Stress & Anxiety

On Carrying the Burden of ADHD Judgment — Especially My Own

“People who judge me, my therapist reminds me, should be cut off. They enforce that cycle everyone created for me as a child; they enforce that misery I endured, which gave me anxiety in the first place.”

Neurodivergent woman sitting on a dock

Adulting is hard. Adulting when you’re neurodivergent? Failure compounded by shame, compounded further by isolation.

So much of adulthood is about remembering. I’m expected to remember birthdays, playdates and appointments. I’m supposed to record all these things in a cute, little planner that comes with special stickers. This is a great idea, but I can’t find the damn planner.

This is life as a woman with ADHD. No wonder so many of us have an anxiety disorder. As a child, I was told I had no “common sense,” that I would “lose my head if it weren’t screwed on.” I was “spacey,” with my “head in the clouds.” I was a “daydreamer” who “couldn’t pay attention.”

How Being Neurodivergent Led to Anxiety

We know that abuse can cause generalized anxiety disorder. And what is this slow trickle of harassment, ridicule, shaming, and blaming, but a long-term, low-level kind of abuse directed at neurodivergent children? I say “low-level” because I don’t want to belittle the survivors of brutal child abuse. But I do want to acknowledge the toll that the drip-drop of shame takes on our psyches.

We internalize those self-concepts — they damage us for life. They are not intentional or meant as cruelty. But they are cruel, and their effects are devastating: About 50 percent of adults with ADHD have a comorbid anxiety disorder.

[Take This Self-Test: Could You Have Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria?]

Half of us. And that’s those of us who are diagnosed. The numbers are not broken down by gender, but I’d bet women have a higher instance of it than men. Women tend to be diagnosed later in life and absorb those messages longer. On top of that, we’re expected to be the organizers.

I have to remember which shoes fit which child, and which can be saved to fit a younger sibling. I have to remember to put up the holiday decorations. I have to remember when I last cleaned the oven, and when I may need to do it again. I have to remember the dates of birthday parties, diving meets, permission slips. These things jolt me awake at 3:37 in the morning. They set me shaking in traffic. They slam me in the Target checkout line.

How I Deal with My Anxiety: Medication and Counseling

I am medicated for anxiety. It made the worst of it stop, mostly. But then there’s the everyday grind of life.

When you’re neurodivergent, It’s impossible to adult perfectly. When I can’t adult effectively, the world judges me. The world judges me when my house gets so messy I can’t have guests: when the dishes pile in the sink, when the dog hair becomes noticeable, when the Amazon boxes accumulate, and I forget trash day again. The world judges me when the kids eat fast food for lunch because I forgot to run to the grocery store.

[Panic Buttons: Strategies for Stopping Anxiety and Its Triggers]

Accepting My Neurodivergent Mind

The judgment hurts. Usually the judgment doesn’t come from other people, however. The anxiety makes me judge myself. All those voices from my childhood return: I am lazy, spacey. I beat myself up for struggling to live in a world that isn’t designed for my brain.

I go to therapy to blunt the judgment. I try to remember it, to repeat it: You are not wrong for the world. The world is wrong for you. My neurodivergent mind should be accommodated, not shamed or blamed. People who judge me, my therapist reminds me, should be cut off. They enforce that cycle everyone created for me as a child; they enforce that misery I endured, which gave me anxiety in the first place.

Most of all, I need to learn to spot those anxious thoughts coming, hear them, and answer them. Today I can. I am not spacey or lazy or forgetful. I have ADHD. And my neurodivergent brain is perfect the way it is.

[Read This Next: Why Anxiety Disorder Is So Often Misdiagnosed]

Elizabeth Broadbent lives in the South with her three young sons and husband, all of whom have ADHD.