I was diagnosed with ADHD in 2018. I was pretty sure I had it long before seeking a diagnosis and yet, it took me over a year to even decide to seek a referral for assessment.
The reason for this, I now realise, was internalised ableism-I was worried what people might think of me (that I was “less able”) or that I might not be taken seriously because I had done “pretty well” academically.
When I did eventually receive my diagnosis, an ADHD advocate I knew shared a delighted smile and said “Congratulations!” I thought it was a strange reaction. She explained that “some of the most creative and passionate people” she knew had ADHD.
At the time, it made me feel better because I do think of myself as creative and passionate.
Since then, however, I have come across a lot of “toxic positivity” mainly from neurotypical people around ADHD, with the trope being that it makes those of us who have it creative, passionate, out-of-the-box thinkers and is, therefore a “superpower”.
Whilst most people I know who have ADHD diagnoses are fiercely passionate and creative, the pressure to accept this narrative has the very real effect of erasing the difficulties we experience.
Yes, sometimes I am creative. Yes, if I find the right moral issue or something really ignites my interest, I can become incredibly passionate. Yes, I do have “out there”, interesting ideas.
These aspects of my personality are great, but there are times when I physically can’t action any of my creative ideas, wash the dishes or even send an email because the reward-based action centre in my brain isn’t ignited.
These are not rare incidents; they are daily struggles that can lead to total inertia and extremely low self-esteem. I miss important deadlines, always owe money at the library for overdue books and often remember a task I haven’t completed just as I’m heading out the door, or going to bed.
The toxic positivity “ADHD is my superpower” culture that exists as a sub-culture of the ADHD community that’s potentially steeped in ableism, stemming from the “inspirational disabled person” narrative makes addressing the daily challenges of living with ADHD very difficult.
The difficulties of living with ADHD are compounded by the stigma that surrounds taking medication. I was recently collecting my ADHD medication from the pharmacy and the technician asked the duty pharmacist to check everything over before she handed it to me.
The pharmacist looked at me, then at the medication and then said “to her”: “that terrifies me.” I knew what he meant, and, unfortunately, rather than react to his ignorant and highly unprofessional comment, I was stunned into silence. He meant that because ADHD medication is stimulant-bases he was “terrified” of people taking it and becoming addicts.
This is a popular opinion in general society. Certain media outlets perpetuate this myth and a quick internet search on ADHD will reveal opinions that ADHD medication is “basically a street drug”, and that it’s “brain altering”.
These narratives are false. Far from being addictive, I often forget to take my medication, because I have ADHD, which impairs my executive function and working memory.
Taking ADHD medication isn’t for everyone, but it has been hugely beneficial for me. It enables me to focus more easily on day-to-day tasks and quiets my brain, which means that I have less anxious energy.
I’m generally very outspoken about my ADHD and a very strong advocate for those who have ADHD and the adaptations and understanding we may need, but I still find talking about taking medication for it really difficult, because of the stigma that surrounds it.
With ADHD diagnoses on the rise, what we need is an honest discussion about the realities of living with ADHD and the benefits (to many) of taking medication for the management of symptoms.
We need content that acknowledges that living with ADHD is really difficult and that doesn’t compound the shame we feel by stigmatising medication, which is an essential management tool for many.
We need to call out the ADHD as a superpower narrative – because I’m definitely not a superhero.
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