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By Rick Green
A few years ago, I gave a two-hour presentation on ADHD to about 200 people that was quite memorable! Unique actually! You see I only ran a few minutes long. That is not like me. What’s more surprising is that I completely ignored my notes and simply spoke from the heart. When I had done that before, and since, the talk can go wayyyyyy long.
Not that people are restless. Usually they’re riveted. But they’re no longer making much sense of what I’m saying. Their brains are overflowing.
Alas, I keep going, on and on. The Energizer Bunny of blabbering. This is my biggest ADHD challenge… ‘Motor-Mouthing.’
The audience for this particular talk was a mixed group. Some were desperately seeking help for themselves or their child, or partner. Others who were pretty sure they had ADHD, but wanted to know more. And some were dragged there by angry spouses or family members.
There were definitely laughs. Even tears of laughter. Especially from the wonderful mom of an ADHD boy who sat in the front row. She became my go-to-gal when I’d notice someone frowning or looking bored. (My friend, comedian Patrick McKenna, taught me a trick: Find one person who is laughing the hardest, and play to them. It works in a comedy show. And when I’m talking about ADHD.)
Did I Say Something Wrong
Talking to audience members at the ‘meet and greet’ after a live event is always the best. People are glad to have solid information, but they are profoundly grateful for the laughter.
Which I totally understand. Who doesn’t love to laugh?! Humor is liberating.
I learned the power of laughter during my career in television and radio, but when I’m giving a keynote talk or performing my one-man show about ADHD, I’m also surprised to see many people in tears. Sometimes it’s tears of laughter and relief.
But it took me a while to get used to seeing tears of sadness; faces grimacing to suppress sobs.
‘Oh Dear! Did I Say Something Wrong?’
Unless it’s a dark theatre with bright stage lights, I can see everyone’s face. At first, seeing people crying quietly, or a loved one slipping an arm around them to comfort, them was alarming. Knowing how I sometimes go off topic, I was worried, ‘Uh oh! Did I say something stupid? Or mean? Or dismissive?’ (All faux pas I do regularly in conversations with friends and family.)
Tears? Pain? Sorrow? That’s never a good audience reaction for a comedian. My job is to help people forget that stuff, right?
Not when I’m talking about ADHD.
It was tricky, trying not to let those tears throw me.
Make ‘Em Laugh
Normally, it’s pretty clear if people are enjoying my talk. People laugh. Many nod. Some madly scribble notes. Clearly they’re getting something good.
But tears? Heartbreak? Faces crumpled in pain?
The first time this happened I panicked, ‘This is bad. You’re upsetting people. You’re making things worse for them! What if I push someone over the edge?!’
I was alarmed. Afterwards I called up a couple of ADHD specialists for advice, ‘Is there a danger I’m doing damage?’ Knowing that people with ADHD also have much higher rates of Depression, and having been through a few bouts of it myself when I was younger, and undiagnosed, I was worried, ‘I’m afraid I might push someone over the edge.’
The doctors assured me crying was a good sign. Letting tears flow is cathartic.
Then I started to check in with the audience. During that talk where I went off topic, when I saw one woman was weeping, I paused to ask, ‘Are you okay?’ She nodded. And smiled through her tears.
So, I continued talking. But now I had tears as well.
In fact, the real challenge when I see someone getting misty is not to lose it myself. The first time I did break down onstage, talking about my son, I was embarrassed. But then I saw that my tears triggered many others to become misty.
Again, it took a doctor to explain that I was giving people permission to cry. Sharing what I’d learned created a ‘safe space.’ Though the details of each audience members life was different, the emotional experience was familiar to all of us: fear, suffering, pain, regret… Grieving.
Sometimes I see tears being triggered when I confess about a time I messed up, or a regret, or fear. Mostly I had no idea what it was that hit home for someone. Which is good, otherwise I might try and do it on purpose, as a technique. And stop speaking from the heart.
One thing I’ve learned is that if you want people to understand ADHD, you have to speak from the heart. We made our original documentary, ADD & Loving It?!, to create lightness and freedom around a scary, stigma-filled subject.
It has indeed created millions of tears of laughter. And tears of grieving.
And though I used to think of them as polar opposites, now I see both kinds of tears are really the same thing—a release of pent up fear. We ‘let go’ and cry. That is what allows each of us to move forward.
And that is the best. The absolute best.
[Blog revised – Original Date Sept 2013]
By Rick Green,
I don’t want to take ADHD medication.
I don’t want to have to take a pill every morning.
I don’t want you, or your child or a loved one, to have to take ADHD medication.
And guess what? Good news! You actually do NOT have to take medication.
No one does. Yes millions of people have used ADHD medication and many still do. Because they have found the upsides outweighs any downsides.
So, to be clear, I’m not Pro-Medication. Which is why TotallyADD.com isn’t sponsored by Pharma companies. It is maintained through sales in our shop. (When people tell me, ‘You’ve saved my family and made a huge difference in my life. I don’t know how I can ever repay you,’ I want to shout, ‘Go to our shops and purchase our videos. That way we can make a difference for other people like us.’ But that sounds needy, doesn’t it? )
One ADHD specialist said, ‘I’m not Pro-Medication. I’m Anti-Suffering.’
DEALING WITH ADHD
It’s estimated perhaps 20% of adults who are suffering with ADHD have been diagnosed. And perhaps half of them are doing something about it.
Doctors would say they have a ‘treatment plan.’ Medication can be one aspect of treatment. Exercise, diet, mindfulness, coaching, etc.. are other strategies that makeup a balanced, holistic approach.
Lacking a good explanation, they invent bad ones. ‘I’m lazy. Weak-willed. Hopeless. Dumb. Flakey. Unreliable. Bad.’ And what’s the treatment for being Dumb? Or Bad? Or Hopeless? Nothing. Because this is who you are. (Rather than something you have that adds an extra layer of challenges to everything you do.)
Unaware of what’s going on, they have no hope of overcoming it. They are not dealing with it, getting it treated, or figuring out ways to manage it.
Or are they?
Actually, I’m going to suggest that the vast majority of people with undiagnosed ADHD have found ways to ‘treat it.’ It’s very haphazard. It’s not a conscious plan. But they’ve stumbled upon strategies that actually seem to help them, unfortunately some have appalling side-effects and long-term costs.
WHAT’S YOUR MEDICATION?
In our video series, ADHD Medication: Straight Answers to Big Questions, a number of specialists outline many of these ‘unconscious strategies’ that we adults with undiagnosed ADHD use to wake up our brains.
In fact, I’m going to suggest that every adult with undiagnosed ADHD has finds ways to ‘medicate’ themselves.
I came to this conclusion after interviewing 18 adults from two local ADHD support groups They spanned a wide range of ages and experiences. Almost all of them mentioned how they managed to get by before finally being diagnosed: Caffeine. Nicotine. Cannabis. Extreme sports. Alcohol. High-risk careers. Constantly changing jobs, homes, and relationships.
It sounds outrageous, but I’m going to suggest… Pretty much EVERY SINGLE ADULT WITH UNDIAGNOSED ADHD IS MEDICATING THEMSELVES.
We want to feel calm and clear and in control. We find things that help us focus. In other words, things that give us the blast of neurotransmitters that we’re lacking. The stimulants we use may be sex, gambling, shopping, drugs, or any risky activity that gives us that blast of adrenaline.
I speak from experience.
MY NAME IS RICK AND I’M A COLA-HOLIC
Fifteen years ago I was undiagnosed. As I read over the results of the ADHD Screener Tests the school had given my 12 year old son my mind was racing. Until I saw that list of ‘symptoms’, I had no inkling I might qualify as having this ‘disorder.’
Gradually, over the next few months, as I worked with Dr. John Fleming, and devoured book after book, I began to see hundreds of ways ADHD had undermined every aspect of my life. And in some ways it had propelled my life forward. Certainly my ADHD wasn’t a disaster for my career in comedy.
As for my first marriage? Failed friendships? Disastrous finances? That’s where the damage lay.
‘Sorry, Doc. I Don’t Do Drugs!’
At first I was terrified of the idea of taking an ADHD medication. Then my doctor mentioned a phrase invented by addiction researcher Dr. Edward Khantzian.
The term was ‘Self-Medicating‘.
We ingest or inhale or sign up for something that wakes up the brain.
We treat ourselves. With substances or behaviors. Or misbehaviors.
No wonder I crave 5 or 6 cola drinks a day. It’s not the sugar, it’s the caffeine. The stimulant.
If you’d asked me, I would have said, ‘It helps me focus. Makes me more productive.’ It was ‘a help.’
My Unplanned Treatment Plan.
ADHD explained why I always had 1,000 things on the go. One year I co-wrote, acted in & directed 22 episodes of The Red Green Show, and also wrote, and hosted 26 episodes of another TV series, Prisoners of Gravity. Oh, and I co-wrote a play and a number of newspaper articles. And a stage play.
ADHD explains why I was totally alert and alive on stage in front of thousands of people. I was relying on Adrenaline to make up for the lack of Dopamine.
You may well know that feeling of having a shortage of neurotransmitters. It’s like running the appliances in your house on 63 volts instead of 120. That’s how the routine tasks of life felt to me. Doing ‘normal life’ felt draining and disheartening. I thought I was just lazy. But even the best appliances struggle to run on 63 volts.
This is why I believe almost every single adult with undiagnosed ADHD is medicating themselves. (And if you consider ‘Avoiding’ a form of self-medicating, well, I’d argue it’s all of us. For example: ‘I don’t like going to loud concerts.’ Or, ‘I can’t talk to my sister, I get too angry.’ Or, ‘I turned down a promotion because it meant way more paperwork.’)
Until we are diagnosed, and even after that, we are ALL relying on something, usually several strategies or crutches, to manage our symptoms. (If you dislike the term ‘symptoms,’ call them your traits, quirks, mindset, or challenges. Whatever works for you.
The problem is that these ‘crutches’ are not conscious, informed choices.
STUMBLING UPON RELIEF
Once I was diagnosed, I worked up the courage (or the desperation) to try a stimulant medication. It was Ritalin. It was not an easy decision, as I explain in the Straight Answers to Big Question series.
Like some of the 18 adults who share their medication experiences, I was lucky. The change was immediate. With few if any side-effects. Or none that I noticed. The shift was so dramatic a whole bunch of emotional stuff came up for me. That’s pretty common when you get the diagnosis and especially when things quickly improve. If you’re trapped in that process of grieving, our video Now You Tell Me!, will help you get through this emotional tornado.
It’s so common. And almost inevitable.
The Upside of Self-Medication
I do want to acknowledge that yes, some forms of self-medicating may be positive or productive. Being addicted to exercise is probably better than being a shop-a-holic. Finding a career that works with my ADHD has been a blessing for me. The problem was that eventually it was the only thing in my life that gave me any joy.
At that point it wasn’t something I loved, it was all I had. The adrenaline from overwork and caffeine were my strategies for ‘undiagnosed ADHD. For others, it may be gambling, alcohol, substance abuse, extreme sports, addiction to drama, explosive anger… All viable ways to wake up the brain. But not particularly sustainable.
Once I understood what was going on and recognized how I was self-medicating, I was able to replace the massive doses of caffeine and ‘overwork’ with Yoga, Mindfulness, a coach, and a number of different strategies…. Including medication on days when I have to manage a ton of stuff.
How about you?
What was your form of ‘self-medicating’ before you knew what was going on? And what strategies and practices do you use now?
[Originally published Feb 25, 2016 – Revised March 2, 2017]
By Rick Green,
Recently diagnosed with ADHD? I want to offer three ‘truths’ you should know. Had I been told these things 15 years ago, when I was first diagnosed, I would have avoided a lot of upset and frustration. And I’m big on avoiding upset and frustration.
Here are the truths for the Newly Diagnosed:
- It gets better.
- But not steadily better.
- There’s a danger you may not notice.
If you’re not a newbie, if you are a grizzled veteran like I am and have been at this a while, here are three truths that you must always remember:
- It gets better.
- But not steadily better.
- There’s a danger you may not notice.
I’m 15 years into my ADHD journey, and I still have to remind myself of these things. If I forget these truths I inevitably find myself in the place I’m big on avoiding: ‘Upset and Frustration.’
Why are these three still true? It’s the nature of this disorder. Unlike ‘travelling to Paris to see the Louvre’, or ‘Raising kids and sending them out into the world,’ living with your ADHD has no clear ‘end.’ Unlike a cold or a pregnancy, it tends to be a life-long challenge.
You don’t check “Get My ADHD Handled” off your To-Do list. Or your Bucket List.
I’ve discovered that no matter how much my ability to focus improves, or how many strategies I use to I bend my world to suit my ADHD, it figures out new ways to sabotage me. This Disorder is a subtle, shape-shifting Devil that keeps popping up when I least expect it. And when I think I’ve overcome it.
Life with ADHD feels like an endless game of ‘Whack-A-Mole.’
It’s kinda like ‘raising kids, sending them out into the world…. and then having them move back home again every year or two.’
So, whether you’re newly diagnosed, or a battle-scarred veteran who has spent years building your arsenal of strategies, I believe these three ‘truths’ remain true. Starting with…
#1 It Get’s Better
A few years back Karen Gordon, a radio producer invited me on a phone-in show called ‘Fresh Air, to talk about ADHD. As I shared my experiences with host Mary Ito, Karen realized my symptoms and struggles sounded awfully familiar. After the show she asked me some questions, then went to this website, learned more, and then sought and got a proper diagnosis. She later told me, ‘The relief was major. With proper medication life got much better.’
Read our Forums. Watch our videos. It’s clear: being diagnosed in adulthood can be life-changing.
The power of the diagnosis is perfectly captured in the first popular book ever published about Adult ADHD, ‘You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid, or Crazy?’
How can that realization not have a huge impact? At any age.
Discovering you’re short of certain neurotransmitters, rather than a bad person who is overflowing with moral failings or character flaws, is profound. You realize there’s real hope: ‘There’s so much I can do now that I know what is sabotaging me.’
Relief! But Also Anger…
… and regret. Sadness. Confusion. ‘If only I’d known sooner. How would my life have unfolded?’ There’ a lifetime of negativity to distinguish and discard.
Thus, the title of our video, ‘Now You Tell Me!: The Emotional Tornado of an ADHD Diagnosis.’
Imagine if Peter Parker was 80 years old before he discovered he could shoot spider webs out of his hands, fly around the city, fight crime, and impress girls in his Spiderman outfit! ‘Oh great. Now the spandex just emphasizes my saggy butt!’
The good news feels like bad news. It can be particularly upsetting when you try medication and it works! I was stunned to discover I could sit and do my taxes. I didn’t like doing it. But I could do it.
But for me, those early days, when things started changing, were heady times.
Until I learned Truth #2.
# 2. Better. But not steadily better.
The ‘solution’ to ADHD is to build habits, creating supports and structures, ones that work for you. Which is not a strength of ours. After a lifetime of struggling it’s easy to backslide. (I still have days where I wish I had a tree fort in the woods where I could go and hide from life.)
Things get better. Sometimes in a big way. For example, medication was a part of my holistic ‘treatment’ plan. (I hate the word treatment… I’m not sick!)
Though I was skeptical, worried, and doubtful, I quickly discovered medication allowed me sit down and finally finish a year’s worth of back taxes. In one day! I could not have been more surprised if I’d suddenly discovered I could shoot spider webs out of my hands and fly around the city fighting crime.
This was a clear cut victory. I thought the path was clear, the way ahead was wide open and I’d finally race ahead, full speed down life’s highway… Ah, silly, naïve boy…
After a few collisions, crashes, wrong turns, and flat tires, I realized that the road was never going to be smooth and straight. For one thing my career kept changing—writer, actor, director, producer… Every day is different. So whatever strategies I had developed to support what I’d been doing, I needed new supports for what I was doing now.
There will ALWAYS be bad days. You can’t prevent them. Instead, accept them. Don’t waste time and energy on, ‘This shouldn’t be happening to me!’
Hey, Stuff Happens
Things will go wrong. They’re gonna. Even people who don’t have ADHD misplace their phone, wallet, purse, or keys.
Mastering my ADHD is never a straight path. It’s more like an Drunken Square Dance. “Swing your partner, lose your job, do-sa-do, two steps forward, one step back, and three to the left, kick, and turn, two steps forward, bow to your left, lose your partner, circle bankruptcy, left foot forward, right foot in your mouth, stumble in circles, one steps backward, smack into the wall…”
Don’t get me wrong. You can make great progress. Eventually. But it takes time. And a Multi-Modal approach. Holistic Solutions. (Remember, ADHD sabotages so many areas of life in so many ways. It’s not just about focus or attention. There’s problems with procrastination, forgetfulness, restlessness, listening, planning, finishing, distractions and more.)
For example, one year after that memorable day where I caught up on my delinquent taxes, I found myself a year behind in my taxes… again! I was shocked. Confused. And facing more fines and late fees.
My first reaction was, ‘Well, that just proves that never changes. Why did I even bother?’
‘I’m a hopeless case.’
This happened a lot.
Gradually I realized that, yes, the medication allowed me to focus all day and finish my taxes. But it didn’t guarantee I would do them in the future. The pills didn’t open my calendar and schedule days reserved for doing tax installments. It didn’t set up a place to gather my bills.
I’d been so thrilled about finishing a years worth of taxes in one day, I assumed that I was set for life. I’d become a super-calculating-form-filling Accountant Wizard!
Yes, I had improved my ability to focus and stay on task. However my next task should have been to create a system, schedule, and place for my finances. So the second time I fell behind, I did just that. Eventually my wife convinced me to try a way better solution that was actually cheaper—a bookkeeper. Magic!
But at that moment when I first realized I’d fallen a year behind in my taxes again, I could have thrown in the towel. It really felt like nothing had changed.
Which brings us to the final truth…
#3. There’s a Danger You May Not Notice
I was lucky. In those early days I had some clear victories. Things changed noticeably. But I still messed up most of the time. Five years on, I still found myself rushing around the house trying to find my keys.
Today, fifteen years on, losing my keys doesn’t dishearten or infuriate me as it once did, because I understand Truth #2. I expect setbacks. And they happen less often.
Equally important, I’ve taken time to pause and notice the improvement. Or should I say, I have coaches, a doctor, friends, and family who will tell me that I’m much better.
It’s not like they are constantly going, ‘Wow! Your phone is right where it should be!’ But if I am feeling frustrated and I ask, ‘Has anything really changed? Have I improved? Am I more organized? A better listener?’ they will tell point out my progress. They remember how I was better than I do. Plus, they’ll tell me when I’m not any better at listening. (I think they will. I dunno. Someone said something about it at Christmas.)
Sometimes the Transformation is Dramatic.
I still recall the sense of astonishment I felt that day when I blasted through a year’s worth of tax forms and paperwork. It was stunning to accomplish in one day what I hadn’t been able to even start for a year! What was equally surprising was that I wasn’t exhausted. It hadn’t reduced me to a blubbering idiot. (Which was my usual state of mind around paperwork.)
I’ll never forget that day. I’ve had a few more since. Days where everything changed, where I became unstoppable, able to finish a dreaded task that had always been a draining, numbing chore… I wish there were more days like that.
Mostly things get better bit by bit. Incrementally.
Which is why Truth #3 is a warning that you may not notice the improvement. In fact, as it says, ‘There’s a DANGER You Might Not Notice’ that you’re making progress.
And if you don’t notice that you are losing things less, losing your temper less, or losing your train of thought less, you may lose something else… the commitment to keep working on your ADHD.
So schedule time to celebrate your success. In ADD & Mastering It?! one of the strategies that Patrick McKenna reveals is key to his success is journaling. Every day he spends 10 minutes writing down what he did before. He has decades of his life, his accomplishments, that he can review to remind himself that he’s has made progress, which is crucial on those days when it feels like you are right back where you started, and nothing has changed.
But remember, we have lousy memories. We forget how bad it was. We forget how frequently things went Kablooey.
You are NOT back where you started.
The belief that ‘Nothing has changed. What a waste of time. I’m hopeless. Why bother?’ is natural. And it’s nonsense. You are NOT the same person you were a year ago, a month ago, or even when you started reading this blog.
You grow every day.
Whether you appreciate it or not, you have a different perspective. A better perspective.
I suspect you have a better perspective just from learning these three truths. I hope it gives you more resilience when stuff does go Kablooey. Because stuff will.
The only way to avoid having stuff go Kablooey? Don’t do anything new or challenging.
And who wants to live like that?
Looking for Tools, Strategies, Advice, Insight? Check out our ADHD Starter Kit. Featuring scores of Specialists, Experts, Coaches, and adults with ADHD.
By Rick Green
Let’s talk about people who deny or dismiss ADHD.
Their hostility can be surprising. Their ignorance can be dangerous.
This stigma that still taints many people’s view of ADHD causes needless suffering.
And I’m not talking about the universal dread that everyone experiences when they consider getting diagnosed. Who wants to know that ‘there might be something wrong with my brain.’ That is a worry I understand. (Of course I quickly learned there’s nothing wrong with my brain, it’s just not great at the routine, boring, repetitive obligations of modern life. And reallllly good at other things.)
The stigma I’m referring is the hostility faced by folks like you (and I) who have received a reliable diagnosis, have created a treatment plan, are moving forward… Until we are confronted by what I call, ‘A Closed Mind & Mouth Wide Open.’
The Know-It-All Who Knows Nothing
Unless you were diagnosed this week and haven’t told a soul, you’ve probably met people who proudly proclaim, ‘I don’t believe in ADHD!’ To them it is a joke. A scam. And you’re a poor sucker for buying into it.
Some claim, ‘I know a guy who was diagnosed and was medicated into a zombie, until the parents cut out gluten and the guy went on to win 5 Nobel Prizes. Seriously.’
Or they’ve read about a ‘healer’ who cures ADHD online with magic hula-hoops, pictures of trees, and chanting Miley Cyrus songs backwards. When pressed they can’t recall the details, ‘Google it! This woman is amazing!’
I know this hostility and dismissal is an ongoing problem because our videos Facing The World about how to defend your diagnosis, and Disclosure: To Tell or Not To Tell, are among the most popular downloads in our shop.
The funny thing is, these people often mean well. It took me decades to get that people always think they are doing the right thing. And my opinion, or common courtesy, or even scientific facts didn’t matter.
The ends justify the means.
‘I don’t mean to be rude or cruel, but you are…’
We all do this. It’s human nature.
Even when we know what they are saying or doing isn’t exactly honorable, perhaps even downright nasty or illegal, we find a way to justify it.
‘Everyone else is doing it.’
‘I need to pass this course.’
‘My wife doesn’t understand me.’
But many people who have dismissed or minimized my ADHD thought they were being ‘helpful and kind.’ They were genuinely concerned.
‘I’m just worried that you’re using this ADHD stuff as an excuse.’
‘You’re fine, Rick. You’re just creative. You’ve been on national television for heaven’s sake.’
Another common ‘explanation’ you may hear goes something like, ‘The whole family is like this. We’re Spanish. We can’t help it.’
In fact, comments like that were what drove me to make the PBS documentary, ADD & Loving It?! Okay, no one accused me of being Spanish.
But here’s the revelation that has been liberating. Almost as much as finally getting diagnosed was. It’s something I’d heard a hundred times, but never fully considered. You’ve probably heard it yourself. It’s deceptively simple.
‘People are doing the best they know how. When they know better, they do better.’
It kind of sounds like an excuse. Or it did to me. Now I think it explains 90% of what baffles me about people. (Including about myself!)
‘What were they thinking?’
This is actually crucial to understand: Everyone is doing what they believe or feel is the right thing.
Or, the least awful thing. As in, ‘Hey, I don’t want to cheat people, but if I tell buyers about the problem with the sewage, no one will ever buy our house.’
Until I understood that most people are doing what they think is the right thing, I was constantly shocked by people’s denial or dismissal, left speechless, thinking, ‘I can’t believe they said that about my ADHD?’ Gradually I realized they believe what they have heard about ADHD is the truth. And you need to hear this. Because they know better.
They may be snarky about it, or sound superior and dismissive, but they may ascribe to the theory that, ‘Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.’ Or, ‘I’m saying this for your own good.’ That statement usually precedes something appalling that is not good for anyone!
And yet, I will say it again, ‘What if everyone is doing what they feel is right and saying what they believe is the truth?’ You don’t have to like this idea. I can’t imagine you would. I didn’t, for a long time. But it explains a lot.
An Inconvenient & Confronting Truth
A father who thinks kids need a good smack to learn respect will smack his kids. Makes total sense. Based on what he believes and how he was raised.
If you dare to offer an alternate opinion on the efficacy of corporal punishment, that father may snort, ‘What do you know? Do you have kids? You want the kid to be a sissy? It’s a tough world.’
You mention that a number of studies have shown that hitting actually… ‘Scientific study? What crap! They can make studies say anything you want. Besides, I know what I know.’
We are all doing the best we know how, based on what we know. As in, what we know right now. If a colleague or grandparent believes ADHD is bogus, or has heard medications turn people into drones… it makes total sense that they say things that you find hurtful, cruel, or pig-ignorant.
The real danger, and the only one that matters, is that you may allow those comments and ‘opinions’ to derail your progress.
A friend’s casual, ‘Do you really need medication? You’re just creative,’ was enough to stop a young comedian I know from continuing with a treatment plan that he told me was ACTUALLY WORKING! He knew it was stupid. He said so. But he couldn’t bring himself to get back on track.
Here’s The Trap We All Fall Into…
People will always believe nonsense. The problem is that in this increasingly polarized world they are loud and proud, adamant that, ‘It’s true!’
And if they know ‘the truth,’ then whatever you believe is obviously false. Making you a deluded, foolish, stubborn moron. (To them.) And if you get emotional and argue to the contrary, that just confirms to them that you are pathetic.
If someone’s right, then everyone else must be wrong? Hmm. Even if that were true, well, who can be right all the time? Not me. Or anyone I know. If it’s True or False, at best you’ve got a 50-50 chance of being right.
At school, even in my best subjects, I never got more than 90% of the right answers. And that was basic stuff. That stuff actually was either True or False.
Life is not like that. Life’s way more complex.
Life is 50 Shade of Gray…
… and a few thousand shades of all the other colors.
Remember, the brain is the most complex thing in the universe. ADHD adds a whole new level of uncertainty. Call it 50 Shades of Grey Matter.
The odds that I’m going to be 100% right about everything? … Not a chance. I only have to look at my past for have ample proof that I haven’t been right about a lot of things I believed or chose or did. My batting average is probably closer to 10%.
So look, you have to protect yourself. You have to defend your diagnosis. Don’t spend time trying to educate people who are not interested in learning something new.
As I said in my previous Blog, you are not the ‘Idiot Whisperer.’
At the same time, don’t judge people harshly. Just because they don’t know what ADHD is, but are saying things that are potentially destructive to other people’s progress, doesn’t make them evil, or stupid, or an a$$h0le.
It does make them dangerous… Only if you buy into what they are saying.
‘I Never Want to Speak to Them Again!
Look you don’t have to end friendships if someone says something that’s uninformed. But in some cases you may have to cut them loose. Looking back, fifteen years on, I can see that the people who were truly rude to me about my ADHD had their own agenda. Their own baggage. Some of these friends are no longer in my life, or contact is minimal.
But many other friends and family members who were unsure but had my best interests at heart are with me still. They came around as they saw the way my life changed with a good treatment plan. One of them even married me.
One last suggestion: I’ve found the best way to deal with people who spew nonsense about ADHD, is prevention.
Don’t disclose to strangers. Be very careful who you tell. If it comes up, change the subject. Or if they insist, act impressed and ask them to send you, ‘the name of that guy in Nebraska who is curing ADHD using Yo-Yos and Xanthan Gum. He sounds interesting.’
I go into more detail in Defending Your Diagnosis. What matters is you, your progress, and your success.
Stigma? Dismissal? Cruel comments? Don’t let others undermine you. Defend your diagnosis with ‘Facing The World’
OWN IT NOW > Facing The World
Disclosure: Who needs to know that you or your loved one has ADHD? Disclosing is dangerous. Understand the risks. And what to say in: ‘To Tell or Not To Tell’
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‘Oh, everyone thinks they have ADD nowadays. It’s over-diagnosed. It’s the internet. And cell phones. And everyone’s trying to do 9 things at once. Fifty years ago there was no such thing as ADHD.’
Comments like that used to set me off on a rant, ‘Actually, no. Everyone does not have ADHD! Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is driven by genes. It runs in families. It’s highly heritable. And it’s usually there at birth. Or even before! In fact, one doctor in our film, ADD & Loving It?! who has four sons…’
The other person would tune out. While I yammered away…
My message, though one I never openly stated, was simple: ‘You’re an idiot for saying that! You have no idea what you’re talking about!’
Actually, they may be right!
But seven years after we launched TotallyADD.com, having read a library of books on ADHD, (And co-written one book on ADHD.) interviewed scores of experts for our videos on ADHD, , thousands of adults who have ADHD (Or who love someone who does) I can see the truth in those dismissive comments.
Or should I say, SOME truth.
Which surprises me.
First, Let’s Define ‘Over-Diagnosed’
What constitutes ‘over-diagnosed’? You could argue that if even one person is diagnosed with something that they don’t actually have it’s been over-diagnosed. But that’s true of every medical condition there is.
In fact, a proper diagnosis is tricky. One of our most popular videos, Embracing the Diagnosis, lays out 13 common challenges to getting a proper ADHD diagnosis. (And how to overcome each one.)
Clearly this is not what most people mean when they claim it’s, ‘overdiagnosed.’
Perhaps what they mean is that it’s ‘misdiagnosed.’
Someone suffering from Bi-Polar, who is incorrectly diagnosed as having ADHD, is not ‘Over-Diagnosed.’ They’ve been ‘Misdiagnosed.’ They’re struggling with a real problem. It’s just not properly identified.
My public school teachers ‘Misdiagnosed’ me as bored, messy, uninterested, and slow. (And I suppose I was bored, messy, and uninterested in school.) Cause they didn’t have a better name for it. They did have a few names for me, however.
But I don’t think ‘It’s misdiagnosed’ is what people mean when they sneer, ‘ADHD is so over-diagnosed.’
My sense is that they mean, ‘There’s nothing wrong with you that a smack on the side of the head wouldn’t fix.’ But that’s not polite to say out loud. So they suggest this mental health issue is over-diagnosed. Or that it’s not even a ‘real’ disorder.
Despite 4,000 studies and millions of people’s experience.
Alternative facts, as it were.
Consider what they actually said.
Now, let’s look at their initial ‘dismissal’ again. Read it slowly. Calmly, if you can.
‘Oh, everyone thinks they have ADD nowadays. It’s the internet. And cell phones. And everyone’s trying to do 9 things at once. ADHD is over-diagnosed. Fifty years ago there was no such thing as ADHD.’
That kind of attitude is what inspired me to make ADD & Loving It?!
It was infuriating! And total nonsense! Or is it?
Could there be a tiny bit of truth in there? Hmm..
Let’s break it down, line by line.
‘Oh, everyone thinks they have ADD nowadays.’
Notice, they didn’t say everyone has ADD nowadays. They claimed that everyone thinks they do.
Which these days, might be true, right?
Well, okay, maybe not every single person on the planet, but far more than the 4 to 5% of adults who are actually struggling with this mindset have wondered if they indeed had a ‘bit of that ADHD.’
Our friend, Jennifer, set her twitter account to notify her everytime someone tweeted #ADHD or #ADD. It was astounding.
‘Overwhelmed today! I think I’m developing ADD or something!’
‘I lost my new sweater. I’m so ADHD sometimes.’
‘So antsy when my mom visited. My wife said I must have ADHD. LOL.’
So yes, you could argue that these days, with the pace of life and the amount of change, almost everyone thinks they have ADHD. It’s a bit of a joke. To those who don’t have it, anyways.
For those of us who do, who are always overwhelmed, losing things, and restless, it’s not all that funny. (Though the TotallyADD community can laugh about it with each other.)
Every ADHD specialist I’ve spoken to concedes that, yes, in some parts of the country it’s over-diagnosed amongst kids. And that needs to be addressed. In other areas it’s the opposite.
But amongst adults, ADHD is still woefully under-diagnosed. The exact figure is difficult to know. I’ve heard that less than 1 in 6 adults in North American who have this mindset are aware of it. In the rest of the world it’s even lower.
Let’s consider the next sentence:
‘It’s the internet. And cell phones.’
Based on my own experience and talking with other adults who have ADHD, we are more susceptible to the lure of the web. Endless novelty. Odd connections. Constant surprises. Anything you can think of, no waiting.
And there’s a growing body of evidence that this technology is rewiring our brains and shortening our attention spans.
But having 90 open tabs doesn’t cause ADHD. It may be something a person with ADHD does… (Sound of me clearing my throat) But it doesn’t cause ADHD… At least, that’s been the standard belief.
Internet Addiction is starting to become a series subject for research. Several years ago I read a study that found a few hours on the internet started to rewire how the brain worked. Last year an ADHD specialist told me there’s actually interest in researching whether social media and mobile technology is actually creating ADHD symptoms.
YouTube? Messaging? Poking? Tweeting? Texting? Sexting?… It does seem attention spans are shorter. Things are rushed. Messages are full of mistakes. So, yes, I’d have to concede that more and more people show some signs of ADHD.
That doesn’t mean being online all the time is creating people who qualify as having ADHD. But who knows. Time, and some reliable scientific research, will tell.
What you should know, is that doctors were describing kids who struggled with all the symptoms of ADHD long before the Internet. Or computers. Or cell phones. Or even phones. As far back as the 1700’s! (The video, ‘What Is ADHD,’ delves deep into the history of the diagnosis, the neurology, and the symptoms.)
‘And everyone’s trying to do 9 things at once.
I’m guilty of this. Or I was. Until research revealed that multi-tasking is not more efficient. (Dang!) I had lots happening, which felt great, but nothing finished, which caused me to pay fines and late fees.
Who isn’t doing the work of 2 people these days? Most people I know complain about being overwhelmed. Having a ton on the go is a source of pride. Or a necessity to make ends meet. And that pressure leads to overwhelm, struggling with time, distractions, restlessness, forgetting things… All signs of ADHD.
‘ADHD is over-diagnosed.’
When we were making ADD & Loving It?!, the star of the program, comedian Patrick McKenna, asked Dr. Margaret Weiss about the common belief that, ‘Stimulant medications for ADHD are over-prescribed.’
Dr. Weiss paused for a moment, then explained, ‘I think that the difficulty with that statement is that it implies that medication is either over-prescribed or under prescribed.’ She admitted that many families are expecting too much from their children, filling their spare time with dozens of activities: Sports. Competitions. Music classes. Dance lessons.
Dr. Weiss also noted that the percentage of people who actually find a doctor they trust, then learn about medication, start a regimen, and stick with it, is actually a small subset of the ADHD population.
Compliance is terrible. (But that’s true of every medication.)
Every parent and most adults we’ve interviewed were extremely reluctant to try medication. Including me. 18 adults talk about our own reluctance to try a stimulant in our series on ADHD Medication.
Medication is, as one doctor points out, ‘The last thing anyone wants to try.’
’50 years ago there was no such thing as ADHD.’
Technically, yes, that’s true.
Half a century ago, ADHD was called Minimal Brain Dysfunction. Which a few folks think might actually be a more accurate name. (I explained why in other blogs.)
Lately specialists and researchers are framing ADHD as an Executive Function Disorder, which I kind of like as well.
So the name may change again. But doctors were describing children with ADHD-like symptoms way back in the 1700’s, and 1800’s. (Mostly German doctors. Apparently being restless, impulsive, talkative, interrupting, and scattered are not proper Teutonic traits. I wonder if they had T-Shirts, ‘Don’t be rushin’ if you’re a Prussian.’)
So, yes 50 years ago kids were diagnosed with, ‘Minimal Brain Dysfunction.’ If they were lucky. If they weren’t lucky, they were labeled as lazy, stupid, trouble-maker, difficult, underachiever, or loser. And the treatment plan was simple: ‘Try Harder.’
As for Adult ADHD? That wasn’t on anyone’s radar until the late 1980’s.
Okay, the final statement:
‘I don’t believe in ADHD. I think it’s just an excuse.’
Okay… Hmm. Technically, that’s true. They honestly believe ADHD is an excuse. Fine. They can believe whatever they like.
I used to argue with them. But then I realized that’s what I used to think before I was diagnosed.
And in fact, more than one person with ADHD has confessed to me that when they were first diagnosed they did use it as an excuse now and then.
Difficult not to, especially in the early days.
I can tell you that most people soften their opinions when they learn about things like the genetic research, the neuro-imaging studies that shows ‘this brain is different,’ the role of neuro-transmitters, and especially, the difference that treatment makes.
But education takes time. And if you push people… it backfires.
Any first year Psychology student can tell you that no human being has ever changed their mind when told, ‘You’re an idiot for saying that! You have no idea what you’re talking about!’
It took me years to realize this. (Eventually, I discovered a much better strategy. See below.)
Three Ways to Deal With Denial?
So, how do you change people’s minds? Here are five strategies.
Strategy #1: Be generous! ‘You may be right,’ is a more diplomatic way of saying, ‘Yes, and pigs may fly.’
Strategy #2: Show them ADD & Loving It?! Scores of people have thanked us for making this film. It transformed how their spouse, parent, colleague, or relatives viewed ADHD. ‘They finally got it!’ It’s funny, dark, surprising, and built on solid science.
My whole purpose in creating this program was to get through to people who were dismissive of my own ADHD. I was shocked to learn how many people have had their stubborn beliefs and dismissive opinions swept aside by this. When I asked one of the ADHD specialists I talk to a lot, he said it works because it’s not a ‘the person who has it trying to convince them. The family has already dismissed the person’s claims. They can talk themselves blue in the face, and it will only make other people even more entrenched in their beliefs. Plus, you have a wide range of experts, and you have a lot of humor, and Patrick and Janis’s story touches people in a way that medical checklists never will.’
The Simplest Option?
Strategy #3: Don’t bother. Life is short. Just nod and walk away. ‘ Save your breath. And use your energy to deal with your ADHD so you can get on with your life.
You are not the ‘Idiot Whisperer.’
I like this strategy. But I’ve never been able to do it. (Too self-righteous I suppose.)
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: Yes, ADHD is Over-diagnosed