actress in unbreakable kimmy schdmit

The 'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt' Episode That Called Me a Parenting Failure

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mom and son taking a selfie I’ve felt like a failure many times during my life as a parent. My greatest sense of inadequacy came when I medicated my child for his attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). At the time, I felt like I was not being the mother my child needed nor providing him with the structure and discipline he needed. Luckily for me, my feelings of failure subsided as my son flourished.

They do return, however, when I encounter some of the stigmas associated with medicating a child. This feeling returned tenfold during a recent episode of Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”

During an episode in season two, Jacqueline (played by Jane Krakowski) took her son to the doctor because he was acting out and not listening to her. The doctor suggested Buckley was hyperactive and should be placed on “Dyziplen.” Throughout the episode, parents calm their children with this drug, putting them into a “zombie”-like state so they could be more easily controlled. For instance, once Buckley’s medication kicked in, Jacqueline decided he could be easily wrangled to the shoe store so she could shop without disruption.

To me, this is the outsider’s view of what I do when I medicate my child.

As the mother of a child with ADHD, I resent this caricature. 

For years my family struggled to help my son with various aspects of his disorder. We sought different types of therapies, used different discipline methods, changed our diets, created schedules and so on to avoid putting him on medication. In our eyes, medication meant we were failures. We were drawn into the stigma of the disorder and the treatment options often associated with it.

This stigma is enforced when shows like this suggest the challenges of ADHD can always be fixed with more family time and more discipline.

Five years after our many failed attempts, we decided to try something new. We took our son and our “failures” to the doctor in search of a treatment option we had once refused to try and left with a new perspective. Today, our son is doing well.

By the end of the episode, Buckley was also doing well. This was after his mother decided he did not need medication. Instead, Buckley needed more discipline and familial attention. For years, people told me my son needed just these two things to thrive, despite his diagnosis. I eventually learned this belief can be part of the stigma towards ADHD and treatment of it.

Every child is different, and our child needed a little more to thrive. Rather than adding to the stigma, I wish “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” had presented these differences instead of painting the image that hyperactive children are reared by inattentive parents who do not provide structure or discipline. Then, and only then, could I have continued to watch this show without feeling like society was, once again, calling me a parenting failure.

Because that, I am not.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a scene or line from a movie, show, or song that’s stuck with you through your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Explaining ADHD to Children With 'Frozen'

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If you have a young child with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, a great way to explain ADHD to them is to relate it to Elsa’s powers from “Frozen.” In case you’ve been living under a rock the past three years, Elsa is a queen who was born with ice powers. As a child, Elsa had a difficult time keeping her powers under control. (In case you haven’t caught on yet, the “powers” in our case are ADHD.) Elsa once hurt her younger sister by accidentally blasting her in the head with her powers, leaving her sister with a “scar” (a white streak in her hair). My daughter is impulsive and can say and do hurtful things to people she loves without even realizing she is hurting their feelings. And no, she is not a “brat,” and it is not because of bad parenting . ADHD is a neurological condition that, simply put, allows people to use their brains differently than most.

Elsa’s parents were scared for their daughter and didn’t know what else to do, so they did the only thing they felt they could: contain her power by giving Elsa gloves to wear. “Conceal. Don’t feel,” they advised Elsa. To me, the gloves in the story represent society. Society would love for all children to behave the same, wouldn’t they? At school, they want children to sit nicely and quietly in their seats, listen attentively to lessons and work diligently and seamlessly on their assignments. How nice it would be for teachers if every child in their classroom behaved like this, right? Well, I beg to differ. I’m not arguing that it wouldn’t make teachers’ lives easier, but I think it would definitely make them boring. If a rainbow were only one color (let’s say grey), it would not only be boring, it would be ugly. I may be a little biased here, but people with ADHD make the world more fun and more beautiful. Walt Disney, Adam Levine and Albert Einstein are just a few famous ADHDers who have made the world a better place.

During Elsa’s entire childhood, she isolated herself from everyone, including her younger sister. Elsa knew she was different, so she hid away in her room until she was old enough to become the queen and required to come out. At her coronation, Elsa wore gloves to conceal her power but was instructed to remove them for a part of the ceremony. Reluctantly, she did and then put them back on as quickly as she could.

A lot of times, young children with ADHD feel insecure and have a difficult time in social situations. What they think is hilarious may not be to their peers, which makes for some embarrassing moments at recess. As a result, children with ADHD may feel like they are awkward and that nobody wants to be their friend, so they shy away in fear of their peers rejecting them. It truly is heartbreaking to see my own daughter sitting on a bench at recess while the other kids from her class are playing a game of kickball together.

As a grown woman, Elsa decides to throw her gloves away and finally be free to be her true self. She uses her powers to build a gorgeous gigantic ice castle and a lovable walking talking snowman named Olaf. “I never knew what I was capable of,” Elsa confesses to her sister.

If we can teach our children with ADHD to not worry about what other people think of them and to simply embrace and love being themselves, they will accomplish so many amazing things in their lives. Not only does Elsa learn to embrace and love her powers, she learns to control it with the power of love. Now, this “love” could be a number of things when it comes to ADHD, behavioral therapy and medication being a couple. What our children with ADHD really need and want is the love, support, understanding and guidance of their family and friends.

Elsa
I’m not naive. Life is no fairytale, and I know ADHD can feel like a curse sometimes, but trust me, it’s not. ADHD is a gift. It truly is a power. Elsa’s parents were wrong when they gave her the gloves and told her to conceal her powers, but I can understand why they did. They were scared. When my daughter was initially diagnosed with ADHD, I was scared too. I am sure I have made mistakes with my daughter’s ADHD as well. I’m not perfect. Along the way though, I have learned and am still learning ways to help my daughter with her ADHD. She may not build an enormous ice castle, but there is no doubt in my mind she will accomplish things in her life of the same magnitude.

The Mighty is asking the following: How would you describe your disability, disease or mental illness to a child? If you’ve done this before, tell us about that moment and the child’s reaction. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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To Myself When Accepting My ADD Diagnosis Felt Like Defeat

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You’re stubborn. You’ve been hurt in the past. You’ve tried traditional treatment for ADD before, and you were treated like anything but a human being. You feel like you’re at your limit. Like nobody gets you. You didn’t feel respected or heard by the people who gave the doctors the go-ahead to start treating you. You were young. You didn’t know any better. You were bullied. I can’t say for sure, but you might have seen your therapists more than you saw your parents.

I can understand why you flat-out refused to accept help from Student Support Services when you went away to college. After all, you thought you had dealt with everything before college was even on your radar. You didn’t need help. You would be fine.

I’m sorry to kick you off your high horse, but you did need help.

You needed help because you were struggling. You didn’t want to admit it, though. You didn’t want to admit it because you equated it with getting the biggest bullhorn in the world, climbing to the top of the academic buildings, and yelling, “I’m disabled!” at the top of your lungs. Dramatic? Maybe, but back then, that’s what you thought it was. Accepting your ADD diagnosis felt like defeat. Weakness. And you weren’t supposed to be weak.

I’m not going to say that the heavens opened up when you finally went to Student Support Services (after a very long summer where you saw more doctor’s offices than sunlight) and handed them your diagnosis (which was seven years old by that point). The truth is that they didn’t. Things didn’t magically fall into place. You didn’t just breeze through the rest of your time there. You still had to work hard. But what I’m trying to tell you is that help doesn’t always hurt you. Yes, your experience taught you otherwise. But you also had another experience, one that was the complete opposite.

Your friends supported you when your mentor died; a member of staff even left a note of condolence in your campus mailbox. You were able to look at a classmate’s notes and realize, “That’s what the professor was saying!” instead of stressing yourself out over details. And eventually, you found techniques that worked for you. Techniques that helped you show that yes, you really did belong in that environment.

You discovered that you had incredible professors who (for the most part) went out of their way to help you succeed. They helped you understand concepts you couldn’t quite wrap your head around while you poured over your textbooks. They agreed to let you set your own deadlines for assignments so you could be sure to turn in a quality assignment on time that you could be proud of.

My point isn’t that everything gets to a point where everything is hunky dory and you just breeze through. My point is that help doesn’t always have to hurt. And sometimes all you need to do is look at the parts of your experience that you might consider insignificant to figure out why.

Follow this journey on Alisa Tanaka.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to your teenaged self when you were struggling to accept your differences. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When My Daughter Told Me She Thought ADHD Meant Her 'Brain Is Broken'

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We sat on a bench under a cherry tree outside the doctor’s office. “Do you understand what the doctor told us?” I asked my 7-year-old daughter.

“Sort of,” she said with a shy smile, an indication she knows more than she’s letting on but wants me to fill in the blanks.

“Do you know what ADHD means?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she answered with that same smile. “It means… your brain is broken or something.”

I cringed. Because of her dad’s diagnosis several years ago, ADHD is a frequent topic in our house. I was devastated to find we had passed on an unhappy message.

But then she continued with a laugh. “Well, no. Not like that. But, you know — it means your brain is… I don’t know!” She threw her hands up and shrugged with that same grin on her face.

I had practically floated out of the doctor’s office after her diagnosis moments before. Finally, an explanation for the frustrations we’ve been having since she was 3. But now, hearing her misunderstanding of ADHD, I just wanted to pretend she didn’t have it. I didn’t ever want her to feel that her brain — or any part of her — is broken.

I began to explain ADHD. While I talked, her body struggled to stay on the bench as her foot reached out and stomped each and every fallen cherry she could see.

“ADHD doesn’t mean your brain is broken,” I told her. Cherry crunch.

“It does mean your brain works differently.” Cherry squish.

“It makes it so you see things in different ways from me,” I continued. Cherry smoosh.

“Like, you know how you always like to make old things new?”

Pause. She looked in my eyes. She loves to hear about her talents.

“You have a very creative brain, and it helps you to make beautiful things.”

She grinned. Cherry smash.

“And do you remember that you taught yourself to read?” Pause. Eye contact. “Your brain works so fast, you’re able to learn things really quickly.”

Grin. Smash.

“ADHD also makes it a little harder for you to focus,” I began, smiling to myself. She had one hand on the bench and was stretching her body as far as she could to get a faraway cherry.

But suddenly, I was overcome with sadness as I watched her inability to listen. “ADHD is going to be a challenge throughout her life,” I thought to myself.

Then, just as suddenly, I realized I wasn’t listening to myself either. I was focusing on stomping the cherries instead of hearing how wonderful it is that her brain thinks in different ways. This doesn’t have to be “terrible.” She’s 7. We’ll figure it out before long.

We stood, and she grabbed my hand. While I walked back to normal life, she skipped alongside me, leaving tiny dabs of cherry guts in her wake with her signature happy skip.

Follow this journey on Thrilled by the Thought.

The Mighty is asking the following: How would you describe your disability, disease or mental illness to a child? If you’ve done this before, tell us about that moment and the child’s reaction. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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6 Words of Advice I'd Tell My Teenaged Self With ADHD

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Dear Teenaged Katie,

a sketch of a girl with long hair wearing a hat

Lately you have been starting to believe the joking jabs from your peers and even adults in your life, but I am here to tell you that you are neither a “space cadet” nor a “dumb blonde,” despite your hair color and all of the seemingly air-headed mistakes you make. Those mistakes are due to a neurological difference; however, the possibility won’t enter your mind until almost 10 years from now after the birth of your second child. You have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

I know what you’re thinking — the only people you’ve known to be diagnosed with ADHD struggled with grades and behavior issues in school. And they were all boys. Because of this, you will never conceive it as a possibility. Unfortunately, that means you struggle through the next 10 years without any therapy or guidance on how to function with your condition.

Now, however, I can use this fictitious forum to give you a few words of advice (which won’t help you, but might help other girls like you).

Starting this very moment: Stop. Being. So. Hard. On. Yourself. Stop crying over Bs and Cs. I know you want that 4.0, and you’ll have it (thanks to weighted classes), but grades are not worth your tears. I know you tried your best and are disappointed that you “failed” (news flash: a “C” is not failing, it’s average). But cry over your breakups, fights with your friends, or your grandpa’s stroke, and never waste another lunch period in the bathroom crying over something as fleeting as one test grade.

Realize that when you get anxious before a test, when someone puts you on the spot, when you talk to a boy you like, when you do math, or when you confront your adversaries, your brain literally freezes. You don’t have access to your vocabulary or computational skills.

In those situations, take a pass. Breathe. Breathe deeply. And since you don’t know you have ADHD, after some of those moments you will cry in the bathroom out of frustration and lack of understanding. For if you had known, your teachers may have given you more time to relax and finish your tests, and you may have been able to take your math exams in a quiet, separate room. You could have had a 504 plan to help get those school accommodations.

Instead of beating yourself up, give yourself credit for succeeding despite the stress, late nights, anxiety and perceived failures. It’s actually why no one caught that you had ADHD. You did well in school because you adapted, even if it meant staying up studying ineffectively until 2 a.m., then setting your alarm for 5 a.m. to study some more when you couldn’t keep your eyes open any longer. You do fall asleep in class a lot. Your teachers will mostly be tolerant of this (or you hide it well).

The important thing to remember is that good grades do not negate an ADHD diagnosis any more than bad grades define it. You have ADHD and your brain focuses differently, and you will learn strategies to work through those differences.

You will figure out that you can write papers more easily with wordless music playing in your headphones. After your friend tells you about using notecards to study, your memory will be almost photographic for rote facts. Once you start outlining every word your teacher says in class, you will find a way to stay focused and everyone will want to copy your notes when they are absent. And that trick of making a list of conversational topics when calling a boy you like? Genius. It will definitely cut down on the awkward pauses.

You won’t figure out that your reading comprehension improves greatly with audiobooks until you are well past college, so there will be no hope of understanding a word of “Heart of Darkness.” Your friend’s dad will still mercilessly tease you about being blonde, and you will never be able to think of a good comeback because of your anxiety mind-block. And I am really sorry to say that you will still get in trouble at home a lot, because you won’t quite figure out how to control your impulsive temper or to remember what your parents wanted you to do (or not do, for that matter).

Try not to focus on your mistakes and realize that because you have this beautiful, frustrating condition, you will be creative. You will have innovative ideas to contribute in group work and class discussions. You will find comfort in art, music, photography, nature and friends. You will often notice what other people may not, which will make life rich and interesting. ADHD will not define you, but it will strengthen you. With relief, you will embrace ADHD at your moment of realization: What makes you struggle can also be what makes you great.

Follow this journey on for Elysium.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to your teenaged self when you were struggling to accept your differences. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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To My 3-Year-Old Daughter Without ADHD

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To My Sweet Daughter,

You are only 3 years old and are so incredibly independent and self-sufficient. Instead of asking me to get you a cup of water, you get it yourself and do it without spilling. In the morning, you don’t put up a fight when I tell you it’s time to get dressed and go to school. Instead, you get dressed all by yourself and are happy and excited to start the day. Thank you for always being my sunshine!

I love playing tag with you, and I love playing store with you. You are so fun to be around and have such a wild imagination! I wish I could play with you more, but your big sister needs me. She may be 3 years older than you, but she has ADHD, and in some ways, that makes her different than you. Not worse. Not better. Just different.

little girl smiling

As smart as your sister is, she needs me right next to her the entire time while she’s doing her homework. She needs me there to help keep her on task and focused. When she starts to have a meltdown because she is having a difficult time with her math, she needs me there to encourage her and help build her confidence. I know you want to be in the room with us, but your presence distracts your sister. Thank you for understanding that and for quietly playing outside the room so your sister can do her homework without any distractions.

I know I let you watch TV or play on the iPad more than a child should to keep you busy and quiet while your sister is doing her homework. Although this is something I know you enjoy, you have no idea how guilty it makes me feel. It should be me, your mother, playing with you and teaching you new things, but I haven’t quite mastered being in two places at once yet.

You must feel like Daddy and I spend more time with your sister than we do with you. The truth of the matter is we probably do, but it’s not because we love her more or favor her over you. We love you both very, very much, and we would go to the moon and back for you girls. You must know that. Sometimes, your sister just needs extra help, support and guidance.

This family is a team, and I know you know this because I see you helping your sister when you can. Thank you for complimenting your sister on her drawings and for telling her she looks pretty in her new outfit. Thank you for getting excited to see her when we pick her up from school and for giving her those great big bear hugs. Although your sister may act like she doesn’t appreciate it sometimes, I assure you she does. She needs you in her life because you show her how she is admired and loved. When you become a mother, you will know just how much moments like those warm my heart.

Your sister has a very outgoing personality. She moves around when she isn’t supposed to, like when she gets off her seat at restaurants and wants to run around the table. This causes her to be the center of attention a lot. It’s no wonder you love your ballet class so much. It’s the one place you know for sure you will always be the center of attention and all eyes will be on you.

Believe it or not, Mommy is not a parenting expert. Honestly, I don’t know what I’m doing a lot of the time. All I know is I don’t want you to feel like you are second. I want you and your sister to always feel like you are both first. I love you and I appreciate you. Mommy promises to try her best to show you that each and every day. Thank you for being my special little girl and for making our family and our lives complete. As small as you are, you’re making such a positive influence in your sister’s life, and I will forever be grateful for that.

All My Love,

Mommy

Follow this journey on My Little Villagers.

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