I’ve started this blog entry about a hundred different times (or at least that’s what it feels like). To say it’s difficult is not even close to describing what I’m feeling right now as I type this out. My hands are shaking like you wouldn’t believe and it’s kind of ridiculous. Yet, I can’t think of anything else to write because I feel this is important. So, here goes nothing.
Ace of Shifters here. Also known as the Badass Aro-Ace Feminist Avenger. I attend conventions, occasionally speak on panels, I’m the author of four (soon to be five, eek!) novels in my ongoing series. I’ll be teaching a seminar online at some point this summer.
I also happen to have Attention Deficit Disorder or ADD (it’s more officially known as ADHD 1 or 2, but I can never keep straight exactly which one. I also really resent that ADD has been crammed into ADHD seemingly to make things easier mostly for people who don’t have it). ADD was what it was known as when I was diagnosed and it’s what I feel most comfortable calling it. I was diagnosed with it way back when I was in 8th grade, at a time when it wasn’t as understood, and I have been taking medication for it ever since.
While there is a part of me that is kind of nervous about how people who I know finding out about this (if they don’t know already and those that do know have been overwhelmingly supportive and understanding, which is why I have the courage to write this), I am not at all ashamed of having ADD. I want to repeat that for anyone out there reading this: There is no shame in having ADD! And people who treat those with ADD as if it’s shameful are just complete fucking assholes.
Now I should mention that ADD/ADHD can manifest in different ways and no two people will have the exact same symptoms or experiences. For me, I’m an incredibly slow reader, especially when it comes to gigantic blocks of text. I also tend to need more complex or complicated ideas and theories explained two or more times just to give my brain time to process it. During my school years, I frequently needed extra time on tests (something that is a legal right for people with ADD/ADHD). In my own personal experience, I can’t multitask to save my life. I can’t read multiple books at once and I generally have to focus on one task at a time. One of my character flaws is that I tend to be a little more sensitive to criticism than I should be, which I feel is probably connected to the years of being made to feel as though I wasn’t good enough (a common experience among people with ADD/ADHD). It’s something I’m continually working on and I feel I’m definitely improving.
Perhaps the most humiliating aspect of ADD is something called “shutting down”: if I’m not receiving any kind of feedback, or worse if I receive solely negative feedback, my brain basically slams shut. What this means is I’ll still understand what’s being said, but I won’t be able to engage with it or probably even remember it. During a shut down, learning becomes impossible.
But you know what? I’m still incredibly smart. I read constantly, I engage with complicated material, I write novel after novel after novel. I’m learning a whole new language in my 30s (ASL). Granted, it’s not easy and I’m finding my ADD is frequently an obstacle I have to deal with it. But I’m one of those people who if I’m told I can’t do something, I’ll generally do it while flipping the naysayers off.
Recently, a friend posted an article on gifted students on social media. I mentioned how uncomfortable the term “gifted” makes me because it is frequently accompanied by incredibly abelist language and it really gives people an excuse to be abelist. It’s also a way to make students with learning disabilities someone else’s problem. This hierarchy of learning is incredibly damaging to people who have disorders like ADD, ADHD, and even dyslexia.*
*The more common learning disorders and the ones people often don’t know much about. Students who are often pawned off on someone else or labeled as slow and made to feel stupid. We’re the group who is usually underestimated, othered, and frequently infantalized.
After my comment, another person commented and I think they were agreeing with me but one of the first things they wrote was “Even though I was labeled gifted” and I just kind of massaged my temples in frustration. I have a few problems with how ADD/ADHD is discussed today, the main one being is that everyone has an opinion on ADD/ADHD but rarely are the people who actually live with it listened to. We’re talked over, pushed aside, and ignored in favor of people who are more learned, people who don’t have the disorder and therefore have no firsthand experience with it. When ADD/ADHD is discussed, it is frequently discussed with language that is inaccessible to people who have it. We’re suddenly made a problem that normal people have the answer to.
In fact, here are some things I never want to fucking hear again for as long as I live.
–“ADD/ADHD is overdiagnosed.” No, it really fucking isn’t. We happen to know more about the disorder now and that’s a good thing. It means more people get diagnosed earlier and maybe have to struggle a little less in life. Stay in your own fucking lane. Also, stop being so flippant about ADD/ADHD. You don’t have an “ADD/ADHD moment,” there’s no such thing. You may have a moment of inattention or distraction, but it is not the same thing. Please stop making light of something actual people deal with.
–“It’s just another excuse to medicate people/children. The medication doesn’t even really work.” (massaging temples intensifies) Why is it when it comes to learning disorders suddenly everyone and their Aunt Molly is a goddamn expert? No, I really don’t give a shit about your opinion on the medication I take. I don’t care that it never helped you or that you have this wild notion that it’s ineffective. Some people actually fucking need it. If I didn’t take it, I wouldn’t be able to work because I would be distracted by everything. My brain would be completely unable to focus. Also, it’s really fascinating how no one shames people who have physical ailments/conditions that require medication. It’s only the disorders you can’t see that apparently don’t need any sort of medication.**
**This is kind of a random aside: finals week tends to suck for people with ADD/ADHD because Adderall/Ritalin also happens to be the most abused medication. If you go about getting it the legal way, it is heavily regulated. I have to go in for 6 month checkups to make sure there’s no noticeable change in weight or diet (Adderall is a known appetite suppressant).
–“God, these spoiled white kids and their learning disorders. Just admit you’re lazy and put some effort in.” If I had a nickel for every time a teacher called me lazy, stupid, dumb, or any other number of belittling names. I had two different music teachers ask if I had been dropped on my head as an infant because I couldn’t read sheet music (and that’s part of the reason I don’t know jackshit about music: I gave up on it because I was continually made to feel like a burden when it came to music). Also, in regards to the first part of the sentence: POC who have ADD/ADHD have it the worst and are continually silenced and overlooked by the pervasive idea that it’s a “privileged white kid disorder.” Once again, people’s ignorance continues to harm marginalized communities.
— “What’s wrong with your face?” I have often been made fun of while speaking in public because I have . . . well, it’s basically resting bitch face. It often appears as though I’m bored or uninterested, when in fact it’s quite the opposite: as I mentioned earlier, when it comes to complex topics, I often need to take some time to engage with the material. So when someone’s speaking, I’m listening and not focusing on my face. I’m turning the information over in my mind and figuring out how I can engage with it. It’s the same thing when I’m speaking with a person just one-on-one: my face might be blank but trust me, the wheels in my mind are spinning and I’m hanging on your every word.
— People who find out someone they know has ADD/ADHD and immediately start treating them differently (either by speaking slower or by not sharing things they find interesting because they assume it’s too complicated). Most people who have ADD/ADHD live in fear of the day people find out about their disorder. Our culture has a very specific idea of what a learning disorder looks like and how those with such a disorder interact with the world. It would shock many people to learn that I was reading Poe in the third grade because that’s not something they think a person with a learning disorder would be capable of. Same with my being an author: I have met people who don’t understand how that’s possible for someone with ADD/ADHD.
In fact, there are a lot of people who just flat out won’t interact with someone who they know has ADD/ADHD. It’s just too much work in their opinion. Can you imagine how this feels? To be shunned because of something you have literally no control over? Look, we all need a break from people every now and again, but to outright reject someone because their mind functions differently?
Let me give a little anecdote from my ASL class, which consisted mostly of people who were quite a bit younger than me (mostly in the 18 – 21 age range). Learning a second language is almost guaranteed to reveal who has ADD/ADHD and it was pretty apparent after the 3rd or 4th class that I had it. Now, most of this class planned to go into the special education fields. The ASL class required a ton of group and partner work. Once it became apparent I had ADD/ADHD, or at least didn’t pick things up as quickly as most of the class, guess who no one wanted to partner with? That’s right, the “dumb” student. Let me repeat this: most of these students were going into special education! And they couldn’t bring themselves to work with someone who had a mild learning disability.
That folks, is how the world views and treats people with ADD/ADHD. And I guarantee you, if you don’t have it, most of you have probably treated someone with it in a similar manner. This doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It means that this world is severely lacking in compassion.
So, why did I write this blog? Because while living with ADD continues to be a challenge, it has also made me a more compassionate and empathetic person. It’s one of the many reasons I created Asexual Artists: because when I think of people who may be experiencing similar pain, similar struggles, it hurts me. I can’t not do anything. Even if I can’t do much, I can at least do something. I can at least show someone in the world that they’re not alone.
I will interview thousands of artists, hundreds of thousands, if it means saving someone out there from pain. If it means giving one ace artist a much-needed confidence boost or the will to keep going, I will run myself into the ground interviewing a million other artists.
So it is with this blog post: if I can help one person who has ADD/ADHD, if I can show them there is nothing to be ashamed of, than I will do so.
If you have ADD/ADHD, it’s not your fault. It doesn’t define you, it won’t hold you back, it doesn’t mean you’re stupid or slow. Your mind just functions a little differently than most people. Don’t ever be ashamed of that. Don’t be ashamed if you need to take medication. Don’t let others make you feel substandard or worthless. They’re not worth it.
You’re smart and amazing and so, so strong (chances are you deal with way more bullshit than most people). You can do whatever you put your mind to, even if it might take a little more time and/or effort, you can achieve anything.
I have ADD and I am unashamed! 🙂