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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