Being A Black Woman With ADHD – Candy’s Story

Being A Black Woman With ADHD – Candy’s Story

“I’ve often felt invisible as a woman of color with ADHD. Although there are plenty of us out here, we often get overlooked for one reason or another.” After reading these words in an email from Candy, a regular listener of Distraction, we wanted to learn more about her perspective. In this episode, Candy graciously shares some of her experiences as a Black woman with ADHD. This open and honest dialogue touches on a variety of topics including diagnosis, treatment, and the Black Lives Matter Movement.

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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. 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. OmegaBrite CBD, safe, third-party tested, and it works. Shop online at omegabritewellness.com, and by Landmark College, offering comprehensive support for students with ADHD and other learning differences. Learn more at lcdistraction.org. Landmark College, the college of choice for students who learn differently.

Dr. Hallowell:
Hello, and welcome to Distraction. I’m your host, Dr. Hallowell. We really have a very special episode today, truly. I mean, I often say that, but this is especially special. Especially special special. We have have an extra special, special guest. If you listened to last week’s Q and A episode, then you’ll remember, I hope, a letter we got from a listener named Candy who shared some of her thoughts with us about being a black woman with ADHD and mother of two boys who also have ADHD. Let me quote part of what candy wrote to us.

Dr. Hallowell:
She said or wrote, “I’ve often felt invisible as a woman of color with ADHD. Although there are plenty of us out here, we often get overlooked for one reason or another. I have been absolutely floored and thrilled to witness more conversation happening about race in this country, and I’ve been especially happy to witness it coming specifically from some of my favorite ADHD experts. I’m beginning to feel seen in a way I never have before.” Well, that’s just wonderful. Today, Candy has graciously agreed to come on the podcast to share more of her thoughts and experience with all of us. Thank you so much for joining me today, Candy.

Candy:
Thank you very much for having me.

Dr. Hallowell:
Well, so tell me when did you discover you have ADHD and how has it been both being a woman of color with ADHD, a woman with ADHD, a single mom with ADHD, all of those pretty stressful categories?

Candy:
Well, I first suspected that I had ADHD when I was in college. I had a roommate who had been diagnosed and she’s actually black as well. When we started talking about things, I resonated with so much of what she said so strongly. But I didn’t actually seek out a diagnosis until I was 25 or 26. The first doctor that I saw, I had to do this super long two-day, I don’t know, 12-hour interview thing with him. At the end of it, he just told me that I was depressed and I probably needed a prescription for an antidepressant and so-

Dr. Hallowell:
How many years ago was that?

Candy:
That was, man, I guess, almost 15 years ago now. Yeah, so I was really discouraged and actually I was in therapy at the time. So I brought the results back to my therapist and she disagreed and she was like, “I’ve known you for a while now. You’re not depressed, and I’m not an expert, but I really think you should go see someone else.” So it took me a while to do that, but eventually I did. I found a female psychiatrist who said on her website that she kind of specialized with adults with ADHD. I went in, I had a conversation with her, one conversation. At the end of it, she just validated me. She said, “You’re intelligent. I can tell you’ve done your research and I’m going to turn it back to you. Do you think you have ADHD?” I said, “I do. After everything that I’ve read and the people that I’ve talked to, I really do.”

Candy:
So at that point, I got a prescription and it was amazing. I mean, the change was just almost instant. I think I had been on the medication for maybe a week or two and it was around my dad’s birthday. So I was making him this super elaborate birthday dinner and dessert. My kids are running around and my mom came in and she looked at me and she said, “Don’t ever stop taking this medication.” I was like, “What do you mean?” She’s like, “You’re managing everything.” She’s like, “You’re cooking, you’ve got the kids and you’re handling it,” and so that was that.

Dr. Hallowell:
Wow. Wow. What medication was it?

Candy:
The first medication that I was on was Concerta, actually. So I’ve been on Concerta, I’ve been on Vyvanse and right now I’m on Adderall, and Adderall’s actually been even better, because with the other two, my appetite never came back and I had really bad headaches, so.

Dr. Hallowell:
Oh gosh.

Candy:
But still, just the fact that I was able to concentrate on one thing and then be interrupted and go back to it, that had never happened in my life before, so it’s been great.

Dr. Hallowell:
Now on the Adderall, you get the benefit, but no side effects.

Candy:
They’re not as bad. So I still get dry mouth and sometimes my appetite is not as normal as it is when I’m not on the medication. But it’s nothing like what it was before. I don’t get migraines and I’m able to sleep at night.

Dr. Hallowell:
Good, good.

Candy:
So, yeah, it’s a lot better.

Dr. Hallowell:
You take a immediate release Adderall or extended release?

Candy:
I take immediate release. So I take two pills twice a day.

Dr. Hallowell:
So two 5’s, two 10’s?

Candy:
I do one 20 in the morning and then one 20 in the afternoon.

Dr. Hallowell:
Great. That’s working well?

Candy:
It is, it is.

Dr. Hallowell:
That’s wonderful. I often compare it to eyeglasses. Suddenly, you can see.

Candy:
That’s really what it felt. I remember reading something, this was back in college. My roommate recommended a book to me and I don’t remember what that first book was. But there was something in there about when you have ADHD, it’s like someone else, your brain is a television set and someone else has the remote and is channel surfing and you have no control over it. I mean, it gave me chills when I read it. So college was a million years ago and I still remember that. Once I took the medication, it was like all of those channels just went off and I had control over it. So, yeah.

Dr. Hallowell:
Where did you go to college?

Candy:
I went to college at Middle Tennessee State University, right outside of Nashville.

Dr. Hallowell:
Did you grow up in Tennessee?

Candy:
I did not. I grew up in Illinois, but I was 18. I’d actually done a year of college. I graduated at 17, but I did a year here in Illinois and it was just… I was just kind of biding my time. It wasn’t really what I wanted to study and I also just kind of got that itch to be away from my family and away from home, and so I transferred to the school. I had never been to the school, but they had an excellent recruiting program, because at the time I was really into music and songwriting and I wanted to be a songwriter and a producer. So I transferred to the school so that I could study sound production.

Dr. Hallowell:
Do you still want to do that?

Candy:
So much has happened in my life. I love it still, but I do not devote the time to it that I used to. So, no. It’s more of a hobby. I’m one of those people, I went and got this degree and I’ve never done anything with it. At least not professionally.

Dr. Hallowell:
Well, the is young. You’re still pretty young. How does race come into play? How does being African-American-

Candy:
Well, I think for one, I think it came into play with that first doctor that I saw. I literally brought… So, like I said, I was 25, 26 at this point. I dug out report cards from elementary school, some statements from my parents and I was telling him these are things that I’ve experienced, the symptoms, I guess. I don’t even think he could see it and I don’t know specifically with him if it was race, if it was gender. I didn’t have a history of being hyperactive in the sense, that stereotypical little boy who’s climbing on his desk and swinging from the ceiling and that sort of thing.

Candy:
What I have since found out is that I was a little girl who’s extremely talkative, just non-stop. Even in preschool when we would have to nap, and my mother still tells this story, I would talk to whoever was around me. So eventually they gave me the job of going around and rubbing the other kids’ backs just to give me something to do, because I was not going to lay down and be quiet. So that continued, I mean, pretty much actually through high school. But in elementary school, I have all my report cards and it’s like my teachers would talking about, “Oh, she’s delightful, she’s this, but she won’t stop talking and she doesn’t pay attention to detail and she loses focus so quickly, but she’s so smart and we like her so much.” So [crosstalk 00:10:05].

Dr. Hallowell:
Pretty classic ADHD.

Candy:
Yeah, exactly. It’s interesting to me, because again, the more that I’ve read and listened to experts talk about it, like you said, that’s classic. He didn’t see any of that. At the time, that was actually a little bit before I separated from my husband, but I had been in therapy for some marital issues and some other things. It was like, that’s where that doctor stopped. It was just, oh, well, you’ve got two little kids and you’re having a rough time in your marriage. That’s it, despite all of the history. Then since then, like I said-

Dr. Hallowell:
I assume he was a white man.

Candy:
Yes, yes. He was. So again, I don’t know what was in his mind. I just know that it felt like he didn’t hear anything that I said. Then since then, a lot of times when I am reading articles or books or people are talking about their experience with ADHD, it’s gotten better in recent years, but the poster children for ADHD are very rarely people of color. Even in school, as I’m studying mental health, and I just did a class last term and we were talking about diagnosing children, so often little boys of color, particularly black and Hispanic ones are first found to be oppositionally defiant. That’s the first thing that they look at. So I didn’t have that experience. I was “smart” growing up so I was in all of the advanced classes. But I would lose my homework and mean to bring my math book home and end up with a science book instead.

Candy:
I could not turn anything in on time and I skated by, because, again, I think my teachers liked me and I tested pretty well so I just kind of skated by. But I do wonder if I had been male, if I had not been black, if someone would have noticed all of the difficulties that I’d been having for years and maybe thought, “Huh, this could be something else.”

Dr. Hallowell:
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Dr. Hallowell:
It’s funny, the first person I ever treated for ADHD was a seven year old African-American boy from a very poor neighborhood who was admitted to the hospital having witnessed a murder the day before and then attempted to murder his sister.

Candy:
Oh my gosh.

Dr. Hallowell:
So he had multiple problems. But his IQ on admission, I did some testing and his IQ was 69, which is very low and among his many problems. When we cleaned him up and got to know each other, he and I became friends. I said, “You have among many other diagnoses, you fit all the criteria for ADHD. Why don’t we try you on this medication?” and called Ritalin and his mother agreed. His IQ after on the medication was tested at 140.

Candy:
Oh my goodness.

Dr. Hallowell:
I’ve never seen that happen again. The neuropsychologist would say it’s impossible. But clearly, when he was admitted, he was traumatized and then when we were able to give him focus, and here I was, an old white male treating this young black boy and, but we became the best friends. When I had to leave after years following him, I remember, I said, “We’ve really gotten to know each other pretty well. Haven’t we?” He said, “Know each other? We love each other.” I think a lot of the help was developing that connection. So you had connection, you said you have a really strong family. So that must have helped you get through.

Candy:
Tremendously. I think I said something about that in the email, the other issue, of course, just with mental health in general. If you’re in a lower socioeconomic status trauma, that level of trauma. But I was very fortunate. I grew up in a very solidly middle-class family, two parents, both college educated, going to work. They were involved. But even in that, I have a younger sister, she had a lot of other health issues growing up. So my parents miss things. So again, and I know a lot of people, I think, who are diagnosed with ADHD as adults talk about that experience of kind of people telling you, especially when people think you’re really smart, oh, you just need to try harder. So every time there was a note sent home because of homework or whatever that I didn’t finish, that was my parents, “You’re too smart. You just need to apply yourself. You need to try harder.”

Candy:
But in finding out that I’ve had it, they have just rallied around me. I’ve had super tearful conversations with my mom where she’s apologized for missing things. It’s one of those things. You do the best you can where you are at the time. Then [inaudible 00:16:30] you do better. But my family has been amazing, just through the ADHD, through the divorce, through all of it.

Dr. Hallowell:
That’s just wonderful to hear. Telling someone with ADD to try harder is about as helpful as telling someone who’s near sighted to squint harder.

Candy:
Exactly.

Dr. Hallowell:
This is the point. You need eyeglasses and the squinting will help a little bit and trying harder will help a little bit, but it doesn’t anywhere near get to the heart of the matter. So it must have been quite an awakening when you finally got diagnosed. You also say you’re floored and thrilled to witness more conversation happening about race in this country. Can you say more about that?

Candy:
Yeah. So I think that everything that happened when we all collectively as a country saw the video of what happened with George Floyd’s murder, I think a lot of people’s eyes were opened and it’s one of those things. I’ve grown up really fortunately. Chicago is one of the most segregated cities in the country still. I live right outside of Chicago in a very diverse and integrated, it’s been integrated forever, area where growing up, I had friends of all different races, all different combinations of races and religions and ethnicities. So that’s been my experience, but because of that, I grew up talking to my friends about race and about our experiences and I think you have a lot of well-meaning people who get very uncomfortable kind of thinking about racism and the fact that it still exists and so they shut it down and they just, “I’m colorblind. I don’t see color. I treat everybody the same.”

Candy:
When that video came out with George Floyd, I have seen so many people kind of say, “We have to talk about this. We cannot pretend that it doesn’t exist anymore. We cannot pretend that people of color are not treated differently.” These hard conversations are being had. I’ve had white friends of mine just reach out with really heartfelt texts and cards and just to say to me, “I’m sorry that I’ve never talked to you about this before. I’m sorry that you’re going to have to teach your kids one thing, dealing with the police, than I’m going to have to teach my kids.” Having those conversations, It is uncomfortable sometimes, it’s rough, but it’s so necessary and it’s the only way we can change things. I mean, permanently changed things. I have been, I mean, so encouraged to see it in my personal life with my, like I said, with my friends and the people that I know, but even on a larger scale, watching the news and reading articles where people are really having a reckoning with it. I think it’s overdue, but it’s good to see.

Dr. Hallowell:
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Dr. Hallowell:
What do you think, I mean, what was it about George Floyd’s murder and then subsequent death, organizations that used to be very conservative, like the National Football League or NASCAR are now completely behind Black Lives Matter, behind talking about it openly? It’s really remarkable. It’s not just a liberal cause anymore. It’s not just Al Sharpton and whatnot. It’s people who had been unaware, I think. I think, myself included, I didn’t know that an awful lot of black people, if not most, when they see a police car behind them, they tense up, like they’re going to be pulled over. I was so naive. I thought, “Well, we have the Civil Rights Act and we have… It’s a lot better than it was in the fifties and sixties.” But you tell me, I mean, your daily experience what is it like for you?

Candy:
I’m going to be very honest with you and say again, coming from where I’ve come, being raised middle-class in this area, a lot of this has been shocking for me too. I’ve had to really start thinking about my own privilege because, of course, like we said before, poverty is a thing and when you don’t live in poverty, there’s a privilege that comes with that. With being educated, with being I’ve grown up around people who are “very much like me”, even if we’re not the same race. Two parent households, two incomes, college educated, that sort of thing. I had to realize that I had a lot of ideas about those people, those people who didn’t grow up the way that I grew up and, what do they call it, respectability politics.

Candy:
So that’s been a thing. But I do think that there is only one good thing that I can say about the person who’s currently in the White House, him being there, I believe has just kind of just torn the veil on all of these things for all of us and we are all having to reckon with all of these, with regard to race and socioeconomic status and healthcare and climate change and all of these things. Just like you said, it isn’t a liberal or conservative issue. So many of this is just a humanity issue.

Dr. Hallowell:
Yeah, yeah.

Candy:
What does it mean for us to be in a country together as people in this nation? How do we take care of each other and how do we love one another?

Dr. Hallowell:
Right, and-

Candy:
So yeah, it’s been interesting.

Dr. Hallowell:
Deepening our appreciation and empathy for what it is to be different. You and I know that from our both having ADHD, we’re different, I think in a wonderful way, but we are different. You’re African-American. I’m Caucasian and I’m a WASP. I’m a Episcopalian. Are you a religion of any kind?

Candy:
I grew up Methodist. Now, I definitely have a spiritual outlook. I mean, I still believe in God, although I kind of grew up in that evangelical tradition. I have completely left all of that. But yes, I do have a spiritual outlook for sure.

Dr. Hallowell:
That’s another thing that’s I think we’re seeing happen that people are rediscovering spirituality in a less doctrinaire way.

Candy:
Yes, absolutely.

Dr. Hallowell:
One of my favorite prayers is Lord help me always to search for the truth, but spare me the company of those who have found it.

Candy:
I love that. I love that.

Dr. Hallowell:
So are you explaining your experience with ADHD to other people who don’t know about it? I mean, I think that’s such an important function if you can do that.

Candy:
I do. Well, I’m not going to say a little bit. Definitely in terms of the people that I get to talk to. I had taken a few years where I was pretty much off all of social media and a couple years ago I went back. So I’m on social media. So I’m always sharing something on Facebook or something on Instagram, a podcast or my own experience, just that sort of thing. My friends know that I’m very vocal about having ADHD. Even at one point, my therapist had kind of said, “Oh, you maybe don’t want to put it all out there like that in terms of when you’re looking for another job or when you are dating. Do you want people to know that right away?” I feel very much like maybe different with work, but yeah, in terms of somebody that I’m going to have a personal relationship with, yeah, they have to know this right away.

Candy:
It is not my identity, but it is a huge part of who I am and how I function. I need you to know that, and if you want to know more, I’ll totally help you know more. If you can’t accept it, that’s cool too, but let’s put it out there right away. I actually in a way kind of look at my ADHD the way I look at my race. I am black. You see that right away, obviously. I wouldn’t want to hide it. So it’s a very important part of who I am, even though my race does not define who I am. So my ADHD, same thing.

Dr. Hallowell:
Right, right. You can’t see your ADHD the way you can see your color, but-

Candy:
Right. Until you start talking to me.

Dr. Hallowell:
Exactly.

Candy:
Especially if I hadn’t I had medication, then you might.

Dr. Hallowell:
Be careful when you explain it to people to play up the positives. I tell people, I don’t treat disabilities, I help people unwrap their gifts because we, as a group, we have tremendous positives, creativity, originality, energy, intuition, entrepreneurialism. We never give up. We never say die. I mean, the positives are all qualities that you can’t buy and you can’t teach.

Candy:
Absolutely.

Dr. Hallowell:
We have those and I’m very proud of my ADHD, and dyslexia, I have that too. I wouldn’t trade that either. But don’t get me wrong-

Candy:
That’s the thing.

Dr. Hallowell:
I’m sorry?

Candy:
No, I was going to say that’s the thing. I agree with that, that creative piece, that’s what my son, a couple of years ago, my older one was right before he went on medication was struggling a little bit and I could tell. I remember being his age, that junior high school age, I feel like it’s really hard when you have ADHD, particularly when you don’t know it. But he was feeling really down about not being able to stay focused and forgetting everything. I really did have to tell him, “Yeah, that part kind of sucks. We’ll work on that, but you’re so creative.” That’s the thing. Nobody can touch ADHD folks and their creativity and their energy.

Dr. Hallowell:
Exactly, exactly.

Candy:
I think their passion too.

Dr. Hallowell:
Yes, absolutely.

Candy:
So I completely agree with you.

Dr. Hallowell:
Yeah, no. It’s so true. Those are qualities you can’t buy and you can’t teach, so it’s so important to nourish them. But the black community, I don’t know if it’s still that way, but they’ve been resistant to the diagnosis and treatment, because they think it’s a bunch of white people trying to control black children’s behavior.

Candy:
Yes. I think that the black community has a lot of trauma with the medical community in general.

Dr. Hallowell:
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Candy:
Which, I mean, if you know about the Tuskegee experiment, you understand why that is, and a whole bunch of other things. So I get that. I think it’s getting a little bit better. I also know that sometimes with the black community, that spiritual piece can sometimes get in the way of the mental health piece where people kind of tell you, “Oh, pray harder. Go to church more. Tithe, fast.”

Dr. Hallowell:
Right, right.

Candy:
I am very thankful that as strong a Christian as my mother has always been, she’s also like, yeah, but God also gave us science and medicine and doctors who know things and so we should listen to them. So I’ve been fortunate, and that’s another reason that I talk about it a lot, because I want other black people and people of color to hear me and see me and see, it’s not a death sentence, first of all.

Dr. Hallowell:
Just the opposite.

Candy:
There’s so much you can do if you know you have it.

Dr. Hallowell:
Tell the listeners what you’re doing now, what you’re studying.

Candy:
I am in graduate school in a clinical mental health program so that eventually I can become a therapist.

Dr. Hallowell:
That’s fun. What motivated you to do that?

Candy:
I’ve always been the person that my friends come to for advice, but what really kind of solidified it for me was going through divorce and having a great therapist who got me through it. It was very, very difficult for me on a lot of levels, and kind of as I was coming through that also while figuring out my ADHD and how to be a single parent to two boys and all of that, I just kind of felt like I want to pay this forward. I want to be able to help someone else do this thing too. So that’s [crosstalk 00:31:23].

Dr. Hallowell:
What was so difficult about it and how did your therapist help you through it?

Candy:
I did not initiate the divorce. So that was number one. I’m actually a child of divorce. I was very, very young when my parents split up. So my mom’s second husband is, he’s my dad, he’s raised me. But because of that, I always felt like I’m going to get married once and that’s it and we’re going to stay together and we’re going to figure it out. My ex-husband got to a point where he didn’t want to, and it felt like a personal failing to me. I also had a lot of, I think, kind of toxic ideas that came from being raised in evangelicalism. So there was that piece where I was like, “If I don’t hold this together, God’s not going to forgive me because he hates divorce.” So it was a lot. Then it was kind of trying to reimagine my life as a not married person and I couldn’t see it.

Candy:
My therapist really helped me see that there was something beyond what I thought my life was going to look like and there was so much beauty just kind of waiting me on the other side. I’m a really stubborn person. I really dig my heels in and she was just so patient with me and so that was really the thing that did it. It’s been rough and it’s not perfect, but I actually am really happy at this point that my ex-husband knew we needed to end because we really did and I see that now, so.

Dr. Hallowell:
What a wonderful story, and talk about paying it forward. I mean, you saw what a difference a great therapist can make and now you’re going to do the same.

Candy:
I hope so. I really do.

Dr. Hallowell:
Do you get Attitude Magazine?

Candy:
I do. Yeah.

Dr. Hallowell:
You ought to write an article for them about the experience of being a single black woman mother having ADHD. I think it would be a wonderful article to write.

Candy:
Well, thank you for that encouragement. I just might do that.

Dr. Hallowell:
Yeah. I can connect you to the editor. It would be wonderful for you to tell the story, because, as you said, it’s not talked about that often and you have single mother, African-American, ADHD and you’re thriving. It’s wonderful.

Candy:
It is.

Dr. Hallowell:
Really, it’s such a great story.

Candy:
Thank you very much. I have a lot of great support. So I have to thank that people who love me. [crosstalk 00:34:20].

Dr. Hallowell:
Well, I think it’s all about connection. I think that’s what saves us all.

Candy:
Absolutely.

Dr. Hallowell:
It’s all about loving connections.

Candy:
Absolutely. I completely agree.

Dr. Hallowell:
Well, you have a lot of love in your heart, Candy, and a lot of brains in your head, I’ll tell you that as well. You’re remarkable. You’re remarkable. Mother of two boys are lucky to have you.

Candy:
Thank you very much.

Dr. Hallowell:
Is there any last remarks you’d like to make to our listeners?

Candy:
I just want to thank you for just speaking on everything that you’ve been speaking on and just keep doing it. I mean, I wrote you. I’m sure you’ve got a lot of other emails from a lot of people. It’s that connection, like you said, and it’s that finding out that we really are more alike than we are different. I think you do such a great job in all of your episodes of finding that connection and reminding us of that. So again, I am so honored and humbled that you asked me to do this. Thank you so much for allowing me to speak with you today. This was fantastic. Thank you.

Dr. Hallowell:
Well, I am honored and humbled that you joined us, that you agreed and I just can’t thank you enough. Thank you so, so, so, so much. Those of you please reach out to us with your thoughts just as Candy did, and we absolutely will get back to you. We’ll take some of them and answer them on the air. We’ll be listening, doing another Q and A episode soon. So write or email or record a voice memo and send it to [email protected] That’s the word [email protected] Remember to check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We’re trying to build that community up on social media, and subscribe to the podcast wherever you listen so you’ll never miss an episode.

Dr. Hallowell:
Thank you so much again, Candy. Let me close by saying Distraction is created by Sounds Great Media. Our producer is the wonderful Sarah Guertin and our recording engineer and editor is the also wonderful, Scott Persson, that’s Persson with two S’s. I’m Dr. Ned Hallowell saying goodbye and thank you once again to Candy. 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. OmegaBrite CBD, safe, third-party tested, and it works. Shop online at omegabritewellness.com.

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