You’ve always known you were different. Even in childhood. Ah, but why? Why does life seem so challenging?
Maybe you’re just a dreamer, or restless, or impulsive? Maybe you’re creative or sensitive?
Until you get a reliable ADHD diagnosis, there is no shortage of other explanations for “What is wrong with me?”. And that’s a shame, because as Dr. Edward Hallowell says in ADD & Loving It?!, “Undiagnosed and untreated, ADHD can ruin your life… That said… No other diagnosis comes with as much potential upside. This is a good news diagnosis.”
So why do people insist they couldn’t possibly have ADHD? Here are some of the most common beliefs that prevent people from finding out the truth.
1. I’m Just Different
THE BELIEF: “I’m weird, I don’t think like everyone else, I see things others miss and yet miss stuff they all seem to see. I just don’t fit in anywhere. I didn’t fit into my classroom, I don’t fit into my family, I don’t fit in at my job. And to be honest, part of me doesn’t want to fit in.”
I sometimes felt like I was born into the wrong universe; an 8-Track player in a Blu-ray world. But the square peg learns how to become rounded when they need to, and how to make their world more square. And that shapes our sense of who we are.
The cost? The sense of being different left me feeling sad and lonely rather than special. Convinced I was weird, unreliable, and weak-willed, I tried to work around my weaknesses, but never noticed how much the impairments were costing me. Now I can see how shut down I was. Scary.
2. I’m Fine! It’s Everyone Else.
THE BELIEF: “I look around and I think, what are people thinking? Most of them seem to be shallow and short-sighted. A bunch of dunderheads. Can’t they see what’s important? Can’t they see what I see? I’m fine! It’s everyone else! How come no one appreciates my point of view?”
Most people are not very good at self-observation. But we think we are. Which proves how bad we are at self-observation.
I didn’t appreciate how much I dominated conversations until someone videotaped me. Try it; ask someone to videotape you. Yes, it can be mortifying, but better you should know.
I watched myself and thought, “Wow, I am not listening. I just keep talking. And darn, I am really good looking!”
Which probably proves how poor I am at self-observation.
3. The Whole World Is Frustrating!
THE BELIEF: “I find so many things frustrating! I don’t understand. Is it just me? Are there unspoken rules that everyone else seems to know? Why won’t someone tell me what they are?”
ADHD coach and author, Linda Roggli, told me that she felt like there was a secret that everyone else knew, and she didn’t. And so life was just harder for her.
But maybe everyone feels like life is a game and they are the only one who doesn’t know the rules? Because surely there are rules. The modern world thrives on rules.
But who made up all these rules? Certainly not those of us with ADHD.
Modern life requires people to fit in. There are due dates, appointment times and submission deadlines. People are told, “That’s how it’s done.” Ironically, without input from people with ADHD, that is probably how things would always be done.
But here’s the thing: When we understand and master our impairing symptoms we can be the most creative people around. If you develop control over those “Hyperactive, Impulsive and Inattentive” symptoms they can be transformed into “Energetic, Spontaneous and Imaginative”. Frustration be damned! Yee hiiii!
4. I’m Reasonably Successful, Everyone Screws Up
THE BELIEF: “How can someone in my position have done so many stupid things? I have been reasonably successful at work but with my home life and finances… I keep blowing it! Again. And Again. Why?!”
We can usually point to some areas of success in our lives, and that provides cover. Nothing to see here! But again and again, I proved to be my own worst enemy. A Drama King. My mood tanked every time I screwed up. Then I’d have to rally myself to recover. And if someone else pointed out a mistake, I was totally defensive. Because what I believed, underneath it all, was “I am a screw up.”
When I understood ADHD was not a character flaw, I could challenge that internal voice that was convinced that, “If I can do X, I sure as hell should be able to do Y!”. Now when things get difficult, I remind myself, “It’s okay. Relax…I’m fine. I’m good. In fact, I’m more than good! I’m great.” (Okay, I may be overcompensating.)
5. It’s Just How I Was Raised. Everyone in My Family is Like This.
THE BELIEF: “I’m Jamaican. (Or Italian, French, Russian, Jewish, Texan, Irish, a New Yorker, etc. etc.) We are very expressive people! We are not all ADHD. You can’t condemn an entire culture.”
Culture is one thing. ADHD is another. While different countries report different rates, ADHD is everywhere. And it was out there long before the internet or video games or Red Food Dye #2.
ADHD isn’t tied to ethnicity, but it does run in families. The most widely quoted studies suggest it’s roughly 80% genetic. When my son was tested in Grade 7, I demanded to see the quizzes that are part of an assessment. As a responsible parent, which I am on occasion, I read each test carefully. I realized I have more of these symptoms than my son! Then I thought about my father… and his father. Oh, wow! If only they’d known!
I was lucky, I had finally scored high on some tests — and those tests explained why I never scored high on tests!
6. I’m an Underachiever. Is That a Disease?
THE BELIEF: “I have potential. I know it. Every teacher said so. I can sense it! I just can’t ever seem to achieve it.”
Could have. Should have. If only… Oh, man. That was my life. Overwhelming problems. Never achieving what I felt I could. And the successes felt fleeting. Like they didn’t matter. Like I was always starting from scratch.
Everyday life seemed to emphasize my weaknesses. All I could see were my failures and what I had done wrong; there was no sense of accomplishment, despite, for example, having written and performed 500 episodes of television.
Sure, it’s possible to underachieve and not have ADHD. But that doesn’t change the fact that undiagnosed ADHD is a recipe for exhaustion and depression. People fear this diagnosis, but I say, “Knowing can save your life. And give you access to achieve what you want.”
7. I Used to Have ADHD, Now I Don’t
THE BELIEF: “Yes, I was diagnosed with ADHD in Grade 7. I was even on medication. I forget which one. But our doctor assured my mom this was a childhood thing. And I pretty well grew out of it.”
By adulthood I could control my restlessness and sit through a meeting, appearing as if I was listening. But mentally, I’d be imagining a SWAT Team crashing through the windows, guns blazing… Or whatever.
Again, the scientific research varies, but about 60 to 70% of ADHD children were found to be still struggling with the same issues in adulthood. So much for the long-held belief that, “This is a childhood thing. She’ll grow out of it.”
ADHD celebrities such as billionaire Richard Branson, Olympic Medalist Michael Phelps, and TV host Ty Pennington did not succeed by changing who they are, but by figuring out how to minimize their struggles and maximize what they love doing.
Even I have learned how to focus and be present during meetings. (But if a SWAT Team attacks, I’m ready.) Once I had a proper diagnosis, I managed my restlessness with far less effort.
These are just some of the many reasons people with ADHD believe, I couldn’t possibly have ADHD! Hopefully you’re beginning to see the costs, as well as the big upside, for getting a proper diagnoses…
Deep down, some of us suspect, “I might have a touch of that” because there’s a struggle with one or more of: Attention, Focus, Organization, Prioritization, Restlessness, Emotions, Sensitivity, Distractibility, Procrastination, and Impulsivity. But many don’t take the idea that they could have ADHD seriously, for all the reasons you can imagine. As I said earlier, that’s a shame because there’s so much that can be done, beginning with just knowing what’s going on.
(This blog is based on Chapter 1 of my book with Dr. Umesh Jain, ADD Stole My Car Keys )
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