Archive for the ‘ADHD’ Tag

Blogging Against Ableism: Dispelling ADHD Misconceptions   1 comment

This post is part of the Blogging Against Disablism initiative for 2017. Ableism is the North American term, and so that is what I use. Ableism/Disablism is discrimination and prejudice against people who have disabilities.

I spend a lot of time spreading accurate information about ADHD to people who have it or who think they might have it. Unfortunately, many times they come to me with comments their parents, teachers, and even doctors have made about ADHD. Comments that are not only inaccurate but ableist at their very heart. This post is going to list some of the most common misconceptions ADHDers deal with on a regular basis, and I am going to try and explain why they are incorrect and how they are ableist assumptions. I asked the question in a couple of places, and these are the things people named as the things that bother them the most. Thanks to everyone who answered my question. You can see all the responses in the notes on this post on Tumblr. (I’ve combined and adjusted and reworded.)


Misconception: ADHDers just need to try harder; it’s all about will power; you’re just lazy!

Reality: Based on my own experience and the messages I get from teens and young adults (and even some people my own age), we ADHDers are always trying harder than anyone else to do what we need to do. If being able to do things the way we want to do was just about will power, we would be able to change the world! …Instead, we have brilliant ideas and lack the ability to plan or enact a plan to make those ideas happen. Lazy isn’t a word I’d ever use to describe anyone with a disability, either. There’s a reason why one of the seminal books about adult ADHD is called You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?!?

Why this attitude is damaging: Continually being told that you aren’t meeting your potential and being blamed for your failings as if you are morally corrupt or something takes a huge toll on your self-esteem. It’s not a coincidence that most ADHDers also suffer from something called rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD), which is basically intense fear of criticism that results in a lot of self-flagellation and negative self-talk.


Misconception: ADHD is all about not being able to pay attention to anything; if you can pay attention to one thing for any length of time, you don’t have ADHD!

Reality: The term “attention deficit” is actually a misnomer; I prefer “Variable Attention Span” when talking about this aspect of ADHD. In essence, we can hyperfocus (focus for a really long time) on things, but we don’t always have a lot of control over what we’re focusing on. Hyperfocus usually latches onto something we find really interesting or rewarding, so either a special interest or something like a video game. I used to hyperfocus on reading (still do, if I give myself half a chance; words are fascinating).

Why this attitude is damaging: While distraction is part and parcel of having ADHD, it’s really important to recognize that we don’t have a lot of control over most of the things that characterize it. On top of this, assuming that ADHD means a complete inability to focus on anything results in people not being diagnosed when they are younger, hence missing out on a lot of years of treatment that could have been really beneficial to them.


Misconception: ADHDers are all extroverted class clowns; ADHD always means hyperactivity!

Reality: There are three types of ADHD, and only two of them include hyperactive and impulsive symptoms. Just as many ADHDers are introverts as non-ADHDers, too. On top of that, a lot of us have anxiety disorders that make us clam up in social situations.

Why this attitude is damaging: Assuming that only people who are always up and down and chatting with people around them can have ADHD means that people who have Inattentive ADHD go undetected and untreated.


Misconception: ADHD is something only little white boys are diagnosed with!

Reality: ADHD rates in adulthood are the same between genders. Symptoms are also shown at the same rate in people of colour as in white people. What this means is that women are more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder (etc.) than ADHD (these are also all common comorbid disorders), and it means that people who are not white often end up getting labelled as “bad kids”—and since people tend to live up to (or down to) your expectations, they end up in jail.

Why this attitude is damaging: Well, I kind of explained this above. It all leads to misdiagnosis, underdiagnosis, mistreatment, etc.


Misconception: ADHD is only a thing for children; if you’re an adult you can’t have it; if you aren’t caught in childhood there’s no way you can have it as an adult!

Reality: ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder. This means that it begins in childhood (likely from birth) and is caused by the way the brain develops. The ADHD brain tends to lag behind by about three years. You see where I’m going with this, right? If it’s about brain development, how on earth could it possibly just magically disappear when we reach adulthood?!?

Why this attitude is damaging: Given everything above about the stereotypes regarding what ADHD is, there are lots of people who don’t get diagnosed in childhood. Refusing to assess adults because of this kind of prejudice just means more struggling and more depression… and more suicide.


Misconception: ADHD isn’t real and if you just do [X faddy thing] you’ll be fine!

Reality: Plenty of studies have shown that the ADHD brain is physically different from the non-ADHD brain. A healthy diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and low stress levels all have a positive effect on the brain, regardless of whether or not you have ADHD; however, an ADHD brain will never function the way a non-ADHD brain does, no matter the diet, the exercise, the sleep, etc. Because it’s a physical difference.

Why this attitude is damaging: Thinking that ADHD isn’t real means that people don’t get assessed. Pushing unnecessary lifestyle changes as a “fix” can hurt people’s health and just adds to the implication that we are morally deficient.


Misconception: Taking medication for ADHD is a cop-out!

Reality: Medication is a tool that can be incredibly useful for managing the symptoms of ADHD. There is absolutely no shame in making use of all of the tools available to us in order to have a good quality of life.

Why this attitude is damaging: This attitude makes people refuse to use important tools that can be helpful in their lives. It causes parents to refuse to do everything that they can to help their children succeed in life. It causes people who do rely on medication to feel like they are failing. How is this beneficial?


Misconception: ADHDers shouldn’t have caffeine/sugar, it will just make things worse!

Reality: Caffeine affects some ADHDers by making them more hyper or waking us up, but others have no effects from it and the rest of us find that it helps with our symptoms and/or puts us to sleep! As for sugar, the brain runs on sugar. This means that sugar can help wake it up. Refined sugar is accessed much more quickly and burns out really fast as well, which is why some people seem to become hyperactive after having it: the sugar wakes up the brain and gets it running pretty quickly. The unfortunate part is that there’s often a big crash after it burns out.

Why this attitude is damaging: For people who cannot access medication but find benefit from caffeine, being told to avoid it can be really unhelpful. In addition, because the brain does run on sugar, it’s important to make sure your diet includes some sugars—just not necessarily too much refined sugar.


Misconception: ADHD meds will fix everything so that ADHDers don’t have any problems anymore!

Reality: Medication helps with symptoms, it’s true; however, it’s difficult to find the right medication and the right dose. It’s also quite common to find medication that helps with some symptoms but not all of them. I have found that my executive dysfunction in particular is not affected by medication (I keep holding out hope), meaning that while medication helps me curb my fidgeting and my impulsive behaviour, and even my inattention, it has yet to help me with initiation and inertia. On top of that, it’s important to remember that someone who has ADHD may well not have the skills we need for particular things in life, and medication doesn’t magically impart that knowledge.

Why this attitude is damaging: This attitude means that ADHDers may give up on medication altogether even if it helps in some very big ways. It also means even more shaming and moral judgments on us when we don’t know how to do something that “everyone” knows.


Misconception: ADHDers always do poorly in school and aren’t very smart!

Reality: IQ distribution in ADHD is the same as in the general population. When ADHDers do poorly in school, it is typically because of executive dysfunction—leaving assignments until the last minute, losing papers, forgetting things—or poor working memory—leading to low grades on quizzes and exams—rather than a lack of smarts. It’s quite common for ADHDers to be told that they aren’t working up to their potential.

Why this attitude is damaging: When you’re repeatedly told that you could do better if you tried harder, and you are already trying your hardest and still failing, you start to feel like a complete failure. There is obviously something wrong with you, if you can’t grasp something that is so easy for other people, or if you aren’t achieving what you’re capable of. Usually that something is a lack of work ethic or laziness, something morally wrong. See the first misconception for information on that.


I really wish people would spend a little time learning about ADHD and what it really is, instead of spouting these ridiculous, damaging things. There are so many ways in which ADHDers can be amazing additions to your life. Please do your part to help us do that. We are people, and we deserve respect. Yes, even when we aren’t meeting whatever standards you’ve set for us.

Society needs an attitude adjustment.

 

Useful Things I Learned from Being an ABA Therapist   Leave a comment

Before I start, I want to be absolutely clear that this post is not meant to condone ABA as an autism treatment. It is merely an attempt to find a tiny bit of good in my past career. (The biggest good was getting to know the children I worked with, and many of the families were delightful people doing what the “experts” had told them to do.)

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is still a hot-button issue in many parts of the autism community. I used to do ABA, primarily Lovaas-style. The type of ABA I did is heavy on table time and progresses through a specific set of programs designed to teach everything from speech to academic skills to self-help skills. It was touted as being scientifically validated and able to “recover” autistic children, or at least make them indistinguishable from their peers.

There are all kinds of problems with that, and with the ABA industry as a whole, but other people have written about that far more eloquently than I ever could. So today I want to talk about the useful things I took away from my time as an ABA therapist. Because there are some helpful techniques and attitudes I learned.

If the student isn’t learning, it isn’t their fault. My first ABA consultant taught us that if the child wasn’t learning what we were trying to teach, there was something wrong with our approach. Maybe we weren’t consistent enough from one therapist to another. Maybe we needed to present the material differently or change the way we requested the behaviour. Whatever it was, we were the ones who needed to adjust.

Breaking tasks down into steps and chaining behaviours. As someone who has ADHD and the accompanying executive dysfunction, it can be helpful to break down a large task into smaller steps. That way I can focus on one small piece at a time instead of getting overwhelmed trying to figure out where to start. Chaining tasks is also a really helpful concept that has helped me change my routines (and develop them in the first place).

I know my A-B-C’s. Not my alphabet (though I do know that as well), but a way of figuring out how to help my two-year-old, non-autistic child behave appropriately. When he does something I would rather he not do, I look at the antecedent, or what happened before he did the thing, I look at his specific behaviour, and I look at the consequence, or what happened afterward (i.e., what he got out of it). This is most beneficial when I remember my developmental psychology, since that tells me that a toddler doesn’t yet have the executive functioning to control his impulses (and as an ADHDer with impulse control problems, I understand this intimately). Understanding the reasons why he does something helps me find other ways for him to get whatever it is he needs, in a more acceptable fashion. It also usually comes back on me: a lot of his behaviour happens because I didn’t put something out of his reach, or I wasn’t supervising closely enough, or I was ignoring his attempts to get my attention.

I don’t over-react to things. One of the things I learned as an ABA therapist was to keep my cool at all times and to be neutral when correcting responses. This translates to my kid having a mom who responds to things like refusing to come for a diaper change by asking if he can come on his own or if he needs help. This gives him power in the situation that is appropriate for his developmental level but still gets the job done.

Some of the teaching methods can also be useful, but it depends a lot on the person and the thing you are trying to teach.

But there you are, a list of the positive practical applications of ABA techniques. Note that understanding child development is important (it wasn’t needed when I was working), as well as respect for the individual’s particular needs and desires (again, not necessary in my work). As with so many things, intent and attitude matter.

Announcement!   Leave a comment

As you probably know by now, I was diagnosed with ADHD in February 2005, at the age of 28. The last nearly 11 years have been spent figuring out how to manage my symptoms, since there are times (like right now) I can’t take medication.

One of my biggest problems has always been time management. How long does the thing really take? When is my appointment? Which days should I do this rather than that?

I’ve read a lot of books (most notably, Julie Morgenstern’s Time Management from the Inside Out) and tried implementing their strategies, but nothing really stuck permanently until the following happened:

  • I started using a Moleskine datebook.
    • I wrote everything down in it.
    • I checked it daily.
  • I spent a few months seeing an ADHD coach.
    • Objective accountability has always been good for me.
    • She helped me see that I’m actually good at some things to do with time management and just needed to tweak my approach to capitalize on what I’m good at.
  • I started making a list of everything I needed to do in a day and checking things off.
    • I stopped worrying about how much I did and focused more on what I did.
    • I tweaked things to get them to work for me.
    • I started noting in my datebook what tasks I was doing when, as a measure of my time.

In 2015, I prepared monthly planners for people to download and print for free. These planners incorporated all of the results of my learning and tweaking, as well as a few features other ADHDers requested.

For 2016, I am continuing to provide these free printable planners (in this Google Drive folder), but I am also putting the planner up for sale as a coil-bound book you can purchase at Lulu.com. Each planner will contain three months as well as the special planning pages that make my system work so well.

I have a few other things in the works, like project planning pages and a financial planner/organizer, but this is first and January-March is ready to purchase. I am so proud of myself for making this happen!

Posted February 5, 2016 by karalianne in Admin Post

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The importance of sleep   Leave a comment

Like I wrote last Thursday, I went to see my ADHD doctor to talk about medication.

He listened to me, looked back over his notes from my previous appointments (I’ve been seeing him somewhat regularly since 2010), and asked me how my sleep was.

That’s an important question.

Over at the ADHD blog, people write in asking why their symptoms might be worse, and how to know if they need a higher dose of medication. I always say the same thing:

Check to make sure that these things are in order, because if even one is out of whack you will have problems:

  • Stress – Increased stress makes symptoms worse.
  • Sleep – If you’re not in bed for at least seven hours per night, you are probably short on sleep, and lack of sleep gives non-ADHDers the symptoms of ADHD.
  • Diet  – Diet doesn’t cause ADHD, though some allergies might cause similar symptoms for some people, but eating a healthy diet that’s high in protein is really good for the ADHD brain.
  • Exercise – Regular exercise is also really good for the ADHD brain and makes it easier to focus for a little while.

So these are all about as good as they’ve ever been, except my sleep… well, with a seven-month-old baby, I’m sure you can imagine what that looks like.

I’m now tracking my sleep for the next few weeks, and trying to get more (good luck), and I’ll go back to see him at the end of that time. Maybe I’ll post my results here, too.

Either way, my ADHD is big these days, as are my anxiety and depression (though not as bad as they have been in the past).

What’s big for you today?

Posted October 24, 2015 by karalianne in General Disability Discussion

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ADHD Awareness Month   Leave a comment

If you’re reading this blog, you know I have ADHD. (If you don’t, you need to re-read a bunch of my posts.) This means you’re aware of it. Job done, let’s all go home!

Except no.

Because what we need is awareness of the reality of ADHD. It’s not enough for people to just know that it’s a thing some people are diagnosed with, because there are too many misconceptions floating around and too much stigma surrounding both the diagnosis and the treatment methods.

The reality of ADHD is that I am going to see my ADHD doctor tomorrow morning to talk about getting back on medication. I’m breastfeeding, so stimulants aren’t recommended; I have researched antidepressants that often help with ADHD symptoms as well as anxiety, because anxiety and depression are clawing their way back into my life and I intensely dislike this sensation.

The reality of ADHD is that it’s not the same for everyone; while we often struggle with similar things internally, how that manifests externally is different for everyone, because ADHD is not a monolith and we are all individuals.

The reality of ADHD is that the diagnosis is a relief for many of us because we finally have a name for why we feel so different, an explanation for why things are so hard for us; and it is awful for many others because it is used to belittle them and to refuse them things they need.

The reality of ADHD is that it’s still not viewed by most people as an actual disability, which means that not only is it the punchline for a lot of really unfunny “jokes,” it’s also impossibly difficult to get accommodations for school, especially at post-secondary institutions in Canada that leave the final decision about things like extra time on tests in the hands of the professors. (That is Not Okay, just in case you were wondering.)

The reality of ADHD is different for each person who has it, so go ask the ADHDer in your life how it impacts them. And then really listen to what they say, and ask how you can help them deal.

Because nobody should have to be an island.

Posted October 16, 2015 by karalianne in Awareness Month

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Consistent Inconsistency (I)   Leave a comment

I doubt I’ll ever be good at keeping a blog the way people think they should be kept. “One main theme, and post regularly – if not daily, then at least once a week, on a schedule!”

That’s just not how I operate.

I’ve said many times in the past, “the only thing that’s consistent about my ADHD is its inconsistency.” And I think it’s important to recognize that, to embrace it sometimes, to work with it, and to enjoy it as much as possible.

I mean, inconsistency can be exciting. You never know when you’re going to forget a meal in the oven and have to scrounge for dinner. You never know when you’re going to get lost and learn a whole new part of the city. You never know when you’re going to fail to do the laundry for three weeks and end up wearing that weird dress someone gave you ten years ago that you’re shocked even fits you.

Did I say exciting?

Okay, I meant stressful.

Being inconsistent may be a consistent thing, but what doesn’t work one moment often works the next, so there’s no knowing from one second to the next what I’m going to be able to accomplish. This means that I will do all the right things, make my plan and have an idea of how my day is going to go, only to have everything fall apart and leave me standing in the middle of a pile of unfinished projects with a list of uncompleted (unattempted) tasks the length of my arm, and my primary achievement at that point is that at least I managed to feed everyone enough (including the animals).

This is stressful, as I’m sure you can imagine. It’s the unpredictability that drains me, far more than the actual lack of achievement. I’ve been an underachiever all my life, after all – hard not to be, with a brain that works this way.

But I want to do better. I want to do the things I plan to do. I want to achieve what I intend to achieve.

The fact that I cannot do this consistently (or, often, at all) is what makes my ADHD a disability.

Posted September 11, 2015 by karalianne in General Disability Discussion

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Pockets of Organization   Leave a comment

Part of my ADHD is clutter, to a degree that much of my life is messy. Things are just all over the place. If I do get some things into a box, they’re rarely organized or sorted out before they go into the box; they’re just tossed there to get them out the way.

But there are pockets of organization in my life, and I cherish these pockets and hold onto them tightly. Sometimes they’re what keep me anchored when everything else is slipping out of reach.

My kitchen, for example, is always organized. Even though clutter invariably seeps into the room via the counters and the table and chairs, my cupboards and fridge are well-organized and I do have a plan and a process that I follow to get things re-organized.

But there are smaller pockets around the house. My diaper-changing stations are well-organized. I keep them stocked with wipes and diaper cream and diaper pins and Snappis and diaper covers. My dresser drawers are organized — as are my husband’s dresser drawers and my son’s dresser drawers. I have a really well-organized to-do list system in place that works really well for me. My house plants are arranged in a particular order on the table in the large picture window in the living room.

I think that it’s important to look for ability, to notice when there are things I do well, especially when those pockets of ability occur in the midst of (and within the context of) something I have difficulty with due to my disability. But it’s equally important that I be the one to realize it. It’s okay for someone else to compliment me on my organized kitchen, but I’m the one who has to be able to accept that pocket of organization as proof that I really am good at organizing stuff; my chaos is due to a breakdown at a different point in the chain. This knowledge is helpful when anxiety or depression set in. I am good at some stuff and I struggle with other stuff. Same as everyone else on the planet.

It’s just that the stuff I have trouble with is different from what everyone else has trouble with — if not in terms of the specific thing, then at least in terms of degree of difficulty.

Posted August 27, 2015 by karalianne in Identity

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Acceptance III   Leave a comment

As promised, I’m going to talk about the treatability of ADHD.

Russell Barkley says that ADHD is the most treatable mental disorder. He’s sort of right, but there are problems with that statement. There are actually problems with the concept of treatment as it currently stands.

So let’s look at the concept of treatment and then we can talk about whether or not ADHD is actually treatable.

Society has taught us that it is best to be neurotypical. We should be neurotypical, we should live our lives as though we are neurotypical, and any difficulty we have achieving that goal is a failure. Treatment is meant to bring us “back to normal” – that is, it’s supposed to make us more neurotypical, so that we can live like neurotypicals and have a better quality of life and be happy. Because the assumption is that you can only be happy if you are neurotypical, and your quality of life must be horrible if you aren’t living the same way as neurotypical people do.

There are so many things wrong with this that I don’t really know where to begin.

Let’s start with the assumption that you have to be neurotypical to be happy and to have a good quality of life.

I know lots of people who have mental disorders and developmental disabilities that affect their cognitive functioning, and most of them are happy and have good quality of life. Obviously neurotypicality is not necessary for either happiness or quality of life.

So if that assumption is incorrect, then it must also not be true that we need to live like we’re neurotypical in order to be successful, to be happy, and to have a good quality of life. Which means that treatment in order to be “more normal” is ableist and unnecessary.

Now, that doesn’t mean that treatment itself is unnecessary. If a condition is causing difficulty in an area that really matters to you, and you want help with that area and there is something out there that can help, treatment is a great thing. But the goal of treatment should never be “change my brain and my life so that I am neurotypical,” because not only is that impossible, it’s ableist and an incredibly negative way to approach something that is so pervasive and intrinsic to your life and your identity.

So that’s why the current concept of treatment is a bad one. And I know this is what people think, because I get questions from people all the time asking why they still have trouble with particular things even though they’re taking medication. I get questions asking if medication is going to change their personality. And I get these questions because people are told that medication is the most effective form of treatment for ADHD, and they think that “treatment” means “no more ADHD,” and that’s just plain wrong.

So how treatable is ADHD, really?

Well, in the current concept of treatment (as sort of a cure), it’s not treatable at all. There are no treatments out there that will make a person suddenly have a neurotypical brain. The best medication can do is make it so that our brains function more like they’re neurotypical, so it’s easier to do certain things while it’s in our system, but it doesn’t actually make us neurotypical, and we still have to work at things that neurotypicals find easy.

There are a lot of treatments for ADHD. I’ve listed a lot of them here:

Medication – This is the first-run option. A lot of people never get past this component of a treatment plan, and that’s not great because you need to be prepared if you have to stop taking medication for some reason.

Diet – A good diet that has lots of protein (not like ridiculously high, just higher than average) is important for good brain function. Other important components here include Omega-3 fatty acids (found in eggs and fish, for the most part) and plenty of vegetables, as well as complex carbohydrates (e.g., whole wheat bread and pasta, beans, potatoes).

Exercise – Regular exercise (especially cardio) is amazingly good for your brain! It wakes up your entire body and keeps dopamine in your system, which is great since dopamine is one of the primary neurotransmitters involved in ADHD.

Sleep – When we sleep, our bodies do a bunch of things like healing and rejuvenating. Our brains do that, but they also work through all of the events of the day, committing things to long-term memory and stuff like that. We need to make sure we’re getting at least eight hours of sleep per night to make sure our brains are functioning at their best.

Supplements – Krill oil (or other fish oil), rhodiola, reishi, and other supplements listed here (my father-in-law’s business) can be helpful in promoting optimum functioning. Dr Amen also has some suggestions in his book Healing ADHD.

ADHD Coaching – ADHD coaches help you learn, develop, and implement strategies that work for you, so that you can better manage your ADHD symptoms and be able to do well if you have to stop taking medication.

Talk Therapy – Sometimes you have a lot of stuff you need to work through, so this can be very helpful, whether you see a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – This is a type of behavioural therapy where the practitioner (a psychologist or social worker with training in CBT) helps you think through your behaviours and come up with better ways to react to different situations.

Meditation – If you’re able to meditate, this can be really helpful in getting your mind centred and teaching your brain to actually concentrate or focus on what you want it to.

Mindfulness – This is something I’ve been hearing more about lately, and it seems to be about getting us to focus on the actual now and the immediate future, rather than dwelling on the past or thinking really far into the future. Being truly present in the moment instead of jumping ahead in conversations or tuning out because something else caught our attention.

That’s rather a lot. And not one of these things is going to make you neurotypical.

But I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

Why should we try to live like we’re neurotypical, when we aren’t? Rather, shouldn’t we be working towards living the best life we can, as people who have ADHD? Yes, some of my symptoms cause me distress and those need to be managed somehow, but other than that does it really matter that my mind makes random connections, that I lose track of time, that I hyperfocus on silly little things?

My life has a number of qualities that are the same as the life of a neurotypical. There are also lots of things about my life that are different and are probably kind of strange. And, of course, there are things about my life and about how my brain works that cause disasters, but there are also things about both of those things that are amazing and wonderful, and I don’t see why the presence of disasters should automatically mean that my life or my brain is wrong, that I shouldn’t be how or who I am.

I am a person. I have ADHD. I am valuable as I am, regardless of how “neurotypical” I make myself seem. And that’s okay. I don’t have to be neurotypical to be worthy of respect, of attention, of achieving success on my own terms.

Society doesn’t determine those things about me. I do.

This is part three of a series. I don’t know how long the series will be or when I’ll post the next installment. I’m not sure what I’ll talk about next. I just don’t think I’m quite finished talking about this yet.

Acceptance II   Leave a comment

My self-esteem has gotten a lot better since I was diagnosed with ADHD. I no longer had to wonder why I was so different from other people, and I finally knew where to look for help with the things that caused me the most trouble in my life. Medication helped manage my symptoms and made it easier for me to learn and implement strategies to help me live my life on my own terms, and those strategies have been amazing for my overall quality of life. But mostly just knowing what the heck was going on was a huge relief.

Labels are not bad. We use them all the time. Every noun is a label, after all. Book, chair, table, car: all labels. Dog, cat, guinea pig, human: labels. John, Sally, Marie, David: again, labels. So this “I don’t believe in labels” that I see from presumably neurotypical people is ridiculous. You do believe in labels, you just don’t like categorizing people by their neurology or perceived brokenness.

Here’s something you maybe haven’t considered: I’m not broken. I have ADHD, and that does not mean that I am worth less than you in any way, shape, or form. I may have difficulties with things that you don’t have difficulty with, but I suspect that I am very good at things that you do have trouble with. Because I am a person, and there are lots of labels that apply to me besides ADHD. For example: I am a woman, I am a wife, I am a writer, I am an editor, I am occasionally an artist, I am a Christian, I am an Anglican, I am a guinea pig mom and a kitty mom, I attempt to be a housewife, I am sometimes a seamstress, I am a cook, and I am an ADHDer. I am also a brunette, I am tall, I am overweight, I am strong, I am enthusiastic, I am silly, I am serious, I am happy, I am a musician, I am good with computers, and I am an adult.

I work very hard every day to do the things that I want to accomplish. It’s not easy because having ADHD means that my executive functioning isn’t very good. But I work at it because it matters to me and because this is something I want to become good at, if possible. I don’t work so hard at this because I want to be neurotypical. I don’t do it so that my life will be more like yours. I don’t even try to do things the way non-ADHDers do them. I’m just living my life, trying to accomplish the things I choose to focus on, in the way that makes sense for me. Sometimes how I do these things is very different from how other people do them. Since it’s the results that matter, not the method, I don’t worry about that… and you shouldn’t worry about it either. As long as the dishes are clean, does it really matter that I wash them in the morning instead of after dinner every evening? Probably not. So I do it the way that works for me.

It took time for me to get to this point. I spent the first 28-30 years of my life trying to make my life what I thought everyone else’s lives were like. You know what you get when you do that? Depression. Anxiety. It’s not a satisfying existence. You’re forever struggling to achieve something that not only isn’t really something anyone does, it’s something that you in particular cannot accomplish due to your neurology. When I was diagnosed with ADHD at 28, I started to figure this out. And it’s only in the last few years that I really began to embrace it.

I have expectations of myself, but they are far more realistic and they take into account the things I struggle with when it comes to getting stuff done. I try not to beat myself up over things I don’t achieve in a given day, because there’s always tomorrow and I can try again and maybe do better then. Things are no longer life or death for me. I have deadlines for work, but it’s a lot easier to meet those deadlines when I’m not also stressing over how many other things I need to accomplish because if I don’t my life is going to fall apart (even though it won’t).

When I tell you that I have ADHD and you respond with “I don’t believe in labels,” you are telling me that you don’t actually care about the challenges I face. You are telling me that you will not be understanding when things get buggered up because ADHD is unpredictable. You are telling me that you are not a safe person for me to be around, because you do not understand the importance of this label to me and my life.

Because ADHD is important. It’s not separable from my identity, because it’s been present since I was a very small child (possibly since birth). It has affected (and continues to affect) how I perceive and interact with the world. I can’t pretend it doesn’t exist, and I don’t want to, either. I want the world to stop pretending it doesn’t exist. I want the world to stop acting like labels are bad. I want the world to stop making labels bad by treating us differently if we have one of these “negative” ones. I want the world to stop caring about how we do things and start caring about what things we do.

I think that it is horrible that there are people who have ADHD and autism and other neurological and mental disorders who are made to feel like they are broken or “less than” simply because they are different.

I am not neurotypical. I have ADHD. I am not broken. I am exactly who I am supposed to be, and I think that is amazing.

This is part two of a series. I’m not sure when the third part will be posted. It will probably be about how “treatable” ADHD is, unless something else catches my attention between now and then.

Acceptance I   Leave a comment

I’m tired.

I’m tired of being told to think of my ADHD as a gift instead of as a disability. I’m tired of having things suggested to me as ways to overcome my ADHD. I’m tired of being encouraged – expected, even – to try and force my brain to function like that of a neurotypical human being. And I’m tired of being told, when I express my dislike of these kinds of things, that I am being too negative or something like that, when I’m not.

I see it everywhere I turn. It’s all over the ADHD web sites and you can read all about it in ADHD books of all kinds. And the people saying these things are, just as often as not, ADHDers themselves.

I can be negative, absolutely. And in my youth I was angsty as heck. I’ve even been clinically depressed (more than once, though I was only diagnosed and treated once). I don’t think that my objection to the above is negative. It’s realistic, and it’s evidence that I don’t think of ADHD in quite the same way as other people.

Here is how I think of ADHD. You do not have to agree with me. This is what works for me, and it is what I wish I could see more of on the web sites and in the books.

ADHD is not a gift. It is a disability. It is a disorder that causes serious problems, regardless of how many accommodations you have at school or at work, and regardless of how much you twist your life to make it fit the ADHD mold.

ADHD does not need to be “overcome.” I’m not sure what that even means, since at its most basic level ADHD affects how we perceive and interact with the world around us. It’s a pervasive disorder, after all; it affects every single aspect of our lives. I would prefer to work with my ADHD, to find ways to use it to my advantage and ways to convince it to allow me to get stuff done when I really want to do so.

My brain does not need to function the same as a neurotypical brain. It is my brain, and it is an ADHD brain. I think that’s beautiful, even if it is disabling and annoying and frustrating most of the time.

Is this revolutionary? It feels like it must be, because it flies in the face of so much conventional wisdom.

I run the Actually ADHD blog on Tumblr, and I answer a lot of questions every day about what ADHD is, how to deal with ableism, and what kinds of things might help people accomplish things they need/want to achieve. On Tuesdays we have “Terrific Tuesday,” which is a chance for people to send in things they’re proud of having accomplished lately so we can all cheer for them. It doesn’t matter how big or small the things are, we want to hear them all. On Fridays we have “Feel Good Friday,” which is a chance for people to share any positives they have found in their ADHD.

When I’m answering people’s questions, I do research. I look up medications at drugs.com so I can discuss potential side effects. I look on PubMed for studies about things that I don’t know a lot about (sometimes I’m not very successful). When they’re asking how to deal with ableism, I try to use common sense. Same with things like how to study for a test or disclose their diagnosis to a friend.

Throughout all of this, I try to maintain a positive tone. I don’t pretend that ADHD is all sunshine and roses, because it definitely isn’t. But a lot of the time, if someone asks if something is normal, I will tell them that obviously it’s normal for them and as long as it isn’t hurting anyone or disruptive to others, it doesn’t matter if it’s normal for anyone else.

I still recommend those writers and those web sites, even though I disagree with some of their ideas on a very fundamental level, because it’s all we have right now. And I find it so frustrating that the way I think of my ADHD is not something I can find anywhere except on a blog that I run. Sometimes I don’t want to be revolutionary, I just want to be supported the way I support other people. I want to be accepted as an ADHDer, no strings attached. No “as long as you don’t talk about how disabling it is.” No “as long as you work to overcome it.” No “as long as you’re trying to pass as neurotypical.

I shouldn’t have to “pass” to be accepted.

ADHD is part of me. Accept me, accept my ADHD.

I won’t accept anything less.

This is part 1 of a series. I’m not sure how long the series will be or when I will post the next part, I just know I’m not finished with this topic.