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“Where Are All the ADHD Role Models?”

ADHD is embarrassing. And misunderstood. And hidden from view, for the most part. Famous people with ADHD rarely talk about it, so it’s up to us to wave our diagnosis high in the air — not as an excuse, but as a banner. Hey, we’re here. We have ADHD. And neurotypicals need to accept it already.

We know Carrie Fisher had BPD. We know Magic Johnson lives with HIV. Lady Gaga, Harrison Ford, and Jim Carrey have opened up about their mood disorders. John Mayer has revealed his panic attacks. Selena Gomez posted photos after her kidney transplant. The list of celebrities with health ailments — physical and mental — is long and esteemed.

Now, name a celebrity with ADHD, besides Michael Phelps and Adam Levine.

Blanking? Me, too. Evidently, there’s a long list of famous people just like us that includes Emma Watson and Zooey Deschanel, among others. But you don’t hear about it. They don’t talk about it. No one’s going out and campaigning for ADHD causes, especially adult ADHD causes.

Society still sees adult ADHD as embarrassing. People imagine us making it up for any number of reasons — for the awesome, awesome drugs (eyeroll) or as a convenient excuse for forgetting important stuff. Or even if they believe we have it, adult ADHD often looks like irresponsible behavior. We’re late. We stare at our phones. We interrupt people; we have trouble with conversational turns and impulsivity in social situations. We space out, which makes us look like we don’t care. All this adds up to some serious social stigma.

So it’s no wonder that most celebrities don’t talk much about their ADHD. The rest of us don’t do it either. We already know not to. That’s because we read. We listen. And we see things like this in the comments section of an article about the increasing diagnosis of ADHD in young women: “It’s because children are getting instant gratification from everything, all on demand. No way can they sit and focus when they’re not used to things taking longer than five seconds.”

[“Is ADHD Real?” How to Respond to Doubters with Tact and Facts]

Or, “Past generations call ADHD bad behavior and had other solutions for its treatment. Now the monster pharmaceutical companies convience [sic] doctors to push this poison on anyone who thinks they can not focus. It is the zombie pill. No wonder so many of this generation like all the zombie crap on TV. Keep taking the meds and soon you will all be good little boys and girls under the man’s [sic] control.”

Or, from a physician: “Over-diagnosis is a real problem today.”

These are three comments. There are eight in total.

No wonder we keep our mouths shut. We’re in danger of being told we’re just Millennials/Gen Xers/Baby Boomers weaned on instant gratification; we should have just been spanked harder as kids and now we take “zombie pills” that make us stupid; or we may not have the diagnosis in the first place. It’s bad enough to read this kind of stuff on the Internet. Now imagine that coming out of the mouth of someone you know.

Or, almost worse, we know we’ll get the “have-you-tried’s.” Because we don’t really have a disorder, one that requires pharmaceutical intervention for us to function on a day-to-day, minute-by-minute basis, the field’s wide open for things that could, potentially, make all of our ADHD go away. “Have  you tried essential oils?” I’ve had people ask me numerous times. “You know, you could get off that medication if you just meditated,” one woman confided in me. Or just, “You should go for a run sometime.” And the dreaded, “Just focus harder.”

[Free Download: 7 Myths About ADHD… Debunked!]

I can’t. Literally. That’s how my brain is wired.

While some of these solutions may help as part of a comprehensive ADHD treatment program, they are never going to replace therapy and the supervision of medical professionals — and, for many (most) of us, medication. If we don’t want to practice the thin-lipped smile, which we couple with a “I’ll have to look into that,” it’s easier not to tell.

Worst of all, we might get the “OMG, I know what you mean! I’m so ADHD, too!” Which is wonderful if the person truly does have ADHD. Except they most often don’t. They begin to rattle off run-of-the-mill forgetfulness, say things like, “I am so spacey!” They spout the worst ADHD stereotypes, the look-a-squirrel trope, the I-forgot-my-purse-and-it’s-in-my-hand. They minimize the suffering we go through every day with things like executive function deficit and emotional dysregulation. ADHD isn’t about forgetting your damn keys. It’s a whole host of symptoms and issues that stem from a kind of brain chemistry.

It cannot be cured with your essential oils. I suggest you back away slowly after suggesting that.

ADHD is not pretty. It’s not the manic pixie dream girl floating through life on a cloud of distractibility and sudden whimsy. ADHD is hard. ADHD can be isolating, lonely, and frustrating. It can end up making lots of people angry, like when you swear you’ll do your wedding thank-you notes, and you write them beautifully, and you stick them in the closet, and you never ever mail them and people think you’re an ungrateful brat. (Ask some of my wedding guests, especially the very generous ones, how they feel about my gratitude levels, and you’re likely to get an earful.)

This is what ADHD looks like. This is why no one campaigns for us, no celebrity comes out and talks about his or her hardest struggles. No one gets up on a platform and tells the truth. Because the truth is messy. The truth is not what the public wants to think it is. It’s why most of us ADHDers take our pills and keep our silence. There are millions of us in America. But you’d never know it. We’re too ashamed to speak out. The public’s made it that way. That shame has kept so many from getting the help they need.

As much as it sucks, as scary as it is, as much as you’ll want to hit the hippie who tells you about essential oils, speak up and speak out. Tell your friends, your co-workers, your colleagues. Wave your diagnosis like a flag: not as an excuse, but as a banner. We’re here. We have ADHD.

And damn it, you neuros need to get used to it.

[Spread the Truth About ADHD]

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  1. This article is so true. My daughter has been diagnosed with ADHD/ODD and mental health disorders. I have been very vocal sharing our struggles. We live in Toronto and Maya is 11. We have switched schools three times, have switched medication many times. There is very little support other than this magazine. What about groups for kids with these issues so they can meet kids that are similar. People do not talk about ADHD/ODD. I have left my very high paying job to advocate for my brilliant creative daughter. I would love to see more awareness. Maya has been taught to accept her challenges but not easy for others to accept her. Week-ends go by and never a playdate, never a birthday party but she loves her animals and adults. Together we could provide so much more support.
    Love this blog. Great work

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