ADHD, Race and Culture: The Black Woman Lived Experience

Episode 145

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We continue our theme on race and ADHD as we welcome fellow ADHD coach and psychotherapist Inger Shaye Colzie back to Translating ADHD. Inger Shaye helped Shelly and Cam kick off the PoC Voices series back in the summer of 2020.  Inger Shaye shares how a lack of representation at the 2019 Annual ADHD Conference inspired her to become a coach herself and also inspired her to start The ADHD Black Professionals Alliance – an organization committed to addressing ADHD and mental health issues in the Black community.

Inger Shaye also discusses how years ago her advocating for her ADHD son in a school system, a system wanting to label her child as a discipline problem, revealed the disparities in support services available to communities of color. She shares the unique burdens placed upon black women – the expectation to care for everyone in the community, often putting their own needs at the bottom of their list. She shares how executive function challenges, gender and race create a triple challenge to fostering real and positive change for her clients. Finally, she shares examples of her own clients, professional black women, and how coaching can address their unique challenges in the workplace and the homefront.

Episode links + resources:

Links to the resources Inger Shaye shares on the episode:
Inger Shaye’s Facebook group for professional Black women:

For more of the Translating ADHD podcast:

Episode Transcript:

[00:00:00] Shelly: Hi, I’m Shelly and this is Translating ADHD. This week we’re excited to bring you another episode on race, culture and ADHD with our guest Inger Shaye Colzie. But before we start talking to Inger Shaye, we have a quick group coaching announcement. Our next class is Agency. That class begins January 17th. For those that have participated in group coaching before, it is important to note that we will now meet on Tuesdays instead of Wednesdays. For information and to apply for the course, visit the website and click on the group coaching link. 

[00:00:43] Cam: Shelly, I’m really looking forward to today’s episode. If you recall, Inger Shaye was our first guest on the POC Voices series. We started back in the summer of 2020, so way back to episode 38. She was with us and we talked about her own experience of growing up with ADHD and her work. So we’re gonna continue that conversation today in the context of race, gender, and culture.

[00:01:10] Shelly: Cam, before we dive in, I actually think the story of how you and Inger Shaye became acquainted and how she stepped into coaching is really interesting So why don’t we start there, Inger Shaye, with how you got on the path to becoming an ADHD coach and specifically an ADHD coach for black women.

[00:01:32] Inger Shaye: Well, Shelly, it’s really an interesting story, and it has something to do with our friend, Cam.

[00:01:38] Cam: Our friend, Cam.

[00:01:40] Inger Shaye: Yes, we love you, Cam. So what happened was, I was at a CHADD meeting for adults. Normally I went to CHADD meetings for parents because my son has ADHD, and before everybody knew about Zoom, there was someone on a Zoom call. We didn’t know what that was in the group asking for volunteers to be a participant in a 2019 ADHD conference.

 And this person wanted to show proper ADHD. Nobody knew what that was. People were either really wanted to do or didn’t wanna do it. I said, I know I was gonna do it. So I went to meetings with Cam and got chosen, and it was gonna be about an eight week coaching arc to be able to show in the middle of the coaching arc how coaching is done properly.

We started blowing through the sessions of coaching and moving a lot faster than either one of us had ever planned. We make it to the conference. We’re coaching in a conference and I’ve said, it feels like you ever see movies where it feels like all the people disappear and the two people are talking?

That’s what it felt like for me in coaching, and it was magical. Yet it was done in a whole room full of white women and that was really scary for me for open completely up in a room of people I didn’t know if they were gonna even understand what was happen. But it opened me up in that moment to go out into the conference.

And when I went into the conference and I spent the other four days at the conference, there were about, I dunno, a handful of black people there in general. And I met a few other black coaches, And so it became apparent to me that black people either didn’t know about ADHD coaching or felt uncomfortable around it.

I mean, we were in Philadelphia, it’s a 60% city of black. And it made no sense to me. So when I got home from the conference, I changed my whole focus from psychotherapy. I’m a psychotherapist to ADHD coaching because I know the experience that I just had at the conference and how life changing it was for me, and to know that other people weren’t gonna be able to have the same experience, it was heartbreaking for me. And then I really realized after that there really aren’t a lot of black coaches, or there’s no way for the black coaches that are out there to be recognized or seen in any type of grouping. And that’s when I decided that I really needed to a coach black women. That experience was my experience, but b, find a place for black people to find black coaches if they want or need them.

That way you don’t have to worry about having some conversations that. Difficult to have that. You don’t have to worry about doing a lot of explaining. I mean, I had the benefit, I will say, of being a psychotherapist ahead of time, which allowed me to be able to have that experience in front of a room full of white women, I mean, it was really remarkable and really scary. All I could think of was I was staring at Cam going, if you make me cry here, cause I didn’t wanna cry in front of like a whole bunch of people, but because I have the experience as a psychotherapist, I know what it’s like when people are vulnerable and how to take care of myself and others in that moment.

But if you don’t have that experience then it’s really difficult sometimes to be able to open up and look at these things with somebody you don’t really trust. So that’s really how I made that arc that turned into coaching and it’s been life changing. So I always thank Cam for that, and it’s been so helpful to so many others ever since.

[00:04:59] Shelly: Yeah I just love that story. I love that that set you on this path. And I was in that session, I was an attendee of that session Cam and I had just started the podcast and he told me what he was trying to do. And for those of you that aren’t coaches, It’s one thing to coach someone for the first time around a particular topic, and it’s a completely different thing when you’re with a client for a while and you develop a knowing of that client and a way of showing up and co-creating together, and that’s what Cam was trying to capture.

And as a participant, I can tell you, everyone else in that room also saw. When we disappeared for both of you, because you went from being a little nervous, a little on edge, probably with that thought in your head of, Don’t you dare make me cry. To all of the sudden it was the two of you facing each other, just coaching and no one else was there.

It was such a cool experience and I love that. In addition to Cam being able to bring that amazing demonstration of coaching to that conference, that he also inspired you. To step into coaching and to step in to serve a population that’s being underserved. So let’s talk about that as a black woman, why are you so passionate about coaching black women with ADHD in particular?

[00:06:21] Inger Shaye: Well, there’s so many reasons. But you know, I have that lived experience, right? I have the lived experience of having things go right, but then things go wrong and people not understanding that I’m not understanding that, having experience of knowing that people are expecting things of you, that you can’t always provide all of my clients, you know, it’s like you have so much never potential should be a four letter word, It really should having to take care of yourself, your children your parents, maybe the expectations of being a black woman, you know, at work. All the things that you don’t understand, all the things that you can’t kind of put your finger on, and how it’s so painful for that you actually walk over that pain. Like you don’t even sometimes notice that you’re having it and allowing people to take the time to stop and notice their pain, so then you can do something about it. Just became super paramount because I really think that a lot of the health problems that black women have come from just pushing through all of the things that they have to do for other people or they feel they have to do for other people. And all the things that they see that need to be done. And when you have ADHD, that feeling of being behind not doing what other people expect you to do not living up to the expectations that you have and that society puts upon you, especially as a black woman the racism and bias I was just talking to something about coming into a room.

If you’re quiet, you’re angry black woman, cuz you’re not saying anything. If you say something, even in your regular tone of. it’s like, why are you yelling all that energy and then you have adhd. It’s enough to put you under the bed. So that’s how I got to really wanting to focus on black women with.

[00:08:02] Shelly: So you’ve already spoken to the society expectations to some degree, what it’s like to walk into a room as a black woman, but tell me about what other expectations you mentioned, expectations at home and expectations at work.

[00:08:16] Inger Shaye: So expectations at home, things like being able to take care of your children especially if child or children with. I have a child with ADHD and I have several clients that have multiple children with ADHD. So managing that, how to manage the, just regular logistics of life and how their ADHD hits their children generally in different ways and how the schools perceive them.

I know that my son was perceived more as a discipline problem than anything with ADHD, and every year I have to go in and give a class on. That’s really how I like, got really deep into ADHD. It’s like I had to learn it to be able to take care of my child, but all the energy that took you know, didn’t allow me to have a lot of room for myself.

Also, the expectations of keeping your household up the way that sometimes people are like, you need to be the one that’s taking care of your household. your mother did it. my cousin did it. You need to be the one to do it. So the thought of outsourcing is something that’s, It just feels like it’s wrong to do that.

And so those types of expectations among many others. And then at work, it’s a weird paradox of they think you can’t do the job when you walk in as a black woman. They don’t expect that from you yet. They expect you to do everything all at the same time at the same breath.

And when you’re not sure what the actual expectations. When there’s a lot of things that are not said to you, there’s a lot of times that people will, lay all of their burdens on you because, you know, we end up picking up burdens. I mean, in this country for people to lay their burdens, all their work on black women’s shoulders is what, the country’s built on that.

So we take it on regularly. I say that usually we take it on like potato chips, we eat them. We don’t realize that they’re not good. and some level we’ve been trained to think that feels good, but really it’s killing you on the inside. And when you have those expectations that you can’t always fulfill, it makes you feel like you are crazy or that’s where I think imposter syndrome comes from a lot for black women.

It’s that the bar always moved, How do I even know what I’m supposed to do? So we have all that going on at with your ADHD, the amount of energy that’s taken up by all these really doesn’t allow a lot of grace for you to be able to have for yourself, and that’s what I try to provide for a chance to have grace for themselves and know that they have to put their selves on the list. They need to be first on the to-do list, but sometimes I’m just trying to get them on the to-do list. 

[00:10:40] Shelly: Wow. A lot to dive into there. But the thing that I wanna say first is the thing about your son being viewed as a discipline problem. Because there is solid research out there that says that that is statistically a problem for black boys. That black boys with ADHD are underdiagnosed because they are treated like a discipline problem rather than being treated for their brain-based differences. So just wanted to call out that’s not just your experience, that’s the experience of black mothers everywhere in this country with children with ADHD.

[00:11:17] Cam: Well, it’s also why you are wanting to create change here, right? I’ll just go back to 2019 when we were doing the demonstration for everybody. It was only a couple weeks or months after that that you had the crystal clear vision of what you needed to do. Right. To see, okay, here’s this dilemma with mental health in the black community, and this reluctance, this skepticism. This lack of trust, understandably, and yet seen also coaching as a vehicle to make inroads there to help people with ADHD and who were also black. I was amazed at how quickly you came to that picture of, okay, well this is the dilemma and yet here’s the solution and I’m committed to this.

[00:12:06] Inger Shaye: You know, it’s interesting like what you say, Shelly. So all black mothers, we all know this, right? Again, these things like we’re used to them. It’s something that happens all the time and we just handle it the way that we can handle it.

And sometimes we’re trained to just have discipline. Like if you don’t understand ADHD, then you’re not necessarily gonna give your kid maybe the support that they need or be able to advocate in a way that works. So, starting there, having to go in every week because my son was views a discipline problem, even though I had the privilege of getting an ADHD diagnosis for him, which was not easy cause school didn’t want to give him the test for ADHD. They just wanted me to sign the paper that everything was fine, and it’s like, no, it isn’t. I was lucky to have somebody that sat with me and said, I’m gonna read these forms and I’m gonna tell you what to do, and so many people don’t have that. I realize that I had the benefit of people helping me, and so to be able to provide these types of benefits for other people who don’t know or aren’t able to know a way to even a path forward. Cuz many times what it happens is people don’t know what they don’t know. So they don’t know what they can or cannot do. And showing a path forward for people became what was really paramount for me. And so when we came back from the conference, knowing that there wasn’t a place for people to go and see that path forward, like that’s always been my thing.

What are we gonna do now? Like information is. We need information. What now? Like what are we gonna do now and coaching? Is that, what are we going to do now? As a psychotherapist, not that we don’t have things where people are moving forward, but really it’s more trying to fix the problem in, sometimes, you know, from behind, but many times just like trying to figure it that out versus what are we going to do now?

Cause after you fix it, what am I gonna do? And having people around to be able to help you with that and having community cuz it is healing when you get to talk to other people, even though you know it’s not just you. When you hear other people’s stories, it’s like, ugh, it really isn’t just me. So that’s how it really came so quickly for me. Like it’s such a lived experience that I understood so much. I knew what was needed. Cause I knew what I needed.

[00:14:18] Cam: We were talking before the episode, you were sharing some of the stories of some of your clients or amalgamation of your clients, of their specific stories, and would you be willing to share a little bit again the unique dilemma that’s facing black women with ADHD around expectation, around trying to make things happen with ADHD on board.

[00:14:40] Inger Shaye: Yeah, so it is so interesting that I’ll never run outta clients, I feel, because there’s so many things that happen uh, especially in this realm of expectations for black women with ADHD. I have a client, she does something in like human genome research or something like that and she’s just so smart. However, she would always feel so bad cause she couldn’t get her laundry. I forgot to add, she’s got twins, 18 month old twins. So it’s like she comes to me and this is her issue where I see all the great things that she’s doing, but the expectation that she had, that she felt others had, that she needed to handle everything in this house, handle these kids, make sure these kids were always dressed, looked nice, went outside, and that they were manner.

Because, you know, we take pride in our kids being mannerable. And the way that they may be perceived was really holding her back from doing anything else. And as we worked together and she let that go, not only did she, have a better time with her kids to be present, she got a different job cause she realized like, hey, this job is what’s like holding me back. Their expectations are left. Just keeping her from being her best self and she got a better job doing some more great things and making, maybe twice as much money. So when you can open that up for people, it’s like, how amazing is that? By just kind of reconciling the fact that it’s okay that you’re not doing your own laundry.

[00:16:01] Shelly: I see this with my clients too, right, this self-judgment in asking for help, in asking for support. But there’s this extra layer here for your clients, that within your own culture, within your own family units, there is an expectation that as a black woman, you should be able to handle all of that yourself.

So not only are you dealing with that ADHD one down of, I should be able to do it with myself, you’re dealing with this expectation that’s baked in that you should be able to do it all yourself. And you said something I’m really curious about because it’s language I’ve never heard before. You said it’s important for us to have our children be mannerable. Am I saying that correctly?

[00:16:49] Inger Shaye: Yes, I guess that’s what I say.

[00:16:51] Shelly: Can you say a little bit more about what that expectation is as a mother?

[00:16:56] Inger Shaye: So, there is an expectation of how you are in public. As a safety, you know, reason. So if your kids are running around and doing things that people might not perceive are great, your kid’s gonna be judged more harshly than other people’s children.

I’ve seen it happen all day, every day. Your kids coming out, in so the clothes and having little kids have the expectations of acting like kids that are older. Cause our kids are also perceived as. . My kid is a small boy. He’s always been small and thin, but being perceived as an adult when he was about 10 years old around people who knew him, it’s like, I knew it was gonna happen, but shocking to me.

So having, when I say be mannerable, it’s like be a certain way outside. you’re going our masking and code switching with putting that onto our kids and then putting that onto ourselves. But knowing some of this comes from a safety issue, right? I want my kids to be safe. I don’t wanna have to worry about that.

And I don’t wanna have to feel all these questions about what’s going on for them from others and from people, like I said your own family members, right? this is not how you raise your children. You should do it this other way. Allowing them to run around like that is not the way that we do it.

When you might even know as a. To give your kid that wide birth, to be able to have them ele to mess up and be able to come back from that is what they need. All of that burden again with you, try to manage your own executive functioning and your own emotional regulation is just so much to deal with all the time.

[00:18:24] Shelly: And you just said exactly what I like to call out, is look at the executive function burden here, the expectation of should in how you run your household and how you raise your children. Coupled with safety, wanting to make sure your children are safe out in the world, and an undue burden of advocacy for your children where you are having to show up at school far more often than I am. Or any other white person to advocate for your kids and to advocate for equal access to support for your kids. That’s a huge amount of tasking and executive function burden, just massive.

I’m curious if you have a story of your own or a story of your clients about shifting around all of that. Meaning how have you, yourself, or how has one of your clients been able to lessen that executive function burden? Obviously it never goes away because there’s a safety factor there. There’s an advocacy factor there, but how have you been able to free some of that up for yourself or your clients?

[00:19:37] Inger Shaye: Well, it’s interesting cause I have so many different clients with many different ways that they’ve been able to free themselves up. I have another client and well she doesn’t have any children, but she’s an ex, a banking, high powered banking executive. And she was having some trouble with expectations. Different things that people were doing that she couldn’t understand why they would do it. She asked for her destiny moved into a place where it was quiet. And no matter what she did, no matter who she asked, they kept saying, Well, you can’t sit on that row. Cause the executives like all sit on this, the C-suite, sit on that row.

Which she was like, I’m not trying to reach out to them. I’m trying to be away from the bathroom and the copier where I am. And no matter many times she asked, It wasn’t until her boss had someone else that needed to be moved, that they moved her desk. And it’s like that type of feeling of gas lengths.

Like what do you do with that? That person also had their same boss. They were trying to discuss the way she appeared in meetings, right when you would speak up and people didn’t want to, maybe the perception, I should say, that people had of her because she would just speak up. Her boss said as they were going into the meeting, she was like, Remember what Michelle does?

And she was like, who is Michelle? Who? She was like, Michelle Obama. when they go low, we go high. And then basically I had to walk into the meeting and she was like, What are you talking about? So to be able to eat back and then go into this meeting and then perform, So these are the burdens that people come to me with.

And so us having these conversations that they normalize the fact that these things aren’t okay. Like it’s not okay that this is happening. It is happening to you. You are not crazy. And then the ways to be able to be in spaces that work better for you, Taking your own agency. This particular client was like, You know what?

I can’t work with that person. I have to be off of her team. I don’t know. I’ll have to quit. Like, she was able to take a sabbatical and then go in and work with someone else. There’s no way this is ever gonna work. This is what I have to deal with.

Being able to point it out that why did I have to wait for someone else, to wanna before I could get moves and why wasn’t I heard? And for us to work through the ways that she would be able to do that and be heard. Because again, if you speak up sometimes it’s like you’re not just a squeaky yoga at the grease, You’re just seen as the angry black woman.

So we work through ways for her to be able to do that, but also keep her authenticity. Right, not just going code switching or you know, like begging for this or why did this happen? No victimhood, but standing for yourself and having someone understand you. I mean, it’s a really nuance kind of conversation, but those are the things that we work on.

Being able to take what you have, lean into your strengths, and also give back to basics. Eating, sleeping Having things that are fun for you. Not just always working. Black women, we work work, work, work, work. Where’s the fund? Getting a little dopamine burst from other things. These are the ways that I was able to help her to see when you do these things, that allows you to have more space to figure out ways to get these other things done.

[00:22:40] Shelly: Yeah, so the whole theme that we’re on right now is your context matters, and listeners, I want you to hear that interwoven context of ADHD and being a black woman at work and how those distinctions can collapse, where your client at first wasn’t seeing that how she was being treated was not. She wasn’t distinguishing that out from some of the other challenges that she might have been experiencing.

And so what did you help her do? I like to call it yours, mines right? You helped her figure out what was her stuff, her ADHD stuff that she wanted to work on with you, but also what wasn’t her stuff. What was the stuff of how she was being discriminated against and mistreated at work and how she could have agency and be it choice. That wasn’t her stuff to take blame on. And what she could do is put herself in the picture and decide, based on what I’m seeing here, what am I going to do with this? How am I going to advocate for myself? 

[00:23:49] Cam: I’m also appreciating the emotional management work you’re doing with her, too, Inger Shaye, right, of that there’s strong emotions here and that recognizing, acknowledging what’s at play. What is the, principle or value that’s being stepped upon here? You were talking about safety earlier.

This is about fairness or respect. As we’re finishing up here, Shelly and I are just thoroughly enjoying this conversation, but we’d love to go in the direction of the Alliance. And so you’re the founder of the ADHD Black Professionals Alliance. And can you say more about that?

[00:24:25] Inger Shaye: Yes, I’m so excited about the ADHD Black Professionals Alliance because it is gonna be a place where people can come and it can be a hub. So anything that you need in the way of ADHD as a black person, you can find it here. So you’ll be able to find professionals that can help you get a proper d. From a black professional, because that’s always something that people come to me with.

Being able to get a proper diagnosis from someone who recognizes adult ADHD and will listen to you and your experience and give you something and actually make it so it’s proper, not just dismiss what you’re saying. Also having coaching so you can find coaches, therapists, other people that can help you with your ADHD, manage being able to provide scholarships for people to become ADHD coaches, cuz we need more black ADHD coaches. Ooh, do we need more black ADHD coaches?

A place for people to get scholarships if you need ADHD coaching, I’ll say coaching is not inexpensive. So to have some room in there to be able to give people the experience of getting ADHD coaching and have a place the coaches can come together, too, and we can have an alliance. We can have the conversations that only we can have. We can find a way to have a movement, right? So if we need to do something we feel may be legislative or research, like there is no research for black people in ADHD. Zero. And so to really decide like how to be able to move forward with that and how we can use it to better.

So there’s a lot on the plate with it, but I’m really excited to really get it going and I mean, so many people really wanted to be helpful and I’m so happy that it’s here and the time is now to be able to help ourselves with ADHD.

[00:26:14] Shelly: We talked about this before we started recording. There is a lived experience gap that Cam and I have when talking to you about your experience with ADHD because while we’ve heard you talk extensively about blackness and ADHD, your own experience, your experiences with your son, your experiences with your clients, living it is a different thing.

So listeners, think about how you listen to this podcast and you hear yourself maybe for the first. And you feel understood in a way that you haven’t before. And Cam and I, for our clients, one big benefit they get from working with us is they don’t have to work so hard to articulate their ADHD experience because they’re talking to someone who lives that experience, who has that type of brain. And there’s a shorthand. And that shorthand matters. When you’re talking about the intersection of ADHD and race and culture, it matters to have someone that shares those lived experiences. And not that a black person cannot work with a white coach. I’ve had wonderful black clients before, but there’s an amount of effort in where they have to translate their experience to me because they can’t assume that I know if they don’t translate their experience. To me, that doesn’t have to be there if they’re able to work with somebody who shares that lived experience as well. So we said something similar last week when Sudhita was on, and we’ll say it again.

I think this is incredible work that you’re doing and it’s needed. And it’s been such a joy to watch you grow in this and just watch your conviction grow all the while from the moment you had that spark at the conference to where we are today. 

So, just like we did last week, you’ve heard enough of Cam and I promoting ourselves. So while we’re doing these episodes, we’re gonna instead ask you, Inger Shaye, to tell us where people can find you and the work that you’re doing.

[00:28:23] Inger Shaye: Well, you can find me – I’m in – it’s my website. @IngerShaye, I should say, on all the socials. So, I’m the only Inger Shaye out there, so you should be able to find me. And then there’s a link to the Alliance webpage from my webpage.

I also have a Facebook group for black women with ADHD. It’s black women with ADHD executives and entrepreneurs. And we just go in there and have those conversations that only we can have as black women with ADHD. And a membership group is coming in the near future, so you can also link to that on my website.

[00:28:57] Shelly: Okay. And is the Facebook group open to any black woman that in the entrepreneur space that would like to join?

[00:29:03] Inger Shaye: Any black woman, any professional black woman with ADHD, as long as you’re a professional black woman with ADHD, please come. We love to have you.

[00:29:11] Cam: So Inger Shaye, it’s been lovely to have you here again. You are the inaugural POC voice interview, right? So I’m saying like, Oh, you’re the first one to come back. Two times. You might be the only one. So, anyway, great to have you here and it was so much fun to hear your lived experience, so thank you.

[00:29:31] Shelly: Yes. Thank you. And listeners, until next week, I’m Shelly.

[00:29:35] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:29:36] Shelly: And this was the Translating ADHD podcast. Thanks for listening.

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