Rhonda was born and raised on the south side of Chicago as an only child to two creative parents. She believes in the power of art to heal, and is passionate about reducing the stigma of mental illness. In this interview Rhonda shares her ADHD journey and the story of her solo show called “FOOD.”
Name: Rhonda Khan
City: Atlanta, Chicago, Brooklyn
Age of ADHD Diagnosis: 29
When were you diagnosed with ADHD and how did you find out you had it?
As a child I was in gifted programs but my teachers would say, “Rhonda is always looking out of the window. She’s falling asleep in class.” In high school I was called dingy, ditzy, spacey, and airhead. In college, I struggled paying attention in my lectures, and didn’t know how to study, get organized, or keep much together.
I had been going to therapy on and off since 19, but in my late twenties, I started noticing a pattern. Each therapist I met with offered a different reason as to what was going on with me: anger management issues, anxiety, depression, etc. Finally, a therapist told me on our first visit together: “everything that you’re saying sounds like adult ADHD.” So I went for testing, and sure enough, she was right.
I was officially diagnosed at 29 and it was a huge sense of relief and validation. Everything in my life made perfect sense. Realizing my struggles were a result of how my brain operates, and not related to my intelligence, gave me a sense of hope.
About having ADHD, being a woman, and being black
Women are held to unfair standards—we are expected to seamlessly balance career, motherhood, marriage, friendships, and “keep it all together.” For black women, that standard is even higher. Being a black woman that appears to not have her sh*t together can be a shaming, lonely, and frustrating place. Sometimes I feel like I’m always a few steps behind everyone else, and I’m incredibly hard on myself for it. I have to remind myself that I am enough. ADHD is something I have, not something I am.
What are some of the challenges that come with ADHD and how do you overcome them?
I lose everything. Keys, phones, money, my car. So I am starting to create systems for how I put things away. For example, I place my keys in the same pocket so I always know where they are. I recently got the Tile App, which includes a blue tooth tracker that helps you find your keys via your phone and your phone via your keys.
For scheduling, I keep both physical and online calendars. I use a Passion Planner to write things down immediately, a dry erase board calendar, and Google calendar.
What does ADHD feel like?
ADHD feels like standing in the middle of Times Square, all day, every day of your life. It’s being on a treadmill that constantly shifts speeds with no warning. It’s the “world of pure imagination” that Gene Wilder sings about as Willy Wonka. It can be scary and unpredictable, but it’s an adventure.
My journey to being a performer and entrepreneur
Growing up, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, but after realizing the job was more paperwork than TV drama, I changed my mind. I always loved acting, but as a shy and awkward extrovert, I didn’t see it for myself. A family member suggested I become a speech therapist, so I majored in speech pathology in college. But I still wanted to perform, so through college and grad school, I acted in plays on campus and started a student theater company. By the time I got my first job as a school speech therapist, I was also acting in my first professional play. I’ve since been in plays, commercials, and short films. But having ADHD while working as a speech pathologist and actor became overwhelming. After taking breaks to refocus, I realized I needed to be my own boss and do work that is authentic to who I am. Combining my skills as a speech therapist and an actor, I started Simply Speech Solutions, a communication coaching company that helps people speak with confidence and authenticity.
In 2014, I realized I had a complicated relationship with food and I hadn’t been honest with myself about it. I was inspired to write and months later my one-woman show was born. FOOD is the chronicle of my ever-changing relationship with food—falling in love with food as a child, gaining and losing weight, developing an eating disorder, being diagnosed with ADHD and finally, recovering and learning to make peace with food—and myself. Telling my story has been the most transformative and vulnerable experience of my life, and is as empowering and healing for me as it has been for others.
My ADHD superpowers
When I’m in hyperfocus mode, magic happens. I have bursts of ideas and I try to execute them immediately. I have blind optimism and tunnel vision until I get the goals accomplished. It can be overwhelming and exhausting, as I sometimes try to do in months what some people do in a year. But it works!
One thing I’m proud of is my resilience. I continue to thrive despite the challenges I’ve faced. I had undiagnosed ADHD most of my life, and I still made it through college, grad school, auditions, performances, and several full-time jobs. Today I am a business owner, I produce my own work, and I’m a mom. I still have days (and weeks) filled with fear and doubt, but I keep getting up and keep getting it done.
I wish the world knew that we aren’t dingy, ditzy, or spacey. We are the energizers, the motivators, the change-makers, and the creators. We may struggle to do simple things, and we may seem all over the place, but we’re tough and powerful.
When I found out about Kaleidoscope Society I felt Inspired. Relieved. Seen. Heard. ADHD is viewed as a diagnosis for little boys who “can’t sit still.” When people post articles claiming ADHD isn’t a real thing, that some doctor made it up, that I need to “just pay attention and slow down”, they invalidate my true lived experience for over 35 years. When I found Kaleidoscope, I was overjoyed that there was a space that not only acknowledges our existence, but showcases our unique gifts. We need to see that we are thriving and not alone.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Girl, you are smart! And more talented than anyone around you knows. Stop hiding behind food, letting people discount you, and playing small. You don’t have to be anybody else. Being your goofy, awkward, fun-loving self is what is going to transform your life and heal others.
What advice would you give to your younger self? share your comments below or join the conversation on Instagram @KaleidoscopeSociety. Learn more about Rhonda’s coaching services and performances on her website. If you are interested in sharing your ADHD story with our community contact us here!