Column: Adventures with Abby — ADHD awareness month has passed but ADHD awareness is still necessary
Have you ever looked at someone and wondered how
their mind works?
I do — all the time.
Especially when someone can sit down, dig into whatever they need to get done, and just do it. When someone tells me they wrote a 10-page paper in one night, I can practically feel the comic-book question marks popping up over my head.
I can barely write a five-page paper in one sitting.
The thing is, I have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder), which seems to come as a surprise to most people. They’ll often say something along the lines of “Really? I never would have guessed. You seem so normal, and you do such good work.”
Whenever someone says that something inside me wilts.
The first issue with that statement is the use of the word “normal.” What in the world does that mean? I don’t think I have ever been normal and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be. It sounds horribly boring.
Second, while it is absolutely true that I generally do good work, it comes at too great a cost to be taken for granted.
I’m not trying to start a pity party or make excuses for anyone with ADHD, but most people have no idea what ADHD actually is, meaning misperceptions about the disorder abound.
You see, ADHD people don’t really have an attention deficit.
“Those with the condition don’t have a shortage of attention,” expert William Dodson writes for ADDitude Magazine. “They pay too much attention to everything.”
Essentially, people with ADHD pay equal attention to everything that is going on around them all the time.
Here’s a good way to picture it: Imagine all of the different verses and choruses of “Bohemian Rhapsody” playing at the same volume at the exact same time. You would hear a jumbled mess. You might recognize a line here or there, but it would quickly get lost in the jumble of sound.
Now, imagine that while all the parts are playing at the same time someone asks you to listen closely to specific verse — let’s say the one that begins “So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye?” You try as hard as you possibly can, but a hundred other lines keep clamoring in your ears too.
You would be exhausted and probably really frustrated trying to pick out one line.
That, at least for me, is exactly how ADHD feels.
Please don’t misunderstand me — ADHD is not always a bad thing. In fact, I consider it more of a blessing than a curse. I think of it as my superpower.
Have you ever noticed the hum of electricity in a room filled with noise? I have. If there is any small change in my environment, I can feel it. On a beautiful day I can hear the birds chirp, feel the sun beat on my skin and process a conversation with my friend all at the same level.
I can enjoy the beauty of everything God has put around me in a much fuller sense than most people.
However, this superpower often causes conflict with those whose brains don’t work the same way .
For example, according to the ADDitude article, typical motivators don’t work with ADHD people. Most of us live in the moment, and the promise of a future reward or the threat of future defeat means little compared to what we think it would be good to do now.
This is called executive dysfunction and it makes making any sort of decision or resolution—let alone a good decision or resolution — rather difficult.
According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, people with ADHD are also much more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression.
Having anxiety and depression on top of ADHD is kind of like taking the engine out of a car that already has flat tires. Receiving input from all directions aggravates anxiety and vice versa. When you already lack the motivation to get anything done, depression doesn’t exactly help.
Basically, a person with ADHD has to work twice or three times as hard as a neurotypical person to achieve the same results. So if a person with ADHD is succeeding, it means that they are a fighter, not that they don’t have anything wrong with them.
Again, I’m not asking for pity. I’m simply asking that when your ADHD classmate gets accommodations from ODAS, you don’t begrudge them getting extended time to take a test. I’m asking that when your ADHD roommate looks like they’ve been fighting a battle with their mind all day, you do something to help them relax instead of hosting a loud
In short, learn how to love the ADHD people in your life well.