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The Black Sheep of Mental Health Disorders: Living With ADHD

“There’s no denying that those of us with ADHD were made different. We tend to be more generous, more loving, more funny, more creative, and more entrepreneurial. The problem, it turns out, is not within our own selves. The problem is with the society we were born into.”

“You have so much potential, but you don’t apply yourself.”

“How could you be so smart, but be so stupid sometimes?”

“How do you lose everything instantly?”

“What goes on in your brain?”

If I had a dollar for every time one of those statements or questions was hurtled toward me, I could cover my college tuition. Yes, I know. That is a lot of money.

At the age of 16, I was diagnosed with ADHD — after years of not knowing what was wrong with me, after years of my parents asking why I wasn’t living up to my potential, after years of trying so unbelievably hard just to barely break the surface and breathe. None of my teachers picked up on it. My parents never picked up on it. No one did. I was always just viewed as the kid who could never focus, who was hopelessly disorganized, who didn’t try hard enough, who failed — time and time again — to be what everyone wanted him to be.

[Free Resource: Debunking Annoying ADHD Myths]

When I saw my family physician for an ADHD evaluation, the symptom test he gave me was the first test on which I earned a perfect score. I was put on medication and, shortly thereafter, I saw vast improvement. I felt normal for the first time in my life. I could sit and focus in class. I could be just like everyone else. I felt reborn.

And I thought that was it. End of story. I was on medication, and everything was solved. Right? Wrong.

ADHD goes much deeper than most people realize. People diagnosed with ADHD are predisposed to endure more hardships than are neurotypical people. Why? Well, for starters, ADHD is largely accompanied by a host of related conditions.

There’s no denying that we were made different. We tend to be more generous, more loving, more funny, more creative, and more entrepreneurial. The problem, it turns out, is not within our own selves. The problem is with the society we were born into.

[Free Resource: Is It More Than Just ADHD?]

You see, people with ADHD are hunter gatherers in a farmer’s world. For much of human history, heightened senses were critical to survival, and hunter gatherers were supreme. They were able to hear footsteps from yards away, hear water flowing, smell a change in environment, and much more. The problem is, the world evolved. Resources became more readily available, and the need for hunter gatherers decreased.

I know this quote is cliché, however, it holds truth in this context: “Everyone is a genius,” Albert Einstein said. “But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”

Before my ADHD diagnosis, I believed that I was a lazy, no good piece of shit whose problems were all self-inflicted. I would try so hard to do well, but it never worked so I eventually stopped trying. I gave up. This belief, coupled with my low self-worth and lack of friends, led to a deep anguish. At one point during my struggle, I contemplated taking my own life. To be exact, I contemplated  taking my own breath away four times because I had lost all hope for myself. I started to believe that I wasn’t living up to my potential and I never would. I believed that the world would be better without me in it. I didn’t think I had anyone.

I am now 19 years old, a recipient of the Rotary Club’s Community Youth Service Award and the Presidential Service Award, and I’m pursuing my education at Saint Vincent College.

To all the people out there who are living with ADHD: You are not lazy. You are not a disappointment. You are incredibly gifted. You are valued. And our world wouldn’t be what it is today without different minds like yours.

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

Updated on November 14, 2019

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  1. Devin, thank you for sharing your story of living with ADHD. I’m 43 y.o. and I was diagnosed with ADD merely a year ago. I still haven’t found a medication that would help with managing my symptoms. The honesty, vulnerability and straight-forwardness of your article affected me that for the first time ever I’ve cried (full blown crying and not just getting tearful) and I also felt hope. I’m so glad that none of your “taking your own breath away” worked as you’re such a blessing at such a young age (I was shocked to read that this article was written by a 19 year old). Again, thank you for sharing your gift of bringing more acceptance and hope into many people’s life who struggle with their neuro-wiring. And naming an “ADHD a black sheep of mental health” is spot on. I’m so tired of experts and doctors dismissing even existence of ADHD. Thank you and I hope many people will read this article.

  2. Devin,
    Thank you for your enlightening and inspiring story. My story is that I was diagnosed with ADD (no Hyperactivity!) just last year at age 60! This was a profound shock that I still cannot get over. I’ve had this $#!+ since I was 6. I’m the same dude I always was but now I have an unsettling but specific label.

    I accept the diagnosis and treatment plan but I can never bring myself to go public; that’s two out of three. I just cannot out myself. I’m no Rosa Parks.

    In my 40 yer career I have worked for many companies. Several have seen my personality quirks and called me to the carpet for it. I don’t think that the terms ADD or ADHD had even been coined back then.

    I was friendly with a couple of HR managers and they were told verbally (and secretly) by senior management not to hire anyone suspected of having any mental illness. Illegal? Probably, but how do you prove discrimination?

    You are probably a college freshman, so hopefully by the time you graduate ADD/ADHD people can confidently step out into the sunshine. I wish you the best.

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