Emotions & Shame

ADHD Is Not My Fault — But It Still Makes Me Feel Like a Failure

“I’m so stupid, I’m so dumb,” I tell myself far too often. When I feel like an idiot because of an ADHD screw-up, it’s important to remind myself to knock off the negative self-talk.

A dunce cap in a classroom represents the shame many children with ADHD feel over being called stupid.
A dunce cap in a classroom represents the shame many children with ADHD feel over being called stupid.

I feel like an idiot. I left my brand-new ATM card in the machine while I was activating it. It just happened. I didn’t realize it until I told my husband I activated the card. Then I morphed into total freakout mode, ransacked my purse, ransacked the car, and burst into tears at what an idiot I was.

“It’s just a mistake,” he said. “The ATM will eat the card.” I cried for a half hour, and, based on my ranting, my seven-year-old drew me a card that read: “Mama, your are not an idiot.”

The next morning, while stopped at a red light, I found my ATM card turned upside down under three pairs of sunglasses on the center console of my car. I’d looked there at least twice. I would have cried again if I weren’t so grateful.

ADHD and Emotions

They’re upsetting, incidents like these. No matter how often people remind you that attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) is a disorder, that it’s not your fault, ADHD affects every aspect of your life — and every one of your emotions. You lose things, you forget things, and you feel guilty. If you can’t read contempt on other people’s faces, you imagine it. You are the “wifty” one, the flighty one, the one who can’t be trusted to arrive on time. Your impulsivity and awkwardness make it difficult to interact with others, and your social skills are like those of a middle-schooler. It’s hard. Yet this is the reality we women with ADHD live with every day, especially those of us with the inattentive variety of the disorder.

I felt guilty again this week, when I forgot an important appointment. I want to adopt, and to do that, I need a physical. To get a physical, I need a TB test. I felt so proud: I got to the doc’s on time; I remembered my paperwork. All that remained: Return in 48-72 hours to have a nurse look at my arm. But days passed, the TB test drifted out of my mind, and I had other things to do. I woke bolt-upright from a nap at 6 p.m., weeping, because I couldn’t manage the basic skills of “adulting.”

[Free Download: 15 Ways to Disarm (and Understand) Explosive ADHD Emotions]

Dissing Myself

The spiral of negative self-talk began, the kind that had my seven-year-old drawing me pictures. This is usual with women with ADHD, especially those diagnosed late. We’ve spent a lifetime being berated: about our disorganization, our lack of common sense, our in-and-out memory. We’ve been berated so often, in fact, that we’ve internalized it. We don’t need a parent or teacher to tell us any more; their words have become our own. I’m so stupid, I thought. I’m so dumb. Why can’t I be more organized? Why can’t I remember things like everyone else? The knowledge that I suffer from a neurological condition doesn’t help. Society has expectations for adult women, and often, I don’t fulfill them.

Those expectations extend into the social realm as well. People expect adult women to act a certain way. When you say you’re going to a friend’s poetry reading, they expect you to be there. But you have an anxiety attack, because you can’t figure out how to fit it into your day, and you stay home. You are missed, and no one understands why you didn’t make it. You’re a flake. Your word can’t be trusted. You know your friends are thinking this, and yet you couldn’t get to that reading. The negative self-talk starts again.

I’m Not Rude — Really!

ADHD also creates trouble with face-to-face interaction. I often seem rude, because I play on my phone while another person talks. I’m listening, but I look like a rude Millennial. Sometimes I get so excited about something that I have to voice it, no matter what’s going on in the conversation, or whose turn it is to talk. I seem rude again — as if I’m not paying attention to the other person’s contribution, as if I don’t care what they have to say. I do. I just have to talk about what I have to talk about, and I have to do it now. Right. Freaking. Now. Later, I realize what I’ve done; I feel rude and stupid. I worry that the other person won’t want to be friends with me. Sadly, sometimes I’m right.

It’s difficult to be an adult woman whose brain, by its very nature, doesn’t want to “adult.” Of course, medication helps. But when you can’t meet the basic expectations of adulthood, it’s hard to respect yourself, let alone earn respect from others. The best we can do is to stop the negative self-talk, realize that we have a neurological condition, and forgive ourselves for its manifestations. After all, none of this is our fault.

[Step Up to the Plate: Finding Success With ADHD]