Discovering a Guardian’s Untreated ADHD
On the morning of my 50th birthday, I was waiting in earnest for my mother’s annual birthday call at 9:30 a.m. (the time of my birth). Even though I knew she wouldn’t call, it took a while for my heart to catch up with my head. As this happened a tsunami of tears fell.
My mother was hospitalized in 2019 with a number of life-threatening health complications. She spent the first half of 2020 at home, in a gated community in a nondescript suburb in southwest Dallas.
I should visit them on Mother’s Day 2020, according to an annual tradition. But after careful consideration, I canceled my flight because I feared that if I were asymptomatic and infected her that she would not be able to survive. She was disappointed, but seemed to take the news calmly.
She texted me every day. She asked about work and friends, what I do for dinner, and sent congratulations to her “grandson” Jack, my 15-year-old, three-legged mixed Siamese tabby cat.
At the end of May 2020, she received a good prognosis from her family doctor. She took all possible precautions so as not to run into danger, so that one day she could enjoy the simplest pleasures again. The door to her building was locked, she had a ring video doorbell camera, an ADT security system, and two locks on her door, one of which could only be opened from the inside.
[Home Alone? Older Adults with ADHD Grappling with Pandemic Loneliness]
Despite all precautionary measures, all doors locked and secured, the disease reached her and stole my mother’s life on July 20, 2020 at 01:05 am on the abysmal pandemic policies and approaches of the state and the president at the time. Nevertheless, the lack of knowledge kept me up for many nights and haunted me to this day.
When the funeral and funeral arrangements were finalized, I was assigned to write the obituary for my mother and review thousands of documents she left behind. On the last night alone in my mother’s house – mentally and physically exhausted – I came across a document with a five-digit number on the first page: 314.01.
I suspected it was code from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), a manual used by clinicians to diagnose mental disorders. My blurry eyes darted left from the code and the short puzzle was solved: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I was surprised, maybe even shocked, by this blink-and-miss-it discovery. Did my mother leave me a message from beyond the grave?
ADHD is a complex neurological disorder that severely affects executive functions such as self-awareness, emotional regulation, motivation, planning, and problem-solving. People with ADHD tend to live in a permanent present and find it difficult to learn from the past and link that learning to future decisions. In the worst case, this “acting without thinking” can seriously affect interpersonal relationships, careers, and potentially the entire lifespan of people with ADHD.
[The Adult ADHD Mind: Executive Function Connections]
I was diagnosed with ADHD two months before I found my mother’s document. Coincidentally, my mother was 49 years old when she was diagnosed; as old as i was when i was diagnosed. I hadn’t gotten around to telling her about my diagnosis because I feared it might cause her unnecessary worry and confusion. But I had learned that ADHD is genetic. Even after her death, that revelation and connection was the final piece of the puzzle that explained our complicated and often explosive relationship.
It is a miracle that my mother and I were able to maintain the appearance of closeness or mutual affection. But luckily we did it! We often sent each other cute notes, cards and texts, just like that. When I came out at 23, my mother was in turmoil because of her deeply religious roots. She was a gospel singer who wrote and produced two gospel albums in the 1980s. Still, her love for me and her support never wavered.
During a phone call with my mother a decade ago, she revealed something even more shocking than ADHD. “You are my best friend, Kelvin,” she said. It was then that I realized that even in our darkest times she loved me unconditionally – I was her “permanent gift”. In so many ways, she tried to let me know that she had already forgiven me for every wrongdoing, cold shoulder, and missed phone call. As I sift through unforgiving guilt (the codependent companion of grief), I pray that one day I will feel worthy of my mother’s permanent forgiveness.
Earlier this year, on our mother’s 76th birthday, my two older brothers and I, who lived in different cities, blew up balloons at the same time. My balloons were round, gold and black, except for three red, heart-shaped balloons to symbolize our own unconditional and immortal love for our dear mother. She gave us everything she had despite untreated ADHD which has undoubtedly overwhelmed and emotionally drained her.
Amid the racism, sexism, and abuse she suffered, along with the pain of unfulfilled dreams and an immunocompromised body, her beauty, humor, and intelligence were ubiquitous. Her legacy flourishes in her three sons, eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
I can only say to my mother: “You are also my best friend.”
A Mother’s Love: The Next Steps
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Updated May 20, 2021
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