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Is ADHD a Gift or a Curse?

By: Donae Cannon. OTR/L

This topic comes up from time to time in the online ADHD groups I belong to, and the results are predictable: debate that often dissolves into attacks. Like many discussions on complex topics, people tend to shift into the "us against them" mentality quickly. You might hear cries of "down with the toxic positivity!" and rebuttals of "Get over yourself, Eeyore!", but the one thing that you will rarely hear is the acknowledgement that living with ADHD can be a mixed bag (like most things in life).

It's not just us ADHDers. Human beings tend to like dichotomies. It saves us mental energy when something fits neatly into a little box of "good" or "bad". That being said, those with ADHD have some extra challenges in this area. Some executive functioning skills like cognitive flexibility (the ability to see things in more than one way) and metacognition (the ability to think about our thinking or the awareness of our own thoughts) can be deficit areas for many of us. We might be quick to make our assessments and slow to alter them. It's helpful to remind ourselves that most things in life don't fit neatly in a box-especially things as complicated as mental health.

If I had to pick between team "ADHD rocks" and team "ADHD sucks" what would I choose? My answer is that I would choose not to choose. Not because I'm afraid of offending (although as a people pleaser in rehab, that can pop up, too). It's more that I know it's a disservice to myself to try to deny my pain because I want to be positive or to downplay the positive because I want to be authentic. I do better if I let myself accept that I can hate and love aspects of life with ADHD.

I do value some of the differences that having a unique brain offers me- like seeing connections and opportunities that aren't always obvious to others. The fact that my brain is wired for novelty and intensity means that I enjoy change, creativity, and challenge and that's served me well. I wouldn't choose hardship, but the pain I've experienced due to ADHD has given me a level of compassion that I don't think I would have had if things had been easier for me.

The road to an ADHD diagnosis is paved with some amount of suffering for all of us. The truth is, people who are consistently meeting expectations don't typically schedule appointments with diagnosticians. In order to join team ADHD, there has to be a mis-fit between what we're able to produce and what our environment requires, and that's bound to create some hurt. That doesn't mean my life is all woes, but admitting that ADHD has been the source of some very painful "mis-fitting" in my life is as important to me as appreciating any positives.

Remember that most of us resist a paradox because it's just plain uncomfortable for us to hold two seemingly conflicting ideas in our heads at once. Our impulse to jam ADHD into a neat little box- no matter how we label the box- isn't likely to serve us in the long run. So if you happen to stumble across an ADHD rocks/sucks battle, it's ok if you decide to play for both teams- or even if you decide not to play at all.


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