Addressing the stigma surrounding ADHD
Tene Dowling never pictured herself as an achiever.
She was a “problem child” who frequently got into fights and refused to do assigned classwork.
Doctors diagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder when she was 6, but the experience had already shaped her life.
The 29-year-old is now a psychology student in Britain, at to York St John University . She started an ADHD support group to raise awareness about the condition.
“I had so many challenges; so many roadblocks in regards to school,” she said. “I never got my work completed; I was always sent out of class. I got suspended; I got in a lot of fights.
“A lot of people don't believe in ADHD. They think it's just bad parenting or rude children and that's really not the case.
“I can definitely say it's a real disorder that I struggle with up to this day.”
Medication helped her focus on her studies but altered her mood and personality.
“It was horrible,” Ms Dowling said. “I felt very suppressed and pretty much zombified. Once I finished school I decided to stop taking it.
“I was working full-time and I went the natural route taking supplements, omega 3 and fish oils. I was exercising, I changed my diet and was doing things differently than I did before.
“It helped to a certain extent but in 2004 I decided to go back to school and had to go back on my medication. When it came to academics, I needed it to help me focus and concentrate and get on with what I had to get on with.”
As it turned out, she hated the computer course she was on and dropped out. At 20, she was pregnant.
“I came into hard times and made decisions that weren't the best ones,” she said. “I was out of work for almost three years. I decided to do some volunteer work because I couldn't get employment. I just wanted to get back out into the community, to get my foot in the door with different organisations.”
Life took an unexpected turn after she volunteered with the Mirrors programme in 2012.
“It was life-changing for me. I acquired some coaching skills and became an educational coach for the 12 to 14 age group and then went on to do the residential programme at Warwick Camp.
“I was able to see how children are affected by so many different things. As adults, we're so oblivious to it, but hearing it out of their mouths — their struggles, how other people made them feel and how they dealt with it — I was able to relate with what they were going through. It took me back to where I used to be at that age, without that support. I learnt a lot of things about myself and some of the issues I had to deal with.”
The experience convinced her she could make a difference. She got a job and saved for two years so she could study child psychology.
“In 2014 I packed up and made the journey by myself with my daughter to the UK,” she said. “It's been a heck of a journey, a challenge times 100.
“I still have the typical ADHD lack of organisation, timekeeping, time-management, not being able to focus and complete certain tasks and, when it comes to academics, it's a lot different having to sit, read a book and listen to a lecture with 130 other students with you.”
She initially used medication to help, but it made her sick. She's hoping a professional reassessment of her condition will give her a better coping mechanism.
“It was a nightmare. I vowed never to take it again but after the first semester knew I needed [something],” she said. “Fortunately, my school has been awesome. They've put certain things in place to support me.
“I have some tutors that have taken time out to go over extra things with me and I get a quiet room when I do my exams.”
Her hope is to extend a similar courtesy to people with ADHD who are here.
“I want to provide that support. I want to get something up and running because I know there's nothing here,” she said.
“I've spoken to mothers with children with ADHD and know there is a need for it but, being in Bermuda, it's so small, nobody really talks about it.
“In a few years I plan to come back home and give back to the community and be involved with the youth.
“It's definitely been a journey. I had a stigma attached to me. People who didn't know I had ADHD thought I was just a rude child, that my mother didn't how to control.
“It had an effect on me as a child and now that I have my own child, I wouldn't wish any child to have that label or stigma attached to them.
“I know that if a child does have the disorder, it needs to be dealt with properly to help the child get along in life and get the help they need to have a successful life; to get through school and not feel isolated or left out.
“Right now, I just want to create an awareness, to put it out there that I'm looking to support people. I know I can't do it all by myself. I'm just trying to pave the way for when I'm back in Bermuda full-time.
“Right now, I just have a small plan of how I'm going to set up a support system. Once I get feedback I will know how I can help, what advice, information people might be looking for.”
•Find out more on Facebook: Support ADHD Bermuda, or firstname.lastname@example.org
ADHD as described by Support ADHD Bermuda:
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a medical/neurobiological condition in which the brain’s neurotransmitter chemicals do not work properly.
Without proper identification, treatment and management, it can have serious and long-lasting consequences and/or complications.
It is a genetic and long-term condition that affects learning and behaviour right through the school years and, in many cases, into adulthood.
ADHD can coexist, to a greater or lesser degree, with disorders such as dyslexia, autism and dyspraxia.
It is important to note that it is a very treatable condition. If diagnosed and properly treated, people with ADHD can reach their potential and lead happy and successful lives.