Hi there! I have neglected you!
The past few weeks have been busy and overwhelming and when the overwhelm comes, I typically go hermit. I think its a fight or flight thing. It’s definitely an ADHD thing. This brain of mine, while capable of achieving incredible things, is also incapable of managing the mundane. Things like making sure there is enough toilet paper in the house and remembering to actually look at the to-do list I naively wrote on Sunday night, convinced that this time I’d actually look at it and cross things off.
If you know anyone with ADHD, you’ll know well their pure intentions to do things. Depending on your level of interaction with them, you’re likely to be frustrated by their constant earnest promises to follow through and their subsequent failure to deliver.
I’ll let you in on a little known fact: the person you’re disappointed in is exponentially disappointed with herself.
That person is so beyond frustrated by her own broken promises that self-flagellation has become her default. That person who has let you down again doesn’t trust herself anymore because of the countless times she’s been proven wrong and discovered that her memory has failed her again.
And then, someone tells her ADHD isn’t real.
Today I want to share with you 9 things people often say to people with ADHD and then I’ll add my two cents.
ADHD Myth #1
You’re right. Everyone does have “ADHD moments”. Everyone forgets things sometimes, everyone gets distracted now and again, we’ve all struggled to focus on boring tasks from time to time, we’ve all experienced walking into a room and forgetting why we’re there occasionally. Absolutely. These are all ADHD traits and there’s not a human alive that can’t relate to every single one.
But, and this is a big BUT, the difference between neurotypical people and ADDers is that people with ADD / ADHD experience all of these traits all of the time. Let me be clear:
There is not a moment in our lives when we have a clear head and uninterrupted thoughts. There isn’t a day when we experience the peace of knowing exactly what we have to accomplish and know that we can do it.
Every conversation with other people is a fight to stay focused and quiet. It’s a fight against outside distractions as well as our own incessant internal dialogue. It’s like attempting to hold a conversation in the middle of a kindergarten classroom – every thought is loud and demanding immediate attention. Our brains are noisy and chaotic. Every time we attempt to remember what we are supposed to be doing, another mental crisis jumps the queue and BAM, we’re fighting distraction. This is not a ‘sometimes’ thing. It is perpetual. Day and night. (Hello, insomnia!) It’s why we drive you insane with our interrupting and talk at the speed of a running-late bullet train. We are trying to expel the thoughts from our heads to make space to be able to listen to you.
ADHD Myth #2
Spend a day in our shoes. No, scrap that – spend a day in our heads and then say that again with a straight face. The drug companies that make ADHD / ADD medication are most definitely making money off people diagnosed with ADHD / ADD, no argument on that front. So are the drug companies that sell insulin to Diabetics and Viagra to people with Erectile Dysfunction. As are the companies that sell glasses to people with Vision Impairment and hearing aids to the Hearing Impaired.
ADHD / ADD is no less real than Diabetes, Erectile Dysfunction or Vision and Hearing Impairment.
Would you tell a Diabetic to try harder to manage his diet because his Diabetes isn’t real and his sugar crashes are simply a result of his own laziness and lack of effort to manage his own sugar intake? I mean, after all, we ALL have sugar crashes from time to time so really, we’re all a little Diabetic, if you think about it. Yeah, that would be a ridiculous and insulting and insensitive thing to say. If you told parents of a Diabetic child not to ‘drug’ their kid, you’d be an ignorant jackass of epic proportions. No, you’d never even think such a thing.
Now, try to imagine the frustration and impotence that we ADDers feel when we hear these kind of statements, again and again, delivered with a smug expression and a truckload of judgement.
ADHD is real. It can be frustrating and exhausting. But, when this very real difficulty is offhandedly dismissed as “not real”, it becomes debilitating because you are telling us that an massive part of who we are is entirely invalid.
ADHD Myth #3
It’s obvious, right? ADDers are disorganised and forgetful because we don’t write lists, like you do. If we’d just write lists and simply tick things off as we do them, we’d manage fine. Perfectly logical and excellent advice, I agree. Except that if it was that easy, don’t you agree we’d have just implemented this novel system forever ago? We may be forgetful and disorganised and scatter-brained but we are also a highly intelligent bunch – certainly intelligent enough to have spent a little longer than an hour of our lives trying to figure out how to tame the thought-whirlpool in our minds.
Lists make you calm and help you to be efficient. To ADDers, a list it Mount Everest. It’s a noose that cuts off our oxygen supply and causes intense anxiety. A to-do list for us is a list of all the things we know we will likely mess up. Looking at a to-do list is like standing at the START line of an obstacle course with snapping crocodiles, molten lava, jagged cliffs and flesh-eating insects. It’s a sure-fire way of stopping us in our tracks and shouldering us with anxiety, self-doubt and the crippling fear that we will fail and let someone down.
Despite this, we’ve tried lists countless times. We’ve tried pinboards, whiteboards and apps. We set reminders on our smartphones, on post-it notes and in diaries. We have tried (and are currently using) more organisational tools and systems than you’ve ever conceived of. We may seem like we don’t care but, boy, look at all we do to ensure we don’t let you down and you’ll see that we care more deeply than you could possibly imagine.
We wish it was as simple as “write a list”. It isn’t. We have the scars to prove it.
ADHD Myth #4
No. We are not lazy. To explain this to you, I’m going to give you a brief lesson (the most non-medical explanation you’ll ever read) on what ADD / ADHD actually is. For a more in-depth explanation by an ADHD expert, Dr Ned Hallowell, click here.
The frontal cortex of your brain is the part that deals with Executive Function. Think of this as the control centre of your brain – the part that delegates tasks to all the relevant areas and prioritises what gets done, when and how. Most neurotypical people (people who don’t have ADHD) receive constant stimulation to their frontal cortex and this is why you can organise your calendars, your homes and your work in a sensible and logical manner.
ADDers, like me, don’t get the same stimulation to our frontal cortex that you do and to add to that, the stimulation we do receive is inconsistent. Our dopamine levels are significantly lower, so our control centre is unable to efficiently and consistently delegate tasks to the rest of our brains.
The result? Our thoughts are disorganised and our ability to plan and prioritise is significantly compromised. We have a wealth of information, ideas and energy but no internal system to organise it all.
To neurotypical people, this presents as lazy. You ask us to do something and we say we will do it. We even write it down on the whiteboard, in our phones and in our diaries. Then we do a hundred other, less important things, write lists we never actually look at and maybe bake a cake, on a whim.
When you ask if we did what we promised to do, we look stricken and bewildered and say “I forgot” or “I didn’t get around to it, but I planned to do it!” and you sigh (again) and think we’re lazy.
What you don’t see is the gargantuan effort that we put in to remember and the lists we compiled to ensure we do it in the best possible way. You don’t see the incessant thoughts and ideas and very important, urgent and cannot-wait tasks that jumped the brain-queue and held us ransom until they were dealt with. You ask what we did all day and we want to cry because we were so busy doing a million things that we are beyond exhausted, yet we can’t remember, nor can we articulate what exactly stole the day.
I’ll let you in on a secret here: We feel your disappointment viscerally and we internalise it a hundredfold.
The kicker is this – our own disappointment and self-directed anger dwarfs any anger you feel might toward us. We know you think we are lazy. We also know that no matter how hard we try and even how much we improve, we will always struggle with Executive Function. We will always be terrible planners and laughable organisers. We will always forget something and let someone down and it kills us. In fact, even when you laugh and say it doesn’t matter, it still kills us.
ADHD Myth #5
You asked your ADD / ADHD spouse to pay the bills and file the invoices that are piling up on the kitchen counter. A week and a few broken promises later and it’s still not done. The pile grows and a late notice arrives in the mail. Again, you ask and again your spouse apologises and explains that no matter how hard he tries, paperwork is just so hard to get started on because it’s so boring. You get instantly angry because this is not ADHD – everyone finds bills and filing boring. Why can’t he just use some willpower, like you do and knuckle down and do it? Clearly, he is not putting in effort. He is being childish and creating unnecessary stress by not just growing up and doing a task that is boring but necessary.
Let’s revisit the frontal cortex for a minute. The reason that stimulant medication calms people with ADD / ADHD (while acting like Speed on neurotypical people) is because it stimulates this Control Centre of our brains and enables the frontal cortex to better manage the tasks that our brains need to tackle.
Using this knowledge as a base, it makes sense then that when we are feeling stimulated by a task, we will focus better and manage the intricacies of the task more effectively.
That’s why we gravitate towards projects that interest us, and why halfway through, when the initial buzz wears off, we struggle to finish the task.
If you have an ADHD child or spouse, you’ll be well acquainted with the half-finished projects.
No matter how much we want to get these things done (trust me, that pile on the kitchen counter creates more visual noise and anxiety for us than it does for you), it’s often as if the task is locked behind a door that we have no key for. There are ways to get around this, of course, but that’s a post all of its own. For now, please accept that we are trying harder than you can fathom.
When we are bored by the idea of a certain task, our dopamine levels drop and our frontal cortex receives less stimulation, effectively rendering us unable to do these tasks well. In my case, even getting to the starting line on boring tasks is an insurmountable challenge. My husband and I have spoken about this defective ‘start button’ of mine and come to the conclusion that, often, all it takes is for him to ‘press start’ on tasks I am struggling to begin. Sometimes, one little nudge is all I need and the momentum gets me going. And then hyperfocus happens. Which brings us to number 6 on the list…
ADHD Myth #6
Ever seen an ADHD kid focus video game or an art project or a Lego construction? Endless focus, right? In fact, that kid is so focussed that a busload of orangutans dancing to Gangnam Style could drive right through the room he is in and he wouldn’t even be aware. Sound familiar?
This, ladies and gentlemen, is known as hyperfocus and is one of the reasons so many people don’t believe that ADHD is real.
It makes perfect sense, though. Given that under-stimulation makes boring tasks near impossible to do, just imagine the flipside. When we are excited by a task, our neurotransmitters shoot off like firecrackers and our brains go into hyperfocus. This is one of the traits about ADHD that I really enjoy. In hyperfocus mode, we are able to tune out the entire world and power through what we are doing. If you’ve ever witnessed an ADDer in hyperfocus mode, you’ll attest to the amazing things that can be achieved.
You’ll also understand how people are left scratching their heads and asking “Where is this attention deficit she claims to have?”
The problem, I believe, is that ADHD is exceedingly badly named. It is not a deficit in attention at all – rather a difference in how we experience and direct our attention. With us, it’s all or nothing.
People with ADHD have to look at/ listen to/ think about/react to the whole world all at once or we are in a bubble. No middle ground exists.
Want my attention when I’m in hyperfocus? No can do – not because I’m ignoring you or think you’re not important, but because I am not even aware you’re there!
ADHD Myth #7
I’ve forgotten to meet a friend/ pack school lunches in backpacks/ pay a bill/ wish someone happy birthday/ go to an appointment more times than I can count. Does this mean I don’t think my friend is important/ I don’t care about my family’s nutrition/ I want my electricity to be cut off/ I think my friend’s birthday is totally unimportant/ I disrespect the person who I’ve made the appointment with? The answer to this is not only “NO!” but I’ll add that we care so deeply about all of this that we go the extreme lengths to make sure we don’t forget and we still forget, regardless.
We have so many things incessantly yelling to us, loudly, that they are a priority that even with carefully laid plans to remember, we forget anyway. It drives us crazier than it drives you. Trust me on this one. Also, please know that if we have told you we care, we really do care.
ADHD Myth #8
People with ADHD experience time differently. Very differently. While neuro-typical people see time in a linear logical manner, people with ADHD perceive time more as groups of experiences. We have no sense of the passing of time and our ability to estimate how much time something might take is non-existent. We think it will take fifteen minutes to get to an appointment, we plan for fifteen minutes and then somehow, we get there in half an hour, bewildered and frustrated because ohmigosh we really tried to be on time! This applies to getting projects done (we underestimate a lot), remembering to give the dog his pills (“I’m sure I gave him his pill today, or maybe that was last week…”) and even recalling events (“Tell me again what day the dinner date is? I know you’ve told me twelve times but I can’t seem to hang on to the date. Oh, it’s in July? Are we in June or July?”)
Before my diagnosis, this was the trait that freaked me out the most – this inability to do something other people seemed to manage without thinking.
People without ADHD don’t have to think about time – it’s innate, like breathing. People who have ADHD have to constantly remind themselves about the passing of time. I have my iPhone set to ping every half hour so that I don’t lose my whole day to hyperfocus.
So, no, we aren’t arrogant and we do care about you. The fact that we are sometimes late has nothing to do with disrespect for you, I promise.
ADHD Myth #9
I have an exercise for you to do:
Imagine, while we are talking, that you have five children yanking on your arm and calling your name, someone brewing coffee through a loudspeaker that’s aimed at your ear, a Chinese dragon is dancing around the room and weaving in between us, a song comes on the radio and immediately a childhood friend you haven’t seen in fifteen years materialises out of thin air and demands that you reminisce and then two of the kids start pulling each other’s hair and one kid vomits on your shoes.
Now, don’t notice any of this and continue talking to me and focusing only on what I am saying. Not so easy.
Welcome to the brain of someone with ADHD.
So, when we zone out, it’s not because we are bored or that you’re not interesting to us – not at all. We can’t control the “zone out” – rather, we are in a constant (24/7) struggle to zone in and stay zoned in. That’s why we need alone time after a particularly busy experience – the work involved in human interaction is exhausting!
The fact that we are having a conversation with you at all means we are interested in what you have to say. After all, we are fighting dragons o stay in that conversation!
So, next time you are feeling angry, let down or frustrated by someone with ADHD and you feel compelled to tell them they are lazy, uncaring or selfish, please pause and try to understand. That person knows acutely how he or she has let you down and I can promise you, the effort and intentions to do right by you are gargantuan, regardless of the outcome.
Also, take the time to look at the amazing things that this person brings into your life. While ADDers may be forgetful and flighty, they are also some of the most generous, empathetic, creative, fun, adventurous, joyful people you’ll ever meet.
We don’t fit into boxes very well, but give us a chance to spread our wings and watch us soar.
PIN FOR LATER:
Do you have ADHD or know someone who does? How has ADHD affected you?
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