Zoë Kessler celebrates her own declaration of independence from ADHDHappy Independence Day!

As a Canadian, I celebrated Canada Day on July 1st. While I’m vaguely aware of the historical context of the American Independence Day holiday, I wanted to think about independence and what that means in terms of ADHD.

I don’t know about you, but as a self-respecting person with ADHD, independence is near and dear to my heart.

Imposter syndrome

I’ve heard repeatedly throughout my lifetime, “You’re so independent!” Prior to my ADHD diagnosis, my independence was often a facade.

Appearing independent was a cover-up for a life that was quickly unraveling. While I looked independent on the outside, I desperately needed help but was too afraid (and too ashamed) to ask for it.

It was only after my ADHD diagnosis and treatment that I had a chance at genuine, authentic independence.

How do they do it?

I knew nothing about ADHD. All I knew was that other women managed families, marriages, careers and social lives as a matter of course.

Asking for help to do things that others seemed to just innately know how to do was admitting that I wasn’t independent.

Out of control at birth

Having been adopted at four months old, I internalized a feeling that I wasn’t in control of my life. It’s no surprise that as a young woman I earned a reputation as a control freak.

Independence meant self-reliance. Being adopted, I was on shaky ground. I’d already been given away once, a situation over which I had no control.

I grew up with the story that I’d been seriously ill as an infant.

When I was presented to my prospective adoptive parents by the social worker I was so wrinkly and sickly-looking she said (so goes the story), “You don’t have to take her.” Life seemed precarious indeed. I vowed that I would become self-reliant and truly independent.

Untreated ADHD and independence don’t mix

What I didn’t know was that ADHD was sabotaging all efforts towards independence. I couldn’t keep a job; my self-esteem was shot, so I was afraid to go for my true dream of being a writer. My well-intentioned adoptive parents felt that this was too risky an occupation.

Little did we know that the one thing more risky than a career in the arts was putting someone with raging, undiagnosed ADHD (including massive hyperactivity and a full-blown “shiny things” syndrome) into a conventional 9 to 5 job.

Zoë’s personal declaration of independence

My own Declaration of Independence finally came in 2010, just a little over three years after my ADHD diagnosis. At 51, I finally decided to commit myself wholly to my writing.

I’ve never felt more independent and in control of my life. And, paradoxically, it’s because I let myself become dependent on the expertise of others who knew about ADHD that I now feel competent enough to make my own decisions about my treatment, and about my life.

Just as you’ve built your nation from pioneering homesteaders, I’m building my own independence. At this point, however, a privately owned log cabin would be a step up. But hey – you’ve got to start somewhere!

Happy Independence Day!


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