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Black like Me with ADHD: Voices from the Intersection COVID-19 Red Alert -Toward Cultural Curiosity and Engagement

This essay will be perfectly imperfect as I am a Black woman who is living with and managing the diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.  ADHD is a mental health condition exhibited by difficulty maintaining attention and can severely impact and impair the use of executive functions and hinder task completion. Our executive functions help us to navigate self-awareness, self-motivation, emotional regulation, planning and problem solving and much more. Many “ADHDers” struggle to filter out excess stimuli, which in turn exacerbates stress levels, and anxiety. This can scramble our executive functions and derail our ability to meet deadlines, muster intrinsic motivation, or carry out the very normal functions of daily living.  In addition, it is well-known that many “ADHDers” suffer in great numbers from unemployment and underemployment due to the above, leaving them vulnerable to overall economic insecurity. So, what exactly does this look like for people of color and more specifically Black “ADHDers”? The marginalization of Blacks in America has sustained economic insecurity within the Black community and continues to add to risk factors for further mental and emotional decompensation.  Fast forward, enter a global plague, upload a recession, steep the above in prolonged racial trauma, stir in emotional meltdowns and let systemic racism do the rest. Navigating an ADHD diagnosis during these uncertain times can be taxing. It also requires use of all executive functions and adaptability, as each day hasn’t looked the same since COVID-19 has occupied our lives. As “ADHDers” Our symptoms may be the same, but culturally our struggles with the diagnosis vastly differ; and even more so in these dystopian times.

I writing this live from the hotbed of Brooklyn New York where COVD-19 has done its worst. In New York City, an overwhelming majority of nurses, subway staff, sanitation workers, drivers, and grocery cashiers, are people of color; some of whom are forced to continue working and exposing themselves to others.  Few may have the option to practice social distancing leaving their families and communities further at risk. Disproportionate amounts Blacks in America (Some of whom are diagnosed with ADHD), live in unfavorable conditions and have little to no room for daily exercise or quiet time to manage stress. Some find themselves unemployed and homeschooling and still responsible for feeding their children without adequate access to resources to do so. Many are also now in distress as they may reside with partners who are essential workers or have become sole providers, and expectations and relationship dynamics have changed. To counter the above, there are also some very affluent and well insulated Black “ADHDers” however they may still be more exposed COVID-19 fallout or loss through links to extended family, social circles and professional communities of color. 

There is a saying in the African-American community, and it goes “when White folks catch a cold Black folks get pneumonia.” This quote aims to say that a recession in the economy that heavily affects white Americans, is more than deadly for Blacks in America who have been strategically pushed and relegated into commonly high-risk low reward positions many of which are deemed essential. An overwhelming amount of data confirms that country wide, COVID-19 has ravaged many Black communities which lack access to quality healthcare, education and nutritious food. COVID-19 itself does not discriminate but it is very clear that America does. This leads to higher health and mental health comorbidities. Limited access to and stolen legacies of generational wealth have left Black people exposed. Some may find it surprising to understand that social distancing and testing is a luxury based on region, housing structure, and socioeconomic status. Simply put, having resources and the practice of racial equity plays a role in survival; to the point that COVID-19 testing in recent reports have been inaccessible, nonexistent and even flat out denied in many Black neighborhoods. Although efforts are being made to close the gap, the level of care or lack thereof is incomprehensible.

Again surviving this pandemic requires resources, planning, foresight and hindsight; executive functions which are instantly hijacked during crisis for us “ADHDers”. There have been many self-help articles focused on helping us to keep our cool during a pandemic/economic free fall. Many of these articles suggest mindfulness, engaging in hobbies, and exercise to stay sane during this time. The above activities and interventions are wonderful, but only speak to a limited demographic. The majority of hacks and coping suggestions may be even more impractical many Black “ADHDers” navigating with depleted energy reserves, and tight /steadily declining resources all while being mindful of higher mortality rates. Let’s not forget that some “ADHDers” may currently be battling COVID-19 itself. Much of the hot ADHD pandemic hacks/ tips given on social media seem to resonate more so with those who are COVID free, have secure external supports, and have the ability to work remotely/shelter in place. All of the above are privileges. 

 I would like to challenge the ADHD community to use a critical macro to micro lens in thinking about treatment/coaching interventions and equity at a time of unprecedented loss for us all. We are now at the tipping point more so than ever before where Coaches and Clinicians must redefine and expand our counseling /coaching modalities to further address the needs of our diverse ADHD community. For some, coping during this pandemic may look like personal self-care, task management, meditation, long walks, and keeping daily routines.  However, for essential workers and many Blacks/POC in America with ADHD, help may look like identifying and strengthening support systems. It can also look like and linkages to food banks, adequate healthcare, resources for financial relief, affordable coaching/ trauma informed counseling, or do it yourself hacks on how to make your own personal protection equipment. 

Unity and community are vital in seeing us through these tumultuous times.  As “ADHDers” we are all challenged by the rapid unfolding of this pandemic and levels of trauma and complex stress will vary for us all.  We can however continue to take stock with a more humanistic approach through curiosity and active engagement. Let us take the time to create space for and acknowledge those voices with different lived experiences that have been traditionally reduced to sound bites.  Your challenge should you accept it, is to practice cultural sensitivity with clients, peers, and other fellow “ADHDers” by respectfully inquiring about the following if it is welcomed:

How has this pandemic affected you directly?

What would you consider to be your most immediate needs during this time?

What do you value? 

What can I do within my power and within reason to support you right now?

How can we work together effectively knowing our differences and similarities?

Romanza McAllister, LCSW is a Brooklyn New York based psychotherapist & ADHD Coach, Race Equity Advocate, and serves as a Board Member with the Attention Deficit Disorder Association.

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