What does ADHD mean to you? How would you describe how it feels to think in an ADHD way? When asked that question, responses provided are likely to vary. Some will focus on the benefits:
"It’s like I go faster than everyone else. I can get to the answer really quickly—I can’t explain how—and I can really feel, sometimes, that I’m the fastest and sharpest person in the room.”
“I think it makes me a really fun person. I am bubbly and personable, and that’s important to me. I don’t know if I would be as lively if I didn’t have my ADHD. People love that about me.”
Others focus on the drawbacks:
“It’s like I have six radios playing in my head, and they are all on different stations. I never know what to pay attention to.”
“I am always feeling scattered. I always feel behind.”
“I always feel I have to work harder than other people to achieve anything. Everything takes me longer.”
Here’s how one person describes the distractibility issue:
“ADHD is like this: Say a ‘normal’ person and an ADHD person each were piloting a boat from Seattle to Vancouver. The normal person would go straight from one city to the other, and get there faster. I, as the ADHD person, would still get to Vancouver, although not as fast. I would look around and see islands there, and go to different islands and who knows? I might find real treasure on the islands.“
Your words—how you describe ADHD to yourself—matter. If you are the person with ADHD, you will be at your best if you can frame ADHD in a positive light. We are all at our best when we believe in ourselves and view ourselves positively. If you are trying to focus on a task, you will focus better naturally if you believe that you can do the task—that you’ve got what it takes. If you are trying to help someone with ADHD, know that they will be at their best if they know they can count on you to believe in their good qualities.
You can describe ADHD in both positive and negative ways. You can describe a person as “hyperactive”—which has negative connotations, or “energetic”—that sounds a lot better. As we write this, we are trying to swallow enough caffeine to rise to the level of “energetic.” “Talkative,” can become “social.” “Rushing through tasks,” sounds worse than “quick” or “efficient.” “Doesn’t follow directions?” “Independent” is a more highly valued quality.
So how do you view your ADHD? What parts of it are helpful and valuable? What parts are giving you problems? Describing yourself negatively has some value—you need to honestly identify faults you would benefit from changing—but this is immensely more valuable when coupled with a plan to improve on those areas of concern.
Achievement leads to a building up of self-esteem. Repeated failures—where you often say “could have, should have, didn’t”—can contribute to depression. It’s hard as an adult to come to terms with a feeling that you are frequently underachieving, that you could do more—but that you keep on repeating the same self-defeating pattern of behavior.
One of the most problematic aspects of ADHD is that it can lead to a feeling of hopelessness that nothing will ever get better, and to an overall “what’s wrong with me” point of view. But there is a lot that is right about ADHD thinkers: be sure to use your own words to emphasize the positives.