There is limited evidence of the unmet needs and experiences of adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in the published scientific literature.Matheson, L., Asherson, P., Wong, I.C.K. et al.
For those who have found this page because of being diagnosed themselves, or if you know someone who has been diagnosed and you’re trying to deepen your understanding, you’ll notice almost immediately that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can, at times, feel like a contradiction. I personally thought my diagnosis would become my flag of freedom and would liberate me from those internal feelings of not being good enough or just being too lazy—and don’t get me wrong, it did that! The problem I found was that a new species of conflict met me once I walked into the ADHD club.
Between the research that details the “pathology” of ADHD and the life experience of it, sits the late diagnosed individual. If you managed to avoid a childhood diagnosis, then you can safely assume that you aren’t a straight forward case. What is coming to light more frequently, however, is that in fact there are NO straightforward cases of ADHD (Ramos-Olazagasti MA, Castellanos FX, Mannuzza S, Klein RG, 2018) and therefore finding yourself describable along scientific terms is impossible. More than that, it just doesn’t feel right. I spent years thinking I didn’t have ADHD because I didn’t feel inattentive, or hyperactive—I felt like me!
Despite being diagnosed, you can still meet people who will furrow a brow when you mention ADHD and they will tend to follow up with:- “Were you a naughty child?” or “isn’t that caused by video games?” or my personal favourite “is that even real?” which are all things that if you try to explain or answer, they just turn into smoke. It’s infuriating. There is a counter-side to this narrative, though. However, it’s one that I am finding a much nicer, more accepting, but still problematic way of talking about ADHD.
There is a “superpower” narrative beginning to surround ADHD, particularly fuelled by late diagnosed individuals who are coming to terms with what the diagnosis means. It’s a narrative I have seen increase in recent months and don’t get me wrong, when I feel as if my energy is bottomless, while Neurotypical people in the same situation are craving rest, I do feel like a superhero! But then again a neurotypical individual can sit down for over an hour with no issues or complaints, whereas I cant. On the one hand you feel enabled, then on the other you don’t. So how can you be a superhero in one situation yet feel so helpless to yourself in another?
MIDDLE GROUND = ME+ADHD?
Speaking from my own seat of experience, my identity has always been informed by my being ADHD, whether I knew it or not. Whether your behaviour is impulsive and out of your control, or whether you have been hyperfocusing for the last 6 hours and have done a weeks work in that time and you feel ontop of things, only the situation and my perception of myself alters—I remain the same person. When I got diagnosed with ADHD I had questions answered and worries removed, but there was no transformation. There was no magical door that opened where upon walking through I enter a different world of ADHDness. I was still me, but I was equipped with information now. However it was information that didn’t seek to explain me, but just to tell me I am lacking or deficient of attention, while also being abundantly (to the point of being inappropriate, apparently) active to the point of classifying it as hyper. What I worry the “superhero” narrative seeks to do is to try to fill that gap of explanation that people with ADHD so deeply want!
I mentioned before about how explanations of our behaviour can feel like trying to catch smoke—no matter how hard you think about it and talk about it, you just cant capture the experience (well, I can’t!). It’s made worse when the same thing that is insufferable in one instance can become advantageous in another, which worries us. It makes us question if those around us think those things we have spent years worrying about like “am I just lazy?”
The ocean of science that seeks to identify the continuous aspects of ADHD, thereby qualifying ‘pathology’ is contradictory to say the least. Arguably the single most attested fact of ADHD is that there’s no academic agreement about aetiology, pathology or symptoms (Parens, E., & Johnston, J. (2009). This contradiction is the impact we feel in day to day life: it’s a contradiction that pulls the rug out from under us every time we think we have a grip on our symptoms but then the situation changes and we don’t; It’s a contradiction that makes people feel inept in their life and it’s a contradiction that some feel is countered by highlighting how we are ‘superheroes’ in some instances. I don’t think this doesn’t help. So how about this:
We are note superheroes and nor are we disabled or merely inattentive. Our attention span doesn’t work like normal people’s does. Sometimes we cant focus on things and make stupid mistakes, but sometimes we can multitask. We do not have to justify that.
We may not like sitting down very long or staying in the same space for too long. We can get bored and that can impact mood—We do not have to justify that.
ADHD and us are two inseparable things. It doesn’t hang above like a Sword of Damocles, or underneath like a thin ice-sheet about to break. It permeates our identity and actions and is alongside everything we do.
If I could pass on one thing to someone who has recently received a late diagnosis of ADHD, it would be this: there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ explanation for us and we have no reason to expect one soon. So don’t let people tell you about yourself. You are not inept, lazy or disabled—you are you. And that is more than good enough!