ADHD PoC Voices: Romanza McAllister LCSW Shares her Own Story and Discusses Challenges Facing People of Color with ADHD

Episode 105

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This week we are delighted to present another special episode dedicated to exploring the lived experiences of people of color with ADHD by presenting an interview with coach and therapist Romanza McAllister LCSW.

Romanza is a trauma-informed psychotherapist and ADHD coach in New York City.  She is a mental health advocate and very active in the leadership of ADDA.

In this episode, Romanza speaks about growing up and the challenge of being misunderstood, even gaslit, by those around her as she tried to understand her own neurodiverse brain. She converted her own personal challenge into her current empowerment model of helping those with ADHD in communities of color find their unique authentic voice and recognize and celebrate one’s intersectional identities. 

Join us in this fascinating, inspiring and far-ranging discussion with Romanza McAllister.

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Episode Transcript:

Cam: Hi, this is Cam and this is a special edition of translating ADHD this week. We’re delighted to present another episode dedicated to exploring the lived experiences of people, of color with ADHD, who are making a difference in the world of ADHD, mental health, especially in communities of color. This week we’re speaking with Romanda McAllister. Romanda is a trauma-informed psychotherapist.

She’s an ADHD coach and she is a black woman with ADHD. Today we’re going to talk about her own lived experience with ADHD and also the work she does within her practice and in communities of color. So romanza thank you so much for being.

Romanza: Thank you for having.

Cam: So, I just want to jump right into and where, where we like to begin is your own story, As a black woman with ADHD, and just really focusing on the ADHD part first in the sense of when were you diagnosed and what was relevant during that diagnosis?

Romanza: Well, I was diagnosed with ADHD at age 10 and how we came about finding that out is, my report cards would literally were littered with statements like. Amanda is exceptionally bright, but it’s very, chatty talks too much. One report card, even read romance. It’s very occupied with the business of others and is often busy taking up for the underdog.

So I knew that I was going to be a social worker then,

Cam: Well I interrupt, but right there. you knew exactly your destiny there, right?

Romanza: Yes Yes. Talk show host or therapists.

So Yeah.

But it was often said, I simply didn’t try hard enough, but you know, I was extremely bright. So my mom had me evaluated and again, I was diagnosed at the age of 10 and I was on and off medication well into high school because of course I was a rebellious teenager and I didn’t want to accept the diagnosis.

And being a young black teen with ADHD was especially difficult being that it’s stigmatized in the community. And my mother also found herself grappling with what was a characteristic of ADHD or a symptom of ADHD, or maybe some sort of what people in the community would consider a moral.

Deficit like being lazy or careless. Right. And so we had a very contentious mother-daughter relationship, but um, yeah, she’s proud of me today because I’m fully leaning into the diagnosis and I work with people who have is so high mom.

Cam: The, uh, I can’t help, but go back to my report. Cards were very similar in the sense of we see the potential, but we’re not seeing the consistent performance. So I was not a disruptor. I was the inattentive type. It sat in the back of the room. And if you didn’t bother me, I didn’t bother.

So that was really, you know, I didn’t get a diagnosis until I was actually teaching school. And seeing these kids come through who were super bright, but super challenged around organization and consistency.

Romanza: Right.

Cam: And it’s just like, what is going on here? Yeah. So when did you start to realize. Turn toward this idea that ADHD is in play and around this acceptance piece, romantic.

Romanza: Um, I began to do a bit more research about it in college. And initially I thought it was just lack of motivation and depression. I was like, it can’t be ADHD. They say that you outgrow that, they told you that you would outgrow this. So it can’t possibly be ADHD. I’m an adult now. And I thought that things should be better by now.

And I was just like could adult ADHD possibly be a thing? So I, I had this theory in mind, I didn’t have anything to support it. The internet was a thing slash wasn’t a thing. You still had to learn how to do a Google search at the time that I was in college. So I didn’t really have community around this.

And I found myself being like gas lit by friends and family. No, this isn’t really happening. You just need to try harder. And I just became like really, you know, upset and turn inward. And so I found myself seeking services at the student disability support center on campus. Cause I had the diagnosis, I just brought them the paperwork, but they weren’t really able to do much for me except for Helped me to self-soothe a little bit and give me some extra test time and extra test time.

Wasn’t exactly all that was needed, but it was helpful. I graduated college by the skin of my teeth, and I began to really become more interested in, what ADHD is and is not. Around that time, but still information was limited. So I decided to major in social work and then move on to become a clinical social worker where I could work with other people who, were experiencing things like myself.

Cam: So, What did you learn there? And working with people who struggled with similar challenges, what was being revealed for you with regard to your own add.

Romanza: I learned that their sense of self had been. Muted suppressed or stolen from them. Right. And so I began to try to work with them through a self-empowerment model to kind of reframe harmful narratives around ADHD and, actually using psycho-education to convince them that ADHD actually existed because you know, these folks would come from families where, you know, mental health. Isn’t a thing and that you need to maybe either pray and get over it. So I would help them to navigate and assert their intersectional identities and to come to an acceptance of their diagnosis. So it was more about, character development and identifying codependency and people pleasing behaviors, because they did not trust themselves.

So returning the locus of control to self within my clients,

Cam: Yeah on the podcast, we’ve been talking a lot about self and seeing yourself in the picture, and that these executive functions at play really can remove us The picture, of just again, verbal and nonverbal working memory to recall our own sense of self seen ourself in the picture, in this room.

And when you have that questioning that yeah. know, You don’t have a problem, you don’t have a problem. Right. And you use the term Gaslight it has an impact. There is a traumatic. Effect here of, as you’re trying to articulate your experience in the world and it’s falling on deaf ears. Yeah. I love that language there. Around again, that sense of self being muted or stolen or removed, taken away. And also bringing, yeah. The locus of control back to your clients. So can you say more about, intersection of identities and can you say more about that term and what that means here?

Romanza: we’re all ADHD is here. Right. If you’re listening, if you’re tuned in, but how does your ADHD impact how you move in the world? And I always like to think of how do you get to ADHD and how you get to ADHD. Basically depends on your lived experience, right?

It can either be an expansive experience or a very limited one depending on your place or where you feel you fit in society. So for me, I’m a black woman living with ADHD. I’m also a psychotherapist, which means I’m a teacher. I’m also a coach, which means I’m a teacher. So I have many different hats.

And how does ADHD show up to any one of those spaces? So helping um, My clients to see that ADHD. Isn’t one thing that it transforms according to how you have to show up and meeting your best self, when you get there, what does that look like? And what tools do you need to meet your best self at any given level.

And so that’s the intersectionality piece for me.

Cam: Yeah well, and also it’s very much of this journey thinking, or like a, there’s a process here versus this kind of like, oh, I’ve got, I just have to, you know, figure out this add, and everything’s taken care of versus very processed, rich, and seeing how all these different elements weave together. And um, we talk about being wired for context on the podcast. And this is where we can turn context into a superpower is to look at these different threads of these different areas and how they weave and integrate together.

Romanza: Absolutely 

Cam: Yeah, that’s wonderful. Can you say more about. the challenge of having ADHD being a woman and being a black person. what is the unique challenge that, you see in your clients? And the addition of the ADHD there.

Romanza: I would say in my personal experience, being a black woman and living with ADHD is, and can be emotionally taxing. Oftentimes I’m in the workspace. I was expected to be, and to do all that. think that was attributed to some positive stereotyping, like for example black women are less likely to receive support at work due to over perceive self-sufficiency right.

Due to us being seen as independent or having overcome much adversity. People tend to think that we can be and do all. And as a woman, you are expected to nurture and give to others. So I find that I found that to be very uniquely challenging.

Um, People would often rely on me for support and advice without checking in on me. I also felt the pressure to avoid being labeled as lazy or incompetent, which is one of the more historically negative stereotypes. Placed on black people here in the states. So this took a toll on my physical and mental health, and I struggled to appear timely and organized, right.

For fear that my individual struggles would be attributed to race. And so I see a lot of my clients coming and trying to manage their work identity. And removing that mass to rest and reset when they get home. And sometimes the lines have blurred or having to code switch in order to make other people feel safe.

And as the ADHD or that’s pulling on a lot of use of executive functioning. You have to make sure you’re over-prepared , controlling your impulses on a daily basis is hard enough in order to maintain employment and trying to appear to be just like everyone else is harder while navigating certain stereotypes, right? Whether they be negative or positive. So that is a lot to deal with for any ADHD. But, I find that with my clients who are black and living with ADHD is especially texting.

Cam: Yeah. And just that again, I’m thinking about the, as you said, code switching masking from work to home and all those transitions. That transitioning piece can be. So it’s just so executive function intensive.

Romanza: absolutely.

Cam: yeah, it just taxes the bandwidth by the end of the day.

So say more we like to really, you know, again, resilience and stories of success are so compelling here and. No. What are you doing? Like you yourself around being resilient and overcoming your challenges and moving forward. And can you speak to that romance?

Romanza: Okay. I make sure to walk into a room with all of my identities until, and I’m also very upfront and open about my diagnosis with everyone that I meet. I make sure to take continued inventory of my strengths and limitations. Any given situation, because the landscape of, you know, my ADHD is always changing.

It’s not fixed. And I I’m very big on putting my needs first so that I can be my best self with others. I would say. Lastly, I’m a big advocate for, and fiercely protective of safe spaces where I can exist and not feel pressured to educate and always make sure to engage in continuing education for myself and my clients.

Right. So community is good for the soul. It keeps me empowered and grounded, and that’s my weekly practice.

Cam: Can you say more about the community that grounds you. The elements provide that groundedness.

Romanza: it feels good to be. In a space with people that I can heavily identify with a space where I will not be judged and experiences are different, but yet the same, 

Cam: yeah. so what would you say to someone who has a recent diagnosis? Um they’re a person of color and maybe they haven’t found a community that is supportive yet. Where would you encourage them to look or focus for.

Romance in moving in this direction, right? This is, we’re talking about a lifetime of, effort on your part. I talk about my lifetime of effort, but for that person who has a diagnosis in this understanding of, oh, add is in the mix and now I need to step into this identity. Would you encourage them to do focus on as a first step?

Romanza: At first, I encouraged them to engage in a group experience and simply listen to share that there’s no need to initially participate and see if identification occurs for them. I invite them to come into a space where they can remove the mask and just find effective ways to heal from the pushback of, being denied. Their experience as an ADHD year. And I would let them know that in these groups we reinforced resilience and self-advocacy right. While having meaningful conversations about ADHD and blackness. So it’s really a space where they can come and chew the meat and spit out the bones, right?

Everything is not for everyone. And to let them know that, they won’t have to educate, they won’t be judged and that they are welcome. And I think that will take a load off initially. So I encourage folks to first find community and then move forward from there.

Cam: Yeah I’m a big believer in community, too. And as you said, it’s a place to really heal from the pushback to be able to take the mask off, we started a group coaching class on self care, and you could just see around the room, the people exhaling.

It’s like, oh, here’s a place that I can just be myself. I don’t have to then, try to perform or show up as neuro-typical. And so can you say more about communities where they might there’s some ideas of where they might find this support? I know you’ve done a lot of work with Adda, which is the attention deficit disorder association and ad has been just brilliant.

Yeah. Developing peer support programs and providing community for those of us with ADHD and also initiatives regarding uh, diversity too. Can you say more about that romance of like, where are these communities? Where might people find support? 

Romanza: Absolutely. I recently stepped down as the group facilitator for the African-American and black diaspora virtual peer support group with Adda. And I’m now on the advisory board, but this is definitely a safe space where people can come and learn how to advocate for accommodations and effectively communicate their lived experiences.

Definitely check us out@adb.org. You’re welcome.

Cam: So as we finish up here today, Romanda I want to turn to the work that you’re doing. And again you’ve been a psychotherapist for some time, but recently you’ve added the ADHD coaching piece. To your offering.

And I just, I’m wondering from that perspective of all the work you have done this addition or this integration of add coaching what do you see as the opportunity for yourself as a professional and also for your clients as you work with them?

Romanza: I see the opportunity to use a growth mindset model. And weave it into self-empowerment coaching and this will help my clients and turn to like reframe harmful narratives, and begin to tell themselves a different story about who they are and ways in which they can begin to. Except and lean into what the ADHD diagnosis means.

So more or less it’s a form of using cognitive reframing, but also narrative storytelling. So we just want to undo harmful narratives and to help the client become the hero of their own story, fostering self-efficacy.

Cam: yeah, also I can’t help, but think that there’s a partnering element here that happens too, right? as they take ownership of their ADHD, they’re also taking ownership here. And it’s empowering them, that partnering is this big part of coaching. I know that it’s in social work too. It’s in psychotherapy, but that, you know, giving them agency

Romanza: Absolutely.

Cam: yeah, wonderful as agency, like you walking into a room with your identities and toe and calling the shots. Yeah. So I’ve really enjoyed speaking with you today. Romanda and thank you so much for coming. Thank you so much for all the work that you do. So this has been another special episode. Exploring the lived experiences of people of color with ADHD who make a difference in the world of ADHD and mental health and communities of color.

And so, Romanza, thank you so much. for being here today with us and sharing about what you’re doing and supporting communities of color. And so where can people find out more about you and what you do?

Romanza: You can find me on psychology today, romance and McAlester LCSW, or you can find me on my website, McAlister psychotherapy.com and that’s M C a L L I S T E R. psychotherapy.com. Thank you, Cam

Cam: Yeah, you’re welcome. Thank you so much.

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Episode 105