Talking About ADHD

“Don’t Call It a Disorder.”

Your ADHD brain is not a burden or a handicap, but it does make life challenging at times. Here’s how I accentuate the positive when speaking to my young patients about their Turbo brains.

Racecar symbolizes the ADHD turbo brain
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ADHD Is Not a Disorder

I have never stopped loving ADHD.

I have the condition, and I treat hundreds of people with it every year at my center in Massachusetts. In fact, you could say I have a love affair with ADHD. But I dislike the name “ADHD” and all that it implies.

Yes, I understand the convenience of calling it a “disorder” when it comes to obtaining accommodations, research funding, and insurance reimbursement. But indulge me for a moment as I stray from the DSM-V. I would like to rename my brain Turbo.

I chose Turbo because having this condition means it perpetually operates in overdrive. It is also unpredictable! One minute, it gets me into trouble; the next, it sparks the best idea I’ve ever had. It speaks out of turn when it should hush up, when others wish it wouldn’t… even when it knows it shouldn’t.

My ADHD brain forgets. And it remembers just a minute or two too late. It often gets yelled at, or gets reprimanded, lectured, scorned, medicated, and even detonated! When it explodes, of course, there is a mess to clean up. Sometimes the owner of the Turbo brain lives from mess to mess.

[Free Resource: Secrets of the ADHD Brain]

My brain knows enthusiasm as few other brains do, but it also knows disappointment. It tries — oh, boy, does it ever try — but then it shows up at the wrong place on the wrong day, hat in hand, ready for another reprimand. My ADHD brain cannot conform. It loves its own way too much. It goes where enchantment leads it, and, once caught up in a mind-riff, it can’t say no — because it forgets where it is.

The reason I love talking about ADHD is the same reason I love anyone or anything that has to overcome great odds. The deck is stacked against it, especially in school. But I also love it because, at times, it can be marvelous. It has to persist, and not believe all the nasty things that get said about it, if it is to do well over the long haul.

Can It Do Well? Can It Ever!

What do you need to do if you have a brain like mine, or if someone you love (or like or teach or care for) has such a blessed brain? You need to connect in as many positive ways as you can. You need to connect with a mentor who sees your hidden skills and talents — and who can draw them out of you. You need to find someone who gets such a kick out of you that they just can’t help but smile when you walk into the room, even if you have your pants on backward and you’re an hour and a half late.

You need to find a pet who loves you, and that you love back, in spite of messes. You need to have a hobby that you get lost in, like building auto engines; or a sport you’re awesome at, like wrestling; or a horn you like to blow.

You need to find a place where you can relax, a place where you connect to the vibes of whatever is true and good and fine in the life you live — and the life you hope to live. You need to connect to hope. You need to connect to love and to disconnect from all the nasties that nibble at you like gnats.

[Free Resource: Make Mindfulness Work for You]

You need to give what’s best in you a chance to grow. You do this by finding the right gardener, who is out there. He or she is not always easy to find, as the right gardeners don’t turn up as often as one would hope. But when you find the right one — the one who sees you’re not a weed but a most unusual plant — then your hard work will turn you into the great tree you were meant to be.

Having a brain like mine can be hard. Having a brain — period — can be hard. But I wouldn’t trade my brain for the world. After all, it has given me my world — my loves, of many kinds — and even if it is not always there when I need it, it takes me where, without it, I could never go.

[Read: “Perfect Is a Myth” — and Other Self-Esteem Boosters]

Updated on January 30, 2020

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  1. This is such a ridiculous post from a doctor. It’s like you’re trying to glorify the issue. Like there is a privilege to have ADHD. As a child I had obvious signs of having it. Thanks to doctors and news reports my parents were against medicating me for it. Which made it far more difficult as an adult to get treated. I did terrible in school because it’s like my brain was never my own no matter how hard I tried. Trying to get medicated as an adult I was treated like a drug addicted by almost every doctor I’d see. Having a limited number I could choose from with my insurance. Here you are acting as if picking a doctor is a fun task or finding new school clothes. It’s cost me jobs and relationships/ friendships. Yet you paint it like an Indiana Jones adventure. I hate to think of the people who’ve read this garbage who’s looking into getting help or medication. Oh and notice my terrible sentence structure. You can chalk that up to my minds adventure during every English class I barely passed or had to retake. Knowing I was gay and having anxiety and adhd ontop made me feel even more like an outcast. Oh but thank the lord for my magnificent brain that I’m so lucky to have.

  2. Right on, Blevhd1979! ADD is nothing to brag about! I have paid dearly for this ****ing brain defect. I can count at least 4 major social faux pas that cost me my reputation and at least one job firing. I always knew there was something wrong and just last year at age 60, I found out the name of this suspect. Had this been publicly known when I was in high school my life would have been miserable.

    Without directing this to anyone in particular, let’s assume that a person has incurable gonorrhea? Would anyone in their right mind wear a t-shirt that proclaims “I Have Gonorrhea!”? Uh, I didn’t think so. There is a well defined boundary between high-minded principle and inspired stupidity.

    A self-employed person can take reckless chances but up to a point. For those of us who are workin’ for da man, this is not an option if you want to keep your job and maintain at least a modicum of respect from your peers.

  3. I am willing to accept and I believe I have some gifts/skills that came with ADHD. I am generally not at all embarrassed about the ADHD. At first I kind of ‘mourned’ being different, but many famous people have this ‘quality’ of having a brain with a different ‘tune up’ you could say, and I am not sure if hypothetically I was given a choice, that I would want my brain tuned to ‘normal’. Some things are much harder for me to do/complete/accomplish but I feel smarter than a lot of others nevertheless. That doesn’t make me better nor worse only different. I have been using Ritalin for about 25 years since I was about 45 yrs old. I might have phrased the Doctor’s comments differently but I can’t totally disagree with him either. Be willing to be great in some ways!!

  4. Blevadhd1979,
    I do not believe you would have reacted so negatively if you knew Dr. Hallowell’s body of work.
    He is well aware of the negative aspects of ADHD, and often talks about them. He has been treating people with ADHD for decades, longer than just about anybody. He has prescribed trainloads of medication; he is not against them. This article is not denying those things. It just has a different topic.
    In all his years working with thousands of people with ADHD, as well as his own experience with his own ADHD, he has slowly come to the conclusions you see above.
    Since your experience of ADHD has been overwhelmingly negative, it may sound strange and unbelievable that the condition could have anything positive about it. Even more unbelievable is the idea that it is a net positive; more good than bad. I am with you there. I can’t see it either. The article above does NOT describe my experience at all.
    But Dr. H’s writings have meant a lot to me over the years. He has been a staunch advocate for us. He was one òf the first to point out positive aspects of this way of being. I don’t buy some of what he says. In fact, I get mad at him sometimes, like when he lumps ALL ADHDers in with the subset that are hyperactive and impulsive like he is. But on the balance I respect him. I say give him a chance. Check out some of his books from the library, or listen to his podcast. You might be surprised to find a new friend.

  5. I forgot to mention, Hallowell was an advocate for LGBT people long before it was cool. He had either a brother or a cousin who was gay. It’s in his autobiography, “Because I Come From A Crazy Family”. I never finished it-I start far mor books than I finish-but I really enjoyed what I did read.

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