by Estelle Uba
“You’re holding yourself to a standard that is not made for people like you. You have to reset the rules.”
Being neurodivergent in a world designed for neurotypicals is difficult. Living life as a black person in a majority-white society also comes with its struggles. What does it feel like when the two identities overlap?
Someone all too familiar with this feeling is Chanté Joseph, an award-winning journalist and broadcaster. “I’m more tough on myself. Yes, because I’m a black woman and also because I have ADHD, so I feel like I have something to prove,” she says.
As a journalist, Chanté is usually the one leading an interview. Today, however, she is the one sharing her story. Most people may know her from her work as the host of The Guardian’s ‘Pop Culture with Chanté Joseph’ podcast. What many may not know, is she was diagnosed with ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) at the age of 25.
“In ADHD, there are two main domains – the inattention domain and the hyperactivity-impulsivity domain,” says Dr Prajakta Patil, a consultant psychiatrist who specialises in the diagnosis and treatment of adult ADHD. “People with ADHD have difficulties with either of the two or both, at a much higher threshold than what you find in the average person.”
According to Dr Patil, the attention-deficit domain includes symptoms such as difficulty focusing and forgetfulness. Whereas the hyperactivity-impulsivity domain manifests itself through behaviours like not being able to sit still and saying things without thinking.
Chanté decided to get tested for ADHD when she became overwhelmed with the demands of her first full-time job at a creative agency. She struggled with keeping to deadlines and paying attention to detail. Although she experienced this while studying, transitioning into the world of work exposed them more than ever. “At uni, there’s less of an eye on you,” she says. However, as a full-time worker, being under that much scrutiny led her to struggle with her emotional regulation and handling criticism.
She added: “I would get bored really quickly. I knew I was capable but working to the structure of the 9-5 working day was difficult for me.”
A big challenge for young adults with ADHD, Dr Patil says, is dealing with the transition into the outside world. She explains: “Life is much more unstructured as you grow older. You no longer have the routine school provided. You have to manage your executive functioning and people with ADHD find it harder to organise themselves.”
She says ADHD also affects people in the workplace socially: “Sometimes they may say things impulsively and people may take it the wrong way. This leads to them beating themselves up.”
“Feelings of anxiety and low self-esteem are often why a diagnosis can be such a big relief for people, as it validates what they have felt all along.” says Dr Patil.
However, according to therapy service Oxford CBT, on average, the cost for a private assessment can be around £1,200 for adults. Alternatively, applying for testing through the NHS-funded ‘Right to Choose’ procedure can take months due to long waiting lists. Unlike many others, Chanté was fortunate enough to have her employer, who noticed her symptoms, offer to pay for a test.
“Once I got my diagnosis, I actually decided to quit my job because I was like – I want to figure out what works for me. [This meant starting] everything again from ground zero”.
However, Chanté recalls showing symptoms of the disorder while she was in school but didn’t know how to ask for support since she didn’t know what ADHD was.
Despite being a ‘high achiever’ in extracurricular activities, she found it difficult to focus when she got into a classroom. To compensate, she would put pressure on herself: “I was taking lots of caffeine tablets and Red Bull. You don’t realise when you struggle with focusing, it’s not because you’re lazy or tired… but I didn’t know that at the time, so I was quite harsh on myself.”
Instead of realising Chanté needed additional support in school, her teachers dismissed her symptoms as disruptive behaviour – a judgement she believes was rooted in racial bias. She says: “There was lots of ‘Chanté’s really chatty”. Race plays a huge part because they see it as “You’re a black child so you’re predisposed to bad behaviour. If I was a white student, I would have been met with a lot more kindness.”
She believes racial profiling excludes people of colour from accessing medical support. “The stereotype of ADHD is the hyperactive white boy. So, when you don’t fit that mould, you’re kind of just seen as an annoyance, as opposed to someone that is crying out for help.”
According to the Attention Deficit Disorder Association, ADHD is often underdiagnosed in women due to gender biases and expectations. Symptoms like interrupting others and inattentiveness are often mislabelled as chattiness and daydreaming.
At the age of 27, Chanté is constantly figuring out how to navigate life with the disorder but admits there are ebbs and flows: “Some days are great. Some days are not so great. There are moments I feel like I’m on top of the world, and moments where I don’t feel effective.”
Looking back, she says going freelance gave her the space she needed to build a working life that makes sense for her. However, she admits it wasn’t necessarily easy: “Leaving the workplace didn’t mean I suddenly didn’t have ADHD. I had to develop lots of hacks and tricks to reduce the opportunity for distraction.”
One piece of advice she would give to other neurodivergent freelancers is: “Learn what you can do yourself and what you can lease out to other people. You’re only one person; you’re running your own business, and the product or service is you.”
For employees, she says there is no shame in asking your employer for support, referring to resources like Access to Work, government-funded support that better equips workplaces for people with disabilities. She compares it to how offices make their buildings wheelchair accessible for employees: “It’s the same thing with ADHD. They have a legal obligation to provide you with the support you need to do your job to the best of your ability.”
The most important thing the writer has learned since her diagnosis is to be kinder to herself: “I’m not perfect. There’s still so much I need to figure out.” For those out there who place pressure on themselves to mask their neurodiversity, she says: “You’re holding yourself to a standard that is not made for people like you. You have to reset the rules.”
Editor’s Note: To treat her symptoms, Chanté takes a holistic approach, using therapy, coaching and medication simultaneously. What has also helped her is communities like ADHD Babes, an online support group for black women and non-binary people with ADHD.