By Rick Green.
“Who should know about my ADHD?”
“Should I tell the school about my daughters diagnosis?”
In those early days, after I was first diagnosed with ADHD, I told everyone. And that created problems. Don’t make the same mistake.
My first reaction after finding out I have ADHD was a tornado of relief, excitement, and alarm. Ricocheting between “This explains so much! Now my life will be easy!” and ”What does it all mean? Am I damaged? All those years of struggle, and I had no idea! It’s not fair!”
It was such a shocking revelation, so much to take in, with so many potential implications, that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Or talking about it.
Pretty soon everyone in my family knew, all of my friends knew, and the crew on The Red Green Show had been informed, ad nausea. Dozens of complete strangers on elevators learned how this insidious disorder had subverted every aspect of my life.
“I don’t believe in ADHD”
Most people listened politely. Some were genuinely sympathetic and astonished. But a significant number were dismissive. The dismissal came in many variations. A few were open about their disdain. “You can’t have ADHD! You’re on national television. You’re successful.”
There was genuine concern and caution, “I heard that it’s way over-diagnosed and you just need to eat less sugar.” But I’d already done enough reading to know this wasn’t about food additives, the internet, fluoridation, Monsanto, or any of the other late 20th century lifestyle changes. “Actually, this diagnosis goes back to at least the 1800’s. Doctors in Germany were describing these symptoms as early as…”
I was on a crusade. And when someone is on a crusade, woe betide anyone who gets in the way. If I encountered someone who was doubtful, dismissive, or misinformed, (which, back then, was almost every adult I knew) I’d launch a rant that would have made Michael Moore look like he’d taken a vow of silence.
People who expected Rick the comedian to be funny were stunned when I’d overwhelm them with tidal wave of facts and statistics. A torrent of ‘knowledge’ that had a rather nasty undertone of, “You should be ashamed. You ignorant fool. I know better.”
“Here Are The Facts About ADHD”
It didn’t help that I began to see ADHD everywhere, and was suggesting to a lot of people that they should get tested as well.
It was obnoxious. I was obnoxious. Despite all the best intentions.
Trying to ‘convince’ people of anything is totally counter-productive. You only have to look at the current state of political discussions to realize that kind of righteous raving never changes anyone’s opinion, and in fact makes you look fanatical and even frightening.
At the time I was mortified by the hostility or condescending attitude that, “You can’t have ADHD. You’re on television.”
It took me a long time to forgive people’s ignorance until I realized that up until I’d been diagnosed myself and then done a lot of reading, I was probably just as misinformed about this disorder as anyone else.
Eventually, the on-air host at a PBS station pointed out that if I hadn’t been so upset by everyone’s reaction I would not have gone on a crusade to change the world’s understanding of what ADHD actually is, and what it is not.
Wow! She was right. My hurt feelings lead to . Eventually. By a long and convoluted pathway.)
Disclosing ADHD? It Can Be Treacherous
The fact that I was open about my ADHD, and many people in the public eye are coming out as well, is great.
But I strongly suspect for most people my strategy of being ‘open about disclosing,’ a polite way of describing my obnoxious over-sharing, is a bad idea.
In the video, To Tell or Not To Tell, some very experienced experts reveal the many ways disclosing your ADHD can be dangerous to your career, finances, and social standing.
It’s one thing to inform a potential employer that you’re great at certain tasks but somewhat hopeless at accounting or invoicing, or that you are much more productive in a quieter work space, or wearing sound-cancelling headphones, or being able to check in and report progress frequently. It’s another to explain, “I suffer from a Neuro-Developmental disorder and I’ll need all kinds of accommodations.”
What boss wants that extra layer of stuff to deal with? Most don’t. A few enlightened employers understand and appreciate our mindset. But not many.
The Cost of Disclosing
In To Tell or Not To Tell, coach Linda Walker, who specializes in executives with ADHD surveyed her clients, “Of the people who mentioned it about 50% got the accommodations and help that they needed. The other 50% either lost their jobs, got demoted, or were passed over for promotions because the higher ups didn’t think they could handle the added work load.”
So Two Thoughts
First: Don’t spend a lot of energy trying to convince people that ADHD is real. Our Facing The World video explains a simple method I eventually discovered that silences bullies and allows people who have heard all the myths to understand that this is in fact a serious issue. You just ask questions and allow them to see that what they ‘know’ is actually what ‘everyone has told them.’
Second: Be very cautious about disclosing your ADHD. Or your child’s. Even to loved ones. There is a way to do it that will get the results you want, whether it’s some understanding and empathy from people close to you or the dream job where you can soar. Kind of like disclosing without actually disclosing.
It’s important to do it right, because once it’s out there, there’s no cramming the ADHD Genie back in the bottle. You have your hands full dealing with your ADHD, you don’t need yet another challenge to try to overcome, right?
Talking about what you are going through can be so helpful. Rather than over-sharing with strangers on the bus, consider joining a support group. Or starting one. ADDitude magazine has an article on how to do it here.
And the Forums at TotallyADD are a safe space to share your challenges, questions, and insights with thousands of people who get it.