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When I'm Told 'You’re Too Successful to Have ADHD'

“You’re too successful to daydream.”

“You’re too successful to fidget at your desk.”

“You’re too successful to have difficulty regulating your emotions.”

“You’re too successful to zone out.”

“You’re too successful to interrupt others.”

And the list continues…

I once had a wonderful therapist (she was really helpful for my depression and OCD) say something not so wonderful. She invalidated my experiences by telling me that my psychiatrist was wrong in diagnosing me with primarily inattentive type ADHD, that my successes in life were an indicator that this diagnosis could not be accurate for me. For instance, I graduated from high school with mostly As and college with mostly Bs. If I didn’t need medication then, why would I need it now? That was her point, but I felt it was quite offensive to many people with ADHD and learning disabilities. What this therapist didn’t realize: the amount of struggle that was a part of my educational journey, despite the good grades.

I have always struggled with interrupting others and regulating my emotions — core features of ADHD. I have always had this inner hyperactivity, a restlessness inside of me. In my ways, I have compensated over the years. For example, I have the ability to hyperfocus (often an ADHD trait) when I am passionate about something (such as writing, psychology, foreign languages or art).

Another compensation: people with ADHD are often late for things. I am almost always early… because I overcompensate for my fear of not showing up on time. In other words, I still lack the same sense of time as others with ADHD; the only difference is that I make up for it by showing up everywhere prematurely (I was born prematurely too, ironically enough).

While ADHD has many “classic traits,” it is important to note that it varies from person to person, and it may change its appearance and presentation from childhood to adulthood and beyond. It can also vary across genders. My main point with this article to spread awareness of what ADHD really can look like — and how it can vary greatly across populations.

The other thing that made teasing out my own diagnosis complicated was the fact that I have several co-morbid conditions — ADHD rarely travels alone. Some examples of coexisting disorders are OCD, anxiety, learning disabilities (like dyslexia or dyspraxia), sensory processing disorder, tic disorders, skin picking and hair pulling, binge-eating disorder, depression, PTSD and more.

I wonder what my old therapist would say if she were to read this, to see that I take medication for ADHD and it hasn’t drastically changed me (as it shouldn’t) but rather how much it is helped me, particularly with my job, in social situations, and my schoolwork for my master’s degree. Yes, I am successful in a lot of ways, but that doesn’t mean the struggle isn’t there. I know I am not the only one in this community that feels this way. I may have graduated college in five years, but it involved accommodations and extended deadlines, while going off/on with medical leave for my mental illnesses, which were mainly bipolar depression and anorexia nervosa, at the time.

It is hard to talk about my ADHD as one thing by itself, because, as I said previously, it rarely travels alone, which is most certainly the case for me. Whether you get a diagnosis at 5 or 25 or 55 doesn’t necessarily matter, just that you don’t let the stereotypes bring you down. Your success and your diagnosis are not mutually exclusive, and you can very well fall on any end of the spectrum when it comes to success as well as ADHD symptoms.

Similarly, I once had a different therapist in an IOP program tell me that I didn’t “look depressed.” Weirdly enough, I was the most depressed I’d ever been in my life. I am grateful that today I’ve found a therapist who would not say these things. Instead, she asks me how I feel and we go from there.

Whether or not you have ADHD or another condition, please know that you are more than stereotypes. You are you, and that’s the most awesome thing, ADHD or not.

Getty image by Nico El Nino.