How many times have you heard, “ADD/ADHD is just an excuse”? Skeptics see it as an excuse for bad behavior and problems at school and at work. Although you could use ADD/ADHD as an excuse, I prefer that you see it as an explanation -- one that allows you to take more responsibility and control over your symptoms. An excuse takes away your power; an explanation puts you at the helm, where you are managing adult ADD/ADHD to make a better life for yourself.
Using ADD/ADHD as an excuse has its upside: You get off the hook for having to do something you don’t want to do, but this reprieve comes at a high price. People will see you as less capable, and won’t expect much from you, so you lose opportunities. Using ADD/ADHD as an excuse requires others to accept it -- and not everyone will. Your utilities provider cares whether you pay your bills on time, not whether ADHD causes you to pay late.
Here are the benefits of taking control over ADD/ADHD:
It puts your symptoms into context. You know why you do certain things -- like procrastinating about filing your income taxes. If you don’t have ADD/ADHD as an explanation, what are you left with? Probably all those unflattering assumptions you made about yourself before getting diagnosed (“I’m just irresponsible”). So when you make an "ADD/ADHD mistake," chalk it up to your disorder -- not to character or selfishness.
It gives you more control over ADD/ADHD. Many people with ADD/ADHD feel out of control, that things just happen to them. Understanding the cause of your struggles prompts ways to do things differently. Instead of being the passive victim of your ADD/ADHD, actively acquire -- and apply -- coping strategies that work well, so you can turn your good intentions into actions.
It helps you find ways to cope with ADD/ADHD. The responsibility for change is on you, rather than expecting and relying on others’ forgiveness. Having ADD/ADHD as an explanation gives you more options. If you have trouble getting your bills paid on time, you probably won’t have much luck convincing your creditors to drop the late fees. However, if you accept the fact that you have trouble remembering, you can set up automatic bill-paying or ask someone to remind you.
It offers hope for a better outcome. Knowing that your ADD/ADHD makes certain situations difficult can help you plan for success. If you know you will forget to do things that you don’t write down, make a point of using a schedule and a to-do list. You may be tempted to skip writing it down -- hey, it’s OK to feel tempted -- but if you know that your memory isn’t reliable, resist that temptation and push yourself to jot a note.
It makes apologies easier. The goal is to be straightforward in how you deal with people -- like apologizing and asking someone to continue speaking after you have cut them off. By taking ownership of the situation and offering to fix it, you can make things better.
You’ll know that you’re seeing ADD/ADHD as an explanation when you actually do things that are required to be successful (at least most of the time). When you occasionally blow it, you can cut yourself some slack, and bounce back, like a prizefighter getting up from the canvas just before a 10-count.
Shift from Using Excuses to Having Control over ADD
More Resources to Help You Control ADD for Life
This article appears in the Summer 2010 issue of ADDitude.
To read this issue of ADDitude in full, buy the back issue.