“What Is Wrong With Me?” ADHD Truths I Wish I Knew As a Kid
I grew up feeling something was wrong with me — that I was lesser, or maybe broken. Now I know that what others misidentified as ‘wrong’ or ‘different’ was actually extraordinary — and that ADHD can be an incredible asset if appreciated.
I heard my third grade teacher’s voice, but the flowers outside the window were calling my name louder, so I paid attention to them. She clapped her hands in front of my face and snapped, “Why aren’t you paying attention? Stop daydreaming.” I was paying attention, just not to the correct things, apparently. Embarrassed and ashamed, I wanted to run away and cry. I wondered what is wrong with me?
“ADD can cause feelings of shame, fear, and self-doubt,” says Edward Hallowell, M.D. As parents, we need to know this. We need to recognize when our kids are hurting under the strain of ridicule, challenges, and frustration. We need to remind ourselves to see the beauty, joy, and wisdom in our children.
Here’s what I wish I knew when I was a child with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD).
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1. I wish I knew that I was smart.
Deep down inside, I had a feeling that I was brighter than the other kids. But if I was so smart, why was I afraid to raise my hand when I knew the answer? Because I didn’t trust my instincts — they’d been wrong so many times. I didn’t tell anyone that I was fascinated by science; that I couldn’t wait to study bugs under the microscope. I thought they would laugh. It wasn’t until high school literature class, when philosophical discussions sent a thrill up my spine and into my brain that I finally said, “Hey! This isn’t for dummies. And I love it.”
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2. I wish I knew how to recognize my potential.
The most discouraging comments of my youth came from teachers: “She’s got so much potential if only she worked harder; she could be on the honor roll.” The teachers probably had the best intentions, but the results were negative. Where was this so-called potential? I tried so hard to find it. As a child and later as a parent, that phrase stabbed me in the heart like a dagger. I dreaded the pain and frustration of parent-teacher conferences. I guess no one knew how to find my children’s potential either. As I grew older and discovered subjects that I enjoyed (art, books, music, and science), I began to see that the catalyst for potential is not hard work; it’s passion.
It’s true; I didn’t think or act like the rest of the kids. Being different felt like I wasn’t good enough. I tried, but I couldn’t fit into the mold. Parents and teachers didn’t know how to deal with my unusual style of thinking and behaving. I wish I knew then about the myriad of famous artists, composers, musicians, scientists, and actors who were chastised for being different, too. I would have loved someone to tell me that my differences put me in a special group of people who brighten and enlighten the world with music, stories, and masterpieces.
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4. I wish I knew how to explain what was going on inside my head.
As a child with ADHD, I often felt misunderstood. I’m sure that I looked lazy, lost, and confused to everyone else. While in my mind, I was analyzing, examining, and exploring endless possibilities. I didn’t feel lazy at all. My mind was constantly in motion. Thoughts were racing through my brain at the speed of light, and I didn’t know how to shut them off. I wish I could have explained what was going on to someone who would understand. A child with ADHD can be frustrating for parents, but remember the child is probably frustrated as well if her outside appearance is completely opposite to what she feels inside her mind.
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5. I wish I knew that my attention wasn’t a deficit.
Parents, teachers, and friends thought I wasn’t paying attention. I was; it’s just that my attention was diverted — focused on something more exciting to me. My ADHD brain doesn’t like to be bored, so it pays attention to the most interesting things it can. It’s hard for me to listen to something that bores my brain. I could fight through it in school, but it was harder for me than it was for the other kids. Now I know that tasks are more difficult for me because my attention is diverted. But my diversions are where I discover wonder, magic, and beauty.
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6. It’s okay to take a break when I’m overwhelmed.
There were times when I felt that I needed to run and hide to be alone. If there was too much noise, too much commotion, or too many people, I needed time to find some calm amid the chaos. I found serenity in my books, crafts, and favorite movies. The ADHD mind is active and exhausting. It’s important to know when to release the pressure and take a break. I wish I knew then that “zoning in” — when people thought I was “checking out” — had serious benefits.
7. I wish I knew that one day I would love having ADHD.
The ADHD mind sometimes feels like a curse, but it can also be a blessing. After several attempts in careers that did not fit my thought and behavior patterns, I worked at several jobs that did suit me perfectly. When I find something I love, I do a great job and give myself to it completely. The challenge is always about learning to adapt the work for my unique style. Once I do that, I can accomplish anything. The impossible becomes reality.
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8. I wish I hadn’t been afraid of ADHD medication.
ADHD medication can be scary for a person with ADHD. Kids and adults imagine turning into zombies — or at least I know I did. Even if your thought system doesn’t work so well, it’s the only one you’ve ever known. Plus there is comfort in familiarity, especially if you have ADHD. When it came to medicating my children, I feared that meds would open the door to a drug abuse pattern, encouraging them to use drugs to alter their moods. Unfortunately, the opposite was true. If you don’t medicate them when they need it, they will medicate themselves with drugs and alcohol.
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9. I wish I knew about ADHD coaching.
As an ADHD child, I felt there was no one who really understood, who believed me, and could help me manage my busy mind. Therapists would provide clarity and understanding, but it wasn’t until I discovered ADHD coaching that I learned to implement the therapists’ recommendations. There is nothing as comforting as being guided by someone who has ADHD; someone who truly knows what it feels like inside your head, and can offer customized tools for daily success.
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10. I wish I knew that I’d learn how to manage my ADHD in time.
Daily struggles can be discouraging. It was hard to get through projects that didn’t work the way my brain worked. I wish I knew that one day I would learn how to get through a homework assignment, finish projects on time, find my lost keys, be punctual, and make smart life choices. ‘Hard’ doesn’t mean ‘impossible.’ One of the positive traits of ADHD is that we are clever, resourceful, inventive, and creative. We find ways to work through tough situations, exploring, growing, and changing all the while.