Embracing my ADHD in motherhood led me to deeper self-compassion


Motherly Collective

Online, you often see parenting tips about how to help with your child’s big feelings—but what about our big feelings? How about learning to regulate myself while simultaneously trying to teach these skills to my children? That’s what I really needed.

I knew motherhood would change me. But I thought those changes would be centered around priorities and activities. 

I had no idea that motherhood would rock me to my core, completely changing the way I viewed myself and my own emotions.

There have been times when I felt like I couldn’t recognize myself. Who was this person who was so easily triggered? Who was this person who struggled to cope with emotions that she had just finally learned how to control? Who was this person who clenched her jaw, full of anger? Who was this person who wondered day after day if she was failing in her most important role?

Not only was I coping with the Mother Load, struggling with my own emotional baggage and wounds while trying to learn the hardest, highest-stakes job I had ever had, but I was also coping with sleep deprivation, undiagnosed postpartum depression, and overstimulation—all of which created a recipe for a full emotional breakdown.

Motherhood brought up a lot that I wasn’t expecting—childhood wounds that I thought were long-resolved and buried. Pain as I grieved what I hadn’t had. Postpartum depression that I didn’t recognize until my breakdown/breakthrough. And much to my surprise, an absolute inability to continue with my path of perfectionism. I could barely initiate tasks. I forgot about things I intended to do. I would get so overwhelmed by the noise and stress that I wanted to hide in a dark closet, alone without all the chaos. I found myself struggling with time management even more than I ever had before (which I wasn’t aware was possible).

Part of that struggle was certainly the depression. But what I didn’t realize for many years was that there was even more going on.

It wasn’t until I was having one of my boys evaluated for ADHD that it finally clicked—I was also coping with it. Statistically, there was a 41% chance that I also had ADHD if one of my children had it.1 It took some time to piece the puzzle together that this was a cornerstone of many of my struggles with the Mother Load.

In retrospect, ADHD wasn’t just an additional struggle—it might have contributed to my postpartum depression. Undiagnosed and untreated ADHD is considered a risk factor for anxiety and depression.2 And, just like seeking help for postpartum depression opened my eyes to a new path in motherhood, seeking help for ADHD opened the world up for me. I saw an almost immediate change in task initiation, my ability to handle overstimulation, and my tolerance for difficult situations. I was able to show up in an entirely different way, in my business, in my home, and in my life in general.

But one of the biggest differences was my ability to have compassion for myself. I’d spent years trying to shame or blame myself into just being better. Into just doing what I had to do. Into just not procrastinating. Into just handling everything the way other people seemed to be able to. I hear from moms every day who do the same—whether they’re neurodivergent, struggling with postpartum mood concerns, or generally overwhelmed and burnt out from the sheer weight of the Mother Load. We’re often terrible at determining whether our experience is “normal” or a sign of something a little bit more. And because we are carrying messages about what we should do as “good moms,” we end up putting blame on ourselves.

We somehow believe if we just beat ourselves up enough, we can compartmentalize our mental health and become the moms we want to be.

But we can’t bully ourselves out of mental health struggles. We have to meet ourselves where we need to be met.

If you had a broken arm, you wouldn’t just try to skate through life without going to the doctor and getting a cast or a sling—and you certainly wouldn’t tell yourself you were failing if your pain kept you from functioning at full capacity. So, when it comes to mental health, why would we treat it any differently?

Each of you out there reading this is in a different boat. Some of you are struggling with depression or anxiety. Some of you are neurodivergent. Some of you are carrying childhood trauma, unhealed wounds, and generational cycles that you want to break away from. Some of you are simply crumbling under an unfair weight of emotional and mental labor.

No matter where you are, I want you to know that it isn’t your fault. Your mental health matters. Your needs matter. And taking care of yourself matters, whether that means seeking therapy, starting on medication, or just using this book to alleviate some of the immediate pressure of the Mother Load so that you can make space to do the work, which in turn will lay the foundation to truly release the load.

References

1  Martina Starck, Julia Grünwald, and Angelicka A. Schlarb, “Occur- rence of ADHD in Parents of ADHD Children in a Clinical Sam- ple,” Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment 12 (2016): 581–88, doi. org/10.2147/NDT.S100238.

2  Mira Elise Glaser Holthe and Eva Langvik, “The Strives, Struggles, and Successes of Women Diagnosed with ADHD as Adults,” SAGE Open 7, no. 1 (2017), doi.org/10.1177/2158244017701799.

Excerpted from: Releasing the Mother Load: How to Carry Less and Enjoy Motherhood More by Erica Djossa (April 2024.) Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Sounds True.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother’s journey is unique. By amplifying each mother’s experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you’re interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.





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