Hi. I’m ADHD

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25 min read

July 2021 marked a significant time for me.

Not only is July National Ice Cream Month (‘Merica!) and my birthday month, but it’s my official coming out of the ADHD closet month.

Why now? Here? Why like this? Oh no, what will people think? Yes, this feels terrifying to expose and here’s why…

I’ve come out like this here because the societal stigma, shame, and misinformation need to end and because of how it affects every single hour and aspect of my life in ways most people are fortunate never to have to struggle with. 2020 did not help, except in the way that it finally forced me to find the right help.

I’m not sure how much you know about ADHD, but everything you think you know is probably wrong. Distractibility is the least of my concerns.

About 5% of the (diagnosed) adult global population also struggles with ADHD. But that number could be higher, considering most people never receive treatment and just suffer in silence and/or die prematurely. It also doesn’t include all the girls and women who have it and been brushed off or entirely ignored until recently, and of which 1 in 4 have attempted suicide. That’s 25%.

The societal impact of untreated ADHD has cost the United States $266 billion yearly.

I do this because whether or not someone lives with ADHD or other invisible impairments, most everyone has burdens of their own. It’s important to rip the facade off any illusion that life is generally easy just because someone somehow manages to conduct themselves professionally and in accordance with a definition of success. It. Has. NOT. Been. Easy. But we still manage to keep our chins up and get the job done.

Success for me is being able to handle a subway ride without obvious sensory overwhelm, not losing another debit card, remembering to submit an invoice, and showing up to the right airport, on the right day, at the right time.

After witnessing several students struggling over the years and blame themselves for being different in the same way I have (or for ADHD-adjacent reasons), their distress had become a mirror. Many seemed to be under the illusion I have everything under cool control. That is known as masking and unfortunately people with ADHD, especially women, have had no choice but to become very good at it ASAP.

But you’re so organized, thorough, and professional… Yes indeed I am, BUT…

Realize masking is a physiologically taxing compensation mechanism. Debilitating deficits can often masquerade as workaholic perfectionism, class clowning, people pleasing, hyper-independence and/or avoidance… or like suppressing the need to bounce my leg so I’m less annoying even though it feels like I’ll goddamn explode if I don’t.

At its core masking is exhausting and unsustainable, but we distract with it because we care way too much. Eventually, all that inevitably crashes down until we learn to care more honestly and channel all that energy into something more meaningful than masking to appease a stupid stigma.

Jellineck 2010 (source)

I disclose this because I can’t keep turning away from the mirrors of people I’m in service to, while claiming to live authentically and being committed to growth and helping people in pain.

The truth is living with unacknowledged ADHD can be very isolating and painful and it’s the opposite of cool control. I just found a way to use the work I love as a means to acquire a stable handle over something, and that’s all that students and most people get to see. Finding fulfilling work is a gift in that sense.

I realized the harms of letting shame steep in silence and the extreme damage it can cause, as well as the damage that could be prevented if I could find the strength to stand up and say “you’re not the only one and you’re not broken. Know I believe you and believe in you. You’re wonderful and there’s help available and I’m here to be of support in any way”.

“Shame cannot survive being spoken. It cannot tolerate having words wrapped around it. What it craves is secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you stay quiet, you stay in a lot of self-judgment.”

—Brené Brown

It’s because of this video and the courage of others (Hi, Sabrina, Amy and Frances!) who stood up that I was able to see myself wholly and was finally able to get proper treatment and reclaim myself. So, I’m paying it forward here. I want to be a better mirror, like they have been for me.

Now I’m not ashamed of having ADHD anymore. I’m just ashamed of the antiquated systems and lack of advocacy failing so many bright, capable people who have a lot to offer the world.

I started mentioning I had a neurological disorder (see also: brain disorder) here and there about 5 years ago, to begin testing the waters of self-acceptance…

I quickly learned to never flat-out say I have ADHD, because unfortunately the common response isn’t usually, “Thanks for telling me! I bet that makes keeping up with day-to-day basic life stuff challenging, huh… would you like some gum?”

Nor is it anything like: “Would it be helpful if I send reminders and not take every single blunder or gaffe as a personal slight against me?”

Not even: “Can I laugh with you?” Or, “would it help if I break things down into smaller steps, instead of getting unforgivingly angry at you for having a brain that is not your fault?”

Neither: “Let’s find alternate routes around obstacles that trip you up because you’re much harder on yourself than anyone else is long after they misattribute your impairments to carelessness, insanity or laziness. I can only imagine how hard it must be to ask for help for the ‘basics’ that come easily for most everybody else.”

(Thank you eternally to Kiera, my faculty director, supportive colleagues, and my handful of friends for being the amazing types of people who kindly break it down with gentle reminders.)

No, those aren’t the common responses. Instead, we get predictable disparaging comments like: everyone has ADD, that’s made up by big pharma, stop making excuses, I read an article that said YOU SHOULD, go paleo, people fake that, don’t eat sugar, you just need to focus more, I lose my keys too sometimes, stop overreacting, take these herbs, try harder, why don’t you make a list… Or my personal favorite: have you tried yoga or [insert any BS quackery here]?

For the record, YES. I’ve tried everything, I’m certified to teach yoga, and guess what? I still have ADHD. There is no cure for it because it’s a neurogenetic medical condition that requires ongoing daily management. People really think we haven’t tried lists?!?! Lol.

Turns out the making, prioritizing, and completion of "simple" lists requires in-tact executive functions and whoops, those don't function so well in ADHD.

That's why we laugh/cry whenever someone suggests "just make a list" in the same way a magician pulling a rabbit out of a top hat says ta-da!

As if suddenly we won't have ADHD anymore now that we've been enlightened about the secret miracle cure of *LISTS*. Voila!

See, when you instead say “I have a complex neurological disorder that causes problems with things like executive functions, sleep, impulsivity, sensory processing issues, attentional and emotional regulation, word retrieval, etc”, people tend to be much more kind and awwww, understanding.

But the second you summarize all of that as ADHD, you’re suddenly stereotyped and dismissed as an inconvenience and irresponsible sub-human caricature who smokes crystal meth every day for jollies and makes up preposterous excuses for why you can’t remember the milk, can’t tell time, can’t hear, say things weirdly, and miss due dates and social cues.

When people respond with disdain or ignorance after we’ve finally mustered up the courage it takes to open up, we shut down all over again and it’s back to square one.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

There’s debate on who originally said this, but the quote is most often attributed to Plato or Philo of Alexandria. It’s a good one either way 🙂

Fun facts: ADHD is in the same family of neurodevelopmental disorders as autism, Tourette’s syndrome, learning disorders, OCD, and types of epilepsy. It’s also genetically linked with narcolepsy.

Dr. Russell Barkley calls it “the diabetes of psychiatry” because they require parallel management approaches, and apparently there’s a high comorbidity of about 35% between Type 1 diabetes and ADHD.

However, ADHD is the only medical condition where it’s considered socially acceptable to say oh that’s not real and even punish someone for having it. Then to go so far as to scoff at reasonable accommodations, stigmatize critical healthcare interventions, and declare to someone who’s drowning that they don’t need support and just need to try harder.

Proper treatment is routinely denied by doctors themselves where it’s a common practice to intentionally avert the correct diagnosis (due to ableist “opinions” and/or having zero updated training in ADHD). These negations invariably result in feelings of hopelessness, addiction, accidents and tragedies that include some of the highest rates of self-harm. Why?

With any other medical condition noting evidenced neurobiological differences, this would be considered inhumane malpractice, gaslighting, or bullying at best. This is why life expectancy for people with untreated ADHD is reduced anywhere between 13-25 years. YEARS. And here’s the kicker: it’s perfectly treatable.

So, yeah, maybe it’s a little important to start talking about it?

That’s what ADHDers have endured on top of difficulty with day-to-day basic functioning and self-defeating ruminations RE: all of the above. But you likely wouldn’t know that if I hadn’t mentioned this, would you?

You would likely not be aware that our remarkable resilience, relentless compassion, empathy, and superhuman resourcefulness comes at the expense of an undue amount of suffering, simply because on the surface we might present as just quirky or normal-enough by general operational standards.

You might not have understood that it’s because of ADHD that I do the work that I do, and maybe that’s why I’m super-passionate about helping people with any kind of pain and maybe even a little darn decent at it sometimes.

And here’s the irony: My jumbled up ADHD-wiring is exactly what helps me communicate complex concepts creatively and effectively in classrooms. Brains like ours make snappy connections and perceive tiny patterns that “normal” brains normally overlook. We’re especially thorough when immersed in our element, with a keen knack for connecting random dots of information and seeing the bigger, clearer picture.

But this wiring is also why I suck at at voicemail, grocery shopping, subtlety, sitting still, and small talk at BBQs… and why I may randomly impart an obscure fact about turtles when the conversation is not about turtles, and then I’m confused.

I’m coming out here because I don’t ever want anyone to feel put down or unseen due to lack of support and visibility for entirely preventable anguish. I don’t want anyone to fall through the cracks of their unique potential because of a preponderance of ignorance, medical misinformation, or lack of understanding from sometimes not-so-nice humans.

I do this because if this sounds like you, I want you to know there’s an army of many different kinds of us who figure it out somehow and learn to embrace forgiveness and self-compassion every new day.

I do this so others know they aren’t alone and that life becomes better and better with patient, daily practice. There are days ADHD wins despite best efforts and that’s ok, because we learn to dance with it on all the others and that’s the real win. That’s why.

I once heard an ADHD expert say that having the disorder is like learning to play a very difficult musical instrument: It can take years to master it, and can sound horrible while you are learning, but once you do, you can make some of the most beautiful music in the world.

— Marshall Lichty (source)

Truth: We try harder than most to get half as far. But also know that when our brains aren’t experiencing acute, asthmatic-ADHD-attacks we’re most often incessantly curious and caring Energizer bunnies (though not all of us present with physical hyperactivity). We’re also *fantastic* problem-solvers, thrilled to help out in any way, and are lots of fun to play with 🙂

Pro tip: Give neurodivergents half a chance.

You will be greatly rewarded. All we need are our own versions of ramps, eyeglasses, and handrails to get around like everyone else. Put us where we belong with some scaffolding in place and we thrive. And you will, too, because we’re built to see differently what most others cannot.

If you notice someone slipping or having a hard time, it might be worthwhile not to assume they’re messing up on purpose. They might not even recognize what they need amid the overwhelm. Expressed support and kindness can heal.

There are so many workarounds to linear methods, discover them with us. Have a little patience and empathy (and please let us do stuff in our own way because neurotypical ways are incomprehensible and will lead us to fail and fall into a shame-spiral) and we will exceed your expectations.

You might even wonder how we manage to do it! Confession: We don’t know how either haha, but we’ll consistently go above and beyond for anyone who is kind and patient with us.

*If you or someone you care about is struggling with ADHD, please visit ADDA (Attention Deficit Disorder Association) at https://add.org/. Help and resources are available. ??

Life with ADHD can also be super funny, so if there’s one thing we’ve learned to harness it’s an unparalleled sense of humor. We’re hilarious! And yes, love and laughter really are the best medicine 🙂

That is all.

When a flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.

— Alexander Den Heijer

If your attention span has allowed you to make it this far, thank you so much for reading and being open to understanding people like me. Now, let’s get some ice cream!

Below is a video of the very first time I ever spoke about having ADHD with a total stranger (hadn’t shared it anywhere until now). This was recorded by David Plakke and he’s the nicest person ever and I’m thankful for the catharsis his questions provided. There’s a first time for everything!

He asked me to be in a shoot for his TRIBES project. It was fun! As we chatted, ADHD came up somehow because I guess I was being extra wiggly, so he asked if I would talk about it in front of the camera. This is what came out. I’ve slowly been relearning all of myself ever since…

Important note: At the time this was filmed in May 2019, I had not ever considered medication. But the last of my coping mechanisms became overwhelmed as of the 2020 apocalypse (I’m sure I’m not the only one who catabolized). I couldn’t push through any longer without biological support for my functional impairments. Medication to the rescue. Thank you, Science.

My only regret is not doing so sooner. I delayed treatment only because of the harmful stigma attached to ADHD interventions… I had never experienced genuine tranquility in my brain until I took that first pill and the biggest step of my life.

Imagine someone who’s born visually impaired constantly hearing they should be able to see fine without glasses, like everybody else, and just need to try harder to stop stumbling and tripping over everything…

Imagine hearing this since childhood without a chance to even try on prescription glasses… then receiving harsh judgement from society for wearing the corrective lenses that help you get around safely.

Imagine the incredible relief of putting glasses on for the first time and realizing that simply existing doesn’t need to be so nebulous, confusing, deflating, and noisy all the time. Then finally understanding it was never your own fault you couldn’t navigate environments in the same way as others simply because you were born with atypical neurology.

Medication, though not for everyone, has made my life significantly better and allows my physiology some relief. Now sending an email isn’t like climbing Mt. Everest in a storm everyday… and I’ve actually gotten much better at it! I had no idea how hard things had been for me until that light came on. It seems we humans have an oddly impressive capacity to become acclimated to unnecessary suffering and to then consider that acceptable and “normal”.

There is no shame in getting proper treatment for any medical condition. Asking for help is an act of self-love and takes great courage. Get educated and please take care of your mind, body, and that beautiful heart of yours. Thank you for your time and support.

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