ADHD empathy at work in Vancouver women’s shelter

Annabelle was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 7. Now at 25 she works to support the health and safety of women who are struggling with addiction or involved as sex workers in Vancouver, British Columbia.


Annabelle Bernard, 25
Program Assistant at WISH Drop In Centre Society
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
ADHD, Combined Subtype
Age of Diagnosis: 7


Tell us a little bit about your work with WISH Drop In Centre Society

I’ve been at WISH for just over two years now. We operate as a drop-in centre/ resource centre that serves up to 120 women each night. My job requires me to be familiar with mental health issues, addiction issues, housing issues and cultural issues.

I really enjoy working for an organization that allows their staff to have a voice and impact on decision making.  My team is given the freedom to assess situations and come up with solutions. I thrive off of the  trust and independence of my job. I enjoy working in a space where the situations change, the people change and you can’t really predict how the night is going to go. I like connecting with others and hearing their insights on life.


Does your ADHD experience help you in your job?

My experience with ADHD has taught me to respect that other people are going to process information differently, and learn differently. I also understand the need to question why the rules are in place, so at our centre I try to help people feel empowered to voice what they find unfair or don’t like, and do it in a constructive and productive way.


Becoming sober, finding housing and piecing your life back together is an overwhelming task. I can empathize that it can be hard to gain back confidence in your abilities when you’re coming out of addiction because you may feel guilty that you have let down others around you. I think of projects that I’ve given up or lost confidence in, even my post-secondary education that I started in 2008 and how it can be hard to finish because it seems so out of reach. When I help others break down the steps they need to take to move forward, I feel like I’m reminding myself that nothing ever happens over night and sometimes you just need to accept that things take time.

What do you want to see for the future of community mental health and wellness?

I’d like see more of a focus on ADD/ADHD and addiction. People with ADHD are substantially more likely to develop addictions, and it’s important for community health organizers to recognize the magnitude of the problem. I’ve met a lot of folks who have received a ADD/ADHD diagnosis later in life and by then it can be a really uphill battle to change your behaviours and natural inclinations. This is especially true for people with addictions. I’m planning to apply for a masters in health policy or political science next year so I can contribute to future community mental health and wellness planning!


What advice would you offer to younger women with ADHD?

Don’t second-guess yourself. If you’re interested in something, pursue it, try it out, it’s totally okay if you don’t end up liking it. When you have ADD/ADHD I think you end up getting stuck in a cycle where your worried about what others think of you, your freaked out that your gonna speak out of turn or do something impulsive. I think there’s more positive ways to monitor yourself, don’t constantly judge yourself and your natural responses, and don’t worry about being consistent for the benefit of everyone else.


Tell us about something you’re really proud of

I’m proud of myself for keeping a “why not” attitude. I’m not a fearless person, but I don’t like to have regrets. It’s a total cliché, but life’s too short, I don’t want to stew over things and second-guess myself at every point. I try to move on when things don’t go my way.


What do you wish the world knew or appreciated about women with ADHD?

I wish that women weren’t always pidgeon-holed as the logical, responsible ones. I think it makes it so much more daunting for us to make mistakes. I feel like people judge me extra hard if I’m too spontaneous or dream too big: especially, if what I’m dreaming about is totally above my skill or experience level. It is so important to take the first step, even if you don’t think it’s possible. You really don’t know what your capable of until you try and sometimes you just got to fake it ‘till you make it. There’s this great old Kanye West lyric from his track “Home” that explains it for me, “shoot for the stars so if you fall you land on the clouds.” You really can’t lose by just trying.


Inspired? Help us dispel the stigma, and inspire others, by sharing your story through the Kaleidoscope Society Project. Participate here!


wish logo

The WISH Drop-In Centre Society is a non-profit that furnishes a variety of services for female sex workers in Vancouver. WISH serves up to 120 women each night by providing hot meals, showering facilities, hygiene items and clothing, on-site nursing care, and referrals to detox, treatment and shelters. Learn more about WISH here


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