ADHD Myths & Facts

10 Things I Wish the World Knew About ADHD

During ADHD Awareness Month, we asked ADDitude readers to share with us the (sometimes uncomfortable) truths about attention deficit disorder that they most wish the neurotypical world would understand and respect. Nearly 450 readers responded; here are some of the most poignant from adults with ADHD.

1. My ADHD is a Superpower, and It’s Bigger Than Any Box You Force Me Into

“For every executive function issue I have, I also have strength. I may be late to appointments or interviews, but I’m always trying, sometimes struggling, and many times succeeding in my ongoing journey to meet your needs and create my place in this world. I’m still an asset to you because I carry with me heart, resilience, hard work, and a fierce drive to overcome the impossible. And I won’t give up.”

“My ADHD fellows, stop seeing yourselves as broken and start noticing that, with attention deficit disorder, you have a superpower that is literally unstoppable. You can provide something new to the world through your quirky passion, follow-through, and joy of pursuing that which does hold your attention. You are a gifted aberration, not a categorized disease. You cannot sleepwalk through an unauthentic life. You were born to soar. And if you can live each day with enthusiasm and self-love, at the end of your life you will know you lived your life — and not that of someone else.”

2. The Symptoms of My ADHD Are Invisible… Unless You Know Where to Look

“You can’t judge if someone is ‘really’ ADHD based only on visible ADHD symptoms. I don’t seem to struggle to sit still, I don’t fidget much visibly, I don’t get up and move around when I shouldn’t – but that’s because my social anxiety has me terrified to do anything that would be out of step with the people around me. So I suppress my fidgeting and restlessness (in public, anyway), and I’ve had people react with surprise when I talk about my diagnosis because ‘I’ve never seen you being hyper or fidgety or anything!’ Well, no, because I’m expending a large amount of my energy to suppress it. Just because you don’t see the symptoms, doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Some of us just had to learn to hide them in order to make it in a neurotypical world.”

“I wish the world could tell the difference between the person I am, and how ADHD affects that person. I wish they could see how hard I try. I wish I could really clearly understand that myself, because sometimes I realize it and sometimes I don’t. Please, world, understand what is already known about ADHD, and try to support and help those who hold it on their shoulders, like a heavy, invisible cloak. Please understand that under those invisible cloaks are rare, unique, smart, creative, talented, constructive, yet different people. Can you see them? Can you see the cloak?”

3. ADHD Erodes Self Esteem, Which Exacerbates ADHD, Which Further Erodes Self Esteem

“A lifetime of missed chances, bad first impressions, poor social skills, being too loud, too annoying, too honest, and just too much has left me with broken hope, broken dreams, and a broken heart. I have learned that I am defective — a bad person. That I am always going to be on the outside looking in. That I have to simultaneously let all this baggage go, so I can relax, but at the same time remember it so I don’t get distracted. That the anxiety and fear of failure uses up most of my attention, so I am stuck in a Catch-22: my attention is destroyed by the fear of my lack of attention.”

[Take This Test: Could You Have Emotional Hyperarousal?]

“Frustration, pain, and low self-esteem are all a direct result of ADHD. Never meeting neurotypical expectations beats up the emotions of some with ADHD. Overreactions and meltdowns are all part of ADHD, but they are compounded by the emotional anguish that comes from taunts and criticism. Everyone with ADHD needs to know they are worthy, capable, and needed. So all you square pegs stop trying to fit into round holes and start carving out your own square niche.”

4. We Really Don’t Mean to Cause Offense

“People with ADHD don’t mean anything personally. We want to call, write, and meet up, but anything that isn’t happening now is too damn hard to keep track of. We don’t want to drop off the face of the Earth, but we just can’t get our damn heads in order long enough to stay on it! In short, world, we don’t want to hurt you. We don’t mean to when we do. And we know that, most of the time, you don’t want to hurt us either. We’re sorry that the wires get crossed while trying to communicate that.”

“ADHD doesn’t make me uncaring, irrational, or unreliable. I am a mature adult and am capable of growing past difficult situations and becoming stronger in areas of weakness. I recognize every day what areas are a struggle for me. ADHD makes certain things harder, but not impossible. The very nature of ADHD amplifies introspection because we are so hard on ourselves, but in that introspection we gain a great perspective of self-awareness, empathy, and grace. I find joy in the thought that the blessing of being diagnosed will allow me to gain the knowledge and experience to help others.”

5. My Mind Works Differently, and That’s Beautiful

“I’m not flighty! My mind is simply attracted to looking at everything and finds beauty in all moments, so much so that it distracts me all the time. There is beauty in ADHD if you will only recognize it! I wish the world knew that I’m not debilitated by my diagnosis, but empowered and proud to name it. I own ADHD and am a better person because of it. I wish the world knew that I’m excited to see where this journey will take me! ADHD doesn’t define me, but neither does it limit me!”

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“Like a kaleidoscope, an ADHD life can be somewhat chaotic, but it can also have so much beauty as we find our own patterns and unique look on the world.”

“I wish that ADHD were widely understood to be a valid, nonlinear way of thinking. In the linear world that neurotypical people inhabit, ADHD is a deficit only because that’s not the way most people think and process information. There is nothing deficient or impaired with US. It’s the contexts which we most often encounter that disable us.”

6. We Are Trying Our Best to Master Executive Function

“ADHD doesn’t always look like a kid who can’t stay still and is bouncing out of his or her seat. Sometimes it means feeling completely overwhelmed with the world around you and all the things you are supposed to accomplish within it, and feeling like a failure because everyone seems to be able to do things you can’t.”

“Individuals with ADHD are not choosing to be bad, forgetful, impulsive, or disorganized. They have often come up with their own ways of coping. If you are someone without ADHD, imagine you are asked to write your name in cursive with your non-dominant hand. At the same time, you are asked to make circles with your right foot, move your left foot side to side, and tap the top of your head with your dominate hand. Not very easy? That’s how much effort it takes someone with ADHD to do what those without ADHD deem simple and easy.”

“I’m not late because I don’t care; I’m late because I am either doing a task I should have said ‘no’ to, I’m caught up in my impulses, or I can’t find something that I need. Lateness is just as frustrating for people with ADHD as it is for those who are left waiting for them. World, please know that we are trying the best we can and, when we fail, we feel terrible about ourselves.”

7. We Know Our ADHD Can Frustrate You (So Please Stop Telling Us!)

“ADHD is hard for everyone. It doesn’t just impact the individual; it impacts the single mom who’s trying her best to help, it impacts the little brother who doesn’t understand what ADHD is but sees the symptoms every day, it impacts teachers and friends. Everyone has to deal with it. Find a way to work around it and work with it. We don’t choose to have ADHD in our lives; ADHD chose us.”

“It’s frustrating enough when ADHD wins the day. We internalize it more than we may let on. Every time our loved ones mirror those feelings with their words, expressions, or actions it validates our embarrassment and frustration. It is already hard enough experiencing them without witnessing them externally reinforced in our loved ones’ reactions. The more our loved ones react with criticism, the louder we hear their voices while reprimanding ourselves. Having an emotional reaction does not end when you remove yourself from the tainted environment. We are constantly trying to fix our mistakes in replay mode, incorporating the social feedback and consequences so that we can avoid repeating the same mistake. So please let go of the criticism. Our ADHD moments are not yours to own.”

8. Criticism Can Be Devastating — Especially When We’re Trying Our Best

“I wish you knew how bad it makes us feel to hear, ‘You seem distracted’ or ‘You’re kind of all over the place,’ especially when we’re already on medication. I want to reply ‘I AM calm, I AM focused… someday I’m going to come to work without taking my medication and then I’ll show you distracted…’ You might as well say, ‘Your best isn’t good enough and you shouldn’t even try.’”

“Those of us who have ADHD or who support people with ADHD are doing our best. I wish the world could walk in our shoes for just a short period of time to truly understand how taxing ADHD can be — and how it affects just about everything! I wish the world were more tolerant and accepting in general – everyone struggles with something and ADHD (no matter if you are the patient or the caregiver) is our struggle. Don’t judge. Be tolerant and accepting of everyone no matter the person, problem, or issue — known or unknown.”

9. It’s Worth Your While to Look Past My ADHD

“All my life, I’ve felt like a square peg in a round hole — and no amount of threatening, cajoling, or therapy is going to make me round. When I do something stupid, it doesn’t mean that I’m stupid. When I appear disorganized, it doesn’t mean that I’m lazy. When I’m late, it doesn’t mean that I’m inconsiderate. I wish people knew that, when my expression makes me look like I’ve ‘checked out,’ it’s because I am actually processing about 10 things at the same time and I’ll be right back. I wish people knew that I am actually intelligent and that, if they would just get into my world and my head a little bit, I could bring incredible stuff to the workplace and to relationships.”

“I am worth any trouble my ADHD brain might cause and, with a little understanding and patience, I can wow you. ADHD means we operate differently than most successful people, but it doesn’t mean our ways are wrong just because they’re different and you don’t understand them. Don’t underestimate me. Don’t tie my hands with unimportant rules or unnecessary restrictions. Let me think and work outside of your narrow little box. My work doesn’t always fit in a box. It’s bigger than your box.”

10. We Are Moving Toward a Neurodiverse Future

“There is a growing movement of people who are neurodiverse. We don’t consider ourselves sick, flawed, dumb, dysfunctional, lazy, crazy, unlovable, incapable, or without anything to offer. We are gifted, loving, bright people living in a world that says our differences are unacceptable. This is difficult, but we don’t need or want pity. We have challenges – we are not challenges. We are different, but equal. Left-handed children used to be forced to use their right hand instead, and that was wrong, foolish, and harmful. Perhaps we are moving to a more enlightened time when neurodiverse people will be no more ‘odd’ than someone who is left-handed.”

“I wish the world knew what it means to be forgiving and understanding of neurodiversity; to accommodate our weaknesses, and celebrate our strengths. It may seem a pain to change environments and procedures to fit those differences, but like all accommodations, they benefit everyone with both permanent and temporary differences. Creating check-ins and helping prioritize workloads are critical for ADHD worker success, and those same ADHD accommodations can help other workers keep on task and feel valued. Flexible schedules to help people with ADHD who are slow to wake up also help single parents get their kids on the bus in the morning. Creating schools, workplaces, and homes where everyone can thrive is a high tide that will raise all boats.”

[Read This Next: How to Process and Accept Your Child’s Neurodiversity]

12 Comments & Reviews

  1. This post has been really useful for me. I was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of last year (2 months before I turned 38). Reading these comments have been massively reassuring for me. Throughout my life I have been dealing with something, but didn’t know what. I always knew that I thought and behaved differently to others. I always felt that I was living in a world where I didn’t fit in and wasn’t always accepted. It felt like people were always trying to make me fit in and conform to society, but I didn’t want to fit in. I continued to be me, in a world that struggles to accept me, as I am.
    I have been on a journey learning about ADHD but have only really found info regarding the medical side of it. Reading peoples comments about their stories and personal feelings has given me this weird feeling that I can’t describe, it’s a nice feeling though. So thank you for this post and thank you to the people that submitted their stories. Any advice on where I could find more personal stories like this would be much appreciated.

      1. Thank you ADHDmomma. I’m sure I would have found them eventually but I feel a little overwhelmed with information at the moment and am mindful about overloading myself with information that I don’t feel is necessary at this moment in time. Thank you again

    1. Amen. As an adult women with ADHD-I, dx 7 years ago… I too knew ‘something was swimming in the water’. When I official received the dx, it was after returning to school (to earn a second masters degree) and took a psych class for School Counselors ’12 disabilities in school age children’. The day the class discussed ADHD, I KNEW. I pulled my hair down, like a drape around my face, and cried silently in class.

      I had been seeking answers for a couple of years (at that point), and that day.. the answer was clear.

      I spoke to my mom about that day, shortly there after, and to my SHOCK she told me I had been dx ADHD in the second grade! What??? I had been discussing with her how lost I had felt, that something was amiss… i went back to school just to be successful at something (my thought process at that time) and all along my mom knew but didnt mention??? Turns out, my mom has ADHD, and both my older brother and sister had been dx ADHD when they were young… I just never knew.

      Soooo… i lived life all zoned out, free spirited, and working extra hard (just to be on par). Looking back, this may have been a blessing. I learned I needed structure to get things done, I learned when i played sports i had better grades, i learned that hard work is how life works… i learned to never quit anything (my mom would not allow it, if i committed to something i had to see it through, if i didnt like it, i didnt have to sign up for it again.. but never quit on a commitment).

      Now as an adult.. the power of my dx has set me free! The day I took my first Stimuamt med, I remember it like yesterday…

      I took the pill and 30 minutes later I was “In the Matrix”. I remember looking at my hands, as I moved them around, my hands felt like they were moving in SLOW motion, I remember actually saying out loud to myself “is this how everyone else lives.. clear headed, calm emotions, in slow motion?” I felt like a whole different person within 30 minutes? It was an Awakening.

      Versus how I lived for 30+ years: overfeeling every emotion all day, my head felt like it was in a “fog”, my perspective was like “looking through a dirt screen”, my self esteem and self confidence was fragile or non existent.. and unfortunately, i married a gas lighting narcissist who would take advantage of my ADHD unmedicated mind and vulnerabilities (for 20 years)… that’s off subject, except it’s important = my belief that i was susceptible to that toxic relationship, becoming co-dependant, due to the unmedicated “fog” in my mind and low self esteem. I missed or didnt ‘attend to the signs’.

      Good news, after I was dx and entered the Matrix on that fateful day.. i saw clearly where my life was and who I was married to.. everything changed that day.

      From day one of being medicated – to knowing I needed to leave the toxic relationship = 4 months! From that day – to taking action by seeing a therapist = 4 more months. From seeing therapist weekly to – leaving toxic relationship and moving out of my “home” = 6 months!

      ADHD has been my biggest strength, and biggest (then exploitable) weakness. Today.. it’s my Super Power! I believe I have gone to hell and back (just how it went, not gonna sugar coat it) to be who I am today: a mom of a son who’s ADHD, co-parent with said narcissist, I assist adults with disabilities obtain emoloyment… I innately understand what ADHD and anxiety (or codependency) sounds like when I hear it, looks like when I see it, and feels like… my empathy is strong bc I “get it”. No one should ever feel STUCK… there is always options.

      My favorite people on earth are dx ADHD, my family, my friends, my son, the Job Seekers I work with… the most interesting, creative, hard woking people I know… dx ADHD. They are my kind of people and I am a Peer Advocate!

  2. Wow, Thank you for the words #2 & #9. You have just given me such an insight into my daughter. She is a natural born leader, but struggles with others bossing her around because of the times they have seen her inability to stay on task. Then she tries even harder to cloak her differences and comes home an exhausted emotional wreck.

  3. Since coming to understand my own ADD challenges in the mid 90s, ive recognized the blessing and curse that it is. I’ve been fortunate to have a great outlet for my creativity as a model for artists- requires me to be statue-still for several minutes/hours. It’s like meditation and can put me in “the zone.” But I’ve missed some once-in-a-lifetime opportunities as well and have beat myself up for it- and still do.

    I know ADD is in my family too and it makes communication and relationships nearly impossible ( there’s a lot more bad stuff in addition to the ADD). So I will pass this article along to a sibling with whom I probably judge too harshly. I suspect she has ADD with a host of other things (depression, anxiety, and more)

    I am really enjoying this publication- thank you thank you thank you.

  4. This is a really good article . What I Wish The World Knew about ADHD… I got this from ADDITUDE Magazine.

    I came out several years ago. ADHD is who I am; it’s the way I’m wired. Striving for excellence was something I always had to do. I tried to be a perfectionist, never quite reaching perfection. I read an article my daughter posted about the difference between Perfection and striving for excellence; it got me to thinking…..

    That was an Aha- Moment for me. I guess better late than never; I’m 61 and through out my child hood, I had to work harder, just to be as good as… I learned early to find my niche, and work hard to be the best. Thankfully I found a doctor who understood ADHD in adults. ( It took a while to find the correct medication and dose)( often a lower dose works best) ADHD has turned out to be my blessing. As a maintenance instructor for American Airlines I teach Aircraft Structural Repair and Advanced Composite Repair. My own life struggles allows me to see those students who struggled the way I did. Taking a little one on one time with those individuals, with some hands on training and a dose of encouragement , made all the difference for that employee.

    One day ADHD will become as socially accepted as a child with glasses or hearing aids. Square pegs doesn’t always fit in a round holes.

    Image may contain: 1 person, smiling

  5. It is satisfying to read this article after knowing I am also ADHDian.recently I turned to 25 and Ya only we know despite of such destruction of mind how we achieve many things which are difficult to achieve non-ADHDian.until now I was unaware of being this and was enjoying my forgetfulness(as lots of people suffer because they remember everything). People around me ask, how you could clear these many exams while you do very silly mistake in the very simple tasks and forget things that just happened. I always trying to convince them that intelligence is different than a memory. It doesn’t mean you are dull if you can’t remember everything. only we can understand how it is tough to stay focus on one thing though we lose it frequently. Despite that, I understand several things in a much deeper sense than others but I do many mistakes and easily disrupt by impulses. Thank god I learned the art of mindfulness, otherwise, it would difficult to handle this thing at least after knowing. Currently, I am pursuing my Ph.D. which requires enormous study and high concentration, you can imagine how much I am struggling only just to remain focus and moderate by activity cause ADHD makes you hyperactive or utter quite. I enjoy being unaware of most of the things that happen around me and not keeping that garbage in mind. But that doesn’t mean we are not striving to be perfect.

  6. As a neurotypical mother of two adult children with ADHD (one diagnosed in grade school and one undiagnosed until late adulthood), and the wife of an ADHD husband in denial, I can tell you that understanding, tolerance, patience and acceptance of how ADHD affects the closest people in my life has been a work in progress for a very long time. I get it. ADHD brains and emotions are wired differently. Being constantly on guard so as not come across as criticizing is a LOT of work, especially since much of the time it’s the PERCEPTION of criticism by highly sensitive people at issue. I gotta tell ya, it can be SO HARD putting up with the messes, the clutter, the constant waiting, forgetting, and misunderstood communications! I dearly love them, but I am EXHAUSTED by weighing and measuring every word, expression and request to make sure THEIR feelings aren’t hurt. I feel a near desperate need to feel heard and accommodated, too. So many words are used to explain the affects and effects of ADHD. How about a few to give some respite to those of us without ADHD who are ALSO trying their best?!

  7. (This may be a duplicate; looks like I forgot to save & send my original edition). I am a middle aged guy and have been working some 25+ years. I’ve seen a lot. I was recently diagnosed with ADD (NO Hyperactivity!). I’ve always suspected I had something wrong but now I know the name of this sleeper cell agent that has been living inside my brain since I was 6.

    YES! Read ADDitude e-magazine for expert advice, knowledge and encouragement. Thank you, ADDitude for being in my corner.

    NO! Do not out yourself or go public! The LAST person you want to reveal this to is your boss! Your boss is not your buddy and by definition he/she is someone who dangles a sword of Damocles over your career. So, heed my warning! Don’t be foolish. Don’t be foolhardy. Don’t be reckless or stupid! An HR manager once told me that he can fire or refuse to hire anyone he wants and make it all look legit. Just remember: even Rosa Parks got thrown under the bus and into jail.

    The pressures of the workaday world are bad enough without having to endure a whispering campaign behind your back. There IS something worse than having to maintain secrecy about this affliction: getting fired! You could very well be swept up in the first round of layoffs and then have a thick collection of Dear John letters from a frustrating effort to find a new job. You’ll never discover the truth as to why. Take down any posts on social media admitting to your condition, lest a data mining company find it and sell it to prospective employers.

    So, don’t let own mouth be your worst enemy. My solution is to use the valuable counsel from ADDitude magazine and apply my recently learned self-awareness and try to catch myself before I commit an embarrassing faux pas in front of others. They can waterboard me and I still will not reveal my most sensitive secret.

    Just be careful. I wish you all well in your mental health challenges.

  8. Number 3 hit me hard. Honestly, I kind of wish people would stop calling ADHD a “superpower.” Because it doesn’t feel at ALL like that. It feels like an overcharged engine that keeps making me crash because the rest of the car wasn’t built for it.

    Of course, I’m 41 and didn’t find out I had ADHD until I was 39, nearing 40. So most of what my diagnosis has been for me is clarity on why I’ve worked so hard yet struggled so much to succeed at anything 🙁

    I’m mostly embarrassed about my past and hopeless about the future. Best I’ve been able to achieve so far is something of a “witness” consciousness that says, “This isn’t my world. I don’t belong here. So just enjoy watching the show. Oh, and keep focused on your breathing.”

  9. There were interesting aspect in this article, but I feel the author is sometimes contradicting himself. “If you really want something you can achieve it” and “as someone with ADHD, trying to find your place in a neurtypical world can be very taxing and mean you don’t have the energy to do some things as you’re already using your resources to fit in”. And then there’s the”ADHD is a superpower”. No, just no. ADHD is a spectrum disorder. You may find that you are able to juggle fitting in and using your out of the box thinking of hyperfocal to find your place in a neurtypical work environment, but for some people, their ADHD symptoms can truly be debilitating. Also, promoting it as a superpower is taking ADHD outside the scope of medical disorders. And if it’s not a disorder then why should you need medication, why should social security (or insurance) intervene financially in your treatments? Why should there be studies made about it, why should students benefits from special accommodations, for example more time and a quiet room when passing exams. I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. If you can use your ADHD to your advantage, great. But please don’t make matters worse for people struggle to manage their ADHD by spreading falsehoods about the disorder, saying it can be advantageous if you just make the effort. Because that’s just shifting the blame back towards the person suffering from ADHD.

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