“There’s still quite a few people who think that ADHD is itself a parenting problem. And that stigma most definitely is also applied to Black people at a far greater rate than it is to white people. Even if it were behavioral problems…you will still see more sympathy for white parents than you would see for black parents.”
Erynn Brook is a writer living in Toronto, Canada. She write for thefullestmag.com regularly, freelance around the web, and here on this blog sporadically. Her writing weaves through conversations about media, people, culture, technology and anything else that pops into my world. She loves talking about the way we talk about things, and my work often touches on systems of oppression, through a feminist lens heavily informed by intersectional feminist voices.
Kim Crayton: Hello, everyone. Welcome to today’s episode of the #CauseAScene Podcast. My guest today is Erynn Brook. Their pronouns are she/her. Erynn, would you please introduce yourself to the audience?
Erynn Brook: Yeah. Hi, I’m Erynn Brook. And I’m a storyteller. I’m particularly interested in media, people, culture, and communication. And I talk about ADHD quite a bit. So, that’s me.
Kim: All right, so we start the show as always: why is it important to cause a scene, and how are you causing a scene?
Erynn: You know, I love these two questions. I was listening to the podcast a bit, and I was like, that is such an interesting way to start. I think it’s important to cause a scene because scenes are really the only way that you disrupt the normal flow of things. Without a scene, without someone speaking up or saying something, everything just kind of continues to go the way it’s been going, and I tend to cause scenes—and it’s a bit of a weird thing—this is not how I would I think that I cause scenes, but it seems like I cause scenes by like, slowing things down and going really deep into one spot or one specific topic at a time. That answer sounds so weird, but yeah, it’s like, let’s all take a pause, and let’s go really deep on this, all right?
Kim: Alright, no, it’s… ok, ’cause I wrote down, “sloooooowing dooooown.” Even as I was writing it, I was writing it really slowly, because that’s something that many in our society do not do. We don’t—we just speed through. We don’t look deeply at things. We make decisions based on instant… something—I don’t even know the word I’m looking for. It’s beyond what—when I was in my early twenties and we were talking about the people that were coming behind us, you know, the microwave society—it’s beyond that at this point. It is, microwaves even take too long.
And I’ve seen your engagement on Twitter. So one of the real things I want to bring on is, I want to start bringin’ on guests who can talk about some of the societal challenges that are prevalent in tech. And so this is what I tell people, I love the tech space because we are a microcosm of the macrocosm. We have everything in tech. And we have everything in numbers larger than what people consider the quote unquote “normal” population.
And so the fact that you—I don’t know how you started popping up in my timeline—but I liked the fact that you methodically break it down; I love people who can do that. Because again, everyone is so, see something, rush to judgment. And I’ve done it. I can admit that I’ve done it. I don’t do it as much as many people ’cause what I do is, when I do that it’s usually some gut thing, I mean, some like, I’m having an emotional reaction to something and I’m like “VEAH!” But if it’s about understanding, which is—railing is not about me trying to be understood, it’s me just saying what the fuck I need to say so I can get it outta my system—but if I want to be understood or I want to understand something, I dig into threads.
I start going like, OK, somebody quote-retweeted that, somebody quote-tweeted that, somebody… and I go deep down. And so by the time I’m talking—I decide to highlight something—I have done some work here. I’ve looked at different perspectives and opinions, and I love how your threads do that. I don’t think I’ve ever seen—do you ever do like one tweet or are they all threads? [Laughs]
Erynn: It’s like one tweet when it’s a one-off joke kind of moment. But not for like, serious stuff. That’s always—it always ends up being a thread. It very rarely does… very rarely do I start with the intention to create a thread. Normally, it’s like the first tweet is like, that’s my reactive, I needed to say this, get it out. And then I’m sitting there and I’m like, “No wait, hang on, there’s more.”
Kim: [Laughs] There’s more! But there’s more! [Laughs]
Erynn: Yeah, and then people start responding and I’m like, “No, that’s not what I was saying. I meant this.” All right, I see that we need to go really… alright, I’m gonna keep, just keep digging until I’ve basically… like, now I think I’ve covered every single base that someone could have some sort of reaction about. Also becauseI have a larger following, I kind of have to plan for when it starts to move out beyond that following. And what those responses are gonna be, so my threads have gotten longer with time as the reactions and the audience have grown and shifted; I have to start navigating that.
Kim: Yes. And people don’t think about that. There’s a… you have to have a strategy. You can’t just be out here willy-nilly on Twitter. [Laughs]
Erynn: No, no. There’s things that I used to be able to talk about on Twitter, and I’m now like, “No, no, not…”
Erynn: Too many people might hear this now, so I can’t do that now.
Kim: Yeah, so one of the main—like I said—one of the main reasons I wanted you to come on here—and everyone knows, we can talk about a whole bunch of things—but I was especially… I’m a certified teacher, and so I really want to start diving deep into—so that was K through 12—what I’m finding fascinating is how many adults in tech are now being diagnosed with ADHD.
Kim: And what’s that like to be an adult who has been gaslit mosta ya goddamn life?
Kim: And now you’re like, “Oh, no, there’s a diagnosis for this.”
Erynn: There’s a reason. Yeah!
Kim: Yes, yes. So let’s just start wherever you want to start on that, because I know there’s so many individuals in this community who—and this is again, let’s disclaimer—we’re not diagnosing anybody. We’re not… Erynn is telling her story, and that’s all that matters; I believe in people telling their lived experience. And I’ve never had this conversation on the show. And I want to start having this conversation, because I personally see so much—and this may come off as cavalier, but it’s not—so much manufactured anxiety in our community…
Kim: That just everyday life has its anxieties. You know there’re… you don’t know… driving: there’s anxieties. All these—there’s just so many other manufactured anxieties. Just… when we do this show, this show will be in March, but we just came out of Valentine’s Day. And if that is not a manufactured anxiety to people. [Erynn laughs] Oh, my word! And and there’s already enough—I don’t even know the word, ’cause… this is where I’m struggling. ‘Cause I don’t even know the word for it, because there’re mental health issues, but I don’t know if that word even encompasses what I’m seeing in our communities.
Kim: So let’s just start a conversation about Erynn’s experience, and we’ll go from there.
Erynn: Right. So I was diagnosed at 23, which was 10 years ago this fall—this coming fall. And I didn’t actually go looking for an ADHD diagnosis at all. I was—at the time I was an actor, and I was getting into some more on-camera work, and I don’t know—you can’t see in the video, really—you see, I have these shoulders, these lovely Irish shoulders from like, generations of sheep farming, I assume. And so I always looked really broad on camera. And one of the things that I was getting a lot of feedback about was about weight loss, and it was basically like, “Yeah, if you could just lose a couple pounds.”
You know, I was—my teacher had told me that, he’s like, “In real life, you’re perfect. But I’m camera, you’re like halfway between being Lara Croft or being like the chubby best friend. And so you gotta pick which one you want to be.” And I was like, “Well, who doesn’t want to be Lara Croft?” And I started trying to lose weight, and failing at it quite spectacularly, despite having a nutritionist and a personal trainer and doing all of that kind of stuff. And I eventually went to a doctor to be like, “What’s going on with my body?”
And he was a specialist in this, but he had also worked with children with ADHD for a long time and had come to find that in adults who couldn’t lose weight, the reasons were often either some sort of… like, either you had some sort of digestive problem or a sleep problem or a mood disorder or something like that. So he was a lot more holistic in his approach than one would actually expect a traditional doctor to be. You know, you kinda expect someone to just take your BMI and do that.
And yeah, a few weeks into seeing him, you know, he had my thyroid tested, he sent me to a sleep clinic, and he’s like, “And you know you have ADHD, right?” And I was like, “Excuse you! What?” And you know, cried for a few days, because at that point, all I knew about ADHD was that it was something that the annoying kids in class were diagnosed with. I had no idea what it was other than the sort of stories that we as a society tell about ADHD. I knew the joke version of what ADHD was, and like many people, had that picture of a little hyperactive little white boy running around the room and throwing stuff at people. I didn’t even know adults could have it, frankly.
And so of course now, knowing what I know about ADHD, I became very hyper-focused on what it was and what the research was, what different people were saying about it and the trajectory of it. It’s not, it’s actually, it’s not just in tech that a lot of people right now are getting diagnosed as adults; it’s happening all over because it’s only fairly recently that it’s been even acknowledged that ADHD is a lifelong condition, and not just a childhood developmental disorder. It…
Kim: Because I can tell you, nothing in my K-12—as a certified special needs—did we talk about what it was like for these people when they matriculated, when they graduated high school. Nowhere that we talk about that. It was just to get them through K-12. That’s it.
Erynn: Absolutely. And the systems that we have now are systems that were built on that idea of ADHD being a childhood disorder. So even now, if you go into university and say you want to get accommodations for an ADHD diagnosis, many universities will require you to go and get a new diagnosis and get reassessed, if your diagnosis is less than three years old. That’s what happened at my university when I went in as a mature student and they said, “Yeah, if you were diagnosed in childhood or more than three years ago, you have to go get re-diagnosed.” And I was like, “I was diagnosed five years ago at 23,” and they were like, “Yeah, no, that doesn’t count.” I was like, “What?”
Kim: OK, so… yeah, exactly. So I’m gonna stop you right there, and I want you to tell us what is ADHD?
Erynn: ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. And the name is somewhat misleading. ADHD is a neurobiological developmental disorder. And it basically just means that your brain doesn’t develop at the same rate as other people. Different parts of the brain are affected by it, and those parts do not develop at the same rate as your peers. At the same time, brains are really malleable and somewhat magical things that where one part of the brain isn’t functioning the way it should, another part of the brain can start to take over some of those tasks, some of that to-do list for that part of the brain.
And so we have—there’s brain scans going back to the early 90s showing that ADHD brains are different and they’re different in these areas. And also, when you start to do those scans again across multiple people with the diagnosis, you see different areas pop up. Some are overlapping, but some people are affected in different places and in different ways.
Kim: So is it… so it sounds like as the research matured on autism—which now requires a spectrum—there’s a spectrum when it relates to ADHD?
Erynn: Yes, symptoms can be mild to severe.
Kim: So let’s talk about symptoms. What is it—’cause we’re acting as if no one knows anything—what are mild symptoms of ADHD and what are severe symptoms of ADHD?
Erynn: OK, so maybe presentations is the first…
Kim: And we’re gonna talk about it from your experience. Again, everybody: this is from Erynn’s experience. OK, OK.
Erynn: OK. So presentations is probably the first place to start. There’s ADHD Hyperactive Type; there’s ADHD Inattentive Type; and then there’s ADHD Combination Type, which is hyperactive and inattentive together. Hyperactive is very much in the vein of that picture that we all have of the little boy running around the room. Inattentive Type is more of that picture of the day dreamy, looking out the window kind of person, and Combination Type is just both. So imagine daydreaming, looking out the window, and also like shaking your leg all of the time. [Laughs]
It affects… some people like to define it as attention regulation, so it’s not so much that you have a deficit of attention, but you may have difficulty with assigning attention to different things at different times, depending on what is piquing your interest at the moment. It can show up in so many ways. There’s memory retention, short term memory issues. There’s… executive functioning is a really big one. And then there’s a sort of impulsivity, emotional regulation, social behaviors.
And different ones show up for different people in different amounts. It’s really wild.
Kim: Is ADHD different from ADD?
Erynn: Not—so here’s the funny thing—not exactly; the fact that we have two different names for it is actually part of those social stories that we tell ourselves. It’s just that ADHD used to be called ADD with or without hyperactivity. [Laughs] And it hasn’t been ADD since about the early 90s—in North America—but it’s one of those things that linguistically has just sort of carried on. And so I have discussions with people all the time who will say, “You know, I don’t have ADHD, I have ADD,” and I’m like, “No, they’re all the same thing.” And it’s always been one thing, either with or without hyperactivity. It’s never been two separate diagnoses.
Kim: And so, in all honesty, when you started talking about this, [laughs] I saw so much of myself. [Both laugh] I was like, “Ooh, this explains so muuuuch!” I think I am not—again, the spectrum part—and that’s why it’s about the ADD diagnosis. Because yeah, when we had students, they were ADHD; and I also had autistic students, so there was a whole ‘nother thing that’s going on there. Well, I had some autistic students.
And so it’s interesting, because I can definitely see when I see some of your—I guess they would be considered benign tweets—about how do you stay organized? How do you do this? What platform, what tools are you using? And I’m just like, if I have not…
And so, there was one thread that you were doing and people were recommending todo lists; if I had not, when I went into my app store, had already downloaded all of them and tried them out and none of them worked… I was like, “Oh my…” [Laughs] I’m like, “Wait a minute. This seems too familiar to me.” I’ve tried every last one of these things, and there’s always one little thing that does not work. And you’re like, “Yeah, uh!”
Erynn: Yup, absolutely. And even the things that do work, you know, you find yourself using it for two or three weeks, and then all of sudden, you forget to open it one day, and then it’s like a year later, and you’re like, “What is this thing for again?” [Laughs]
Kim: My kanban flow? Oh, my god, that works so well for me. But just to remember to do it, to open that thing up, and to move the… it’s like, “Uh-huh, whaaat?” One thing I really wanna… mmm, which is interesting to me is—and you said it twice—so everybody knows that I’m gonna… is the default for ADHD is the little white boy.
Kim: [Sighs deeply] Which means that when little Black kids have ADHD, there’s something different. There’s something wrong with them. [Laughs] They do not get treated in the same ways because the default is a little white boy who you expect to be throwing shit around.
Erynn: They don’t. They really don’t. Statistically, I—god, I forget the numbers—but statistically—there’s a whole bunch of research on this—and yes, basically, you put a little white boy and a little Black boy, both of whom have ADHD, both of whom are behaving the same way, into a room. That little Black boy gets sent, generally, for correctional behavior.
Kim: His diagnosis is going to be EBD, which is Emotional Behaviour Disorder.
Erynn: Emotional Behavior Disorder, that’s right.
Kim: It will not be ADHD.
Kim: It will not be ADHD, it will be Emotional Behavior Disorder. And I’ve had several students—because I loved being in high school—where I particularly remember one young lady… And also, they don’t reevaluate them as well, so if they come in with their—the little white boy in kindergarten gets the ADHD evaluation—all through K-12, his—can’t even think of the thing, the paperwork…
Erynn: Oh, the IEP? IED?
Kim: Yes, IEP: Educational…
Erynn: An IED is something else. [Kim laughs] Don’t give those to little white boys. I’m just saying, they’re kind of dangerous right now. Don’t give them to little white boys.
Kim: Don’t do that! Don’t do that! [Laughs] OK, that was a good one! OK so, Educational something Program… Individual Education Program, that’s what that stands for. Their Individual Education Program is focused on ADHD, so everything we’re talking about in their differentiated instructions, the kind of interventions we do for them is about managing their attention.
The little Black boy, or Black girl, is exhibiting the same behavior, but now they have EBD—which is, as I said—that is that is a behavior disorder, a defiant behavior disorder—and not only that, it’s not just a behavior, it’s a defiant behavior disorder. So now they’re tracked from K-12 as a behavioral problem instead of a attention or developmental problem. So those are totally different… I mean, I literally remember having one student—and this is why I liked high school—she was on my dance team, and she would just burst, I mean just have these bursts, and her answer was always, “I’m EBD.” And I was like, “OK bitch, let’s be honest. Let me tell you what this is. Yo’ ass just has not learned how to control your emotions because you’ve been able to…”
Because once you get that diagnosis, you’re done. They don’t… they just, you know, ain’t nobody tryna to help you. You just out here. And I was like, “You have one more year to get out of school. You not goin’ outta here with this EBD. That’s not what’s happening.” ‘Cause she had not been reevaluated since she got it in elementary school, because they don’t reevaluate, all they do is take what it is, and—well, they do reevaluate every three years, and let me correct that—but it’s, if you’re… they’re reevaluating the little white boy on ADHD and the Black kids on EBD. So what they’re evaluating is to see if they remain in that space, not to see if the original diagnosis was incorrect.
Kim: And she… it became a battle for us up until graduation, when she finally realized, “There is nothing wrong with me. I just never…” Because she got this diagnosis, her parents, everybody, they was just like, “OK,” because—again, Black parents have problems with the school system—they didn’t question, and all this. So it took myself and the people around me and her peers; we were like, “No, we’re not doin’… you’re not doin’ that. Nope. Huh-uh, we’re not accepting that. Nope,” for her to learn skills that she should have learned earlier to manage her behavior. And now she’s a mother!
You know, it’s like… that stigma of being EBD versus ADHD is huge.
Erynn: It is. And I mean, it’s also something that you see applied to—not so much in the actual school system, not so much from the teachers or the administrators—but more like in society. There’s still quite a few people who think that ADHD is itself a parenting problem, right? And that stigma most definitely is also applied to Black people at a far greater rate than it is applied to white people. You know, even if it were behavioral problems for both, say the little white boy and the little Black boy, you would still see more sympathy for white parents than you would see for Black parents.
Erynn: …you would still see more sympathy for white parents you would see for Black parents.
Kim: When I do my talks, I give this—I usually do this as a little—so people can see what I’m talking about. And it is—particularly if there’re Black people in the audience—I love to do this. I say, “So, we’re at a restaurant? What’re Black kids doin’ in a restaurant?” And the Black people are just like, you know, “Err…” I’m like, “No, no, speak up! Go on! What are Black young people doin’?” “Uh, they’re either… they’re at the table with their parents. They’re either on a device or something, but they’re sitting at the table.”
“What are white kids doin’?” And everybody will be, “Runnin’ the fuck around!” They get to have… they own the space, they get to go running the kitchen, they get to do everything, and everybody’s, “Oh, idn’t that so fucking cute?” If that little Black kid gets up and tries to do any of that shit? Parents escorted out the restaurant, police called, all kinds of shit’s going on.
Kim: And I really… I’m saying that because I need people to understand what we talk about when we talk about giving space to people. And what you don’t understand, the conversations that Black parents have with their kids before we go in public spaces. In that car, “Don’t ask for nothing. Don’t touch nothing. Don’t da da da da.” We get a whole list of shit not to do, because society sees—adultifies us at such early age—that we have to act like adults when we’re in public. When we’re at church, when we’re anywhere, we have to act like little adults, whereas little white kids get to be kids.
Erynn: Oh, let them be kids…
Kim: Yeeesss… Until they’re like in their damn seventies. Because if I hear one more thing about Trump is gonna learn from what… as if he’s some… some “boys will be boys” and “he’ll learn from this,” and I’m like, “When the fuck do you not get the benefit of the doubt?” [Laughs]
Erynn: And it’s so… I mean, [laughs] my parents were a little different, as is totally possible, at the same time that I was a server for like, 15 years. So I definitely remember little white kids running around and like, knocking into my legs and me almost spilling, you know, hot coffee on them and being like, “Uh.” But also, my parents had this very strict policy of like, if either of you start acting up in public, one parent stays behind and pays, the other parent grabs the kids and throws them in the car, and we all go home. And that’s it. Like so, yeah, we didn’t act up very often.
Not after my dad had to carry me out of the toy store by my belt once. [Laughs] I threw a tantrum, apparently, he said that was the only place to grab ahold of me was the belt. And just… [laughs]
Kim: OK, so that’s funny, because I remember my mom tellin’ this story—I actually remember this happening. I was in a Sears department store and I threw a tantrum in the middle of the Sears—it was Sears or Kmart, I can’t remember… OK—and I just threw a tantrum and my mom walked off, and somebody was like, “Hey lady, you leavin’ your kid.” My mom’s like, “No, I’m not.” [Laughs] And I remember getting up, like cleaning my face, and then walkin’ right behind her like, “OK, this shit ain’t working!”
Erynn: Nope. If you didn’t pick yourself up, you might not be able to follow her.
Kim: Exactly. Now nowadays, that would be considered abandonment, child abandonment. But anyway, it did what it did. [Both laugh] I wasn’t harmed by it. I got my little Black ass up and was like, “OK, this shit ain’t working for me.” I probably saw some other kid doing it, and I was like, “Yeah, that shit ain’t workin’ for Black families.” These Black parents ain’t havin’ this shit. [Laughs] Like the whole time out, that’s a whole ‘nother—let’s not digress, but that’s a whole ‘nother thing. Time out? The fuck is time out? [Laughs]
Erynn: Who has the time for time out? [Kim laughs] Who has the time?
Kim: “Go sit in your corner.” What the fuck?
Erynn: No, I’m gonna yell at you for a bit, and that’s what we’re gonna—that’s how we’re gonna deal with this.
Kim: No, you go in that room, you shuttin’ all the lights off, and you goin’ to fuckin’ bed. That’s what the fuck you doin’. I’m not dealing with you at all. Just go to sleep! [Laughs]
All right, so I want to talk about pre-diagnosis and post-diagnosis. If you were ADHD before 23, what was that like in not knowing it?
Kim: But also, I want—I did make a note—I’m glad you talked about the acting thing because I was in acting, I did acting for a while. And if that’s not manufactured anxiety, I don’t know what the hell is.
Erynn: Right? [Kim laughs] Well, I use it all the time now in professional contexts, because I’m like, “Yeah, absolutely. Acting is just professional listening.” So that’s where my skills come from, is from acting.
Before diagnosis, what did my ADHD look like? Ah, well, I got pretty bad depression starting about 14. I didn’t get diagnosed for it, but 14 is when I knew something was wrong. I started to do some work on that around around 20; started like—I was sick a lot as a kid, and so I really hated the idea of medication, and so at 20 I was seeing a naturopath and, you know, doing… I tried every single diet I could. I was like, maybe it’s the gluten. Maybe the gluten makes me sad, and that’s what that is. [Laughs]
And so I tried everything under the sun to try and get my mood up, because I just knew that this wasn’t, this wasn’t it. And yeah, that was part of what the doctor mentioned when he finally got some of my results back, he was like, “I’m amazed that you’re even walking around.”
So what happens with the little kid who’s running around and throwing things or daydreaming is that no matter how ADHD you are, you will eventually start to learn some social rules and social behaviors. Which is why an adult with ADHD is not running around the conference room, throwing everyone’s papers around, even though it’s still ADHD, even though that’s what they might have been doing when they were a kid, because you learn that that’s not socially acceptable. That’s not an outlet. You learn to just sit there and, like, click your pen over and over again, or jiggle your leg, or play on your phone…
Kim: Oh my god. Fidget spinners!
Erynn: Yeah, you learn other ways of getting that nervous energy out. Or that hyperactive energy out, because you’re not six and you can’t get away with running around the room and growing stuff anymore as an adult.
Kim: Some of us can’t. Most of us can’t. Some of us can get away wit’ it forever. Unfortunately. And they’re wreaking havoc around the world. But go ‘head.
Erynn: Absolutely. I think, also as a woman, that part of that was internalized. Those social behaviors were internalized very young. There was a lot of—there were a lot of itchy dresses and Sears family photo-type scenarios. Or like just getting dressed up and sitting on your parents friend’s couch for three hours while they talked about nothing. And, like no one could even put on a TV or anything to entertain a six year old for this time, you just gotta sit there like a doll.
I was also always, really… I was smart, I was quick. In my elementary school, my teachers all had a habit of writing the homework on the board in the corner in the mornings. So once you’ve finished your work that day you could do your homework if you had extra time. Ah, I was pegged as a gifted student early on, so I went to that, you know, special classroom where I swear I can’t remember a single thing we did. I know that one day we were all practicing handstands in the gifted kids classroom. I don’t know. It seemed like just time off from regular class, is what it was in my experience, ’cause I don’t remember anything about it. By like, grade four, grade five, I was in a really—my parents are diplomats, so I grew up overseas from age nine to age 14. And so there was a lot, again, a lot of behaving and a lot of being a little adult.
Kim: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yes. Being shown off.
Erynn: Yeah. And also with a little bit of like, you know like, you’re representing your country.
Kim: Exactly! Yeah, that’s some pressure, shit.
Erynn: Like, you know, and I think it’s unlucky ’cause out there, out in the world, people seem to really like Canada. Which is where I’m from. [Kim laughs] So, yeah, like the worst we ever got was like, “Are you American?” You’d be like, “No, Canadian.” They’d be like, “Oh, Canada, that’s great!” It’s like, then they were happy. But, yeah, so by 14 it—I guess the puberty and hormones and all that kind of stuff just kind of threw whatever balance I had found out of whack.
Kim: All outta whack. Oh, my god. That was, that high school was the worst fucking time for me. Oh, I hated every goddamn minute of it.
Erynn: It’s that we just, we had just moved to a different place. I—so we had just moved from Zimbabwe to Romania. And then after I turned 14, I moved in with my aunt and uncle back in Canada and went to high school in this small town, all-white high school, which was the smallest—and my world suddenly became so small in a way that I had never really imagined.
I did OK. I did OK as long as I was interested, and as long as no one was being an asshole. Like, I had an asshole math teacher when I was 14 and almost failed that class. And math was always one of my best subjects. But I just hated that guy so much that I couldn’t…
Kim: My math teacher for seventh grade, my mom literally was like, “Yeah, we’re not goin'”—I was in a small Catholic school. She’s like— and he was the only eighth grade teacher—she was like, “Oh, hell, no. We’re not doing this ’cause I already see what the hell…” And I’d perform… he had us in the smart group and the dumb group, and I was in the dumb group. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah, it was a all-Black school; he was a white dude in a all-Black school. And so if you’re not talkin’ ’bout white supremacy in that space…
But I so get you because I would excel in classes where the subject matter or the teacher was engaging. Anything else, I would actually make a calculated, “OK, what do I need to make a C?” I just need a C. That’s all I need is a C, I just need a C to get outta this class.
Erynn: Yeah, and because I was so fast, I had gotten all the way to like high school, and I’d never done homework, really. ‘Cause I always did it in class. And all through middle school, I was in this international school system where it’s all by correspondence. So you had teachers, but they’re teaching and your stuff is being sent off, so you knew what was coming, the whole curric—and also me and my best friend were really competitive for like, who gets the best marks and stuff. So we were always doing way more work than we needed to. We broke into the teachers’ lounge to steal a test. Not the answers, the test, the questions that would be on the test so we could study better.
Kim: Yeah, you was all fucked up. [Laughs]
Erynn: Like… it was so nerdy.
Kim: That’s just the hard way of passing the test.
Erynn: Right? Right? Like, what? And we were, like, so scared we were gonna get caught. And I’m like, what would a teacher even say if they caught some, you know, some 13-year-olds breaking into, like, “We just want to know what questions are gonna be on the test so we could…”
Kim: Well, I could tell you if it was a Black student it would have been a whole different experience, but that’s another thing. Go ‘head.
Erynn: Well, she was! [Laughs] My best—
Kim: Oh! Go, oh—
Erynn: Yeah, most of my friends were Black when I was…
Kim: Would you, would you have taken, would you have taken a hit ’cause they wouldn’t have treated y’all the same had y’all got caught? [Laughs]
Erynn: No, they probably wouldn’t have.
Kim: And that’s the thing I like people to understand. So I’m not being an ass when I do this, but I need people to understand that in certain situations, we’re gonna be treated differently.
Kim: Yeah. And I’m, so this is not for you, per se. It’s for the audience to understand. When they’re like, “Oh, my Black friend or my Latinx friend doesn’t…” No, they—trust me—they just ain’t telling you about it. [Laughs]
Erynn: She was, yeah, she was the first, she actually kind of… she crystallized the concept of racism for me when I was nine years old in a way that it just had never… ‘Cause I came from like a small town, a suburb outside of Ottawa, and I hadn’t really met anyone. And I was nine and she was the only other girl in my class. And so I was like, “Well, we’re gonna be friends. Obviously.” [Kim laughs] I was one of two white people in the class and the other white person was a boy and I was nine, and at age nine, I made a judgment call. I was like, “There’s one girl or one white kid. I’m gonna go with the girl, that’s… gonna be your friend.” [Kim laughs]
Kim: Smart move. Smart move.
Erynn: Yeah, it worked out for me, I… [laughs]
Kim: So, so you two nerds break in to get the questions, not the answers to the test…
Erynn: Questions. [Laughs]
Kim: That is so, that is so like, that is so what a nerd would do though. [Laughs]
Erynn: Yeah, we thought the answers was too far. Like, That’s cheating, that’s not.
Kim: I have a line. I have a line. [Laughs]
Erynn: Yeah, but the questions, that’s just… then we can work efficiently. [Both laugh]
Kim: So, so you’re… Yeah, I see so many parallels here. It is so funny to me. And I haven’t been diagnosed, but I’ve diagnosed myself. I truly have. I’m like, “Yeah…”
Erynn: It is a lot of work to get a diagnosis. It is really, really hard. And…
Kim: Hell, I’m 50. At this point, I’m like, “You know what? I don’t need it.” I’ve learned, I’m learning. I’ve learned the strategies I need to be successful.
Kim: Particularly when it comes to academics. Like today, I was frustrated because I thought something was gonna… a) start digging into it. It’s the whole fucking alphabet. And so I just threw my hands up, like, “I’ma have to come back at this tomorrow,” ’cause I just… [laughs] it just blew my whole day. I was like, “This is not what I was planning to do.”
So I’ve learned things that work for me. I was also talking to another friend today and he was like, somebody tweeted, “Fuck my feelings, I don’t want to feel my feelings”—or something like that—”I got shit to do.” And I was like, “No!” For me, I’m totally opposite. My feelings, my emotions are the true indicator where I am emotionally and physically. So, as uncomfortable as some of these emotions are, I need to feel the full spectrum of them so I can gauge where I am in my life. [Laughs] And disengaging from feelings is not healthy for me, that definitely leads down a path that is not preferred for me or how I engage with other people. [Laughs]
Erynn: Mm-hm. And emotions, emotion regulation and emotional sensitivity, all of those are really—they’re considered secondary symptoms of ADHD—but they are very, very strong indicators. Especially when they come with things like, you know, not being good with your words when you’re having feelings or not having names for your feelings. And part of that is also in the genetic and then the parental factor of ADHD. So, ADHD is highly genetic. In fact, the only, I think the only trait that is more genetic than ADHD is height.
Kim: Oh, shit. OK. [Laughs]
Erynn: ADHD is somewhere in the, like, 80%. As in, a parent with ADHD has an 80% chance of passing on ADHD to each of their children. Someone once was like, “What if both parents have ADHD?” And I was like, “160, I guess?”
Kim: You’re fucked. [Erynn laughs] ‘Cause one of the things that I notice—and again, I can tell when I’m in a space when I can’t… oh my god, this conversation is so cathartic for me. I can tell when I’m in a space where I’m either processing something or I’m in a—because the kitchen starts getting really messy.
Kim: I can’t wash dishes. I don’t like eatin’ in the house. I don’t like cooking because I can’t wash—it’s like they pile… And it’s just that space, that whole, like the dishes pile up, but everything else around it is clean. [Laughs] And it’s… or there’re piles of clothes all over the place. But as soon as I come out of that space, [snaps fingers] I’m cleaning. I’m just like [continues snapping] boom, boom, boom. [Erynn laughs] I’m like doing laundry, I’m cleaning. I mean, it’s just like this, this thing. But when I’m in it, I have, there’s nothing that can—and me an’ my dad used to live together before he passed away—and that used to be a huge issue for us. And it was a lotta anxiety for me, because I was trying to clean up behind myself, and I just did not have it to do, nor did I have the language to understand or to articulate what was going on.
So I’m in this space where I don’t have the focus or energy—I don’t even know what to call it—to clean these things up. But I’m cleaning these things up because I don’t want to be in these arguments. I don’t want to cause him anxiety. I’m sharing a space with somebody kind of thing. Now that I live by myself, I just like, “Fuck it.” It’s not like it’s dirty. It’s just dishes that haven’t gone into the dishwasher. It’s gonna be good. I live here, I don’t give a fuck.
And then once I go through, have made a decision or dealt with those emotions or whatever it is, made that decision… it’s usually… a lot to do with when I’m trying to decide on something academic or professional; I’m trying to work out a problem. I don’t have the head space to do that.
Erynn: Yup. Well, and it takes a lot. I mean, so we don’t have a dishwasher. We do dishes by hand. However the sound of silverware clinking and falling around in the sink really bothers me. So before I can do dishes, I have to go dig through the sink and pull out all of the silverware so that it’s separate. And then I have to empty the dish rack if there’s any dishes in there.
Kim: Oh, emptying the dish rack is a pain in the ass. Oh shit, cause now I gotta put the shit back… ugh! [Laughs]
Erynn: Then I have to like, you know, because we put dishes in the sink, we also have to wash dishes in the sink, I’ve gotta take the dishes out so that I can wash them in the right order to put them in the dish rack…
Kim: So they can dry, yes!
Erynn: …so they’re not all over the place, so I don’t try to catch a dish with soapy, watery hands, and then I’m like… The amount of steps it takes just to get the dishes ready to be washed is enormous.
Erynn: The amount of steps it takes just to get the dishes ready to be washed is enormous.
Kim: I swear, to me I will know I have succeeded, that I have made a success out of Kim Creighton LLC and #CauseAScene when I can bring somebody in to weekly clean my kitchen. That to me, is just like, “That’s it, I’m here,” when I can do that. And because that is a mental stressor—anxiety that I don’t need—I can hand that off to somebody else.
And as women we’re taught that there should be some shame in that. You know, we have these roles. And I’m like, “Fuck that! No!” This is something I’ve never liked to do. It causes me… I have to sit there and just like stare at it, and just like, “ugh!” And get in, and rev myself. There’s so much prep to even get it done. If I just paid somebody to do that? That would be so much less on my plate. And it’s so simple!
Erynn: It is. My husband and I have now worked out a thing where he asks me—if it’s my turn to do dishes—”If you’re coming home late, or just we need them done, just ask me to do dishes. Just send me a text message and I’ll get them done.” Because just the act of him asking me then makes me externally accountable and also motivates me in a different way. Like, I’m like, “Oh, I don’t really want to wash dishes for me. But if it’s important to you right now that I do it, that’s not a problem, I can get it done.”
Kim: And it’s so funny when someone’s stayin’ with me or when I’m stayin’ with somebody else, I don’t even think about it. I wash the dishes; it’s so easy. It is just like… But when I’m here by myself, or it’s… oh yeah, it’s… if I’m stayin’ at someone’s house, as soon as I finish something, I wash it. I’ll start that—just like we were talking about these apps or whatever—I’ll start that, I was like, “OK, as long as… Just wash the dish after you use it. Just wash the dish after you use it.” And I’ll do that for a few days, and the next thing I know that pile is… and I’m like, “Oh fuck! How did we get back here?” [Laughs]
Erynn: And it happens so fast!
Kim: Yes! [Laughs]
Erynn: You know, you’re like, “But I just washed dishes.”
Kim: I just did this shit! [Laughs]
Erynn: I just did it. Like I’m… and someone’s like, “Yeah, you got to do ’em every day.” I’m like, “Every day? Who’s got time to do dishes every day? Have you seen the process that I need to go through just to do dishes the one time? I got little like, full stations, I gotta… no.”
Kim: Exactly! [Laughs] Oh wow, that is huge. But that is so important. And that’s so true. That is… and so thank you for having this honest conversation because there are so many things that I’ve just, again, I’ve just learned to manage, but didn’t have a word for why the fuck it was going on in the first place. [Laughs]
Erynn: Yeah, the one that resonates a lot with people is executive function. So, executive function is—the way I remember it is like executive function, executive assistant. So executive function is sort of like the frontal part of your brain, and it’s the part of your brain that decides, like the order of importance of things or the order of execution. And for most people, this happens at a subconscious level, right? You talk to someone who’s neurotypical, and you tell them, “Go clean your room,” and they just go clean the room.
I have to—I’m 33 years old, I’ve been cleaning my room for many, many years now—and I still have to, like, walk into the room and look around and cognitively be like, “OK… laundry. I have to pick up laundry first. And then I gotta clean up that shit on the nightstand. But if I’m gonna pick up laundry, I should put that in the laundry so then I can do that, and then I can do this, and then I can make the bed, and then I can sweep,” and I have to decide the order of things.
Kim: And not only order of things, I have to timebox it. [Laughs]
Erynn: Yeah. How long is that gonna take? I don’t know.
Kim: And… no, but I timebox it; I’ll say, “I’ll give myself 15 minutes, and then I’m taking 45 minutes off.” And then I’m… and I put a timer, and then I’ll give myself 15 minutes, and then I’m taking 45 minutes off. [Laughs]
Erynn: Yeah. So I was talking to a parent once, and she was saying, like, “We’re having such problems getting our kid to clean his room—our ADHD kid, what do we do?” And I was like, “Well, first of all, you got to make a list of what does cleaning your room mean.” ‘Cause “clean your room” is such an abstract concept. So I was like, “Clean the room with him, and then take pictures of what a clean room looks like.” And then print those pictures out, laminate it, stick it on the inside of a closet door, and put a list next to it of what are the steps to cleaning a room. All right, pick up the laundry, do this, make the bed, do that, la la la la la.
And so that way he’s got a ballpark; he can look at the pictures, look at his room, and be like, “OK, doesn’t match.” [Laughs] And he’s got a list of the steps and so he doesn’t have to stand there and try to think of them and not lose track or get distracted, or forget halfway through. Because that’s one of the other things with ADHD, is that constant fear of forgetting. I talk about how you constantly feel like things are just falling out of your brain.
Kim: Oh, and you can’t sleep. That’s one thing, that’s one reason I have anxiety. Insomnia. Yeah, I can’t sleep because I’m thinking… I’ll have a thought. And if I don’t get up immediately, write it down or something, that thought is repeating in my head all night so that I won’t—when I get up—I won’t forget it. Or there’s something that happens.
But I remember being the child and my room just being a hot mess, and my mom was cleaning, and I guess at some point she just gave up and just like closed the door. ‘Cause I was just like, “I don’t know what this is.” I mean, I would be literally walking in a sea of clothes. There would be nothing in the drawers. Everything would be on the floor. It would be clean. And I’d know what was clean and what was dirty. And at the time, I didn’t give a shit about—I was such a tomboy. Even that term is asshole-ish—but I didn’t care about… I wasn’t about ironing. “What the fuck am I ironing this shit for? I’m going out to play.” You know. [Laughs]
Erynn: Who irons?
Kim: Yes. Oh, my god. So I remember me and my mama having this conversation earlier last week or something like that because she was like, I would send you—my mom was never good with doing girl’s hair at all. Oh, I had a permanent part down the middle of my head, because all she could do was two plaits, two braids. Not even braids, I’ma say plaits ’cause, the plaits is different from braids. So she could do two plaits. And she’s like, “You would come home, and you’d look like you’ve been through the wars.” [Laughs] I had, you know, the Catholic school jumper they had, that the top, the top part connects to the skirt.
Kim: That you… So it wasn’t like just the skirt because that was in high school. You couldn’t just have—high school was just a skirt. But the jumper… and there was like, it was—I remember this—and there was a yellow shirt that was underneath.
And she’s like, “Your shirt would be coming out the sides.” And I was like, “How the hell is the shirt coming out the side of your jumper?” Just like, every time I got home my hair was… and she was like, “What did you do?” Nothing. There is nothing I can think of that would cause me to leave the house that morning and come back that evening and look like that. [Laughter] Nothin’, that was just my day! It was not like I did anything, I wasn’t in a fight, it was nothing. That was just how I looked at the end of each day. [Laughs]
Erynn: And I’m like, I’m like, yeah, was there a tag on the inside seam of your shirt that was itchy? ‘Cause then that makes sense to me.
Kim: No. It wasn’t even that. No, it was not. It was just I looked like I have been playing real hard and I don’t recall… it was just me.
‘Cause my mom was like, “How is your hair looking like…?” Oh, my god. It would just be bad. And I didn’t do anything. It’s just like, “What did you do?” Nothing. “I just went to school, what are you talking about?” But the before and afters; it reminded me. I guess what’s so funny to me is, I’ve seen this past—it was the first time I really saw this—past first day of school. And they showed all those social media, those pictures of those lil’ kids would go looking and how they came home. And those parents like, “What the hell happened to you?” That was me every single day. Wow, this conversation has been cathartic.
I’m seriously thinking… nah, I’m not about to get a diagnosis. Fuck all that. But I need to really, I do wanna, just… again, as a special ed teacher, we don’t talk about it as an adult. So I never even saw my behaviors in my students.
Kim: It was never even a thought to see, “Hey, y’all doing the same kind of thing.” So I’m really, so for those people like me who are interested in learning more, what can we do? How can we better manage this?
Erynn: There’s a really good community that’s popped up on Twitter in the past couple years, which is really great. When I first started talking about ADHD on Twitter, it was like nothing. It was like a desert. There was just the odd, you know, article about sugar causing ADHD. Twitter is good, Jess and on Twitter, René [Brooks], Black Girl Lost Keys (@blkgirllostkeys), is doing some fantastic work. She writes blog posts, she hosts all kinds of discussion. And she’s, yeah, she’s great. Jessica on YouTube does “How to ADHD” channel, her’s is really good. And, I also like, there’s a couple of artists that I really like. Dani Donovan (@danidonovan) and Pina—who’s @ADHD_Alien—both do comics about ADHD that are just, like, really fun and heartwarming. And…
Kim: So I’m following René because of you. I just like, I’m like, that name sounded familiar. So I will make sure we get those resources in the, in your episodes so we can have those links in there. Because, yeah, this is, this is new for me just to show, I mean you said you were 23. Again, as I say, I’m 50 and I’m just like, OK, this is what the hell this shit is. [Laughs]
Erynn: Yeah. Like I said, it is, it’s tough to get a diagnosis. It’s a lot easier if you have a family member with a diagnosis.
Kim: Oh, and I come from a Black family. Ain’t no way in hell none of them gon’ say they got ADHD anywhere in here. My dad’s dead. My mom… no, that ain’t gon’ happen. So, I’m good. [Laughs] Yeah.
Kim: It ain’t gon’ happen. I don’t need, and see that’s, for me, I don’t need a diagnosis ’cause I know what the hell it is. I just need to better manage it.
Erynn: That seems to be a huge relief for a lot of people, too, is just to have a name and just something that you can point to because without it, you end up thinking that you’re just… well, you think you’re lazy and you think you’re a terrible person.
Kim: Mhm, that’s what my dad used to call me all the time: lazy. And I’m like, “No, I’m not lazy.” And it goes back to what were you talkin’ ’bout, When it’s something I want to do, I’m just like, I’m hyper-focused on it. Just like my, I started my research about Adam Smith. Oh, my god. I am just going boom! doom! The father of economics! [Laughs] I am loving this work, but when it comes to those dishes in the sink, it’s like, “Ehhhh, no.” [Laughs]
Erynn: Too many steps, too boring.
Kim: Oh, my god. OK, so what would you like to say in your closing thoughts?
Erynn: I’m not sure if we really got to the tech side of things, ADHD in tech.
Kim: Oh, Is there something specific? Let’s talk about before we leave. What’s—we could go a little longer. What’s specific about ADHD in tech you wanna to talk about?
Erynn: I think for a lot of ADHD brains, tech really makes sense. I’ve done some coding and programming, and I’ve worked in tech off and on and with a lot of like tech-minded people. And the rules for working with technology—and specifically for working with computers—are clear in that there’s a certain way that computers understand things, and if you don’t do things in that way, then the computer doesn’t understand it, and stuff doesn’t compile and stuff doesn’t work.
And I think just even that is very similar for ADHD brains, and the rules are clear enough to understand. And it doesn’t, they don’t often come with all of the factors that come with social situations that can disrupt things. You know, if something isn’t working, it’s not working for a reason. And the reason is somewhere here in front of me in this thing that I’m making or this thing that I’m working on.
Kim: That’s interesting, because I think that’s a huge problem in tech, though.
Erynn: Oh, absolutely.
Kim: Because the default is very binary. And no one wants to talk about those social issues that are causing you to create this binary thing, that it has to work that way because that’s your perspective, and it working that way causes harm for other people. And so that’s an interesting perspective of how to have those conversations with those individuals with—yes, I understand it makes it more comfortable for you, and yet your comfort is not the priority here—and we have to figure out a way to insure that the things we are creating aren’t creating barriers for other people.
Erynn: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Kim: Yeah, that’s interesting. Yeah, that’s a great point. That is a great point, because that is that… people think, you know, what you put in is what you put out. And as a social scientist, I understand that’s not true. [Laughs]
Erynn: At the same time, ADHD people tend to… people with ADHD tend to have a certain disregard… it depends; it can kind of go one of two ways. You can either be like, become like, really rooted in tradition. And sometimes in those binary thoughts like, “this is the way it’s always been. This is the way it’s gotta be,” because of the anxiety that comes with the unknown, right? You kind of get locked in that. Or you can also become just really open-minded and sort of have a certain disregard for tradition because if you show up and you’re sort of systems and process-minded, as someone who has ADHD, and you see a process that’s not working or that takes too many steps and you see a way to do it that’s better or easier or faster, you’re like, “Why would I care that we’ve done it this way for 20 years? It’s wrong.”
Kim: Oh we are, we’re… this’s one reason—I’m glad, oh my god, I’m so happy you said—that’s why strategy is my thing. That’s why I can see the forest and the trees. I’m a big per—big thinking—I can see the big picture and the minutia of it. And I will do a strategy in a heartbeat. When I have—used to get—like my special needs students, I would do little tasks like, OK, let’s… there’s a teacher needed some packets done. OK, let’s figure out how to get these packets, and that’ll be their assignments.
And by the time we’re finished, we got an assembly line. We have figured out a system for making this the quickest, most efficient way to do this so that they would learn. And that’s just something how my brain just normally… I mean, I easily see something I’m like, “OK, I could do that differently.” OK. And then I do it a few times their way, and then I—and then by the time I’m done—I’ve done it more efficiently. And this is why inclusion and diversity is bedrock to businesses because in the knowledge economy, you need my more efficient and effective way that I’ve created for you—as a business leader, to be able to be competitive and differentiate and innovate. Because now I’ve come up with, I’ve improved your system. But if I don’t feel safe to share that with you, you don’t know that.
Erynn: And you can go both ways. You can go either way, depending on the situation or what’s more comfortable or what just works better for you. But you’ll find ADHD people of either variety and either situation all the time. So it’s interesting because it’s not as simple as the image that we often have of it.
Kim: And it—again—it goes to we’re always, again, that binary, we’re not binary, there’s no binary answer to this, and we’re always trying to look. And when we’re talkin’ ’bout computers, we keep thinking that there—yes, there is ones and zeros—we get that, but that’s a computer. The fact that someone decided that ones and zeros will be the default of that is a decision. And so all those decisions came for humans and humans are human. [Laughs]
Erynn: Yeah, it’s not like computers are aliens. It’s not like they showed up on this world, and they only speak ones and zeroes, and we’ve had to learn how to work with them. Someone made a computer. Someone decided that’s how it talks. That’s the whole thing.
Kim: Oh, this is good. I might have to bring you back, ’cause this has been a really interesting conversation, cause I’m now like I’m in pseudo-therapy here. All right, so! [Laughter] What would you like to say in your closing moments?
Erynn: I dunno, I think I said everything I wanted to. Yeah, I’m good.
Kim: OK. So I’m glad we did bring in the… you got to say what you wanted to say about tech and ADHD, ’cause I needed to hear that. I’m gonna have some… OK, so let’s… just let you know I’m not gon’ be able to sleep tonight.
Erynn: OK? [Laughs]
Kim: I’m gonna be processing all of this in my head… [Laughter] So thank you, Erynn. Thanks a lot.
Erynn: You’re welcome, I think. [Laughs]
Kim: No, thank you so much. ‘Cause it answers so many questions for me. But even in answering questions, it brings up so many more questions.
Kim: So thank you so much for being a guest on the show.
Erynn: Thank you for having me.
Kim: Have a great day.
Erynn: You too.
Kim: All right.