Was this some sort of identity crisis, what’s wrong with me? This was the burning question throughout my life, into my twenties. It was the question I imagine my parents had, which was possibly answered for them by my diagnosis at 5 years old. At that age the diagnosis meant nothing to me, I only held onto the idea that I needed pills to be normal, and the taste of those pills wasn’t worth it.
ADHD defined who I was and what I did, or was allowed to do, no matter how I fought it. I had such a strict routine (by necessity) that I developed very little of my own personality. I was afraid to socialize because every time I did, it was awkward, and to this day that’s my greatest source of anxiety.
My only socializing was with the cross country team in junior high and high school, and they only put up with me because I was a good runner. Even on meds, common sense often evaded me. This is how I went through life … until I was 17.
“My name is Andrew, and I have ADHD.”
That’s when I had enough and stopped taking meds. I refused to let ADHD control me. I stopped taking meds and utterly failed to take control of myself. After about 2 years medication free I came to the false realization that ADHD does define me.
I went back on the meds and basically changed tracks in the course of my life (this is a whole article unto itself). I became a father around this time. A few years later, I was married with another baby on the way. I began to think about explaining to my kids why I was on meds, or having to potentially put them on meds, and began to take a hard look at my options, but also at my life.
I talked to my doctor and slowly came off my meds, while learning more about myself. I realized I had been focusing on the wrong thing. I had been fighting this notion that others had instilled in me that there was something wrong with me.
ADHD does not define me
The most important thing I have ever accepted in my life is that there is nothing wrong with me. This opened the door to finally figuring out who I am, and who I want to be.
There are so many questions I was finally asking, and questions I was finally answering. Rather than fight this thing that was wrong with me, I was learning how ADHD contributes to my life, and beginning to guide my life around it.
I came across online groups and found support and kinship, and found others had questions I had never thought to consider; questions I had never thought to ask about myself or about ADHD.
Am I disabled? Am I retarded (not even a word I use anymore, except in this context)? Is ADHD the source of everything I cope with? The more answers I found, the more enlightened I became.
Am I disabled?
It is important to note that I am not an expert, nor am I able to provide technical answers.
However, I had never considered myself to be disabled. I associated disabled with “unable” and it seemed a negative term. Think about it: bombs are disabled, and thus are rendered useless. People without legs are disabled. Blind people are disabled. Disability is physical and causes inability, right? Wrong. Think of it how you will, but ADHD is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and help is available (though not altogether enforced and accepted) in the U.S. educational system for all levels including college.
Are you disabled? Do you feel disabled? Do you feel that, maybe with help, you can do whatever you want? The answer is an individual thing, your answer is for you. There is help if you need it, beyond medication.
Am I retarded?
First off, not the right word to use. I learned two things when considering this. First, I am very technical in my understanding of words and terms and I use them accordingly.
I also, however, have used technical and harmless terms as derogatory terms, such as gay and retarded. Not directed at or toward gay or handicapped people, but to have a word to identify something as off, strange, weird, or not right. This is not okay. I mean, it goes beyond just having something to say, a word to use. There are people who are deeply offended by any but the most technical use of these terms.
The answer to the question, for me, is no. I am not retarded because I have learned this is not a word which should ever be used to describe a person, and more importantly that connotation does not apply to me, regardless of how you define the word.
Its really not a question to ask this question, except to realize this is an archaic way of thinking that has no place in society. Realize that, and then refer back to the paragraph above, regarding disability.
Is this all ADHD, or is there more?
The diagnosis opens the door to other things you didn’t know about yourself. These are often referred to as co-morbid disorders. This refers to disorders or attributes common among people with ADHD. They range from autism to anxiety to OCD and beyond.
You may go to a psychiatrist looking for answers on being absent minded or “hyper” and come away realizing that there is also a name for your high heart rate and borderline fear of socializing.
You may have ADHD with Co-morbid Social Anxiety. Again, remember I’m no expert, so the terms I use may not be the exact terms you will hear from the doctor. It is important to know, however, that ADHD is not your one-stop answer for everything. It may be just the start.
Is ADHD real?
Finally, perhaps the most debated question. Is this a thing, or Big Pharma shenanigans? I put this last because it was never a question for me, having lived with it my whole life.
I’ve hated it, and rebelled against meds, against the idea that there is something wrong with me, but I have always known this is a real part of my life. But when adults are introduced to their ADHD, denial is a very real and common reaction.
Let me explain why the answer does not matter. This is a term which describes some thing which can be treated with lifestyle changes and or medications. These treatments work. Period. I took ritalin for 25 years and, as much as I hated taking it, it worked. The difference was night and day, Jeckyl and Hyde.
This thing is very real. For all the research, denial, rejection, acceptance… all the possible responses to this diagnosis, eventually it means nothing without some understanding that this is real, and that there is nothing wrong with you.
And I, along with millions of others around the world with similar questions, have found some of the answers you seek.
You have but to ask.
My name is Andrew. I was diagnosed with ADD at the age of five, and have grown up with it. This is the window through which I discover more about ADHD. The pages on the newsfeed are my favorite ADHD related pages, so that I may, in turn, directly share with others those things which I find relevant, useful, or just plain goofy.
~ Andrew Wilcox