Should I Disclose My ADHD?
Those of us who qualify as ADHD are, well, different. Not just from the 96% of the world who are ‘neuro-typical’, but different from each other. We are indeed a tribe, but a diverse tribe. Each of us struggles with a distinct combo of challenges. We each have our personal potpourri of ADHD symptoms. Some ‘symptoms’ may be more of a problem for you, or less of a problem, and some are not a big deal at all.
People with the ‘Predominantly Inattentive Subtype of ADHD’ are, by definition, not struggling much with Hyperactivity or Impulsivity. (Less likely, perhaps, to become a shopaholic, but prone to forget to pay their bills.) Explosive Anger was never an issue for me. Rumination, on the other hand…(RRrrrRRrrrRRrrr… “I shoulda… If only… Why didn’t I…”) For me, it’s a constant challenge.
There’s You. Then There’s Your World.
While our brains are different, so are out life situations. We live unique lives: single, divorced, widowed, married. Male, female, or transitioning. With kids or without.
Maybe your parents live with you. Or they’re a thousand miles away but haunting your life. (Ha!) We work at a range of jobs. Often several in a row or at the same time. And most jobs are changing. “We’re upgrading to a new system…” “We’re automating check-out…” “Our new TV show is broadcast online…” Where we live, our age, our health, our religion, our culture.
Most adults with ADHD also struggle with a second ‘thing’. They’re called ‘comorbidities.’ ADHD often has a ‘friend’ helping to mess with your life. Learning Disorders. Depression. Anxiety… In fact, 40% of adults have three or more challenges.
And finally, your ADHD lives in a unique ‘environment.’ You may be lucky in that your friends, family, and coworkers are fully supportive of you and understand your ADHD. (At a rough estimate, I would say about .0000001% of us are in that situation. And whoever this lucky person is, I envy her.)
Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell.
At some point we all face resistance, dismissal, or hostility. Most of us have put ourselves in this situation because we’ve given the game away. We have spilled the beans about our ADHD. You may tell a few friends about your diagnosis.
Or a parent or sibling who’s been on your case, assuming that now that they understand they’ll be supportive. (SURPRISE! You’ve just given them more ammo. “It’s always something with you, isn’t it?”) Some of us tell everyone we meet. At least until we get fed up with people’s hostile, dismissive, or superior reactions.
I don’t mind a debate, but not with people who have no idea what they’re talking about. Disclosing my ADHD was never a big issue for me. Or rather, I didn’t think it would be.
Delighted at figuring out what was ‘wrong’ with me, I told everyone. It didn’t occur to me that it could damage friendships or undermine my career. I learned the hard way. It was awful. I was so mortified, indignant, and righteous about all the stupid things people were saying. Furious in fact… Hmm, maybe I do have an issue with Explosive Anger?
“Who should I tell?” is a very tricky question. Trust me. Revealing your ADHD is fraught with peril. Telling the world that you, your child, or spouse has ADHD can backfire. Badly.
Disclosing will remain a dangerous decision until we have managed to totally eliminate the ignorance and stigma around this disorder. Which I suspect, ain’t gonna happen in my lifetime.
Ironically, one way to raise awareness about the truth is for more people to be open about what they have, what they’re going through, and how better life is now that they understand. Catch 22.
We Love To Talk…
This was brought home to me by a message from a TotallyADD fan who is also a nurse. She was concerned that commenting on our Facebook page, could be risky because, as she pointed out, ADHD people sometimes have a bit of a problem with limits. As in ‘no limits.’ TMI. ‘Oversharing.’ ‘Blurting out.’ ‘Did I just say that?!’ I had to laugh. “Perhaps I’ve said too much…”
As I said, when at first I told people about my ADHD it rarely went well. In fact the disdain and dismissal triggered a fury that fuelled me to produce ADD & Loving It?! and create TotallyADD.
Today, very few people are actually dismissive to my face. However, I have learned, often years later of some of the nasty things that colleagues have said behind my back. My favorite was, “If Rick Green has ADHD then I’ve got ‘ass’ cancer.” Nice.
In fact, that nurse who wrote to me admitted that disclosing her ADHD diagnosis with colleagues had backfired. It was used against her. Being open and ‘out’ had damaged her career. Tragic, considering her intention was to make things better at work.
If you’re wondering whether you should ‘share’, our video on the risks to disclosure outlines why it has to be done very carefully. It’s easy to spill the beans. Try scraping the beans back up into the can. Not easy. Or fun.
You don’t have to go far with our fans to find other stories from people who have met hostility, disdain, disbelief or loss of friendships and even jobs.
We had a Meme Contest on our Facebook page, “What’s the dumbest thing anyone’s every said to you about your ADHD?” and the results were gob-smacking. Among the top 10 finalists: “Just drink more water.” “You have to stop thinking so much.” and the ever-so-helpful, “Wear proper shoes with insoles and use this type of mattress and it will go away.” Wow, a new mattress can eliminate a highly genetic neuro-developmental disorder? Does it come with a matching box-spring that can cure diabetes?
“Drug Addict? Unreliable? High-Maintenance?”
The negative consequences of disclosing are probably the highest in the work place. (Oh! Talk about timing. My wife Ava just interrupted me as I’m writing this to read me a letter from a TotallyADD member who say he would have had his pilot’s license revoked by the FAA if they had found out he has ADHD.
Whether he was taking medication or not. As it turns out, he doesn’t have ADHD. But his email does make it clear that adult ADHD or ADD can still be used against you, by colleagues and governing organizations.) I know several young people who have had to lie about their ADHD to pursue their dream of a career in the military. They’re in the army now, and soaring.
So, “Who Do You Tell?” Is A Big Question.
For me, and I suppose for Patrick McKenna, the star of ADD & Mastering It! the cost of letting the entire world know that I have ADHD has been hard to gauge. Or rather, the negative costs have been hard to gauge.
Because as I said, the eye rolling, snorting and, “We don’t want to work with him, he has some kind of weird mental thing!” happens behind my back. So I’ll never know the cost I’ve paid in ‘coming out of the closet’ about my mindset. But I’m sure it’s there.
Perhaps the phone stopped ringing so much simply because the television industry itself has slowed down in the past 10 years. Who knows? I could try and figure out who has cut me off, or continues to spread malicious crap, “What’s he talking about? He’s made all kinds of successful TV shows.” As someone said, “Don’t look back because you’re not going in that direction.”
The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
I can tell you the positives I’ve experienced since disclosing. The hundreds of people who have hugged me, thanked us, and shared their story. The families who have thanked Patrick and Janis McKenna, tears in their eyes, for sharing so much in ADD & Loving It?!
“Who to tell?” is a topic we explore a bit in The Perfect Career for ADHD and in depth in what may be my favourite video, To Tell Or Not To Tell. There’s some great advice on who to tell, what to say, and especially what NOT to say.
Just know that being open about your ADHD or ADD to the wrong people will have negative consequences. Sharing it with the right people can be hugely helpful. Having allies is a wonderful thing.
None of us manage this on our own. If we did, we’d never have ended up in a Doctor’s office, wondering, “ What’s wrong with me?” Eventually, at some point, when enough people have stood up and said, “I have ADHD,” there won’t be any stigma. No negative fallout. Wouldn’t that be nice? By the way, have you disclosed? Who did you tell? What did you say? And how did it go?