The Trauma Survivor’s Guide to ADHD:How Stigma Leads to Suffering

It’s often thrown around loosely as a joke of some sort. Many times, when people get distracted, they say things such as, “Oh, must be my ADHD!” But what people don’t fully understand is that Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is much more than just an overcharged or inability to concentrate kind-of-condition.

I have two children who have been diagnosed with ADHD as well as two stepchildren. To be respectful, I will speak only about my boys’ journey with living with ADHD.

…Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is much more than just an overcharged or inability to concentrate kind-of-condition.

Even though I have worked extremely hard to give my kids the best life that they could have, they have endured a lot of trauma in their short lifetimes. They watched their parents fight a lot as their dad was abusive towards me. I can’t say that I have always handled it with grace and being in a toxic relationship brings out toxic traits in yourself even if you are a good person. Once I decided to leave, we were homeless for almost four months, and their father slowly faded away with very little contact even until this very day. People would tell me, “At least they were young. They won’t remember this stuff,” but their age actually worked against them when it comes to mental health. Yes, they may not remember, but their nervous systems do. The years that they developed cognitive and problem-solving skills were full of chaos and fighting. There were many beautiful memories in those days with the five of us, but unfortunately, the bad times were enough to leave an impact.

Once we were out of the abuse and settled into a home, I started to look into healing for the four of us. We all desperately needed to get out of survivor mode and begin to learn how to live. It was then that I could see that something wasn’t right. Many of their issues began to subside as we got settled; however, some got worse. Maybe it was that I could see them more clearly, or maybe it was the change of living healthier, but either way, I knew there was more to it.

They were struggling with impulse control and regulation of their emotions. My youngest son was extremely hypervigilant, anxious, an impulsive “hitter,” and meticulous about details. My middle son was very argumentative, but it was deeper than just wanting to get attention. He would speak on impulse and then cry later that he couldn’t control it. Both are still very picky eaters that don’t just “grow out of it.” My youngest son has major sensory issues, and a bump on a sock or a clothing tag can send him into hysterics. Both were distressed by their issues, and that is the precursor to any mental health condition.

I started with putting them in therapy. I was hopeful that it would allow them to heal from their trauma and any mental health issues that they had. It helped tremendously, but it wasn’t enough. After talking to the therapist and trying numerous different activities, we both decided that we may need to talk to their pediatrician. We both agreed that if they had impulse and control problems as children that it could lead to huge consequences as adults including possibly doing something criminal. I wanted nothing more than to give my children the best chance in life.

Both were distressed by their issues, and that is the precursor to any mental health condition.

The pediatrician diagnosed them both with ADHD. They started a milder form of medication, and it has helped immensely. It’s a low enough dose that it doesn’t cause them to be lethargic or not themselves. They are still very hyper kids, but it helps them to focus and control themselves. They have thanked me for what I have done, but I have also heard people on the outside criticize me and others like me for the decision that I made to medicate them.

Trust me when I say that I tried everything before I went this route. My parents and brother died from prescription drugs, so I am very particular with my health choices for myself and my children, but what people fail to realize is that ADHD is a true mental health condition. It’s not just about “shutting a hyper kid up.” Many children go undiagnosed because of this stigma and are looked at as having a behavioral problem instead. I can admit that I get very defensive when I hear people put down the parenting skills of another mom or dad especially when they have no idea what they are talking about. In the same way that many adults need mental help children do as well.

Many children go undiagnosed because of this stigma and are looked at as having a behavioral problem instead

I wish that my mental health conditions were openly discussed and cared about more as a child. My mom put me on an antidepressant as a young teenager, but they failed to ever talk about it or get me counseling. My father had many mental health disorders from anxiety, panic disorder, OCD, and at a time, agoraphobia, but he was taught that it was “weak” to talk about emotions. It’s extremely important, especially raising boys, that I teach my children that true strength is admitting that you have a problem and healing from it. Mental health is no exception.

Studying ADHD, I have also been able to find very interesting facts as well as why my boys operate as they do. I discovered that their picky eating could very well be attached to their ADHD. There is something called Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) that has ties to children with autism and ADHD. Food is also linked to sensory issues that often are found in people with this mental health disorder. So, all those people who told me that I should make them “eat it or starve” may have a little more compassion hearing this.

It’s extremely important, especially raising boys, that I teach my children that true strength is admitting that you have a problem and healing from it. Mental health is no exception.

I am not saying that mental health conditions should be an excuse for certain behavior. I tell my boys that it’s an explanation as to why their brains work as they do, but it’s never an excuse to do something wrong and blame it on ADHD. I hope and pray that this blog helps a mom or dad who is dealing with stigma or considering having their children looked at but is scared or embarrassed. I have two beautiful boys that are unique, and their minds are incredible. They teach me things constantly. There is no shame in mental health conditions, and that mind was intricately created by God himself.

I am happy to say that I am a proud mom of boys who are okay to talk about their mental health.  

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