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E28. Is ADHD My Superpower?

Welcome to ADHD Crash Course! Today we're going to talk about whether or not ADHD is a superpower. This ends up being kind of a polemic topic, people really feel strongly about classifying ADHD in this dichotomy model, like it's either a superpower or a disability. I'm going to share my opinion on that. I want to start by saying, I would not presume to tell anyone how to think about their brain, or how to feel about their brain!

This is not what I think is the right way to think about this. This is how I think about this, and about the language I choose to use. I want to start by saying that we have this tendency as humans, but especially as modern day humans, to push things in extreme categories. This is right or wrong, black or white. ADHD is amazing, or it sucks.

Most things in life are not all one thing or another. They're not all good. They're not all bad. Wonderful things come with drawbacks, really difficult things carry their own gifts. Life is a lot more nuanced than "five stars" versus "one star". This is just true for most things. I wasn't diagnosed with ADHD until well into adulthood, but the diagnosis of ADHD didn't feel like a huge label to me at that point.

It felt like an explanation. It wasn't lost on me that my brain was out of sync with what people expected, or what I expected. I had the general feeling like something was wrong with me, so when I was diagnosed with ADHD, it was a relief. "Oh, this is why this is this way for me, and this is what I can do about it". I will tell you, for me, I don't consider ADHD my superpower. The reality is that ADHD, especially unsupported ADHD, is correlated to a lot of very difficult functional impacts.

There's really not a functional area that it doesn't touch. People have more difficulties in relationships, a higher rate of divorce, more difficulties with substance abuse, more incidents of eating disorders, statistically underperforming professionally, other diagnoses like depression and anxiety, impacted self esteem, and even a shortened lifespan. This is what the statistics are showing us, and they are also showing us that supporting ADHD has profound impact.

There's actually a lot that we can do to support our brains to help offset some of those negative outcomes. It doesn't have to be that way, but not acknowledging that there's a really big impact here isn't really doing anyone any favors. You're not going to support what you don't recognize needs supporting.

If ADHD is only painted as a collection of strengths without really acknowledging the reality of how this impacts our lives, it ends up under-preparing people for how to work with their brains in the culture that we have. Notice how I said "in the culture", because I think that often is an argument about ADHD, that this is really a cultural construct, a capitalist consequence, etc. I'm not really going to address that, because to me, it's kind of a moot point. It's kind of a philosophical point.

I wouldn't disagree with it, and yet, cultural changes, systemic changes take a long time, and I want to figure out how to function and thrive now. I will definitely be a part of spreading awareness about ADHD, helping shift the dialogue around ADHD, but the point that the playing field would level in the wilderness does not help me with the practical reality of what I need to deal with today.

I'm often working with people who are early on in the process of learning that they have ADHD, what that means, and how to support their brains. They often have a lot of negative programming that they've collected over the years because they've had unsupported ADHD and they've interpreted that to mean all kinds of things.

They definitely have this negative programming that we want to work with, help people see differently, and put in a different context. To me, the answer to that is not "this is your superpower", because it's almost putting even more pressure on someone that "you will have ADHD and you will like it", or "you will have ADHD and this is the right way to have it."

I shy away from that language with my clients. If they're using it, then I follow their lead, but I shy away from that language because I think it puts this expectation that it all has to be roses. It implies that we have to put a positive spin on all of our suffering, and I don't agree with that. I think that suffering, to me, (in my opinion) is best met head on.

I didn't know I had ADHD until well into adulthood, but that didn't insulate me from the impact of ADHD. I didn't know that I had ADHD. I didn't know that ADHD impacted emotional regulation, but I knew I had a hard time regulating emotionally.

I didn't know that terminology. I just knew that I was "too sensitive", or that I should toughen up. Those were the kind of messages I got. Understanding that difficulties with emotional regulation is a part of ADHD put those into context for me.

I didn't know that I had ADHD, so I didn't know that I had executive functioning difficulties. What I did know was that following written directions was nearly impossible for me, that I couldn't stay organized and lost things, or that I would get hopelessly lost driving places because I couldn't maintain my attention. This was true even when I really wanted to maintain my attention.

When I learned more about ADHD brains and what was true for me, I was able to see that this was really common. This was a part of my brain type, and this is why this was difficult. Not calling them "weaknesses" did not mean I didn't feel their impact, I just interpreted it as my own failures.

Understanding this was part of my brain type helped me put it into context, helped me support it, helped me find ways to work with the brain I have. There are definitely things about my brain type that I enjoy, think are fun, and see as strengths. Like a lot of people with ADHD, I tend to be very creative. I tend to be curious. If I'm in a hyper focus mode, I can be insanely productive. Since my nervous system thrives on change and novelty, I tend to be adventurous and enjoy new things. Another strength that a lot of us share is resilience. You develop resilience when you are working with ADHD in a non-ADHD world.

One of my daughters is left handed, and if you look back in history, it wasn't that long ago that being a lefty was a real problem. The teachers, parents, and everyone else tried to train you out of that left hand dominance. It wasn't accepted as okay, that difference was really discriminated against. Now, that's no longer true, but we live in a right-handed world. We don't even think about the ways that things are awkward for lefties.

We're writing left to right, so when they're writing something, they're literally covering up and can't see what they're writing. So many things are designed for a right-handed person. I was reading an article that listed a bunch of the things, things that you would never consider if you're a righty, things like the flap on your jeans, the side that you swipe a credit card, the place the cupholders are, etc. Take scissors for example, the blades actually angle in a different way for left handed scissors versus right handed scissors, so you end up tearing the paper if you're a lefty using right handed scissors.

There's a lot of "mis-fits" sometimes in trying to operate in a world that's designed for right handed people. Sometimes being a lefty is an advantage because most people are righties. When she played tennis, if she was hitting to somebody on her strong side, (her left side) she'd be hitting to their weak side. A lot of times in sports, being a lefty can be an advantage because most people are right handed. I kind of see ADHD in a similar way.

There are definitely times that our differences can be strengths. There are definitely times that our differences can be a disadvantage depending on our environment. I think for me, it's important to recognize both of those things when I'm managing my life with ADHD. It's not all one thing.


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