To the People Who Think an ADHD Diagnosis Is ‘No Big Deal'

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“If you would just focus, you could do this.”

I remember being told this throughout my school years.

So I have to focus, focus on getting the work done. But then I begin to think about focus — why can’t I focus? What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I do this? They said, “If I just focus,” but how do I do that? How do I focus? So now I’m focusing on focus and trying to figure out how to focus. It’s like a never-ending horse race of wondering about focus. Horse races are in circles. Me focusing on focus. So I wonder who won the Kentucky Derby last year? That’s a big horse race. I remember going to Derby parties as a kid.

Wait… Focus!

But man, those were some good parties. I miss those kind of parties. Focus… that’s right. I need to focus on my work. Yes, math work. Damn that’s a lot of work. But all I have to do is focus. No, I’m not going to do this. I will do it later. Look, there’s a squirrel climbing the tree. I wonder what he’s doing. Looking for food? Is it a male or female? How do you tell on a squirrel? Focus on math. But the squirrel is over there and he’s cute.

That’s how my brain works about 85 percent of the time. Never does one thought not lead in 10 different directions. I’ve gotten better at reining them in, but there are days it’s exactly like the paragraph above.

So if you think ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder, formerly called attention deficit disorder) is no big deal, that it’s an excuse or a copout for being lazy, please read the above paragraph. Imagine that every single day of your life with every single thought you have during 90 percent of your waking hours. Then you might get a tiny glimpse of what it’s like to have ADHD or ADD.

My brain never stops. Sometimes it overwhelms me, and I get depressed. Depression is commonly linked with ADHD/ADD, as is as anxiety disorder. I happen to suffer from all three of those. It’s hard for people to understand how depressed it makes you feel to know you are smart enough to do something, to know you could do it, but your brain can’t and won’t stop enough to let you do it. I could’ve made straight As in school. I was more than smart enough, but my mind wanted more — it wanted different than the school gave me — so I did the least amount to get by so I had time to dive into what my brain wanted. It’s never stopped, ever. Even as an adult, I still do the same thing.

If you know someone who has ADHD, please don’t discount that diagnosis as “no big deal.” A person with ADHD can struggle just as much with their own mind as some people struggle with real physical pain. It challenges those who have it in ways most people will never understand. Just the fact that our brains won’t work as we want them to can make us sad and feel alienated.

So when we look like we’re listening, but we really aren’t, it’s because our brains might be about 100 miles down the road on 10 other topics. We aren’t being rude, but our brains, well, they have other plans.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability and/or disease, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Why My ADHD Diagnosis Changed My Life for the Better

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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?

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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.

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What My Son With ADHD Wants Grown-Ups to Know

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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

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment someone changed the way you think about disability and/or illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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8 Wishes I Have for My Son With ADHD

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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.

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What My Husband Told Me That Helped Me Understand My ADD Diagnosis

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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. 

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10 Things Kids With ADHD (and Their Mommas) Wish Teachers Knew

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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.

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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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