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The One Thing People Need to Stop Telling Newly Diagnosed ADHD Folk

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One of the most common responses when I come out of the attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) closet is “Well you know <insert random highly successful entrepreneur> had ADHD too? Most people with ADHD are super successful!” I understand that people are trying to be kind and uplifting, but in reality comments like that are actually more harmful than helpful for a multitude of reasons.

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For those of you who don’t know, ADHD is a neurological processing disorder and disability due to the way that it can impair memory function, processing, time management, basically all the things you need to function in an ableist world. Not to use the fish and bird analogy where you can’t judge a fish on its ability to fly, but ADHD folk are constantly judged by our ability to do neurotypical things, which immediately sets us up for failure. Before I realized I lived with ADHD, I thought I was “stupid” because of how long it took me to focus or concentrate, or because there were just some things I couldn’t grasp for the life of me. 

Learning that I was neurodivergent, and then coming to terms with it, allowed me to give myself a certain grace I never had before. Accepting my diagnosis wasn’t easy, and it took a while, but it happened and with that came a certain understanding that productivity and I would continue to have a very strange relationship. There would be days where I can do it all, and then the complete opposite, but regardless of where I fall on that spectrum my worth is the same. If I were to listen to the people around me who used successful ADHD folk as an example of what I was capable of, honestly I’d just feel worse about myself. My self-esteem would worsen because all of these people were able to do all of these things. Why can’t I remember to respond to a simple email or call the shop to schedule that oil change? 

Basing an ADHD person’s worth in success is very dangerous, for a few reasons. 

1. Success isn’t guaranteed to anyone, regardless of how your brain is programmed. 

Let’s ignore all the brain talk for a second. Success in and of itself has no formula, only because everyone ignores factors like familial ties, luck, and timing. You can bust your ass for years and not be “successful” until some act of God that changes everything. Hard work doesn’t go as far as people like to pretend it does. So when you add ADHD into the mix, it’s almost like a false promise based on someone’s brain that will just make the ADHD person feel worse if they can’t “get it.”

2. This mentality ignores the reality of ADHD.

The logic behind it could be that if you have ADHD, that means you technically should be more successful because you are able to multitask like none other, but that’s still inaccurate. It doesn’t factor in things like executive dysfunction, time blindness, or our dopamine chases that shift our day to day. Now I’m not a doom and gloom ADHD-er at all, however I’d be lying if I didn’t say that this disorder didn’t make my life a little harder sometimes. It feels as if my brain puts me in time out, and I have to wait for permission to do things or else I risk severe headaches and fatigue. Fighting my brain hurts me more in the end, which means that I have to succumb to it more than I care to admit or else I risk my health. The strengths are great, but the reality is that ADHD isn’t just its strengths. Its the flaws too.

3. Inspiration porn only really serves abled folk, not the other way around.

Inspiration porn is something often talked about in disability spaces, and this is a blatant form of ADHD inspiration porn. Focusing on what we can do “in spite of” our disability is pretty damn ableist, and usually the only people that it makes feel good are neurotypicals. Now while I can’t prove this, it feels as if it makes them feel good because it shows that we can still play into whatever little capitalistic plot they may have, but y’know. That’s just my personal opinion.

For anyone, it’s really harmful to equate worth to success, but for people with ADHD, it can be extremely detrimental to our self-esteem and sense of self, leading to severe levels of burn out, depression, and anxiety over what we can and can’t do. We know you mean well when you want to point out all the beautiful things we can do, like Steve Jobs or Piccasso. We know you want to make us feel empowered by saying our ADHD is a super power, but that’s just not true. 

Our ADHD is a neutral part of our lives that can make things harder and easier, and that’s OK. We don’t have to be successful to be worthy, or to have a life worth living with ADHD. The sooner we stray from that mindset, the better.

Getty image by gmast3r

Originally published: August 30, 2022
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