By Rick Green
Now and then someone will tell me that Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is a gift. A big, fat, wonderful, exciting gift.
Rather than a problem, disorder, constant challenge, or, on bad days, a curse.
Why such opposing views?
One reason is that ADHD is very ‘individual.’ Each of us has our own combination of challenges, and to varying degrees. Plus, we have a unique life situation. My ADHD is awesome when I’m doing comedy on stage. It is a big problem when I’m forced to sit quietly, and pay attention during a long meeting.
Add to all of this the fact that there are two main types of ADHD. Some folks don’t have the Hyperactivity—that impulsive, fidgety, driven, impatient, mercurial restlessness. Instead, many women and some men are quiet day-dreamers, often lost in thought. My grandmother would have said, “A dough head.” No, Nana, it’s the Predominantly Inattentive Subtype of ADHD. Me, I have the Combined Subtype.
ANOTHER REASON FOR CONFUSION?
It’s not a deficit of attention. Not always.
Sometimes we can be laser focused. Try getting a kid who has ADHD to stop playing with their X-Box. Or interrupt an adult who’s ‘in the zone.’
I’ve written and performed in over 700 episodes of television, and radio comedy, from The Red Green Show, to The Frantics, to History Bites. I run an ADHD website full of videos, blogs, tools, and more. Clearly, I can pay attention. In fact, like many folks with ADHD, I can hyperfocus. Just not always when I want to, or on what I should be paying attention to. You should see our basement, garage, and spare bedroom… A million things started and not finished.
IS IT A CURSE OR BLESSING?
No wonder there’s confusion about whether ADHD is a burden or a gift.
Almost every adult in our videos will tell you that their ADHD can be a life-sucking, frustrating, confusing. Yes, many are learning to manage it, often quite successfully, but they don’t love it.
They are VERY relieved they finally know what’s going on. Every person will tell you that getting a diagnosis is life-changing.
Other people, often well-meaning and loving parents, declare that ADHD is a gift.
“Here’s a wonderful gift that will cost you years of your life, countless opportunities, friendships, relationships, money… I didn’t have time to wrap it.”
At first I thought, “What nonsense.”
Some people actually envied me! (You can envy things I’ve done. Don’t envy this life-sucking saboteur!)
Now, after 15 years of hearing this disorder is in fact some kind of blessing, I give up.
Fine! Yes! You’re right! It’s a big honking gift!
I’ll go further if you want. ADHD is a hugely profitable gift, that keeps paying off, but NOT for me, or the millions of people who actually have it. It’s the gift that keeps on giving…to everyone else.
My ADHD is a gift for other people. Allow me to point out who they are…
1. SCREEEEEECH! CRASH!
When you have problems with focus, attention, distraction, and overwhelm, as numerous studies have confirmed people with ADHD do, you have more car accidents. One study found that adults with untreated ADHD means they are 7 times more likely to be at fault for multiple car accidents. Seven times the rate! That’s 600% higher than ‘regular’ folks. (As in non-ADHD.)
How is this a gift? Actually, the question is, who benefits? Well, who profits?
If you are an auto mechanic, truck driver, insurance adjuster, traffic cop, ambulance driver, E.R. doctor, or auto recycler, then you will have steady work thanks to those who have untreated ADHD.
When your mind is flitting like a butterfly, you tend to be a poor listener. Plus, a poor working memory means we forget appointments, anniversaries, promises, and everything from taking out the garbage to saving money for retirement.
It is so easy for our loved ones to conclude that we don’t care. And it’s no fun for them to always have to be ‘the responsible one.’
Many of us also have trouble managing frustration. Sudden outbursts of anger, that quickly pass, but leave everyone else shaken, are common. This is different from ‘Anger Management.’ Arguing, drama, and conflict can wake up our brain and make us feel better. But leave everyone around us exhausted.
So, if you’re a divorce lawyer, a family law-specialist, a marriage counselor, judge, a baliff, or accountant, we’re sending a lot of billable hours your way.
Depending on which study you read, we’re 2 to 4 times more likely to divorce.
3. BUNDLES OF JOY
Ever thought about having children? We can help.
One of the key traits of adult ADHD is Impulsivity. We tend to blurt things out. Things like, “Do you want to have sex?” And sometimes the other person does.
Being impulsive, we’re not always good at long-term planning…resulting in unplanned pregnancies. Which we’re not prepared to handle. Parenting is a commitment. It requires routines. Structure. Stability. Not our forte.
So, if you work at, or seek help from an adoption agency, you may end up with one of our offspring. (ADHD is highly inheritable. It’s strongly genetic. So while only about 4 to 5% of adults have ADHD, each of our kids has a 30 to 40% chance of having it. So that’s why the kid you adopt may be a handful.)
Try and remember what a gift their ADHD is when that child asks you why they never get invited to birthday parties.
If 4 to 5% of adults qualify as having ADHD, then you’d assume that at any large gathering, about 1 in 25 people would have this. And yet, one of the earliest studies on the subject found that about 1 in 3 people at an Alcoholics Anonymous gathering showed the symptoms of ADHD. That’s about seven times what you’d expect.
So, if you own a tavern, a brewery, a winery, a distillery, a store that sells spirits, an alcohol addiction program, or a liver-transplant clinic, you are going to be able to afford that winter vacation thanks to the extra sales from us.
It’s our gift! A reward! Our contribution!
In fact, if you counsel people who are Shop-a-holics, Sex Addicts, or have substance abuse problems, we make up a disproportionately large slice of your clients. Why? People with undiagnosed and untreated ADHD find ways to wake up their brain. It’s called Self-Medicating. For me it used to be caffeine and adrenaline.
The point is, it’s a gift!
5. STARBUCKS SHOULD GIVE US A DISCOUNT
ADHD seems to result from low levels of certain neurotransmitters, the chemicals required to carry messages around your brain. One way to increase the level of these messengers is to stimulate the brain… with a stimulant.
You’re thinking, “Ritalin?!” I was thinking caffeine and nicotine.
If someone you know drinks 8 coffees, teas, or as I did, cans of cola, every day, and then fills in the gaps with chocolate and energy drinks, send them to our online ADHD quiz. Or refer them to our 5 part series on ADHD Medications – video 3 looks at self-medicating.
The point is that human being always find a way to get the brain chemicals they need to feel good, even if it’s destructive to the rest of their body.
Which is fabulous news for you coffee companies, coffee shops, chocolate companies, and energy drink bottlers. Baristas owe us a big thanks. (Sorry for our rudeness. We’re often impatient, hate line-ups, and want our coffee now! Plus, one study found we make between $8,000 to $14,000 less in annual income compared to our non-ADHD peers, and struggle with finances and paperwork, so we may not tip. Which kind of lessens the impact of the gift of our ADHD, I know. Please forgive us.)
6. JUSTICE? IT’S JUST US!
Are you a police officer? Penitentiary guard? Parole officer? Courtroom official? Bail supervisor? Judge? Crime reporter?
Again, the numbers are in debate, but studies suggest that between 25 and to 35% of the prison population has undiagnosed and untreated ADHD. (BTW, before you panic and assume ADHD automatically dooms your child to incarceration, the prison population usually has other challenges, like Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder, or an inability to run faster than a police officer.)
The point is that you’d expect the rate in prison to be the same as in the general population, which is 4 to 5% of adults. So, people suffering from untreated ADHD are doing their bit to keep the justice system economically viable.
You’re welcome! It’s our gift to you! With a big friggin’ bow on it.
7. A SURE FIRE BET
I mentioned Alcoholics Anonymous…Then there’s Gambler’s Anonymous. We love risk!
When you’re short of certain neurotransmitters, in this case Dopamine and Norepinephrine, you find ways to wake up your brain. With adrenaline.
So it’s not just compulsive drinking, drugs, or cannabis… There’s gambling!
Good news for anyone working in Vegas, but especially casino employees, card dealers, and eventually, pawn-shop owners, bill collectors, repo companies, and divorce lawyers. That was gift number 2 – the divorce lawyers were also benefiting from our ADHD in Gift Number 2.
8. HELPING YOU GET A HIGHER EDUCATION
It’s never easy to get into the best colleges or universities.
People with ADHD can also suffer far higher rates of learning disorders, (ADHD is a difficulty managing information) adding to the challenge.
Plus, we’re easily distracted, and have a poor working memory. So we tend to be woefully underachieving in school, unless we’re lucky enough to have a teacher who recognizes what’s going on. (In that case, there’s a ton of great accommodations that can level the playing field.)
Otherwise, we are far more likely to be expelled, repeat a grade, or drop out. If we make it to college we really struggle to manage coursework, or simply get to early morning classes. (Getting good sleep is an almost universal hurdle with ADHD.)
The result of all this? We’re more likely to never finish our degree. (More teacher time for you Non-ADHD students.)
We’re more likely to settle for a degree that’s beneath our true abilities. (As I did.)
And then there’s our higher rate of substance abuse… Cannabis actually doesn’t improve memory, despite what millions claim. It may make you feel calmer, and yes, people swear they can focus better, but… I’m not going to get into that debate again.
The point is, our failure rate at institutions of higher learning means there’s a lot more spaces for other students to get into college. Lucky them!
THE BAD NEWS…
It turns out ADHD is surprisingly treatable. Which is good for those of us who have it, and bad news for everyone who doesn’t.
With a holistic, or multi-modal approach, the turnaround can be incredible. One study said the core symptoms can be reduced by 75%! There are more and more tools, strategies, apps, and medication options. Hundreds of studies are proving the effectiveness of mindfulness, exercise, coaching and life-style changes.
Many famous and successful people have ADHD. More and more of them are, as one doctor put it, ‘coming out of the ADHD closet,’ Kudos to reporter Lisa Ling, actress Zooey Deschanel, and Adam Levine of Maroon 5.
I have to tell you, just getting diagnosed, knowing what’s going on, getting solid information from reliable sources, makes all the difference in the world. Plus it leads to you interesting, ADHD-Friendly strategies to help master this quirky, funky mindset.
Simply knowing what’s going on changes everything. That’s bad news for addiction counselors, divorce lawyers, and ambulance drivers. (So sorry!)
And it’s good news for those of us who have this ‘gift.’ And, of course, for our loved ones who are supporting us.
(Apologies if I got a little ‘dark.’ But if you have ADHD, I think you’ll understand.)
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