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I’m glad I know I have ADHD, but I’m not glad I have it.

I'm glad I know I have ADHD, but I'm not glad I have it.

Rick Green, founder of TotallyADD, waves his finger.

By Rick Green

A few months ago I blogged about those dark moments, when things would overwhelm me, and I wished I’d never been diagnosed. “It would have been better to just carry on like I was.”

That despair engulfed me when my best efforts, latest strategy, or brilliant new tool, would fail. One step forward, 37 steps back. (Warning: Steps may be exaggerated for dramatic effect.)

Gradually, the idea that ‘ignorance is bliss’ has faded. Completely. Today, I am nothing but grateful that I know how my brain works. Or doesn’t work as I’d like it to, sometimes.  I love knowing. I wish everyone knew about ADHD.

In fact, that desire to tell people what this is and how much can be done to transform it was the driving force behind ADD & Loving It?! and especially the sequel, ADD & Mastering It! The first film told the world: This is what ADHD actually is. And there is hope.
The second laid out the way forward. As in, “Here’s what you can do to reduce the downside and focus on your strengths.”

Knowing changes everything.

Most of the world still denies or dismisses ADHD. 

We hear from people all around the world who cannot find any resources, any expertise, or any understanding of what they are struggling with in their lives.

Have you ever had someone suggest that ADHD was a recent invention? Or that it didn’t exist before video games. “There was no ADHD before the internet.” Or before fast food came along or TV or Rock and Roll. Or before aliens started bombarding us with weird mind-altering negativity beams. (Which sounds hard to believe, but is equally hard to disprove.) “No one had ADHD when I was a kid.” True. And no one suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder either.

A doctor ‘invented’ that diagnosis around 1980. So, are we to assume that before President Reagan took office, soldiers who fought in wars that were killing, and living with the constant fear of death, never had any problems after they were discharged? Every veteran returned to their families feeling chipper and eager to get on with life? And then some doctor invented a problem…

As the son of a combat veteran, let me assure you PTSD was around back then. But sufferers were diagnosed with ‘Combat Fatigue.’ Before that, ‘Shell Shock.’ Before that, ‘Lack of Moral Fibre.’ Or ‘Cowardice.’ And the treatment was punishment: shame, dishonorable discharge, or execution.

Notice that the farther you go back, the more it’s seen as a failing, a lack, a weakness. Rather than the natural outcome of seeing and doing and enduring terrible things.
I should be clear, my dad eventually found a way to live with memories of combat, but some of his buddies never did recover.

A Character Flaw or A Neurological Challenge?

Today, PTSD isn’t just the collateral damage from combat. We now understand it can show up in anyone who’s endured trauma—be it a huge natural disaster, or something personal–rape, torture, or an abusive relationship.

So, yes, in your day no one was diagnosed with PTSD. No label. No name. No understanding. No appreciation or insight into the neurology behind it.

And yes, in your day there was no ADHD. But, that doesn’t mean every kid was fine back then. And kids were just fine to be who they were. I know. I was there! And I have the report cards to prove it wasn’t OK.

Like PTSD, ADHD has moved from a moral failing to a neurological challenge.

In my talks I often mention Dr. George Sill. In 1902 he described what we now call ADHD as, “…a defect of moral consciousness which cannot be accounted for by any fault of environment”.

Neurology Trumps Morality 

ADHD Brain TotallyADD

An image of a brain, filled with the word ADHD


Here’s the thing, the neurology of ADHD is complex, partly because everyone’s neurology is complex. But a key factor in ADHD seems to be a neurotransmitter named Dopamine.

As signals rocket around your brain telling you to sit up, sit down, or do the Harlem Shake, the messages switch from electrical to chemical, and then back to electrical. And one of the chemicals created to carry the message is Dopamine. If the amount is too low, or isn’t there long enough, the message is never delivered. It’s lost in the noise.

It’s not that I forgot we had guests coming over this Saturday. Honestly. It’s that I never really made the memory in the first place. That’s what makes ADHD so frustrating. You can’t forget what you’ve never remembered.

“But I Already Told You! TWICE!”

Sure, you told me twice. You could tell me a 100 times. If I ain’t got the brain juice … If there’s a gap in the wiring… one bridge out on the highway… well, then it goes in one ear and out the other. Actually, it doesn’t even get that far. It fades to nothing en route. It’s a radio wave at the wrong frequency, and I’m tuned out.

The worst part is, I can look like I’m listening and really taking it in. But do not be fooled, that furrowed brow is me concentrating, but on a dozen other things.

Your secret is safe with me. I wasn't listening.

Were you talking to me?

It’s the one skill I did learn in school—pretending I’m hearing. 

It takes practice to nod, and grunt, “Yeah, Okay,” while mentally building a mock up of a space capsule, or writing a comedy skit, or dreaming about Jennifer who sat two rows up, one seat over in class.

The impact of ADHD can be infuriating. For me. For others. For loved ones. For people I’m working with… who may not want to work with me after a while. (Hopefully they’re ADHD and they’ll forget that I forgot…)

Those were the moments when I’d sink down, defeated yet again, convinced nothing had changed nor ever would, and sob, “I wish I’d never been diagnosed. I wish I never knew there was hope, because clearly, I can’t find it. Nothing’s changed. Nothing’s getting better!”

Of course, that wasn’t true. Lots has changed. Things are better. But at that moment, one thing had thrown me for a loop, and that one thing became everything. I couldn’t see anything else. I couldn’t sense anything other than what was right there, turning to crap in my hands.

Middle Ground? Perspective? The Big Picture? Nope.

If my wife Ava pointed out the positives, I’d dismiss them. They didn’t matter. This incident was proof that nothing would ever change.

This is the hidden scourge of ADHD. When something goes wrong, everything is wrong. All that there is… is this moment, here. This crappy, frustrating, stupid moment.

And when things are going well, soaring, wonderful… then life is perfect! Always has been! Always will be! (No wonder ADHD can be misdiagnosed as BiPolar!)

In Eastern meditation practices the goal is to be in the present moment. Fully present to right now. To reality. The world around us, what is present.

With ADHD, we can be fully trapped in NOW. Stuck in NOW. Stuck in this thing! This damn computer program! This missing cell phone!  This overdue and unpaid bill!

What’s the Opposite of Zen? That’s Me.

We aren’t at peace, ‘present to this moment, fully in the now.’ Instead, we’re stuck in a limited, tiny, imagined reality.

The past, with it’s lessons and progress, the future with it’s hope and opportunity… they don’t exist. It’s only now. We cannot see how far we’ve come. Only where we’re stuck at this second.

Looking back, I realize that when I was struggling, lost, muttering, “I wish I’d never been diagnosed,” what I really meant was, “I wish I didn’t have ADHD.”

Do you know what I mean? Have you been there too?

I’ll explain how I managed to leave that behind in an upcoming blog…

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3 Responses to “I’m glad I know I have ADHD, but I’m not glad I have it.”

  1. Rick says:

    @dizzytuber, I hear you. I suspect that if my son hadn’t been diagnosed in Grade 7 then I might never have found out. But when they told me he had ADHD, I was confused. “He’s so bright. He’s not noisy. He is actually quiet…”

    So I did some reading, hoping to prove the school counsellor wrong, and found out what ADHD actually was… and I was glad I did.

    I made a video about the fear of getting diagnosed… It’s pretty funny.

  2. dizzytuber says:

    hm, I’ve been a member of this website for about a couple months, said I was going to the doc when the symptoms I exhibit, indicate what I’ve suspected for the past 18 years to be ADHD. So when think about going to see the doc, I feel like my feet are suddenly frozen to the earth each time I tell myself, “Ok, this is going to be the day, but first…………….”

  3. janet61 says:

    You’ve articulated the ADHD struggle beautifully Rick! I’m going through a bad patch at the moment so your blog is timely about the back and forth of managing ADHD. thank you for the insight.

    and because I have ADHD, I have to share – I was diagnosed with mal-de-ADHD when I was 60 and have a mixture of both types. Up til then, I had been diagnosed with depression and had been taking anti-depressants all my adult life – I stopped taking them when I was diagnosed. The ADHD diagnosis provides a greater depth of understanding of why I do what I do though the first 3 years or so of matching understanding and appropriate coping strategies was quite painful. and yes, sometimes I wished I’d never been diagnosed. Thank heavens, the meds help me a lot. The impulsive/compulsive buying of things has stopped (though I’m still trying to sort through the resulting 50 year clutter of “things”), I’m not so overwhelmed by life (and the never-ending to-do list) and I’m now going to sleep 10 or 15 minutes after going to bed without any tossing or turning, not the 1-2 hours of said tossing/turning every night of the previous 50 or so years. But it doesn’t fix everything and some days I could just throw the towel in because I’ve got totally focussed on/distracted by something that isn’t a priority and the thing that is a priority becoming an increasingly heavy yoke across my shoulders. Unlearning some of my 50 year old coping mechanisms has also been painful and not always successful. And sometimes the regret and grief I go through over life decisions and choices I made because of not having a ADHD diagnosis before I was 60 can be overwhelming.

    I love my GP but she carries a few ADHD myths in her head and that has been frustrating – I’m slowly getting her to change her ideas but it sometimes is a fight to get her to understand and sometimes one I don’t particularly want to have. But my doctor is also kind and helpful – in New Zealand dexamphetamine is a restricted drug and can only be prescribed for 4 weeks at a time and would usually mean going to the doctor every month for a repeat script, which can become a tad expensive. Instead, my doctor faxes the script to my local pharmacy every month free of charge and I pay only $5 per month (the government charge) for the meds. Every 3 to 4 months, I go to the doctor for a check-up. I’m aware that compared to other countries, the costs are very low and it’s one I’m very grateful for. I take 5mg four times a day and my life is now divided into 3 & half hours segments announced loudly by a timer (which I loathe) but if I don’t use the timer, I forget to take my meds and sometime later I wonder why decision-making (amongst other things) has become difficult. Even with the timer, I forget – I turn it off and then get distracted. But those moments, when I finally realise I forgot my meds, do remind me of how far I’ve come and the positive difference in my life between pre-diagnosis and post. But yes, I wish I didn’t have ADHD! OK, enough sharing.

    Thank you for setting up the website – your videos and blogs have been lifesavers – they’re always spot-on and keep me going. please keep doing what you’re doing!


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