraction is created by Sounds Great Media. Our producer is Sarah Guertin and our recording engineer/editor is Scott Persson.

Check out this episode!

A transcript of this episode is below.


Dr. Ned Hallowell:
This episode of Distraction is sponsored by OmegaBrite CBD, formulated by OmegaBrite Wellness, creators of the number one omega-3 supplements for the past 20 years. Shop online at OmegaBriteWellness.com. That’s B-R-I-T-E, OmegaBriteWellness.com. And by Landmark College offering comprehensive support for students with ADHD and other learning differences. It is the college of choice for students who learn differently, and I have an honorary degree from that college. Learn more at LCDistraction.org.

Rene Brooks:
They wouldn’t stop telling me how smart I was, so I knew it had to have been defective. I must not care, I must not be motivated, I must not want to do these things, maybe I’m just obstinate, I don’t know what the problem is. They’re asking me to do it, I want to do it, but I can’t do it.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Hello and welcome to Distraction. Don’t you just love joining us? I loved having you join us, it’s wonderful to have you with us today. It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood. You know, I don’t have a sweater that I’m taking off, but it’s wonderful to have you, and it’s wonderful to be alive. Even as we’re living through all the stresses and strains that the glorious year of 2020 has bestowed upon us, at least, right now, we’re all alive and able to listen. I’m able to talk, you’re able to listen and pay some fraction of your attention and I hope I can engage you.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
I think I will today because I have an amazing guest. She is a great example of someone who has learned how to harness their ADHD superpowers. Renee Brooks is her name that’s R-E-N-E with an accent, a U over the E. Renee Brooks was diagnosed with ADHD three times, three times, before getting properly treated. Once when she was seven, once when she was 11. You’ve heard that kind of response before, well-meaning, but ill informed. Finally, at age 25, she got diagnosed and properly treated. Now she writes an extremely popular blog called Black Girl, Lost Keys. Isn’t that a great term? Black Girl, Lost Keys. Where she helps empower Black women with ADHD. I think she empowers an awful lot of people including this White man, and teaches them how to thrive. Thank you, thank you, thank you so much for joining me, Renee Brooks.

Rene Brooks:
Oh, Ned. It’s an honor. I tell people all the time, when you’re learning about ADHD, you’re bound to run into Ned first when you’re ready to start taking it seriously. So when I got the request, I was like, yeah, of course I’m coming. When? Now.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Well, I’m honored as well. It’s remarkable, the Black community, in general, has been under served. In part because they’re suspicious of White men like me trying to control them. So there’s been an understandable skepticism and, at the same time, information travels slowly. As you experienced at age seven and 11, there’s a lot of wrong information out there. So there you were, a little girl having the condition, but not being aware of it. So what was it like as a little girl with ADHD, that you didn’t know you had?

Rene Brooks:
It was frustrating, I felt like I couldn’t make anyone happy. I couldn’t keep a clean room, I couldn’t keep a clean desk, I couldn’t get my homework done in a timely fashion. So everywhere I went, I was always faced with this disapproval, and it doesn’t do good things for your self-esteem as a child. Children want to make the people around them happy and know that they’re doing the things that they need to do to make that happen, and it didn’t happen for me.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Say more about that, because I often say to people, you can worry about the side effects of taking medication, which we can control and there can be side effects, but I say, what you really ought to worry about are the side effects of not taking medication. You experienced those side effects as a little girl, correct?

Rene Brooks:
Absolutely, my favorite is when people say, I don’t want my child to get a label. Your child is going to get a label, it can either be ADHD or it can be lazy, unmotivated, stupid, uncaring. They’re going to get one, you want them to have access to the label that’s going to get them the help they need, to get where they need to go.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Right. Right, exactly. And you didn’t get that?

Rene Brooks:
No. So I underperformed and was frustrated all the way up through college.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
And your self-esteem suffered?

Rene Brooks:
Majorly, because you feel like, I’m trying my very hardest, I’m being told that I’m not trying my hardest, which makes me think maybe I’m just damaged, bad, whatever adjective you want to give it. It’s a bad, bad feeling. I see other people who, I know I should be doing as well as, and I’m not and I don’t understand why.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
So I just want to underscore that, because it’s so poignant and it is so common. Before I die, I want this never to happen because there you are, with a very diagnosable and treatable condition, and you are feeling, I’m trying my best, but everyone’s telling me I’m underperforming and I know I am underperforming. So maybe I am, then fill in the blank, stupid, lazy, [inaudible 00:06:00], deficit disorder or maybe I just don’t have what it takes in this world. That’s just, and year after year, you felt that way. Right?

Rene Brooks:
Well into adulthood.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Wow, wow.

Rene Brooks:
Well into adulthood and, as the depression got worse and worse, it finally got to the point. By the time I got to the point where I was sitting in that therapist’s office that day, I was on medical leave from work. I was so depressed, I couldn’t get out of bed. It should never have gotten that bad, it didn’t have to get that bad.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Absolutely, you could have been diagnosed and treated at age seven.

Rene Brooks:
And I often wonder, people talk about how remarkable it is to have made a transformation later in life, but what I’m more interested in, whether it’s productive or not is left to conjecture, but I’m very interested in who would Renee Brooks have been, if she had gotten what she needed then? If you think I’m great now, how much greater could I have been if I never went through any of this?

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Yes. I just want our listeners to let that sink in a little bit. Here’s this little girl at age seven, presents for diagnosis and treatment, and it’s all right there, right? You were not a tough kid to diagnose, right? If someone knew what they were doing.

Rene Brooks:
I think that, in and of itself, and it’s funny… If you want to bring it full circle, my mom got diagnosed with ADHD about two years ago. So we were having a talk one day about this particular teacher, it was a second grade teacher, who had spotted this in me. I told her, with the disparity that there is in diagnosing not only Black people, but girls. For her to have cared enough about me and paid enough attention to me, to see what was going on and make that kind of recommendation, that lets me know she was a marvelous educator. My mom looked at me and she was like, Oh my God, I never once thought of it that way. She still saw it as an attack on her kid, and I’m sitting there going, no, she tried really hard to get me help. She was right.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Yes. Did your mother apologize?

Rene Brooks:
She did, but you know, I’ll tell you, Ned, I don’t feel like my mother owes me an apology because she did what she thought was best at the time. There’s never been a doubt in my mind, she did it to protect me. If we have cultural competency, then we know that Black people have been preyed on by the medical community, we’ve been abused by various systems that are in place, that are supposed to protect us, but often take advantage of us-

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
So you’re naturally suspicious, yeah. Yeah.

Rene Brooks:
So for her to have snatched her child out of the clutches of that, who could blame her?

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Absolutely. She said, you’re not going to label my kid, you’re not going to drug my kid, you’re not going to manipulate my kid in the way you’ve been manipulating black children for so long. In this one particular instance, she was wrong, but like you say, she owes you no apology. Today it’s happening and there’s less excuse today, but it’s still happening. We have the knowledge, but the consumption of the knowledge still lags behind the knowledge. Nowhere is it as true in medicine as it is in psychiatry, that we know so much more than people are using.

Rene Brooks:
Absolutely the truth. That’s another thing, swing back around to it. So I was one of those girls that got overlooked in the ’90s, but there was a young man who lived in my neighborhood, who I was close friends with, and he did have a diagnosis and he was on Ritalin. One of the things that I think genuinely scared my mother, was that she could see the difference in this child’s personality from when he was medicated to when he wasn’t, and he was a different person. I think maybe the dosage was just off, we didn’t know as much then as we do now.

Rene Brooks:
So it was like, there were all these things that were not working in my favor. If someone had taken the time to educate my mother on what ADHD was and what it meant, and what it could mean if I didn’t have access to treatment, I think the story would have been different, but she didn’t have that and no one tried to give it to her. It was just like, Oh, here’s this backwards Black woman, of course Black people don’t want to… That’s the impression that is left with so many people, that Black people are too backwards or too ignorant to know that their children need treatment, and that’s not the case. The case is that we are not being properly informed because people don’t think they need to take the time to inform us.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
So say more about that, say more about the Black side of the story. Would it have been different if you were a little white girl?

Rene Brooks:
I don’t know, but I do know that my mother was a single mom, but she co-parented with my… So there were all these things that looked like some sort of stereotype that people are used to seeing. My mother had a solid job, my mother was a rock for our family. My dad is a great guy, we have a wonderful relationship. So they needed it to be a stereotype and it wasn’t one, and she wasn’t going to let them bully her. They thought that they could come in and give her the direction and that she had to take it, and she wouldn’t. So unfortunately, when people think they are in a position of authority, sometimes they can speak to people in ways that they shouldn’t. I’m quite sure, I would put money on the fact that this is how they came at my mother. I’ll tell you, if they came at me like that when I was trying to protect my kids, I can’t say I wouldn’t have make the same decision that she made.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Once again, I want to tell you about the favorite supplement that I take and my wife takes, OmegaBrite. Go to OmegaBriteWellness.com for their fish oil supplement, their omega three supplement, their CBD supplement. They’ve been our sponsor so, of course, I’m going to tell you to go buy their product. But in addition to sponsoring us, they have really helped my health, my wife’s health, and the many of my patients who I’ve encouraged to take the OmegaBrite products. That’s O-M-E-G-A-B-R-I-T-E. Particularly with all the stress we’re feeling these days, the antioxidant effect of OmegaBrite, the anti-inflammatory effect of OmegaBrite is a real stress reducer and health promoter. Omega Brite CBD and omega-3 three supplements are top of the line. You can find all of their supplements online at OmegaBrite, that’s B-R-I-T-E, OmegaBriteWellness.com. Distraction listeners, you can save 20% on your first order of omega-3 and CBD supplements at OmegaBriteWellness.com by entering the promo code Podcast2020. All right, let’s get back to the show.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Once you got the diagnosis, how did your life change?

Rene Brooks:
Oh man, on the blog I have a post that I wrote about the first time that I ever took medication. I was being treated for depression for six months, so they had jumped me around from trying to get me into an antidepressant that would work. I said to my doctor, you know, if this is another six to eight week thing, I’m just not going to do another med like this. I can’t, I don’t have the patience. She said to me, Renee, you’ll know in probably a few hours that this is going to be the right thing for you. My room was always jumbled, and scattered, and disorganized, and I had been working on it here and there for like the better part of maybe two years, trying to get it organized. By the end of the afternoon, I had it done and that’s when I knew, this is the thing, this is what I needed. Medication is not the only tool in the arsenal, but that was when I knew. They were right, it was ADHD. The meds were going to help me fix it.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
It was like you were given eyeglasses.

Rene Brooks:
Exactly that, for the very first time. It’s funny, if you had known me when I was 25 and 35, now I would never in my life have thought that I would be writing a cleaning book for people with ADHD, and that they would be like, Oh my God, this is so helpful. Because I was a slob, Ned.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
It would be like the Pope writing a sex manual, right?

Rene Brooks:
It would have been.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Oh, goodness me. Well, there you go. You got your eyeglasses, and now your book is called Everything you need to completely clean with ADHD. Wow, what a turnaround.

Rene Brooks:
Every once in a while, I look around and I’m just like, this is a lot different. [crosstalk 00:16:25] be like.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Well, we should tell our listeners, if they want to get the book or see it, your website is Black Girl, Lost Keys. Those four words, Black Girl, singular, Lost Keys, plural, .com. And your Twitter handle is @BLKGirl, they wouldn’t let her have the AC. So it’s BLKGirlLostKeys. By the way, sometimes people ask for my Twitter handle and it’s @DrHallowell, no period after DR. Just @DrHallowell. I’ll tweet about you and you can tweet about me.

Rene Brooks:
You bet I will. I’m telling you, this is quite something, Ned Hallowell. If you would’ve told me at 25 I’d be sitting talking to Ned Hallowell, I’d have been like, you are a liar.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Well Rene, we got to team up and reach all those little girls. Girls and women are the biggest undiagnosed group and, among them, Black girls, I’m sure, are the leading underdiagnosed group for all the reasons you mentioned. Boy, you’re perfectly positioned to change that, and I will help you in every single way I possibly can. Unlike so many diagnoses, this is good news, things can only get better when you find out about it.

Rene Brooks:
And that’s it. People talk about, Oh well, they’re trying to drug you up. First of all, no one told you, you had to take medication to treat your ADHD. Although, I will be honest, I’m very pro-medication, medication changed my life. Coaching changed my life, as well, but it was both of them. It wasn’t one or the other.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
But you know, Rene, it’s a lot easier for you to use the coaching if you’re on the medication.

Rene Brooks:
Exactly that, and I always was. That’s the thing, it’s like, in order to absorb information, you have to be able to give it as much attention as you can give it. The medication gave me the opportunity to take in as much as I could.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Right. It doesn’t make you smarter, but it makes you able to use your smarts more effectively. A lot like eyeglasses.

Rene Brooks:
Absolutely.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Yeah. Yeah. So, it’s a multi-pronged approach. You’re such a messenger to these little girls and their parents, because you know firsthand what it’s like not to have the diagnosis, and then what a liberating, uplifting thing it is to get the diagnosis and the treatment that comes with it. What would you say to people who say, I don’t have brain damage, I don’t have this deficit disorder, what would you say to that?

Rene Brooks:
I would tell them that I was in gifted and talented for the vast majority of my school career and I still couldn’t turn my homework in, but I can turn it in now.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Right. Right. And you were being told to try harder.

Rene Brooks:
All the time because, of course, if I wasn’t performing, it must have been because I was bored because I’m so darn smart. Now we’ve got her in these gifted and talented classes that are really just additional work, if we’re being honest. So now I’m not doing homework in any of those places, and everyone is telling me, look, we know exactly how smart you are, kid. We tested you what’s the problem? How are you supposed to tell a group of adults what the problem is, when you don’t know?

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Exactly, then you reach wrong conclusions like you’re not very smart or maybe you’re just defective, you know?

Rene Brooks:
Well, I’ll tell you, they wouldn’t stop telling me how smart I was. So I knew it had to have been defective. I must not care, I must not be motivated, I must not want to do these things. Maybe I’m just obstinate, I don’t know what the problem is. They’re asking me to do it, I want to do it, but I can’t do it.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
We are really happy to welcome Landmark College back as a sponsor. It’s my favorite place in the world, as far as a college for kids who learn differently. It is absolutely a pioneer in the field and has set the bar for how to teach, at a college level, kids who don’t do school easily. They find the gifts in these kids, it’s all about finding strengths, not about just about remediating problems. They really get it, and they have the added advantage of being in a beautiful town in Vermont, Putney, Vermont. It is an ideal college for students who learn differently. You could not do better. You’ll come out with confidence, direction, and a real solid sense of what your special talents are. It is the college of choice for students who learn differently, go to LCDistraction.org, to learn more. Such a profound difference between won’t and can’t.

Rene Brooks:
Exactly that. It was like, don’t you think I would rather… No kid wants to be in trouble. I’m not saying that every kid is the same, but what human being in general wants to be in trouble, if they have a method to avoid it? Why would anyone choose to not do their homework and not clean their room? Oh my God, I spent like half of my teen years grounded because my room was messy. Why would anyone choose that? No one chooses that, nonsense.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Right, right. Well, look how you turned it all around, and look at what you’re doing now. It’s really impressive. Again, the website is BlackGirlLostKeys.com and the Twitter handle is @BLKGirlLostKeys. Renee Brooks, do you have another book in mind?

Rene Brooks:
I would say, if you’re going to check books out on the store, I’ve got a style guide for ADHD femmes, that is also a lot of fun. There’s that one, I did one about tackling time blindness, that one was a lot of fun. They were just, they’re fun to write, they’re workbooks so they’re fast, they’re colorful, they’re fun. You can pick it up and go any place in the book you want. It’s not something where you have to read from beginning to end, we hate that. I have to write the book, so it has to be interesting to me. So you know it’s going to be generally… We’re not all the same, obviously, but it had to have been interesting enough to me to write it.

Rene Brooks:
So I try to keep it as engaging as I can. Because like, cleaning’s not very interesting, but this is fun. There’s sections in it, and that’s it. You know what it is? When you can succeed at something, it starts to not be so boring. Then it becomes like, okay, here’s this thing that I got to do, but I know I can get it done. It doesn’t feel insurmountable anymore. I don’t have to procrastinate as much because I know I can go in, spend this 10, 15 minutes and at least walk out with something accomplished.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Yes, yes. Even just the feeling that I accomplished it.

Rene Brooks:
Exactly. Exactly that-

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
So like, for example, our dishwasher is broken, so after I finish with you today, I’ve got to go down and do by hand a big sink load of dishes, but I’m looking forward to it. I’ll tell you why, because I’m looking forward to the feeling I will have, of having done something concrete of value. Nothing can be more concrete than washing dishes.

Rene Brooks:
You do, you get that it’s right there waiting for you.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Yeah, exactly, exactly. I can either hate it and put it off, and rue the day that I ever bought a dishwasher to break, or go down and plunge my hands into the soapy water and say, all right dishes, you’re not going to defeat me.

Rene Brooks:
That’s the attitude, that’s the way to come at it. But yeah-

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
That’s the ADD way. Look at you, look at you, you didn’t give up, you just kept plugging along.

Rene Brooks:
And I think that’s the thing. I think it’s normal for people to get discouraged and take a break, but don’t quit. Just keep going.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Yeah. What’s the key to not quitting, do you think?

Rene Brooks:
I don’t know, I wish I did. It’s just one of those things, where I just felt like, if I keep looking for the answer, I’m going to find it. I’ve got to find it because, you know what? It’s funny. I’ll tell you what the key for mine was anyway, my mother might not have gotten me treated for ADHD, but what she did teach me was that happiness was my birthright, but it was also my personal responsibility, that I had to find happiness and nobody else could find it for me. So when I would look at my life, I could say, I’m not happy, therefor I’m not finished yet. I have more work to do here.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Well, you’ve got many years ahead of you. I’m pretty much twice your age and I wish I could live long enough to see you go all the way. Do you have any immediate goals?

Rene Brooks:
I’ll tell you, this month… Of course you know, it’s ADHD awareness month. So I’m going to be speaking on the 17th at a neuro-diversity conference for Stanford University. I laughed when they called me, I said, you know I couldn’t get in Stanford with the grades that I had.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
But with the brain you have, you could get in today.

Rene Brooks:
That’s the thing, my grades couldn’t get me there, but my brain took me there anyway. Isn’t that something?

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. It just shows how misleading grades can be.

Rene Brooks:
Then there’s that. I think that was it, so much of the grades in school were whether or not you could do the busy work. It didn’t have anything to do with whether or not you’d learned the material.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Right. No, exactly. Could you memorize and repeat back? We don’t do that well, we like to think, and create, and discover.

Rene Brooks:
Absolutely the truth.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Well, I can’t thank you enough for joining us. Again, @BLKGirlLostKeys, the Twitter handle and the website, BlackGirlLostKeys.com. Her book, Everything You Need to Completely Clean With ADHD. What an irony that you would end up writing that book and teaching people with ADHD how to clean. And you’ve got another one on how to negotiate another tough topic, time. How we don’t have a sense of time, but you’ve got so much more yet to do in your life, Rene. Thank you, thank you, thank you for joining us and congratulations on having persisted and triumphed.

Rene Brooks:
Ned, thank you so very much. I’ll tell you, this was quite a pleasure. Thank you very, very much for having me.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Thank you, and let’s stay in touch.

Rene Brooks:
Absolutely.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
All right, take care.

Rene Brooks:
Take care.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
All right well, that’s going to do it for today. You can follow Rene’s blog at BlackGirlLostKeys.com and you can find her on Twitter @BLKGirlLostKeys, as well as Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube, where you can also find us. And you can find me on Twitter @DrHallowell, is the handle. Please continue to reach out to us with your questions, comments, and show ideas. Write an email or record a voice memo on your phone and send it to [email protected] That’s [email protected] You can follow the Distraction podcast on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Give us a like and follow to stay connected with the show.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Distraction is created by Sounds Great Media, our recording engineer and editor is the amazingly talented Scott Persson, we’re so lucky to have him. Our producer is the also amazingly talented Sarah Guertin, whom we are also so lucky to have. This is Dr. Ned Hallowell, I don’t know how lucky you are to have me, but here I am and hoping you’ll join us next time. That’s it for today. Bye-bye.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
The episode you just heard was sponsored by OmegaBrite CBD formulated by OmegaBrite Wellness, creators of the number one omega-3 supplements for the past 20 years. Shop online at OmegaBriteWellness.com.

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