Talking About ADHD

Does Bad Behavior Make Me a Bad Person?

“None of my ADHD symptoms could excuse the fact that, at times, I could be flat-out obnoxious. Sometimes, I was genuinely angry or just wanted to be a dick for a normal reason — stubborn, grouchy, tired, pissed off, and mean — and wanted to take it out on someone who had upset me. And that’s not nice, but it’s normal.”

man's hand holding a DSLR camera in dim lighting
man's hand holding a DSLR camera in dim lighting

Before my ADHD diagnosis, I was working in Chile on an investigative journalism project and my photographer and I didn’t get along at all. While telling me (unsolicited, yet incessantly) why he disliked me, he also pointed out that I failed to pick up on social cues, said inappropriate things, and caused a load of offense, completely unwittingly — all traits he recognized as part of ADHD. He knew that people with ADHD could be “big characters” — often mistaken for selfish arses in work and personal relationships, and he suggested I get evaluated.

He knew about ADHD because he had it too — or so he told me.

During our stay, I heard him totally blow several meetings with prospective fashion clients, telling them to “calm down” and then casually using ADHD as his excuse. It blew my mind; people were refusing to work with him not because of his ADHD, but because he was talking like a jerk. I panicked that my suspected ADHD made me appear the same way all my life.

Upon return to the UK, I got a proper diagnosis. It was an emotional process that I came to terms with over many months. Finally, there was a reason explaining why — no matter how hard I worked and tried — I could not solve all of these little issues that popped up again and again. In the aftermath, I grew frustrated trying to figure out what was a real memory of detrimental life events, and what was a feeling around which I’d built a false memory.

Why did I get so worked up over some things and totally ignore others? Why was it often so easy for others to wind me up and tear me to shreds? When so many of the answers suddenly start raining down after decades of self-doubt and frustration, it’s overwhelming.

As I’ve mentioned before, I was diagnosed in the wake of the worst breakup of my life. It was a traumatic split for both of us compounded by my ADHD symptoms. In short, I didn’t listen properly, was in a lot of denial, and then I’d get skewered by emotional tangents or hyperfocus on off-hand comments that would then suck me down a depression hole while we were trying to work things out.

[Could You Have Symptoms of Adult ADHD? Take This Test To Find Out]

But none of my ADHD symptoms could excuse the fact that, at times, I could be flat-out obnoxious, or just plain wrong. Sometimes, I was genuinely angry and wanted to be a dick — stubborn, grouchy, tired, pissed off, and mean — and wanted to take it out on someone who had upset me. And that’s not nice, but it’s normal for everyone.

I decided that I never wanted to use my ADHD as an excuse for my poor behavior. For example, sometimes I blurt out deeply inappropriate things when I feel socially anxious, but I did not want to become that photographer who sought neither treatment nor a way to change and improve himself. I wanted to define and differentiate, for myself and for others, ADHD behaviors versus me just being in a bad mood or losing my patience or temper.

This is not about self-blame. I know I’m wired differently. Some of my behaviors make me funny; some make me intimidating or obnoxious and on rare occasions, scary — and a lot of that’s OK because I understand why these behaviors happen and I can normally talk to those whom I’ve accidentally offended. I can try to do the right thing in future. I can learn and grow and hopefully won’t lose a potential friend. I’m going to struggle sometimes as much as my dyslexic friends will struggle with writing, especially when I’m at the end of my tether. But as long as I always try, setbacks and slip-ups are usually OK.

What’s not OK is letting my ego and pride override the science. What’s not OK is using ADHD as an excuse.

[Download: How Do You Know You Have ADHD? Look For These Signs]

Blurting things out, not thinking before I speak, acting on impulse, jumping to conclusions, butting into conversations, missing the obvious, riding an emotion like it’s a rocket and exploding sometimes — this is ADHD. It’s annoying. It’ll get you in trouble, it could even cause harm and mess up your life, but it’s not always entirely your fault.

However, the decision you make around improving and recognizing the difference is on you. It’s your responsibility to dust yourself off from the fallout, recognize your mistakes, and try again. That won’t always lead to forgiveness because that’s on the other party once you’ve done all you can; you can’t control their reactions to you. It will, however, set you apart because few jerks ever put in as much work as people with ADHD do to recognize and fight the times they let themselves and the people around them down.

ADHD Excuse: Next Steps


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Updated on February 9, 2021

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