7 things about ADHD I wish I had always known (ADHD Awareness Month post #6)

This is the sixth and final post in my series on ADHD Awareness Month. But rest assured, although the series is wrapping up, I’ll still be publishing writings on ADHD-related issues; just not necessarily so many per month. — DRD


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Having lived with ADHD for as long as I can remember — and even longer — I’ve learned a few valuable lessons about my disability the hard way; I’ve done my share of learning by doing. I can’t help but feel that my life would have been a lot easier if I had known said lessons from day one. I hope that someone out there reads this and they — or their child — can benefit from my experience. Read on!

1. People will tell you to go easy on yourself, but still, expect you to be ‘on.’

I’ve found that even if you tell your manager, for example, that you have ADHD, and he claims to understand that this makes you function differently, his understanding nevertheless flies out the window when you have a deadline to make but quite clearly aren’t going to be able to. 

2. ADHD has nothing to do with your personality or morality.

I spent a horrifying number of years of my life feeling guilty — often, despite not having done anything wrong. And even when I did err, I was convinced that whatever act of misbehaving I had committed was evidence that my character left something wanting. Moreover, I was sure that with the right resolve, I could ameliorate this situation and become a better (read: less ADHD) person. I don’t think I’ll ever stop regretting this now that I’ve realized how wrong I was back then. I’ll never get back the time I wasted feeling guilty for nonexistent or out-of-my-control incidences of ADHD-ness. Don’t make my mistake.

3. You shouldn’t necessarily believe teachers who say, “Oh, I’m so ADD too!”

I was diagnosed relatively young, back in pre-k; meaning that I knew I had ADHD — and all of my teachers knew it too — for all 12 years of my lower education. And I swear, every single year a new teacher would tell me upon learning of my ADHD diagnosis, “OH, that’s totally fine, I’m really ADD too.” Unfortunately, that usually turned out to mean, “I don’t understand ADHD at all, but I think I’ll bond with you by saying I have it and referring to it in the pejorative.” Over the years, I heard many teachers say a lot of stupid, cruel things without seeming even to give it a second thought, but that is not ADHD. There’s a difference between wanting to think before you act and not being able to, and just deciding that you’re so wise, you never need to think twice. In the end, only one of my teachers ever turned out to have ADHD, my AP World History teacher during my senior year of college. How did I know he had it, and that he was the only one of my teachers who did? One day I was sitting in his classroom at the end of lunch when he walked in, looked around his desk, and announced that he just realized he had lost a pair of Bruce Springsteen tickets. I’m totally serious. But you know what? He was also one of the best teachers I ever had. 

4. Medications may “last” 12 hours, but that doesn’t mean you will.

Here’s a fun (by which I mean, not fun at all) fact: Even if the prescribing information for an ADHD medication says it lasts up to 12 hours, that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to use all 12 of those hours effectively. You see, even when medicated, people with ADHD have to expend more energy to complete tasks that seem to take our neurotypical counterparts no time at all. Do that for a full workday, and the remaining man-made focus you have left in your nervous system via medication is reduced to the equivalent of potential energy,  never getting used. (This is a lesson I’ve started learning literally in the last few weeks.)

5. Stimulant medication isn’t the be-all, end-all. 

From ages 5 through 22, I was on some form of the stimulant medication methylphenidate (aka Ritalin). For over 5 years now, I’ve been taking both an immediate-release dosage and extended-release dosage of dexmethylphenidate (aka Focalin). I first went on Focalin because when I was a senior in college, I discovered, to my horror, that my medication did not seem to be working anymore. Like, at all. That’s when I went on Focalin. But just two years later, I again ceased to feel medicated enough on a day-to-day basis. It was then that my PCP put me on bupropion (aka Forfivo), which belongs to a class of antidepressants known as Norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors. Later, I also started taking guanfacine (aka Intuniv), a non-stimulant ADHD medication initially formulated to treat hypertension. As it turned out, for me, at least, these Forfivo and Intuniv were the magic bullets of ADHD treatment regimens. 

6. Coffee is your friend.

During my ‘bad concentration’ time of the month, and especially toward the end of it, my verbal acuity temporarily goes out the window. Somehow, this always seemed to happen *right* when I had a big paper due imminently (like, in two days, or even sooner). One day, in desperation, I did some Hail-Mary googling, seeking confirmation that yes, in fact, coffee does help ADHD people concentrate. According to a post published recently on ADDitude, it “arouses the central nervous system by stimulating the release of dopamine and other neurotransmitters, and by blocking the absorption of adenosine, which induces sleep.” I’ve found that a Starbucks frappuccino with a shot of espresso enables me to write even when my medications are at their least potent. Pardon the pun, but I really do think you should give it a ‘shot!’

7. ADHD is nothing to be ashamed of. People should be ashamed to think it is.

…Self-explanatory!

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5 reasons to diagnose an ADHD girl when she’s young (ADHD Awareness Month post #6)

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I was diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, better known as ADHD when I was 5. For 1994 — and even 2017 — this was unusual: Girls typically are diagnosed later in life than boys; tending to exhibit symptoms of inattentiveness, rather than hyperactivity, they fly under the radar of parents, teachers, and other adults in their lives. I, however, was one of those rare littlest females whose symptoms included inattentiveness and hyperactivity. Although this meant my ADHD was severe enough to send up a red flag, it also signified I would get the help I needed at a much younger age than many little girls do even today. And I can tell you from personal experience that the younger a child with severe ADHD is diagnosed, the better. But that’s not all. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “About 2 million of the more than 6 million children with ADHD were diagnosed as young children aged 2–5 years,” however, “Children with more severe ADHD are more likely to be diagnosed early.” But I believe that girls with even milder forms of ADHD should be diagnosed earlier as well. Here’s why:

1. It may take a while to identify the right treatment regimen for her.

This is a passage from the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities website:

For children 6 years of age and older, the American Academy of Pediatrics … recommends both behavior therapy and medication as good options, preferably both together. For young children (under 6 years of age) with ADHD, behavior therapy is recommended as the first line of treatment, before medication is tried. Good treatment plans will include close monitoring of whether and how much the treatment helps the child’s behavior, and making changes as needed along the way.

As you can see, there is a lot of wiggle room — whether or not you want it — in the creation of treatment regimens for little ones with ADHD. And it is much better to start this process early in a girl’s education. Ideally, in fact, it would be finalized (for the time being) even before first grade, so that, come the first day of school, she’ll be able to start her academic career on a level playing field. 

2. She needs time to figure out her limitations and how to work around them. 

Just because a girl finds a medication that works for her or has success in therapy doesn’t mean she’s limitation-free. As I’ve said in the past, ADHD medications aren’t 100 percent effective, and CNS stimulant medications last 12 hours at most. Even with modern medicine, the onus is on the ADHD girl to know what she’s capable of — or isn’t, as the case may be — and engage with life accordingly.

3. The earlier she is diagnosed, the earlier she qualifies for accommodations

This can include accommodations via an Individual Education Program (IEP), as well as informal academic accommodations requested by parents or even arranged with a teacher at the request of the girl herself (see below). For all their shortcomings vis-à-vis their response to my ADHD, most of my K-12 teachers were reasonable enough to agree to informal accommodations if I made an effort to propose them, and the few who didn’t, well, they eventually consented once my mom intervened (thanks, Mom)! But my experience was the exception, not the rule. The fact is, people are a lot more likely to be decent human beings and accommodate kids with ADHD if there’s a legal impetus for them to do so. 

4. She should have plenty of time to learn to self-advocate.

According to the CDC, an article published in the Journal of Attention Disorders found that “girls who had a number of symptoms when they were young were as likely as boys to continue to have those symptoms after they became teenagers.” Thus, ADHD can be a chronic (long-lasting) issue for all children, regardless of gender. This means an ADHD girl needs to know just what’s wrong with her (her neurology, not her character) so she can develop coping mechanisms and learn to adapt her life to her brain, such as by arranging informal accommodations with a teacher (see above).

5. She deserves, right from the start, to know she is not a bad person.

As I said, a problem with your neurology doesn’t indicate a problem with your character. In fact, if you find out that you have a mental disorder, in this case, ADHD, you’re also finding out that you haven’t actually been to blame for all the “bad” things you do or ways you behave. But this revelation only comes with the proper diagnosis. The reason this is particularly pivotal for girls, even more so than boys, is that in this world of misogyny and sexism, people whose gender is coded ‘female’ have enough to grapple with just by said gender. There is no need to compound those challenges with untreated neurological impairments; in fact, that must be avoided at all costs. 

Why I’m thankful that I have ADHD as a millennial (ADHD Awareness Month post #5)

For an ADHD blogger, you may have noticed my feelings about ADHD aren’t exactly of the warm-and-fuzzy variety. It’s true: I’m far from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder’s biggest fan. It’s not that I believe this kink of the human nervous system is anything to be ashamed of; in fact, I’ve spent a great deal of my life attempting to convince people it’s not. It has just had too deleterious an effect on my life for me to join the ADHD-is-an-evolutionary-adaptation camp. If I had to be born with ADHD, though, I’m glad my birth year of 1989 classifies me as a member of Generation Y, aka the millennials. 

Technology 

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(Photo credit: Adobe Stock)

I honestly don’t know what I’d do without the internet and my various electronic devices. And I’m willing to hazard a guess that I’m far from the only ADHDer who feels this way. I first knew modern technology would be my ADHD-related salvation in middle school when my math teacher started posting homework assignments online — not just textbook page numbers but scanned copies of our worksheets we could print out if we didn’t make it home with the sheets distributed in class. There was something so liberating about being thwarted by my ADHD, as I inevitably was from time to time, but then being able to reverse the damage right from home, with no one else but my mom the wiser. Of course, not even 2002 Drew could have conceived how integrated the internet would end up being in my education, from googling for research on weekends in high school to emailing professors term papers late at night in college.

As I got older and technology more advanced, I found additional workarounds for my pesky ADHD problem in the form of various hi-tech devices. When I was 22, for example, I bought tickets to a concert in my hometown, but when the day of the show arrived, I realized I had left the printable tickets in my college apartment, a two-hour drive away. Suddenly, I remembered having received a confirmation email I could pull up on my iPhone, which I did, and was granted admission to the concert as a result.

Over the years, the combination of my iPhone and my MacBook Pro has been my saving grace; in a future post, I’ll explain exactly how. But trust me, we ADHD millennials have benefited immeasurably from the ‘i’ revolution.

Treatment

My gratitude for being born with my particular disability in my specific generation is also due in part to the fact that there are a variety of pharmacological treatment options available today. By my count, based on the most recent information on WebMD (last updated in April 2016), there are five short-acting CNS stimulant medications, 14 intermediate and long-acting stimulants, six nonstimulants, and seven antidepressants used in the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. That’s 32 in all. Now, granted, many of these medications are chemically the same drug, just prepared in different strengths and dosages. And I’ll be the first one to tell you it is essential for Big Pharma to prioritize developing entirely new medications for those whose ADHD is unresponsive to any drugs currently available.

Pills Pills Pills

Nevertheless, this is a leaps-and-bounds improvement over the breadth of options (or rather, the lack thereof) on the market not very long ago. Between 1936, when the first ADHD medication, Benzedrine, was approved, and 1982, only six medications were developed and released on the market. And after that, there were no new ADHD drugs for another 14 years, when Adderall first hit the market in 1996. In other words, for almost half a century, a new ADHD medication only became available once every seven years or so. Subsequently, Concerta, an extended-release preparation of methylphenidate I took from ages 13 to 22, was released in 2000; Focalin, the stimulant I’m on now, hit the market in 2001; and the FDA didn’t approve the non-stimulant medication I take, Intuniv, until the year 2009. Imagine if I had been born just a decade earlier: I wouldn’t have had Concerta to get me through all of high school and college, Focalin to get me through my ’20s, or Intuniv to get me through grad school. And I definitely wouldn’t be able to write this post now!

Tolerance

But perhaps the no. 1 reason I’m glad I was born when I was is that in the 1990s, ADHD awareness spread like wildfire. It was unprecedented. There were conferences and self-help guides, not to mention the first issue of ADDitude! And things are only getting better. Gone are the days when jokes about parents putting their kids “on Ritalin when they just…won’t…behave!” were fodder for popular primetime comedies (*cough*”FRIENDS”*cough*). With every passing year, ADHD is shedding the stigma that surrounded it in the past and getting closer and closer to its rightful place in the public consciousness as just another fact of life. And if this is a trend, you know what the very best part about being a millennial with ADHD is? It means the next generation may live in a world that would never conceive of ADHD any other way.

What is it with ADHD people and time, anyway? (ADHD Awareness Month post #4)

You know that song “Time is on my side”? I’d bet you a million bucks whoever wrote it didn’t have ADHD. After all, people with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder are often — OK, fine, usually — late. Recently, however, I’ve learned that there’s a neurological explanation for why I’ve had to send so many messages to my friends over the years containing some version of this text:15 mins lateApparently, we function on a different timetable. In other words, ADHD people experience time differently

In an article in ADDitude, ADHD specialist Ari Tuckman notes, “Because everyone — not just those with ADHD — feels the present more strongly, it’s difficult to do challenging things now that won’t have an immediate positive impact,” but even so, for people with ADHD, “It’s difficult … to plan for the future because they don’t see the future as clearly as their peers.”

Still, I don’t believe we ADHDers are entirely at fault here.

To feminist philosopher Alison Kafer, the concept of ‘being on time’ isn’t innate; instead, it’s something society has created. What if we ceased to place such a high value on punctuality, she muses — what if we stopped penalizing people for being late, and viewed such punishment as ableist?

Naturally, as someone with chronic ADHD, this intrigued me a lot. But my boyfriend, who is neurotypical, just could not wrap his mind around the idea that our social mores exist outside us, meaning that they could be changed to be more inclusive of people with disabilities (PWD). Now, he is a scientist; abstract thinking has never exactly been my boyfriend’s forte. And yet, in this case, I think it’s just impossible for neurotypical people, much as they may love us, to understand how far removed their world is from ours — or, for that matter, that their world isn’t the only world.

Punctuality can be a struggle for all PWD: a need for “extra time,” according to Kafer,

might result from a slower gait, a dependency on attendants (who might themselves be running late), malfunctioning equipment (from wheelchairs to hearing aids), a bus driver who refuses to stop for a disabled passenger, or an ableist encounter with a stranger that throws one off schedule.

ADHD people practically invented the concept of needing extra time. If you have ADHD, from the day of your diagnosis, you know that you and time will always be at odds. Think about it: The longest-acting CNS stimulant medication lasts 12 hours; but many people, from attorneys to high-school students, work far more hours a day than that — often well into the night. And even so-called regular people, who only work in a professional sense eight hours a day, are born with the ability to concentrate and be at least slightly productive the moment they get out of bed in the morning and only resting their brains after they get back in at night.

That’s not how it is for us ADHD people, though. The simple fact is that it’s impossible to have an average life if you have less than the average amount of time. And not having enough time, well, that’s ADHD 101.

When I was younger, I used to apologize anytime I was even the slightest bit tardy to an appointment or late on an assignment. Now, I’m trying something new. As I near my 28th birthday, I remind myself that life is short; the time in which we actively live, even more so; and for people like me, with only 12 hours of each day at our disposal, time is the most fleeting — and the most precious — thing of all.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I would feel guilty at my lateness, but I just can’t seem to find the time. 

Why reproductive justice is routinely jeopardized

As a feminist activist, back in grad school and today, my pet cause has been reproductive justice — not reproductive rights, but reproductive justice, “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.” I’m quoting here from the website of the Sistersong Collective; they first coined the term to incorporate the lived experience of WOC

Now, I don’t mean in any way to co-opt this term or downplay the singular struggle of WOC and other marginalized women — especially given that many who share my identity of WWD are always in danger of having their reproductive rights violatedBut as we get further into the new millennium, there has been a unilateral erosion of reproductive rights for all women in the United States. And yes, that includes the college-educated, married, Caucasian ones. 

Contraception

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Our access to oral contraception and other methods of birth control is perpetually under threat, despite the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. (Photo source: Adobe Stock)

Recently, word came down from our Beelzebub-in-Chief that as of Oct. 6, an interim rule was now in effect that, in the words of Aaron E. Carroll of the Times, “weakens the mandate for health coverage of contraception under the Affordable Care Act, giving more leeway to employers with religious or moral objections.” 

Terrific. Moving on.

Sex education 

The following is a passage from an article that ran last week in the Washington Post

 Abstinence-only education — which attempts to teach young people not to have sex outside marriage and often does not include material on birth control and safe sex — began receiving federal funding in the 1980s. Funding increased when George W. Bush was president. His successor, President Barack Obama, attempted to end the program and direct money to comprehensive sexual education, but the Republican-led Congress kept it alive. Now abstinence education gets about $90 million in federal funds annually, and this past summer, President Donald Trump cut more than $200 million in federal grants to scores of organizations that work to decrease teen pregnancy rates, which could affect sex education programs in some areas.

I did a massive research project on sex education during my freshman year of college. And I can tell you that AOSE, as opposed to comprehensive sexuality education, is, unequivocally, the worst thing you can do for your child if you want them to be in good health and stay that way throughout their reproductive lives. Keep this in mind.

Abortion

And that’s not all: Earlier this month, Congress passed a bill outlawing abortion taking place 20 weeks or more post-conception: It “would punish abortion providers with up to five years in prison for terminating a pregnancy after 20 weeks’ gestation.”

What motivates this? An interest in human rights for unborn children? Science tells us that’s not so: To quote a Mother Jones article from 2016, “The majority of the scientific literature on the subject finds that the brain connections required to feel pain are not formed until at least 24 weeks,” i.e., a full month later.

Now, you will recall that Roe v. Wade (1973) solidified legal protection of the right to have an abortion up to 12 weeks into a chronological pregnancy; by that measure, we’re no worse off than we were before. What I find troubling about this is that some of our lawmakers have now gone on the record vis-à-vis their feelings about expanding women’s rights related to reproduction — and they aren’t feelings of support.

It seems to me that this is part of a more significant, more insidious effort to create a culture that responds punitively to the exercising of one’s reproductive rights, which arises from an ultimate desire to revoke such rights — and with it, our reproductive justice — altogether.

A real-life ‘Handmaid’s Tale’

This past spring, my mom and I became obsessed with the adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale that aired on the streaming service Hulu. Every Wednesday afternoon (she and I both work from home), we’d sit in the family room and watch the newest installment of this jewel of small-screen speculative fiction, pressing ‘pause’ about five times over the course of an episode to discuss the feminist implications of a particular moment or commiserate over how hauntingly close to home the show was hitting.

After watching the first few episodes (the initial ones were released simultaneously), my mom, who read the book years ago, asked me, a newcomer to the story, what I thought.

I told her that I liked it, but, of course, it wasn’t very realistic. In real life, I reminded her, we don’t have to worry about a backward revolution overthrowing the U.S. government, tearing up the constitution, and effectively reducing women to their reproductive function, allowing them neither jobs nor even hobbies requiring any appreciable amount of intellectual engagement.

However, my mom explained how in danger we, in reality, are in the current U.S. political climate of losing our liberty. And last week, she started saying out loud what I think many of us have subconsciously feared for a long time: that these moves to erode our reproductive rights exist to force women out of the market, i.e., the labor market. No pun intended.

By treating each attack on American reproductive rights as regrettable but existing in a vacuum, we inure ourselves to the concept of undermined reproductive justice as a normal fact of life under the fascist regime that is the Trump administration. If we’re not careful, we’re going to end up just like Atwood’s eponymous handmaids: isolated, powerless, and nothing more than glorified incubators

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Legislation by the U.S. government in 2017 is eroding our reproductive rights and creating a real-life ‘Handmaid’s Tale.’ (Source: Hulu via Uproxx)

7 reasons people with ADHD should work from home (ADHD Awareness Month post #3)

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People with ADHD who work from home get to sit wherever and in whatever position is most conducive to their productivity. (Photo source: Adobe Stock)

When I think about the best choices I have ever made in my life, two come to mind. First and foremost was my decision, three years ago, to quit my steady job at a newspaper and apply to the graduate program in WGSS at Oregon State University. But a close second was deciding not to go back to work after I graduated. 

Don’t get me wrong — I still work; just not in an office, and not for someone else: I’ve chosen instead to work as a freelance writer and editor to support myself as a feminist blogger. This is self-employment. And you know what? It is fan-freaking-tastic. Why? Well…

1. You make your schedule. 

One of my greatest downfalls as a ‘traditional’ employee was my schedule. If you have ADHD, you know what I’m talking about: ascertaining when your medications would be in effect and having to plan — or at least trying to plan — your working time around that. Unfortunately, my pill breaks very rarely coincided with my lunch breaks, because I would always unintentionally wake up very early in the morning — We’re talking 5:30, daily — and my morning medications only lasted four hours, maximum. But when you work at home and are self-employed, you don’t have to contend with human resources forbidding you from starting your workday before 9 a.m.; this is especially useful if, like me, you concentrate best in the morning. Also, this builds flexibility into your schedule for the doctor appointments and monthly (and, inevitably, often more than monthly) visits to the pharmacy that come with the territory of having ADHD and taking medication for it. 

2. You choose your position — your sitting position, that is.

Less noticeable to others, but still highly impactful to me, was the unspoken expectation that I would, you know, sit in a chair. When I was working at the newspaper offices, I often interviewed sources over the phone, and apparently, I — entirely unconsciously — used to lean back and twirl around in my swivel chair while doing so. It drove my boss CRAZY. What he didn’t realize, though, is that people with ADHD have the symptomatic tendency to sit in odd positions; that’s how we help ourselves concentrate. (I’m not entirely convinced that it would have made a difference to him had he known, though, to be honest.) At home, I can work sitting on a couch or lying face-forward on my bed under my weighted blanket, and no one can say boo.

3. You have fewer stimuli to filter out.

Newsrooms are obviously an extreme example of this, but traditional, brick-and-mortar offices are hotbeds of cacophony. That’s just the way it is. Ringing phones; copy machines; water cooler talk — you get the idea. Suffice it to say that such an environment is anathema to the ADHD brain. When working from home, by contrast, the only sounds you have to grapple with are the ones you make (see below), which is essential, because “Problems with external distractibility (noises and movement in the surrounding environment) … can be the biggest challenge for adults with ADHD.”

4. You have more freedom to listen to music/use alarms.

A weird thing about ADHD is that dealing with multiple stimuli of external sources, filtering them out and concentrating on your work, is virtually impossible; however, you can enhance your productivity through the use of one, single stimulus: music, of your choosing. I know from personal experience that listening to classical music can have a tangible positive impact on focus; I prefer baroque musicians, including Bach and Albinoni:


On a related note, while phone notifications and computer alert tones are distracting for EVERYBODY, for an ADHD people, such distractions are actually welcome when we have pre-set them to remind us of appointments and upcoming responsibilities. (Additional pro tip: I set my computer preferences to have my MacBook announce the time every half-hour. Try it! You’ll be amazed at your newfound punctuality and time-management.)

5. You aren’t required to sit through seemingly endless meetings.

Raise your hand if you have ADHD and have ever honestly thought you might die while being forced to sit through a long meeting. … Ha! I knew I wasn’t the only one. As I mentioned above, people with ADHD have a propensity to sit in odd positions and to move around if they are required to have sustained attention and direct it to one specific, often profoundly dull thing. Working at home, however, circumvents the requirement to remain stationary of that trope of brick-and-mortar skilled employment, the sit-down meeting. And it’s a good thing, too, because “Adults with the hyperactive presentation of ADHD often do better in jobs that allow a great deal of movement.”

6. You don’t have to contend with rush-hour traffic on your way to and from work.

This reason is pretty self-explanatory. Goodness knows we were driving distracted before ‘distracted driving’ was a thing. Luckily for us, no workplace outside the home means no driving to work, which means no risk of getting in a collision while driving to work — or exhausting all of our remaining focus trying to avoid it. 

7. You get more time with your pets.

This reason is relatively straightforward, as well. Not all of us have officially designated service animals, but pets regardless provide a genuinely crucial service. First of all, people with ADHD, including and perhaps especially young women, often have comorbid depression (I know I do), on which dogs have a proven ameliorating effect. And the petting of furry animals, such as cats and rabbits, has been shown to slow one’s heart rate and reduce anxiety. Free of the distractions of feeling depressed and anxious, it is much easier to get your work done! Don’t already have a pet? Adopt one from your local animal shelter. Easy!

woman working on tablet / laptop at home. Dog helps her

ADHD people who work from home get more time with their pets, reducing depression and anxiety and thereby improving concentration. (Photo source: Adobe Stock)

Pregnancy + stress = public health’s perfect storm

From January 2015 to December 2016, I was a student in the master’s degree program in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Oregon State University. My time in grad school was instrumentally influential to me. I minored in women’s studies back in college at U of O, but when I realized that my real aspiration was to become a feminist writer, I decided that I needed a much stronger foundation in feminism as an area of study. And that turned out to be true in ways I hadn’t even anticipated: I became aware that my prior feminist education, for all its merits, had failed to incorporate discussions of women of color. But that was about to change.

Lifelong stress → premature birth

One of my primary research interests while at OSU was women’s health. As it turned out, one of the professors, Mehra Shirazi, specialized in that, and I was fortunate to take not one, but two courses from her: Global Perspectives on Women’s Health, in winter of my first year, and Race, Gender, and Health Justice, a year later. Of all the lessons I learned in her classes, one, in the form of a newsreel, has always stuck with me.

Stress during pregnancy → ADHD

WOC aren’t the only ones for whom stress can result in adverse birth outcomes for their childrenIn my last post, I mentioned that women with ADHD who experience stress during pregnancy are more likely to have children with it. Well, I was wrong. The abstract of an article published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology in 2011 states that “maternal stressful events during pregnancy significantly predicted ADHD behaviors in offspring,” i.e., stressful events for any pregnant woman, not just one with ADHD

Furthermore, said Dr. Ian Colman, who led a similar study earlier this year, “Generally speaking… the higher the stress, the higher the symptoms.”

In other words, more children are susceptible to maternal-stress-induced ADHD. And their symptoms vary in severity depending on the level of maternal stress. 

In the announcement of their study on stress in pregnant women and ADHD, University of Ottawa researchers included an infographic of so-called stress management tips and tricks, including:

Portrait of sad and frustrated pregnant woman.

Women with ADHD who experience stress during pregnancy are more likely to have children born with ADHD. (Photo source: Adobe Stock)

  1. Identify what’s behind your stress and address it right away
  2. Talk to your loved ones to help them help you
  3. Simplify your life by shortening your to-do list and learning to say no
  4. Quiet your mind through yoga and mindfulness
  5. Find time to do something you enjoy, such as hobbies or physical activity.

That’s all well and good, but it predicates on the dual notions that (a) stress is situational, and relatedly, that (b) women have the power, i.e., time and agency, to quote-unquote simplify their lives, quiet their minds, and do things they enjoy. 

First of all, it would be ideal  — I’m not saying it would be great, but it would be the best-case scenario — if all stress were indeed situational. But in fact, it’s systemic; there are sociological reasons that women find themselves in stressful situations.

For example, I think we can all agree that in general, men are more amenable to “going the extra mile” for their wives when they are serving as human incubators for their progeny. But this is temporary. Gender roles are so entrenched in our consciousness, exist so much in our understanding of the fabric of society that they’re liable to supersede sudden inclinations toward chivalry. They may wash the dishes occasionally; even assume all responsibility for helping the kids they already have with their homework, etc. — at least after coming home from the office.

But will they assume sole responsibility for cleaning all toilets in the house for the next nine months — and do so without even being asked? Let me put it this way: My dad is a proud feminist, but according to my mom, not even he went that far when I was a bun in his wife’s oven.

The salient point here is that unless a husband* assumes all extant household responsibilities, a wife has no means of wholly and entirely de-stressing. Moreover, in the most extreme versions of our regular social paradigm, women don’t even have time to find out what they enjoy, let alone actually do it. 

Women of color

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Stress resulting from everyday racism in women of color over a lifetime can result in adverse health outcomes for their children at birth. (Photo source: American Psychological Association)

In addition to this paradigm shift between husbands and wives, in order to avoid the adverse birth outcomes of which their children are at risk, WOC would need to retroactively un-experience the systemic (there’s that word again) ‘everyday racism’ they have experienced all their lives. Erasing the sexism that they were forced to endure, well, that wouldn’t hurt matters, either. Unfortunately, none of this is possible. Technically, we can’t do anything for the WOC already of childbearing age, except confer upon them the utmost respect and provide them with any prenatal care that may reduce the likelihood of pre-term delivery.

I have a vision for future generations, though, of my friends’ children growing up without the media suppressing reportage of violence against WOC in favor of the police-violence-against-the-Black-man narrative. In this vision, violence against POC — regardless of gender — isn’t even a thing. 

All in all, I agree with Dr. Michael Lu:

If we’re serious about improving birth outcomes and reducing disparities, we’ve got to start taking care of woman before pregnancy and not just talking about that one visit three months pre-conceptionally; I’m talking about when she’s a baby inside her mother’s womb, an infant, and then a child, an adolescent and really taking care of women and families across their life course.

And I agree, as well, with my former classmate in WGSS and dear friend Amber Moody:

I think it’s brilliant to frame systemic racism/sexism as a public health issue. … [T]hese systems of discrimination still exist; and the effects, which really can be traced back to colonialism and white supremacy, have been genetically embedded into our lives. And until we actually address the source of the problem, these … issues are going to continue to be passed down for generations.


*I say ‘husband’ because I was raised in and hypothetically will enter into a heterosexual family dynamic consisting of a cismale husband and a cisfemale wife. There are, of course, numerous other familial configurations; albeit I doubt very much that the same degree of gender-role pigeonholing would be present in a female-female marriage.