Being ADHD vs. Having ADHD

Having ADHDBy Rick Green

Some say, “I have ADD.”

Some say, “I am ADD.”

How do you express it?  Do you tend to say you have ADHD/ADD or do you tend to say, “I am so ADHD.”

Perhaps even, “I am totally ADD!”

It may seem like a subtle distinction. But I quickly learned that it’s a hot button for some people who have ADHD.   Especially parents! And parenting a child with ADHD is already a challenge.  Clearly this distinction is important.

So, while everyone is talking about resolutions and new habits for the new year, I want to step back a bit and look at terms like ‘treatment’ and ‘progress’ from a bigger context.  A more strategic view.  Perhaps one that you’ve never considered.  It’s one I had overlooked until I was confronted (or corrected) by others who had obviously given it a lot of thought.

One doctor pointed out that during presentations or workshops about ADHD I tend to use “Have” and “Are” somewhat interchangeably.

“Those of us who are ADHD… If you have ADHD… I’m very ADD when…”

Doctors NEVER use “Are” It’s “Have.” As in, “You have ADHD.”

And It’s Not Just Doctors

To many people, the sentence, “I am ADHD,” comes across as a jail sentence.

Several times this last year after my talk or workshop people came up to talk with me about this.  Or talk to me.  Some were quite upset or determined to make sure I understood that what I was saying was wrong.  They’d explain, “ADHD is not who you are!  We have to stop saying that.  It’s something you have!  After all, you don’t go around saying, ‘I am cancer,’ you say, ‘I have cancer!’ Or, “I am high-blood pressure’’, but rather, “I have high blood pressure.”

Several times I was dressed down by people on the verge of tears.

At first I felt quite embarrassed.  Clearly I’d said something politically incorrect. And those of us with this mindset can often be very sensitive, overly sensitive, especially around emotions.

I apologized profusely.

I’ve tried hard to correct myself, but now and then I mess up, and blurt out that, “…big, complex tasks can be daunting if you’re ADD.”

But ADHD Is Not An Illness

As a parent I understand why people are upset and what the underlying concern is.  Really and truly.

But cancer or high blood pressure differ from ADHD in fundamental ways.   Having cancer is not your normal state, nor has it been that way since you were born.  Cancer is a disease, an illness.  It’s an abnormal state.  You’re not born with cancer.  (And yes, nit-pickers, I know, everyone does have cancer cells in them.  Even the healthiest of us, but you know what I mean.)

Whereas ADHD?

Well, the research shows this is heavily genetic.

I was born with this mindset.  This is my normal.  It’s not something I ‘caught’ or ‘came down with’ or can take a pill to cure.  At best a pill helps manage it and give me access to what everyone else calls ‘normal.’

(And yes, things like Mindfulness appear to actually change the brain and rewrite it. And yes, a Holistic or multi-modal approach greatly reduces the symptoms.

Do I have it? Or Does It Have Me?

So while I’m happy to say, “I have ADHD. I am NOT my diagnosis,” in my heart, it’s not so clear.  Is ADHD something I have, or something I am?

As well, ADHD is genetic.  At least in my case.  Yes, I know, some people develop ADHD from a head injury or other external cause, such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, or a concussion during their life.  In fact, the first kids who displayed ‘ADHD impairments’ and were treated with stimulant medication, way back in 1937, had brain ‘damage’ from an epidemic of encephalitis.

But for those of us who have it in our family tree, where there’s clearly a strong genetic element, it’s all we know.

It is our normal. Right?

It’s My Normal – Isn’t it Everyone’s?

No wonder it is so under diagnosed.  So few of us think anything’s wrong with us. “I’ve always been like this.”   We have nothing else to compare it to.  It’s our normal.  It’s familiar. Everyday the world appears… noisy, overwhelming, too much, a whirlwind… or boring, mind numbing, and exhausting.

Until we are lucky enough to find a medication that works.  Because when it works the change can be dramatic. (Though finding the right dose of the right one takes time.)

I don’t want to dis-empower anyone.  Or have them feel doomed, trapped or helpless.  This is not a jail sentence.  However, at this point in my life I’m comfortable saying “I am ADHD.”

Mind you, I was also willing to go on national television and say I had ADHD, whereas most people are terrified of letting anyone even suspect they might  have ADHD or ADD.

I’m okay saying I have ADHD or I am ADHD.

But I get, when we’re talking to people who completely misunderstand this disorder, which still seems to be a majority of the population, it’s a distinction worth making.

“On The Spectrum.”

Just as a tall person says, “I am tall.”  Or they might explain, “I have tallness.”

But probably not say, “In terms of height, I am at the extreme end of the spectrum, in the top 4% of the population, which includes everyone 6’5” and taller. And I adjust my life accordingly.”

Personally, I am not tall.

I’m in the middle of the height spectrum; average on that particular bell curve.

But in terms of Impulsivity, Restlessness and Uneven Attention… I’m 6’9”!

Or, as I joke, “On a good day, I have ADHD. And on a bad day, it has ME!”

What about you? How do you describe yourself? Or your loved one?

Do you have ADHD/ADD?

Or are you ADHD/ADD?

And does it matter to you? And why?

 

 

40 Replies to “Being ADHD vs. Having ADHD”

  1. When you consider that a lot of scientists believe that ADHD, Asperger’s, and Autism are on the same spectrum, it’s odd that people say, “I HAVE Aspergers” (never “I AM Aspergers”), but can say either “I HAVE Autism” or “I AM autistic”. As for ADHD, “I HAVE ADHD” sounds grammatically correct, while “I AM ADHD” doesn’t.

  2. On a more serious note, people say, “I am a genius.” Not, “I have geniusness.” I think I used “I have ADHD” much more often when it was something I was trying to eliminate, rather than just manage and work with and even exploit.

  3. I think it’s more of having a disorder/disability than being a disorder/disability. I do agree in saying that I am ADH Disabled though. So, in regards to whether it’s have or am, it would depend on how the person/people being talked to would comprehend the last word of the four letters…

  4. The photo is very cool =-)

    I guess I just don’t like seeing it as a disability at all. It’s just the way I am, and I think I wouldn’t be as creative, compassionate, or inspired without being this way.

    I also wouldn’t be as disorganized… or late!

  5. Never really though about it…to quote a famous person
    ‘I yam what I yam’ and whether there’s initials after my name..
    (genetic) ADHD or earned (MD) I still
    ‘yam what I yam’ and am very happy for it

  6. Everyone is different..no one is perfect..and I don’t agonize about what I can’t do as well as others and don’t agonize over their shorcomings either.
    I guess the label of ADHD doesn’t seem to be a big deal for me either way you want to put it.

  7. This is something that has been bugging me lately, do I have ADHD or does it have me? I am ADHD expresses it in a much better way. Thanks for clearing this up Rick!

  8. I interchange them, too. First of all, I have ADD, so I’m not going to be hyper-aware of which word I’m using (am vs. have). Second of all, if I’m the person suffering from the condition, I get to call it whatever the hell I want, so nosy busy bodies who like to correct me can go point that nose elsewhere, please.

    I agree with the points you make, there is a difference. It is a part of who I am. Because I was born with this, it has significantly impacted my personality. However, some of the ways it has impacted my personality have been quite good. Therefore, I am very proud to be ADD, not just have it.

    There are a couple of downsides to using the term “have.” It implies that at some point you may not have it. There is no cure, so using “have” can be misleading. you would also seem like you were ashamed of having it. By saying I AM ADD, you tell people that you have embraced the diagnosis and are no less of a person for being ADD.

    I see their point, but usually people who say things like that do not have the condition in question. Usually, they come from the medical side, or academia, and have only dealt with others who have it. They have never experienced it, and do not understand that the way one labels himself, is his choice, not theirs.

    Maybe in speaking engagements, you could use the term “have,” to less impact the blow to others, if indeed they feel it’s a jail sentence, but when you do, be aware that the alternative has down sides, as well.

    One of the things I liked about the documentary, Totally ADD and Loving It, was that the title made it okay to have ADD and offered hope. It’s what made me watch. So don’t worry so much about the words, and keep on doing what you are doing. THANK YOU, by the way 🙂

  9. I usually say ‘I am ADD or ADHD’. I can’t get rid of it so I have with me. I do have blue eyes and on occasion may be called the ‘blue eyed man’.I have blue eyes because that is part of my overall ‘person’ so in that regard I have ADD. I’m interested in what triggers these people who demand one or the other. Often people argue a point to to publicly ‘establish who they are’, informing others and reminding themselves. Some may be somewhat ashamed of being or having ADD so choose one term over the other or else they probably would not be demanding of others to follow their dialect. There’s always a goal. That’s why we ask; Why did the chicken cross the street? Cheers! jwl

  10. I say I have it rather than I am it, even if it feels functionally accurate to say I am ADHD.

    Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish betwen ADHD shapes my behavior and what makes me an individual apart from the ADHD symptoms.

  11. First bless this website! It helps others to get us now and brings us that are this way closer. You say patato I say were we talking about food. I have always been this way. At 50 only been on meds about 2yrs. I saw the movie about Temple Grandin. It rocked my world! I totally identified with her on every level except I am very touchy feely I feel connected 2 all peps I AM TOTALLY ADHD and proud of it! What u see is what u get. Im just as loving and passionate as I am loud and in ur face! Never boring. Hold on 2 something Tornadotrish is in the house ★★★★

  12. To me, saying, “I am ADD” is just like saying “I’m excitable, or distractable, or whatever.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with putting it that way. I think people are “splitting hairs” and probably missing the important part of your message while they hyperfocus on this one phrase. But I guess if enough people are distracted by it, it would probably better not to say it that way.

  13. This reminds me of a response I’ve gotten after I’ve described my ADD traits: “isn’t that just your personality?” So yeah, I guess my ADD defines me for at least somebody out there!

  14. “I’m half man, half bear, half ADD. Thank you Rick Green, you’re super awesome!”

    When I was getting used to the idea, after being diagnosed, I rediscovered myself by looking at myself ‘being ADD’,
    When that was behind me, and my medication was taken care of, I needed to work through bad habits, that I developed as a result of.., and I found it useful using the ‘having ADD’ mask, for that task.

    So in a nutshell
    I’m ADD and my behavior is heavily influenced by having ADD. *grin*
    (wellyouknowwhatimean)

  15. PS
    I am the one and only Robbo on the planet. For that I am grateful. Only because of the folks here have I discovered just who the heck “Robbo” is. I think I’m gonna be able live inside his skin and even be happy, content and ADHD…. make sense?

    now playiing :Opinion (Solo Acoustic Radio Appearance) Nirvana Sliver: The Best Of The Box
    It’s late, got ta rest gangta’s….

  16. I think both are true. By my age (56), it’s certainlly part of my personality. But it’s something I have as well. I’m fairly newly diagnosed–within the past year–and have taken medication for it for the first time. Meds really make a difference in terms of helping me be more organized, finishing tasks, and generally getting more accomplished–especially those tasks that are boring and I detest (like paying bills, doing housework, etc.) But I also note that meds do not diminish my abilities to multifunction, think quickly and creatively, and hyperfocus, to nane a few. So what I’m saying is meds can treat the ADHD I have but don’t do anything for the many ways I am ADHD.

  17. Why the f**k does it matter how we say it and why are we offending other people that have it by saying this? Say it however you want to say it. I am ADHD because it’s a part of me that’s never going away. I have ADHD because I was born this way….deal with it.

  18. I answer this question a lot on Actually ADHD (Tumblr blog), and what I always say is that it’s up to you. Whatever you’re comfortable with is what you should say. I also talk about how in writing I ALWAYS talk about “people who have ADHD” but in speech I will say that “I’m ADD.” (To be clear, I was diagnosed with severe ADHD-Combined Type in 2005, at the age of 28.) I’m clear about believing that ADHD is a disability (because I am one of many people who are disabled by their ADHD) and that it’s okay for other people to NOT feel that it disables them, but that it’s NOT okay for them to say it’s NEVER a disability. (I have attempted to explain this to Ned Hallowell more than once, and he just doesn’t get it.)

    I think that there is not really any one “right way” to approach your ADHD. Everyone is different, and we all need something different to get us through the day. Some of us need to accept it as a part of our identity and develop methods to work with and around it to achieve success. Some people need to consider ADHD as being separate from their identity so that they can “fight” it.

    The other thing I promote is that we don’t need to pursue success on the world’s terms. We can decide what we want success to look like for us. We can decide how we are going to achieve that success. Sometimes our path to that success will look really different from the path a non-ADHDer would take, and that’s totally okay. Sometimes what we consider success is going to be something that the world thinks is substandard, or even failure. But if you consider it success, the rest doesn’t matter.

  19. I have and am affected by ADHD. “I” have and am affected by ADHD.
    ADHD has always been a contributing part to how I view the world and how I view myself, though there has always been a “constant me” from the moment of my first memories.

    Peoples responses to, how they viewed how I acted, how I thought, and how I was feeling created the need for the term ADHD. There seems to be a need to describe others as different from themselves.

    It’s important to understand differences, from different perspectives. There are often times I look at ADHD as a Culture (some use the term tribe). Much of who I am is the result of the environment I have grown up in and currently live in.
    How my brain operates is part of that environment.
    People with ADHD are different. But their thoughts, desires, ideas, and understanding should be understood, acknowledged, and accepted, without using the perceived negative aspects of ADHD that “offend” but don’t substantially change anything, to discredit people as less of a human being.
    It’s a disability, it’s a handicap, it’s a gift, it’s a difference, that can be and is discriminated against.
    It can be treated, but does not always need to be treated. It does need to be better understood, both by those who are affected by it, and often, more importantly, by those who’s lives will have impacts on those who have it.

    Executive Function is the pilot. The “I” involved can be part of the ride, the turns, the drops, the loop de loops, the exits, the entrances, and other passengers. (thanks G..P)

    A plane can run on auto pilot, but some landings, take offs and weather require actions from those that do not fit “molds” or “factory settings”.
    Regardless, flying on auto pilot for extended periods of time, with no immediate goal (landing) in sight, will always become boring. This is especially true for those “with”, “having”, or dealing with ADHD, inattentive, hyper or not.
    Eventually the plane will land, crash or burn, or who knows what ADHD possibilities exist. It has to be understood that many who deal, often unknowingly, with ADHD need tools and/or assistance from within or from others, with things that others just take for granted. And there are those with ADHD who could say the same about others, in special areas.

  20. First, there is no getting around the point that “ADHD” stands for “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity DISORDER.” To even use the term “ADHD” is to characterize what we have as a disorder, and the distinction between a condition and a disorder is not an especially helpful one. So I’m afraid that saying “I am ADHD” offers no solution to the problem Rick describes.

    The expression, “I am ADHD” has always made me want to put my fist through the nearest wall, and I’m very interested to finally encounter a rational explanation for why some of us use it. But if a woman is attractive, she is beautiful. She is not beauty. Nouns and adjectives are two different things.”Tall” is an always an adjective. “I am tall” means “I am characterized by above-average height.” There is a noun that goes with that adjective: “tallness.” But nobody says “I am tallness.” So whether “I am ADHD” even makes grammatical sense depends on whether ADHD is a noun or an adjective, which is the real question here. I humbly suggest that “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder,” for which “ADHD” is nothing more than an acronym, is always, invariably, and without qualification, a noun, and when misused as an adjective is bound to create confusion and precisely the sort of issue Rick raises.

    What is needed (in addition to an alternative to the very term “ADHD” which does not automatically label it as something Rick and others argue that it should not necessarily be seen as being) is an adjective to go along with that noun the same way that “tallness” goes with “tall.” or “beautiful” goes with “beauty.” A Facebook group to which I belong has wholeheartedly embraced “shininess” as the noun and “shiny” as the adjective in a kind of “in-your-face” adoption of the “Ooo, look- something shiny!” meme. Ok, it’s not the greatest solution. But maybe the magazine could be a forum for trying to find a better one.

    Americans and Canadians (especially in this day and age) tend to be grammatically sloppy, and even defend our sloppiness with the lame and lazy excuse that language, after all, evolves with common use. Of course, it does. But in the meantime, sloppy use of nouns as adjectives only creates confusion, and I think that’s what has happened here.

  21. ADD has been my normal for 40+ years. Diagnosed 6 years ago, so I was relieved I wasn’t actually crazy. Or a loser. Or a flake. Or a number of other horrible labels I’d attached to myself over the years ( and sometimes still do). When the first doctor who initially tested me for ADD told me I “had” it, I believed it was an external curse, and didn’t have to define me. Until it does. Oh well, I do know I’m only human.

  22. Hi folks,
    While I admire and respect everyone’s input on whether we should be saying “I have ADHD/ADD” or “I am ADHD/ADD”, I want to point out that there really IS, in fact, a correct and incorrect way to say this. It is not a matter of context. It is not a matter of opinion or preference even, so I won’t even weigh-in on the way I prefer to hear it said, I’ll stick to the facts. And when I point out which is the correct way to say it and why, I’m sure many of you will likely think, “Oh yeah, duh. That makes sense. I knew that.” For those of you who said it just seems grammatically incorrect to say “I am ADHD”, you are right and you came very close to seeing the answer.
    The key here IS indeed grammar, and it’s very simple. ADHD is a noun (technically an acronym of a noun), and likewise, ADD is also a noun. In actuality, they are both mental disorders (let’s not forget, the final “D” in both acronyms stands for “disorder”). Regardless of whether you want to argue that they actually are or are not diseases, disorders, syndromes, maladies or whatever else, they are nonetheless nouns, i.e. things… things that a person may or may not have. Even if it is one’s normal and natural state, ADHD/ADD is still not normal in the general population as a whole. As a thing, a noun, a person can have it, but not be it. Hemophilia is a noun. Down Syndrome is a noun. Both are also mostly inherited, genetic disorders that people are born with, just like ADHD/ADD. Neither is curable, by the way, just like ADHD/ADD. One can HAVE hemophilia or Down Syndrome. One cannot BE hemophilia or Down Syndrome. One can be a person who suffers from hemophilia or Down Syndrome.
    I understand that many people are uncomfortable with calling ADHD/ADD an illness or a disease, as it seems like one is doomed to always have it and that might seem depressing. Well folks, like it or not, that is the reality. Hemophiliacs and those with Down Syndrome probably aren’t crazy about the way those sound either, but let’s face the facts, they never go away and therefore will always be something those people will need to face and deal with for the rest of their lifetime… just like ADHD and ADD. But so what? We all know there are many ways those with these disorders can improve the quality of their lives every day. That’s why we’re all on this website. So I really don’t see it as something that needs to evoke doom, gloom or defeatism. On the contrary, acknowledging the true situation and being realistic is the way to move forward with certainty.
    Back to grammar… to say “I am ADHD” is to use the word (the acronym) as an adjective, which it simply is not, ever. “Tall” is an adjective. “Sexy” is an adjective. “Blue” is an adjective. “ADHD” is a noun. “ADD” is a noun. One can be tall, one can be sexy, one might even be blue, but one is never ADHD or ADD. As others have pointed out, many of us became accustomed to using the acronyms as adjectives describing, for example, a state of being distractible, or excitable, or whatever, but these words/acronyms are simply not descriptions (adjectives), again, they are things (nouns).
    So I hope that is clear enough for everybody’s satisfaction and that we’ve settled the issue definitively. There truly is a right and wrong way to talk about these conditions (and the doctors have been saying it correctly all along). Just remember, it’s simply a case of nouns vs. adjectives. 🙂 Cheers!

  23. I guess it depends on how you feel about ADD and about yourself. I am good with either, I probably use both equally in conversation. In my mind though, ADD is just part of who I am. I wasn’t sad or upset when I determined that I had ADD. To start, I had been suspecting that I was for a while, considering the high level of hyper-focus that I possess (it’s my super power 😀 ) So when I found out I was pretty relieved, and very interested in the many areas of a persons life that it affects, because it explained so much. Personally, I love my personality, my life, my short-comings and strengths, and ADD is a big part of that whole. I don’t look at it as a disorder, or being abnormal, or less than other people. I recognized from a very young age that I wasn’t the same as other people, and although it caused me a lot of distress when I was young, I came to embrace it as I got older. Having this alternate brain set-up has brought so much richness, adventure, and opportunity to my life. And yes, there are inconveniences. I get lost going in a straight line. Sometimes I wander in circles in the house because I can’t kick-start my focus to get anything done. But you show me anyone in this world that doesn’t have challenges, ADD or not. For me, the benefits that come with being wired ADD far outweigh any disadvantages, and I wear that badge loud and proud 🙂

  24. I find that either way, when we say “I am ADHD” or “I have ADHD”, we carry the load of ALL THE POSSIBLE SYMPTOMS related to the disorder.

    What I find works best for me is focusing on the sypmtoms related to my ADHD. For example “I am not often restless” but “I am a forgetful”. When I focus on those symptoms that show up most in my life it becomes easier to manage. I can even get support from people around me without having to reveal my ADHD; I can say things like “You know I always these meetings, can you send me a note the day before to make sure I don’t forget?” and usually people will agree.

    Having or being ADHD does not make any difference. It’s like being tall, black or gay – in itself it only defines one dimension of what makes us unique. What makes ADHD different however are the symptoms that the condition brings and that get on the nerves of the people around us.

  25. Some great comments. I love the distinction between noun and adjective, as explained by ColdCold and Uisgeachan. It makes total sense and I’d never heard it explained that way. Or maybe I have heard it a dozen times and I forget. (Hmm…)

    Thanks for that input. And some great comments here.

    Two other quotes I came up with (I think) are about the difference the diagnosis made:
    “Today, I can say I have ADHD. For most of my life, I can see that it had me.”

    The other:
    “I used to suffer from ADHD. Now, I just have it.”

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