I have a brain difference, and I’m not ashamed. I’d rather be known for what I actually am — as the woman with ADHD, fidget spinner and all — than as the dumb blonde of my childhood.
finally got sick of the stares. I got sick of the eyerolls. I got sick of the sighs, the glances, the shouldn’t-she-know-better looks. I had long ago accepted them as part of my life as an adult with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD). My mind doesn’t work the way that regular people’s do. I’m too busy thinking to remember my kid’s backpack. If my phone whirs, I’m too easily sucked in to have a conversation. Don’t bother telling me your name, or your kids’ names, or their ages, or where you live, because I will forget as soon as you walk away. I talk too loud. I forget appointments unless they are written down in my planner and triple-checked the day before.
Living with My ADHD
This is OK. It causes some hiccups in life, but I’ve learned to compensate. What I’ve never learned to deal with, though, from the time I was an undiagnosed kid, were other people’s reactions to my ADHD. They’re dismissive. Derisive. They think I’m stupid or, worse, incompetent. I can still hear the chorus of “Lizzie is a dumb blonde.” If you don’t know that I have adult ADHD, I look like a walking stereotype: a space cadet, an uncaring idiot, a phone-obsessed Millennial. ADHD means compensating for so many things.
If I had a visible disability, everyone would understand that I need some space, some slack, some grace. It’s hard for me to make friends, and when I do, my friends often joke about my problems. You’d never joke about a person with another kind of brain difference. But other issues have pretty ribbons. Instead of a bumper sticker, I have what looks like a kid’s disorder — something kids grow out of. They don’t know about adult ADHD. And, I realized, they don’t know that I have it.
So I decided to stop hiding it. ADHD is a disability, a brain difference — an invisible one. If I want the accommodations I need, I have to reach out and get them myself. When we send our kids to college, we tell them to be proactive in seeking out help. “They can’t help you if they don’t know you need it!” we say. I needed to take that advice myself.
So I didn’t hide it when I met my co-teacher in our homeschool co-op. I told her that I had ADHD, and it would be hard for me to remember the kids’ names. They would need name-tags for several weeks. I also said that she had to watch out for me hyperfocusing on art projects or the Play-Doh. She laughed. I told her that I wasn’t joking. She said she’d be glad to help.
Later, while hanging out with a friend, my phone pinged to announce a work email. I quickly set to typing. Then, because it’s so hard to put my phone down once I pick it up, I flipped over to Facebook. I love Facebook. Love it like a drug, like something mainlined. The flickering posts, the call and response that others call information overload — they relax me. I realized what I was doing and stopped. I set my phone down, difficult as it was. “I’m so sorry,” I said. “I fell into Facebook. My ADHD means that once I get onto my phone, it’s hard to put it down. I promise I’m not trying to be rude. It’s a brain difference thing.” She smiled and nodded. What could have become a resentful encounter became a chance for her to get to know me better.
“Stop!” I said to another friend, who was yammering away about my pet-sitting for her. “I don’t have my planner with me. I have to write this down in my planner, or I won’t remember.” She started to giggle. “One of those with the planners, huh?” she said. “I used to be like that.” I shook my head. “No,” I said. “I have ADHD. Without the planner, I don’t know where I have to be when. I don’t remember some things as well as regular people.” She nodded, suddenly understanding.
Then there’s the fidget spinner. Like many 10-year-old boys, I have a fidget spinner. However, unlike them, I use it for its original purpose: therapy. When I sit at the park and play with my spinner, I watch my kids and interact with them, instead of pulling out my phone or picking at my cuticles. It’s been a godsend for me. But I’ve caught other moms looking askance. One made a comment. “Borrowed that from your son, huh?” she snarked. “No,” I said. “I have ADHD. This helps me focus and keeps me from getting out my phone. You know, they were designed for people with anxiety and ADHD.” She was mortified that she’d joked about something that helps with my brain difference. “I’m so, so, so sorry,” she said.
“I Have a Brain Difference”
I have started telling people about my brain difference as soon as we’re introduced. “I have ADHD,” I say. “So it’s really, really hard for me to remember your name. I’ll ask you several times. Please don’t take it personally. It’s just the way my brain is wired.” I’ve found that when I state it plainly, people are glad to help me. I’m not asking for an excuse; I’m asking for help with something I have trouble doing on my own.
Telling everyone means I have more leeway to seem “different” as I compensate. I whip out my planner to write down information, and no one thinks it’s strange. When I forget to pack something vital for lunch — a trash bag, napkins — another mom steps in with a smile instead of an eyeroll and a comment about my forgetting something once again. I’m comfortable saying, “I’m sorry, I’m blanking on your name. Please remind me, and I’ll try my best to remember this time.”
My frankness trickles down to my kids. If I’m not ashamed of my brain difference, they won’t be ashamed of theirs. I can buy my seven-year-old a planner, and he uses it to write lists. Lists to check off before he leaves the house, lists to check off before he leaves his classroom. Other kids don’t have them, but he’s OK saying that it helps him work with his ADHD.
I got sick of hiding. I’d rather be known as the woman with ADHD than as the dumb blonde of my childhood. I started telling everyone and anyone, letting the secret out. If you need help, you have to speak up. If you don’t like the way people perceive you, give them a reason to see otherwise. I’ve even made a few friends this way. And those friends don’t make a peep when my fidget spinner comes out — even if their 10-year-olds swarm around me to compare toys.
BY ELIZABETH BROADBENT