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ADHD is not my superpower

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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Why New Years Resolutions are Harder if you Have ADHD

As the months fall away like snow, we come to the time of the year that involves reflection and being berated with media messages over why next year will be, ultimately, better, because you won’t do any of the terrible things you did this year.

The end of another year signals a wave of messages about what next year could bring and what we should be doing. New Years’ Resolutions are the culmination of this; a perfect snapshot into the relationship we can often have with life that is often rooted in a shame and guilt cycle.

For anyone, it can be a stressful time. Focusing on all the ways you haven’t achieved is not usually particularly satisfying.

When these resolutions and these shoulds look to diet culture, exercise, calorie counting, or overworking and productivity, they can become toxic affairs, leading to mental health problems, physical health issues, and burnout. 

For ADHDers, the likelihood of having an unhealthy relationship with these New Years’ Resolutions is heightened. 

It’s simple: ADHD impacts executive functioning, which helps a neurotypical person stick to routines, carry out tasks from beginning to end, and even start them in the first place. What are, at their core, resolutions? A resolution: to stick to a routine, carry out a task from beginning to end and start something new in the first place. 

“This year I’ll change,” you might say to yourself, signing up for that monthly book club, or the gym (again). You’ll invest in all the gear you might need, and then, one day, you’ll skip the class, and everything will feel like it’s over.

This is not just the experience of people with ADHD, but, for those with ADHD, it is this feeling of “failing” (which, of course, is not true) reverberating across their life that can make resolutions feel daunting, or shameful…because why try when you know you’ll never do it?

These problems only become confounded for those who are diagnosed later in life, or who may have co-morbid disorders which makes these resolutions even more difficult. 

ADHDers may have gone a large majority of their life thinking that it is a problem with them, they are the reason that sticking to their resolutions is so goddamn hard. Words like ‘lazy’ and ‘scatterbrained’, phrases like “not trying hard enough” float around like labels, and these critical voices translate to the inner critic. 

Hester Grainger, Co-founder of Perfectly Autistic, who was diagnosed later in life in her fourties, found exactly this problem: 

“I used to set myself resolutions and get frustrated when I gave them up after a few weeks. Simply by setting them, I wanted to rebel against them

“Resolutions are difficult for lots of people to stick to, but when you are neurodivergent it can all feel too much. Having Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria really can mean that you beat yourself up over them.” 

Not only can the idea of resolutions be trickier for ADHDers to conceptualise, but the actual resolutions themselves can often be a stopping point. 

What makes this worse is that, for some with ADHD, making lists and plans may be a way of overcompensating for symptoms such as lack of object permanence, and memory problems and is a way to give dopamine, what we notoriously lack, by imagining how our life will dramatically change. 

So, we very much go into the new year wanting to achieve these goals.

The problem is that the idea of resolutions are usually big issue things: get “in shape”, eat “better”, keep the house tidier, and there is no pay-off that ADHDers can imagine at the end of it.

When does being “getting in shape” happen? What does it do? ADHDers need clear, often smaller, goals with a clear motivation to do them that’s embedded in a reason why, something to be excited about, rather than “just because I should”. 

The way we frame resolutions can be a great starting point to make them inclusive for neurodivergent disabilities. 

“Ruthless reprioritisation is an ADHDer’s secret weapon to battle burnout,”  Julie Bee, an entrepreneur focusing on burnout suggests. 

“If you tend to procrastinate (like I do), ask someone for help with accountability on specific tasks. Give yourself a break from time to time. Some days you just cannot do the thing. The task will be there tomorrow – address it then.”

Reframing resolutions into ideas or themes we can then be flexible with as opposed to time-focused, unspecific, and often larger than life, goals allows us the space to give ourselves kindness. 

Keeping in mind the bigger picture, the why behind resolutions, is also important so we don’t force ourselves into trying to “fix” ADHD traits which will, inevitably, result in frustration, as well as focusing on smaller, specific goals. 

What’s the solution, then? Should we all be lazier? It sounds like a joke, but, perhaps. 

Perhaps we need to re-frame laziness to simple grace and kindness. Obsession with relentless labour and productivity does nobody any good

Overall, however, we need to rethink our mindset toward these resolutions and step away from constantly achieving for the sake of it. 

Instead, allow every individual a chance to decide if engaging in goal setting this way is healthy for them.

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Stop Telling Women with ADHD to Sit Down and Shut Up

In the past two years, a huge amount of progress has been made in challenging negative stereotypes about ADHD. With the condition no longer being mistakenly written off as something that only affects naughty little boys, more and more adults are being diagnosed. 

As someone whose own ADHD wasn’t revealed until well into my 30s, I welcome this progress. But not everyone feels the same. In tandem with the rise in public awareness of ADHD, a damaging popular narrative is emerging in the mainstream UK media.

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How People with ADHD are Being Failed in the Workplace

When it comes ADHD, I don’t think I’ve been as adversely affected as I have in the workplace. I’ve been denied promotions, bullied, treated differently and joked about as a result of it. It’s mortifying, wrong and I’ve had enough of it.

Coming out at work has always been a very difficult decision to make and can be scary. I worry about it being used against me or that colleagues will treat me differently if they know. But if I don’t tell my managers then I have to work harder to ‘mask’ my ADHD symptoms or find ways of working that make it easier for me.

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How my ADHD Diagnosis Gave Me Permission to Stop Trying too Hard

My impending return to the office a few months ago had led me to become extremely stressed. But I didn’t think it was actually the pandemic concerns that were setting me astir, so I resolved to investigate something about myself that I’d long suspected.

A few years ago, in therapy sessions, my then-therapist and I had mutually come to the conclusion that it was likely I had a form of ADHD. Getting to this understanding had given me some peace of mind, and I started writing about it in my research and scholarship. 

Reframing my past experiences and social struggles as a legitimate impairment had made me feel a little better, but we still live in a world where a lack of diagnosis creates a bit of a liminal state. 

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Navigating the Disabled World with Multiple Health Conditions

I am someone who has newly entered many spaces. I often lurk from the beginning, aware I don’t know anything. As a multiply-marginalised and multiply-disabled person, it has taken me a while to get any grip on who I am and how I experience the world.

Finding labels like nonbinary, queer, disabled, and neurodivergent have been a powerful tool for me in a society that avoids talking about these communities. However, it has been a rocky journey walking among the different sub-categories of the disabled community, as someone who embodies more than one. 

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My doctor lost my ADHD diagnosis paperwork, and couldn’t see the irony

Talking to a friend about receiving their ADHD diagnosis well into adulthood, the thing that struck me most was “but everybody lives like that?” rather than the more obvious take “oh, perhaps this is relatable because I too should seek a diagnosis.” 

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In a world that’s meant to be more inclusive, why are ADHD diagnoses still so inaccessible?

With ADHD usually being associated with hyperactive, “naughty” boys at school, the quiet girl with the book wasn’t exactly an ideal candidate.