Your Story is a series by WonderfulWoman where you will read inspiring Guest Posts from women around the world. Here they share their experiences, stories and things that matter most to all women.
Today’s Guest Post is by Tammy Bronfen. Tammy Bronfen is the writer and the owner of One Day, a blog about one day in the life of different women around the world. In addition to writing about women, she also writes on a variety of types that include finding balance in our daily lives, combining routine with awesome, parenting, and more.
The struggles of being a mom with ADHD and anxiety
Since I was a child, I remember feeling on edge and anxious. As if at any moment, the volcano inside of me would bubble out of me and erupt. But I was also super-sensitive to my surroundings and I quickly learned that anger and precociousness did not go over well for a girl growing up in South Africa.
I did my best to push it down and became a top student but I often remember feeling like I was just playing the role and eventually, everything that I pushed down would come out. At the age of 12, my parents got divorced and at 14 we moved with my mother to a different city in South Africa. I remember being withdrawn and introverted during those years, and again, feeling like it wasn’t really me but rather the circumstances. At 17, we moved to Israel and here, I finally started to feel like myself again. My last two years of high school in Israel were wonderful and I managed to balance having fun with doing well at school. After that, I went into the army and learned even more about myself (in Israel, military service is compulsory for everyone).
When I got out, I traveled for a few months and decided to start studying. I had always dreamed of studying architecture but I failed the acceptance tests and decided immediately to give up on the idea. It was the first time in my life that I had really experienced failure and convinced myself that it wasn’t what I wanted instead of trying again.
From there, I started to make decisions quickly and impulsively. Lucky for me, my logical and rational tendencies helped so I didn’t make any decisions I regretted, but I definitely feel that today, looking back, I took the wrong career path because of an inability to deal with failure. But I remember always feeling like I had swallowed a volcano that was about to explode, and this feeling just intensified as I got older.
I decided to do a first degree in International Relations. There, I failed algebra during my first year. Mathematics had always come easily to me but this time, I sat in class and had no idea what the lecturer was talking about. I think that the stress of adulthood and putting myself through university had caught up with me and suddenly I found it much harder to process things. It was a huge blow to my self-confidence and also the first time I thought I may have concentration issues. But again, I pushed it down. I also suffered from anxieties at the time so I decided to get help and went to a psychologist. That’s when I really began to understand that I a) had attention issues and b) suffered from anxiety. I went to therapy for years and it really helped, but still, I ignored the attention issue until motherhood.
After I completed university, I worked at jobs that required a high level of concentration and while I succeeded, working at a 9-5 job felt like torture to me. I’d come home exhausted every night and soon felt like I was in the wrong line of work.
The wake-up call came in the form of children
I got married and had my first child at 29. I loved being a mom from the very first moment, but also remember waking up every morning while on maternity leave and wondering how I’d make it through the day. I also found it increasingly hard to keep track of all the logistics that come with being a parent and found myself obsessing over them all the time.
In addition, I also found it almost impossible to sit with her for more than a few minutes, to read her a book or play games with her. I also noticed that following recipes, handing laundry and doing other tasks at home became increasingly difficult.
Only then did I start to realize that I may have atypical ADHD – the kind that goes diagnosed because you don’t fit the typical definition. But still, I didn’t do anything about it.
Three-and-a-half-years later I had my second child. The birth was rough and traumatic and it increased my anxiety levels even more. I started to read about ADHD in adult women and specifically mothers and something clicked. I felt like it was all written about me. I also felt that my denying it came at the expense of my children.
This was my main motivation for going to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with ADHD at the age of 32. It’s interesting because I recently discovered that women often go undiagnosed until they become mothers (if at all). The main reason for this is that ADHD is normally associated with young boys. As women, we are conditioned to be people pleasers. This means that we learn to hide the symptoms and as a result, we are not diagnosed. When we become mothers, with all the related emotions and stress, the symptoms become increasingly harder to hide. I didn’t know this and I think it’s important to raise awareness on the subject.
But it actually turns out that if you have a child with ADHD, there is a high chance that you or your partner has it too. And it’s not always the father. Research shows that there is an equal chance that either the mother or father has ADHD.
The problem is that ADHD is often overlooked in women and this can create other problems. Also, many women who do have ADHD also suffer from depression, anxiety or some other condition.
When motherhood meets ADHD
For me personally, being a mom with ADHD is a daily struggle. I now have three children and find it increasingly hard to stay on top of everything. After I was diagnosed, I needed to decide whether to take medication and after lots of deliberation, I decided to try a low dosage. For me personally, it was a life saver. I’m still on it and it helps a lot. However, the effect of the medication doesn’t always last for the “second shift” at home. We may live in a more enlightened society, but in reality, most of us as women are still the main caregivers. After a day at work (even if it is from home in my case), we are expected to still be on our game and take care of our kids and all the surrounding logistics. For someone with ADHD, this can be torture.
According to Patricia Quinn, M.D., “ ADHD must be addressed as a family issue rather than a child issue when the mother also has ADHD.” She explains that often mothers do everything they can to help children with ADHD, but they don’t take care of their own ADHD need and get the support they need. This often affects the whole family unit and for that reason, should be treated as such.
Getting over the supermom myth
I think that a huge part of the problem is also that we live in a world governed by the “supermom” myth. We’re expected to do everything – have a career, develop ourselves and look after I children. And it all needs to be done perfectly. When we don’t do one of the things perfectly, we feel like we’re failing.
So for me, the first step was accepting that I have ADHD. As women, we’re used to tending to the needs of others and ignoring our own. In order to be the perfect caregiver, you need to be perfect which means it’s hard to accept our own imperfections (and ADHD is only one of them).
I’ve figured out ways that help me overcome the challenges but there are still periods where I feel like I’m losing control and need to remind myself yet again. I’ve also learned to ask for and accept help, which is another major step in the journey.
I’ve learned to accept the fact that sometimes I feel in control and sometimes, something shifts and things get crazy again before I can regain my focus once again. As soon as I look at it in a cyclical manner, it makes it easier for me to accept things for what they are.
Life is messy and so is motherhood and so in love – with or without ADHD. We can only commit to do our best and leave behind the fantasy of being a perfect mother to perfect kids. I’ve learned that all of the beauty appears when we accept the messiness and allow ourselves to be who we really are.
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