“The Empowering Effect of No Longer Denying Your Limitations”
“The politically correct response to others pushing you to find more motivation within yourself? Express appreciation for their confidence and a plucky resolve to prove them right. But I’ve had ADHD all my life, and I understand my neurological stamina better than anyone. I know what I can and can’t do.”
“You have amazing potential.”
“If only you just applied yourself…”
“Don’t be afraid to try your hardest.”
If you have ADHD, chances are you’ve heard these criticisms-cloaked-as-encouragements or similar ones that suggest this: Those of us with ADHD just need to keep pushing ourselves to our “full potential;” we can do so much more if only we try.
The problem is, neurologically speaking, ADHD makes the very act of trying a huge hurdle. And when we can’t quite vault it, we end up with bruised self esteem on top of everything else.
To quote the abstract of an article published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry in 2011, “disruption of the dopamine reward pathway is associated with motivation deficits in ADHD adults, which may contribute to attention deficits.” In other words, a hiccup in the nervous system of a person born with ADHD results in difficulty paying attention, AND trouble getting motivated to OVERCOME this challenge.
Think about this for a second: Wouldn’t it be sufficiently sucky to have impaired attention OR motivation? Wouldn’t either be enough on its own to have a deleterious impact, in both the short term and the long run for someone who wants to live their best life? I think we can all agree the appropriate answer is, “Oh my God, yes.”
And neurotypical people don’t seem to realize just how VULNERABLE this lack of motivation can make you. Decades and decades after the birth of the American Dream, Western society continues to value a healthy work ethic above most other qualities.
So, it’s one thing to lack the motivation to clean the kitchen in the privacy of your own apartment; faltering in this way in public exposes you to the censure of your friends, family, colleagues, etc. It feels like literally everybody else in the world is giving you side-eye.
Furthermore, this problem isn’t confined to questions of productivity; sometimes, just going about ordinary daily life can be a significant struggle as well.
Do I speak from personal experience? You bet I do.
Between Oct. 25 and Nov. 8, I was visiting my boyfriend in Washington, D.C., where he’s in grad school. D.C.’s public transportation system and I have always had a fraught relationship; the sequencing involved in navigating transit infrastructure is a sizable challenge for me. And without my own car, I was without many (affordable) alternatives. So I walked — a lot.
After a week of blisters, I admitted to myself it was time: I had to take the bus. Unfortunately, this decision coincided with the discovery that my pharmacist had not included a full 28 days’ worth of my immediate-release Focalin when I last filled my prescription. Long story short, I was under-medicated and faced with a task that would require a tremendous amount of effort on my best day.
After about two hours, I managed to work up the motivation to input the information on my iPhone that would power Siri to guide me to the bus and tell me what to do once I got on it. But to my utter lack of surprise, I was unable to find the bus stop and realized I would have missed the bus even if I had been able to pinpoint where to get on it.
I knew what my parents and boyfriend would tell me to do: Figure out where the stop was and wait for the right bus, or walk to an entirely different stop if necessary. But at that moment, I knew making even that tiny extra effort was totally and completely beyond my abilities. So, though it was far more expensive than bus transportation, I ordered a Lyft.
It’s inherently empowering to cease pretending to be in denial about yourself and your capabilities. The politically correct response to others pushing you to find more motivation within yourself? Express appreciation for their confidence and a plucky resolve to prove them right. But I’ve had ADHD all my life, and I understand my neurological stamina better than anyone. I know what I can and can’t do.
More importantly, I’m AWARE that I can’t do what I can’t do, and I understand WHY I can’t. I and all people with ADHD deserve to live life authentically, limitations and all.
And that is just what I intend to do from now on.