By Rick Green
Before I was diagnosed as having ADHD, I had a lot of beliefs about myself. And about what ADHD was. And therefore, why I couldn’t have ADHD.
A belief is not the truth. But these had become my ‘truths.’ And what we believe limits us more than anything else.
A thousand psychological studies prove the power of limiting beliefs. Or of positive beliefs. No matter how stupid that belief may be.
If you tell students the test is easy, they will do better. If you tell them it’s hard, they will do worse. If you tell the teacher these students are gifted, they will score higher by the end of the term. Tell the same teacher these kids are troubled underachievers and in a few weeks the classroom will be a war zone.
Beliefs Are Everything
I can tell you, it’s disorienting. For many the dread of a diagnosis turns to relief. “There is an explanation!” A roller coaster ride. Some people love roller coasters. Others scream in terror.
But getting diagnosed? There was anger, sadness, and lots of regret about how much life might have been had I known sooner. But also relief. It was a tornado of emotions, one a lot of people experience, and it lead to the video Now You Tell Me?
Once you know that you’ve spent your whole life in a wrestling match with this invisible opponent, it’s… mind blowing.
Taking apart beliefs is intimidating… and exhilarating. Let’s explore some common perceptions and misperceptions that ADD adults have about themselves.
1 – Massive Denial
THE BELIEF: “ADHD? I don’t have a mental disorder. I don’t rant or rave or have delusions. My brain is fine. Sure, I make mistakes but everyone does. I am unique, but I am NOT abnormal. I just need more self-discipline.”
When my Doctor told me, “This ultrasound shows that your gall bladder has a problem,” I assumed it was true. He had visual proof.
Yet when another Doctor suggested my brain wasn’t functioning ‘normally’, I was mortified, “Not me!”
Why the denial? Well, to start with there was no Xray or Ultrasound image that the doctor could point to and say, “See… those blobs… that’s your ADHD.
It’s also because when my gall bladder went wonky, I felt wonky. I wasn’t myself. It was clearly ‘abnormal.’
My ADHD brain came hardwired this way. Mine is inherited. ADHD is over 75% genetic. (For some folks it’s a head injury, or premature birth, and other causes.)
I was always like this. This is my normal . Which, yes, I sensed was abnormal, or different from most people. But growing up, I had never experienced anything else, so I couldn’t compare. So, “This is just how I am.” Later on, as I was considering trying an ADHD medication I realized how much I relied on another stimulant, caffeine, to focus. And the difference it made.
2 – Wilting Power
THE BELIEF: “Everyone says if I would just try harder and stick with it, I’d be great. And they’re right. But I do try and I can’t stick with it. I’m a quitter. No will power.”
This was a big one for me. I never finished my taxes, which was proof I had no willpower. I’d written hundreds of episodes of television, but that was just cause it was fun, and didn’t count.
I was in awe of friends who could spend six hours straight and complete their taxes. Magical!
Meanwhile, I could spend hours, days, even weeks mastering the sleight of hand for a magic trick. Clearly I had will power. But it was selective. After taking on my ADHD, I can do both, master a magic trick and also get my taxes in… Actually, my accountant does that. Which is a great ADHD Strategy: GIVE IT TO SOMEONE WHO IS NATURALLY GOOD AND DOING IT!
3 – I Am Not Reliable
THE BELIEF: “I can’t be trusted. But I desperately want people to trust me. I do incredibly well for a while then, BAM, completely blow it. Do I fear success? Why do I seem to sabotage my finances and relationships? What’s wrong with me? I’m such a stupid loser!”
ADHD is not a lack of willpower. Actually… it is. But what is will-power? It’s a process that goes on in your brain, one that
A ‘lack of willpower’ is a lack of fuel, neurotransmitters, the brain chemicals that carry messages and form memories. And we’re a bit low on them, especially Dopamine and Norepinephrine.
It’s not morality.
It’s biology. Neurology.
But I know so many ADD adults, including yours truly, who mistook their ADHD for Depression. And so many women who have ADHD are misdiagnosed as having Depression. In fact, a lifetime struggling with undiagnosed ADHD, we often end up in Depression, or struggling with Anxiety. Doctor’s call it a ‘Secondary Disorder.’ Depression is far easier to diagnose that ADHD, so that’s often as far as it goes. The person goes on an Anti-Depressant, when the real problem is unrecognized ADHD.
4 – I’m Not Like Those ADHD Kids
THE BELIEF: “First of all, ADHD is a boy thing. And those kids are hyper. Trust me, I wasn’t bouncing off the classroom walls. Quite the opposite. I was quiet, never a problem for the teacher. The reason I barely passed was that I was lost in thought. Spaced out. Forgetful. The teachers all agreed I had potential, but as my Irish mom said, ’You were always off with the fairies.’”
The thing about the human brain is that it doesn’t come with an operating manual. But over the decades Doctors have created a kind of Repair Manual. It’s controversial. It’s always being revised. It’s hopelessly inadequate to describe what’s going on in the brain.
And it’s pretty useful in many ways.
It’s called the DSM, or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. The fifth edition, heavily revised, came out last year.
The DSM lists 18 Symptoms in children. It explains the subtypes of ADHD. Those who are predominantly Inattentive, struggling with focus, follow-through, procrastination, memory, losing things. And those who are also dealing with the Hyperactivity, the restlessness, and the Impulsivity, being driven by a motor.
Oh yes. It’s complex.
As many Doctors have told us, no one has all 18 of the symptoms of ADHD in equal amounts. To qualify as ADHD a child has to have 6 out of the 9 in each category. And they have to be impairing. In multiple-situations.
But then, by adulthood, should it still be 6 out of 9? That brings us to:
5 – Close But No Cigar
THE BELIEF: “I read a list of ADHD symptoms and sure, some rang a bell, but who isn’t forgetful and a bit jumpy nowadays? I was boisterous as a kid, but every class has a troublemaker. Plus, there are a bunch of the symptoms that didn’t apply to me at all. Sorry, no sale.”
By age 40 I had found ways to manage my undiagnosed ADHD. Mostly I avoided stuff where I struggled. After learning about ADHD, I could see that my coping strategies were really hit and miss. No wonder. Hard to hit a target you can’t see and don’t know is there. Recognizing that I can hyper-focus, but I’ll try to do 9 things at once, and don’t prioritize what’s important to do first, means I work with my coach when I’m overwhelmed to help sort out what’s crucial, what’s important to get to eventually, and what’s a ‘nice to have someday.’
Rather than my old, pre-diagnosis strategy, of trying to finish everything and working 7 days a week with little to show for it.
So basically, if something is causing you problems, well, it’s a problem.
And that’s an important distinction. As Dr. Steven Kurtz says in ADD& Loving It?! says, “No one is coming to see me because they have nothing better to do.” People are coming in complaining about being depressed, despairing, burnt out, angry, frustrated, and on the verge of divorce, bankruptcy, exhaustion, or even suicide.
And somehow sensing they are underachieving. (A big one for me.)
What shocked me was that when I started dealing with my ADHD–through Yoga and mindfulness, a stimulant medication, coaching, and ADHD-friendly tools–things changed. Sometimes rapidly.
The only challenge was remembering to do the yoga, use the calendar, and call my coach when I was stuck. It’s as if I would forget that I had ADHD and I’d be telling myself, “Just try harder. Focus on this. Pick one. Just do something…”
Ridiculous, I know. But then the hardest thing to change can be your beliefs.
(By the way, these 5 beliefs are taken from Chapter 1 of ADD Stole My Car Keys which I wrote with Dr. Umesh Jain. To discover all 155 of the beliefs, behaviors, challenges, and yes, the potential strengths of ADHD adults, the book is available in soft cover, or to download immediately.)