Guest Blogs

“Yeah, I’ve Got ADHD, But Don’t Feel Sorry for Me”

Even though I have a potentially debilitating “disorder,” I focus on the gifts of ADHD, and use the energy of the condition for success.

My name is Matt, but some people call me HazMat, which is short for “hazardous material.” My wife, Judy, says she’s the Tasmanian Devil Whisperer. That’s because I have ADHD, and it makes it really hard (OK, impossible) to sit still and focus on anything for more than a few minutes. I’m like a pinball, bouncing off the walls, switching gears on a dime. My mind and body go full tilt from the moment I wake up in the morning until I fall asleep at night. Life is kind of crazy for me sometimes.

I was diagnosed with ADHD back in the 1970s, when I was 11 years old. I always got along great with the other kids in school, but as I grew older, my non-stop energy became harder for my teachers and me to manage. My grades weren’t very good. I was getting low B’s and C’s, even though everybody told me I was smart enough to earn A’s.

Unless I was doing something I enjoyed and appreciated, I had trouble sitting still and staying on task-not only at school, but when it came time to do my homework and other activities. My parents worried about me, so they took me to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston for testing during summer vacation between the sixth and seventh grades. I had no idea why I was there. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me. I was happy. I was involved in sports, and I had lots of friends. Life was good from my perspective.

But the doctors at Mass General believed my life could be better. They diagnosed me with ADHD and prescribed a drug called Ritalin, which had just been approved to treat children with my condition. I was a “Ritalin Baby,” one of the first guinea pig kids to be given the drug. When summer vacation was over and I was back in school, I had to go to the nurse’s office every day at lunchtime, so she could give me my pill. It was weird and a little embarrassing sometimes. But it wasn’t long before my parents, teachers, and I saw a positive change. My grades skyrocketed; I got almost all A’s my seventh grade year, and I didn’t even have to study. I was able to sit through an entire class period and not be disruptive. I liked the way I felt, and I loved getting good grades.

It didn’t last. Since Ritalin had been approved only recently for use by children with ADHD, the medical community didn’t yet know the long-term consequences for kids taking the drug. They weren’t sure what the best dosages were. So out of an abundance of caution, my doctors allowed me to take Ritalin for only one year, and then they took me off it. I definitely felt the loss when I returned to school the following September. I wanted my Ritalin – and my good grades – back!

Now that I’m a grown man with more than four decades behind me, I’m grateful to my doctors and parents for taking me off the drug. I think way too many kids in America were (and still are) being over-medicated and misdiagnosed. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not anti-pharmaceutical. I believe in taking medicine when it’s necessary. But all children learn differently. I think the education system needs to change to help kids identify their unique characteristics or “flaws” as they call them, and help them use them in a positive way. Just because a kid is a square peg in a round hole – just because he’s a handful at times -doesn’t mean he should be dope him up for the rest of his life. That’s crap, and it’s tragic because that kid is probably brilliant in his own right, just as he is.

Nobody’s perfect. We all have weaknesses. We all have flaws. I believe that for most of us, these defects or weaknesses – when channeled properly and perhaps even celebrated – can become our greatest strengths.

Your “flaw” may actually be your superpower. That’s been my experience. ADHD is my superpower. It gives me an incredible amount of energy, which allows me to multi-task and to get stuff done. It also makes me intense, impulsive, fidgety, anxious, and impatient sometimes. It makes me controlling, scattered, and extremely blunt; I sometimes blurt out inappropriate things at inappropriate times.

But it also helps me get people pumped up and headed in the direction I want them to go. It makes me unafraid of chaos and assertive in the face of conflict. I’m decisive, I take action, I execute. My ADHD allows me to be creative at a million miles an hour. Going off on tangents is fun; I love it. Do people think I’m freaking crazy sometimes? Yeah, absolutely. They think I’m a total whack job. But I am a whack job who’s fiercely determined to make the most of his superpowers and live a happy life. I’ve never viewed ADHD as a negative. Instead, I’ve embraced it.

Even though I have a potentially debilitating “disorder,” you shouldn’t feel sorry for me. I channeled my ADHD onto a positive track and used it to build businesses that have not only made a lot of money, but have also made a lot of money for other people and made their lives better.

I’ve created numerous profitable companies – including the number one automotive repair chain in North America – and a thriving nonprofit youth sports league. I’ve won numerous awards, grown my net worth to multiple millions, given back to my community, and, most importantly, built a great life for myself and my family using these principles. I believe all that great stuff happened not despite my diagnosis, but because of it. I didn’t conquer ADHD; I leveraged it! And you can, too.

Everybody’s got some type of disorder-or two, or four. Find out what yours is, acknowledge it, and use it to help. Don’t be ashamed of it. Wear it as a badge of honor. Treat it as an asset, not a deficit. Let it guide you toward living your personal truth. If you can do this, I know it will make a positive difference in your life, too!