A woman with glasses smiling into camera

I turn 40 this year. I don’t really care. However, I can’t help but fall into the social construct of 40. I cringe when I see a card and party supply company’s trinkets and jokes for 40th birthdays. I can’t afford a Corvette to help quell a midlife crisis. In my paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle, I would rather enjoy a hairdresser’s talents and a shopping spree instead.

So, 40. I ponder my life a little. Where have I been and how did I get here? And that’s when I realized I should celebrate my diagnosis of ADHD when I was in mid-30s. That’s right, celebrate. I may even have a little party for myself because it totally changed my life for the better. And as I recently discovered, my birthday month is also ADHD Awareness Month — pleasantly coincidental.

What most people may have dreaded, I embraced. It gave a name to the many questions I had about myself. It gave me a reason why things can be challenging and why I do things differently than others. It gave me confidence. Here are six things I understand about myself after being diagnosed with ADHD:

1. Now I know why at 12 everyone else was reading 32 pages an hour, and I was only reading 15. The snow falling outside the window was just beautiful and more mesmerizing than any book I had.

2. Now I know why I brought home every book from every class every night, rather than get it done in study hall. There were far too many interesting things happening in study hall. Who wants to read about Chaucer when you can watch people pick their nose, do card tricks in a corner or throw notes back and forth across the aisle?


3. Now I know why I waited until the night before a 15-page paper was due to start it. Yes, that’s right. Start it. I usually had the books and reference materials. But the rush of knowing it was due tomorrow allowed me to finally focus. I once tried to do an assignment early to get a head start and be productive. But the instructor gave it back with a big red, “This isn’t your best work, do it again.” Well, that was the last time I would try to be “normal” like everyone else. Whatever I was doing, though stressful and physically exhausting, was working.

4. Now I know why when I try to clean the house, I turn in circles and make a bigger mess. Because that mess on the dining room table (aka the dump station) needs cleaning. That pile of papers on the table needs to be sorted, organized, filed, labeled and color coded. Oh, and the file drawer needs an overhaul…wait. That table is still messy, and it’s 1 a.m. I will deal with that tomorrow, my brain always says.

5. Now I understand why making a list with every little detail of my day wasn’t a bad idea. I’d put “do the laundry” on a list, but I would create specific categories such as wash, dry, fold and put away. This was a more productive way for me to “do the laundry.” I got to see what I was accomplishing, and it encouraged my scattered brain to organize things visually and reward me when I got them done. I still do it.

6. Now I know why I excel at jobs that are anything but cubicle. The more crisis-oriented, the better. The more creative, the better. There is a hyper-focus that allows me to see things clearly. The stress feeds me. My detail-oriented brain can break the situation down, compartmentalize it and come up with creative solutions immediately. And the paperwork that needs to be filed afterwards? Well, I am a work in progress. Aren’t we all?

It’s allowed me to let go (most of the time) of high expectations and rigid social conformities. It’s allowed me to focus on fun times with my kids and worry about the dishes later. It gives me the spontaneity to say in the middle of the afternoon, “Let’s go for a ride and see where it takes us.” It’s supported my notions to be less judgmental of a situation or a person because there may be reasons they do the things they do.

Most importantly, it’s allowed me to lighten up on judging myself. I know that coloring outside the lines is so much more important than being forced to remain inside them. There is a whole world of wonder and excitement outside the box. And no matter how I get there or what road I take or how many times I wander off the path, it will be an amazing ride.


I was talking with my 12-year-old son the other day about a girl he likes in school.

“She’s the most popular girl but some people say really mean things about her.”

“What do they say that’s mean?” I asked

“They call her fat and say she’s ugly without any makeup.”

God, kids can be mean. I asked him how he felt when he heard people saying things like that. “It makes me feel bad for her, because I know how I feel when people say mean things about me.”

My mom radar went off. My son is that kid who’s always happy; nothing seems to get him down. He did not seem happy right now. What did he think people said?

“What do you think people say?” I asked expecting him to shrug, “I don’t know.” I got this instead:

“I hear them, everything they probably think I can’t hear. Like the sigh when I tell them I forgot my homework again. I hear them mutter things under their breath when I am fidgeting in class. I hear frustration in their voices. I’d like them to understand I am not trying to make them mad.

“I see things too. Like how you smile less with me than with other kids. I see how Daddy’s forehead gets all creased when he is yelling at me. I see people roll their eyes when I show them a new toy and how they sound all mad when they ask me to stop singing.

“I want people to know I feel like they don’t like how I am. I want Daddy to know I am not stupid and it hurts my feelings when he says, ‘Are you dumb?’ I want you to know I don’t like it when you yell. I hate when I ask someone a question and they say, ‘It’s none of your business. Stop interrupting.’ I’m just curious.

“I just want it to stop. The yelling, comparing me to other kids that are ‘normal.’ How people tense up sometimes when I just walk into the room. I want people to say I am nice and funny and good at drawing. And not follow it with, ‘If only he could focus like that in other areas.’ I just want to feel like it’s OK to be me.”

It took every ounce of strength I had to not crumble under the weight of my shame. Maybe my happy kid was a little less happy than I’d thought. And I’d been so frustrated with him for not being “normal,” I’d missed it.

I took a deep breath and hugged him. My heart hurt. “That was so beautifully said. I’ll make you a promise right now to work to make things different for you. I believe in you, I see your goodness and I don’t want you to hurt.” And I meant this with all of my being.

He hugged me back and looked shy now. Like a typical 12-year-old boy.

So I am sticking to my promise. I want to help people understand ADHD and the struggles these wonderful humans go through just make a place to fit in this world. This is my start. They’re square pegs in a round-hole world. Let’s find ways to make more square holes for them to fit.

boy in glasses holding up colorful painting

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There’s so much I wish for with all of my boys. Happiness, peace, love, laughter, lasting friendships; all the usual things parents want for their children. But I worry more about my oldest who has ADHD. The world can be cruel, and people can be mean. Not everyone understands him or cares to take the time to try. I have more fear about his future than my other boys; boys who can sit still in class and remember their homework (and underwear for that matter). Boys who pick up on social cues, know when to stop trying so hard with people and know when to quiet down or back off.

I’m doing everything I can to help my son with ADHD find his way in this world. There’s so much I want for him.

1. I want him to never give up his silly side just to fit in. I want him to be confident enough to continue to dance like a deranged chicken, to sing loudly and laugh, even when he knows he has the words wrong.

2. I want him to never stop doodling — even if it is in school. I love the wonderful pictures he creates in the margins of his notebook even if there are more pictures than words. I’d rather look at this talent than read an essay I know was torture for him to get down on paper because he had to sit and focus for 45 minutes to get that one paragraph done.

3. I hope he never loses his empathy for others. He and his brother fight like the dickens, but if his baby brother is in harm’s way, there is no better protector on this planet than my son. If someone is being made fun of, he’s the kid who will befriend the underdog and try to make him feel better. He’s the one who will use his own money to buy extra sour candies to share with his friends, not to get them to like him, but because sharing makes him happy.

Heather's son laying on the couch

4. I hope he never loses his ability to always (and I mean always) look at the bright side of things. To continue trying to get others to look at the bright side when he says things like, “You should relax more, Mom. You look prettier when you smile.”

5. I want him to always challenge the “norm,” whether if it’s refusing to wear matching socks (because that’s boring), to writing his English paper on how the song, “Pink Fluffy Unicorns Dancing on Rainbows,” makes him happy.

6. I truly hope he finds a woman to love him for all his grandness. For the way he thinks, “This is fun! Let’s make it even better!” For his lopsided and big smiles when he teases. For the way he says the sweetest things when you least expect it like, “You smell like love.” I hope she understands and embraces a life of messiness, a life of everything that is the opposite of conventional “normalcy.” I hope she never loses sight of all the positives. The joy, the unwavering love and commitment to making everything just a little bit bigger — and better.

7. I hope he knows how much he’s loved. I’m not always the best parent. Not always calm in the face of non-stop singing and fidgeting. Not always understanding about the messy room (usually messy within 10 minutes of just cleaning it). And I don’t always say the right thing at the right time. But I love him. I love his smile, his heart, his unconventional ways. He makes me laugh, he makes me feel, he makes me think. He has changed my life for the better in so many ways. I want him to always know how completely he owns my heart.

8. Finally, I want him to be happy. More than anything, happy. And in writing this, if my son has taught me anything, it’s that happiness comes with letting go a little of routines. Easing up on the “should do’s” and simply enjoying the moment. And smiling — because we all look prettier when we smile.

As I read Tracy Boyarsky Smith’s story about ADHD on The Mighty, I had such a flood of emotions. There were so many different things I could relate to, and I wanted to jump up and give her a high-five.

I began to recount the opportunities I’ve had to put a new face to attention deficit disorder (ADD) in my community. I remember the time I was on a field trip with our son’s first-grade class and his teacher asked, “What are you reading?” I showed her Dr. Edward M. Hallowell and Dr. John J. Ratey’s book “Driven to Distraction.” I proceeded to explain I had recently been diagnosed with ADD.

“You? But you’re a doctor!” she said.

“Yes, and now I’m learning about me,” I replied.

“Wow, that’s so commendable of you.” 

“Yeah, well it’s time to take care of me.”

The other life moment that came to mind may be a simple one, but for me, it was huge. My husband and I were having a conversation with my mother-in-law about my recent diagnosis and how I had elected to start medication. She asked if I would need to be on medication for the rest of my life.

“If need be, yes,” I said.

My husband’s response: “I agree. Over the years, I have seen how it takes such a Herculean effort for her to concentrate to get from one step to the next, especially when it comes to transitions. For example, getting herself and our little guy dressed and out in the morning. The support this medication gives her, the focus she now has and the need to expend less energy to get certain tasks accomplished is significant in her and our lives.” 

Dr. LaKeischa Webb smiling

From that response alone I had already fallen in love with him all over again. However, it was our private conversation later that I started seeing myself through the beautiful colored glasses of ADD.

I told him I was pleasantly surprised at his response, because at the beginning of our journey toward my diagnosis and my medication adjustments, he admitted in our podcast conversation he was very skeptical.

But then he said, “If you had diabetes or hypertension, no one would ask if you had to take medication for the rest of your life. If you needed glasses, they would tell you to get glasses. If you broke a bone, they would expect you get orthopedic care. So why should I expect any different when it comes to you?”

And it was here in this moment that I began to have more stable footing and start loving my beautifully touched ADD mind.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t like a fairy godmother just waved her magic wand, and it was all smooth sailing from there. Since September 2012, when I was initially diagnosed, I have dug around to find a myriad of gems to place in my tool box. I watched the documentary “ADD & Mastering It!” I talked about Dr. Hallowell and Dr. Ratey’s book earlier. Dr. Daniel Amen’s book, “Healing ADD,” is one of my go-to reads. I have found some great ADD and ADHD thought leaders on Twitter. And I visit the ADDitudemag.com community for free webinars and podcasts

These communities allow our voices to be heard. 

The contrast between expectations and actual ability is stark but invisible when it comes to ADHD. Individuals with ADHD don’t have any outwardly visible signs of having a disability. So ADHD behaviors are often interpreted as willful, defiant, oppositional, disobedient and disrespectful. I think this is toughest for kids with ADHD in the classroom environment. Kids with behavioral and developmental disorders often look like “bad” kids. I want so badly to change that.


1. The struggle is real. I’m trying hard to not be different from my classmates and friends. It takes a lot of work to look like I don’t have any problems at school.

2. Things are a lot more complex to me than you imagine. What’s intuitive to you is a long and difficult thought process that I often don’t have time for.

3. I worry a lot! I’m constantly worried that I’ll look different, that I’ll forget my homework, that I might say something wrong, or that I’ll get in trouble. I probably worry almost every minute I’m at school. Sometimes that makes me tell wild stories to try to get out of school. 

4. I feel stupid when I can’t accomplish what my peers can. I’m not stupid, but I sure feel like it when things are hard for me but simple for others.

5. I’m emotionally sensitive. I might look like a cry baby, but I feel things deeply.

6. I am a literal kid. I cannot tell when my friends are teasing. I take everything they say and do at face-value. I often feel like my friends are being mean to me.

7. I’m smart! When given the time to fully process or a way to show what I know that doesn’t involve completing a worksheet, I can shine. Give me the opportunity to surprise you.

8. I’m not lazy! There’s a lot more going on in my mind than most people. Plus, I struggle with planning, sequencing and organization. That can slow me down or make me not want to do the work. And my ADHD brain is interest-based — I can focus better on the assignment when it interests me.

9. My weaknesses often make me feel like a failure. You can help me a lot just by believing in me and encouraging me.

10. I don’t intend to make you angry. I want to do well. I deserve love and respect, just like my peers.

This post originally appeared on pennywilliamsauthor.com.

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My daughter is a question mark.

She’s confusing to specialists and her parents alike. It seems there has been some speculation from minds larger than mine that she may or may not have inattentive attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

She could be one way, she could be another, they just don’t know. And that, my friends, is where I lose my sh*t.

I entered into the land of acronyms, Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), and those bigger minds I mentioned long before my daughter was even a twinkle in my husbands eye. My son was more of a sure thing, everyone seemed to feel the same way — something isn’t right with this one. After a long heartbreaking trip through a maze of specialists and people that felt they had the right to offer up their opinion, it was finally decided that his chronic ear infections had caused a severe speech delay due to hearing loss.

His tantrums were his frustration at being unable to communicate with anyone and not the autism a few preschool teachers seemed sure that he had. Pretty sure those ladies got their certifications at the Vidal Sassoon Hair Institute, but I digress. A couple of years of speech therapy and we were in the clear.

There is a lot of talk about how quick we are to slap the ADD/ADHD label on a misunderstood kid. To a point, I agree with this summation. When a little boy is tearing his classroom apart with no thought to consequences and can not for the life of him quiet his mind, it may be time to step in. There are also little boys that never stop talking, are constantly moving, and listen when the teacher says stop. Two different boys, but an outsider looking in might think both have some degree of ADHD. The reality is, boy number one may need some extra help, boy number two may just be an animated and active kid.

People are quick to zone in on the boys, but guess what? See that quiet little thing in the back of the classroom with the dreamy look on her face? See how she’s not popular with the other girls? Yep, that’s my girl, and possibly a different face of ADHD.


Inattentive ADHD is a different shade on the same rainbow. Most of the time when it manifests itself in girls it goes unnoticed. My little one does not act out, does not disobey, and anything going on inside her head that confuses her stays right there.

For a moment I was crazed with that same proactive attitude I had with her brother — must get help now, early intervention is key, something is different here and only a team of specialists can make it right. So I made the appointments, took her to the evaluations, and was only given a question mark this time.

After taking a step back and giving it thought, I figured out something. This is about me, not her. My fear is that she will go into the public school system and get lost in the shuffle.With no paperwork in place, how can she be successful? The answer came to me with that question mark. How will we know unless we try? This time there will be no guide for my daughter’s journey. It will be a trial by fire for her and I.

Maybe we will find our way back into those offices in time, but for now I’ll just relax and take her for what she is. She is beautiful, smart, loving, loyal to a fault, and stubborn beyond my conception. There is no map for how she should be and maybe that’s the perfect answer.


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