Okay. Tell the truth. Raise your hand if you believe in ADHD.

I’m going out on a limb here. Honestly, some days I’m embarrassed to tell people I have ADHD. Not because I have it. Because maybe it doesn’t even exist.

I mean, it’s a 50-50 proposition whether or not they’ll believe me anyway. After a while, receiving so many incredulous responses can wear you down.

But it’s not that others don’t believe me that bothers me. It’s that sometimes, I don’t believe me. In a previous post, I tried to put my finger on a definition of ADHD, and failed. If, after three years of research, I still can’t define it, does it really exist?

It’s so mercurial. It’s worse than trying to fish a lemon seed out of a glass…slippery. One minute I think I’ve grasped it, and then it’s gone.

It’s a physical brain difference. It’s biochemical. It’s my upbringing. It’s genetic. It’s…aaaargh! Who knows for sure?

When even a best-selling author whispers in your ear, “I don’t either,” after you’ve confided that sometimes you don’t believe in ADHD, ya gotta wonder (this actually happened when I interviewed Dr. Gabor Maté, author of Scattered Minds, A New Look at the Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).

My self-doubt began in childhood. I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD then, and if I was moody, I was supposed to just stop it. I couldn’t, and this eroded my self-confidence. My mom asked me to do something, so she must have believed it was in my power to do, right? But it wasn’t. I was completely puzzled by this contradiction.

Same thing with flying around the house at 1,000 miles a minute. I was expected to sit still. Again, I couldn’t. What was wrong with me? I knew it was not within my power to do what seemed to others like the simplest of things.

Maybe ADHD is an excuse. An excuse for my willfully wacky behavior, an excuse for pharmaceutical companies to make busloads of money, an excuse for shrewd marketers to sell me products I don’t need to “fix” me. Maybe it’s all just one big commercial scam. And writers like me are getting rich and famous from it (OK, some writers are getting rich and famous).

Try telling someone about your symptoms. I don’t even like calling things like distraction, poor memory, etc. “symptoms.” A symptom is a high temperature, runny nose, or cough, right? A broken arm? Psychotic episodes, OK. Now, that’s a symptom.

But disorganization? Distractibility? “Oh, I’m like that too!” they’ll answer. See? You’re just whining.

Then they’ll either imply that you’re no different than anyone else (so suck it up); or they’ll give you all kinds of suggestions as to how you can overcome your symptoms, like believing in yourself, building your self-confidence, letting go of what others think. And it sounds right. It really does. But in the back of your mind you’re thinking, I’ve tried that. You don’t get it. It’s not that easy. If it were, I would have done it. I’m in pain.

That elusive key to your happiness once again slips through your fingers. It’s enough to make you stop trying.

But we don’t do we? We’re tenacious, if nothing else.

Driven to DistractionIf it doesn’t exist, how did the authors of Driven to Distraction, Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., and John J. Ratey, M.D., nail me? It was like they’d been watching me all my life and just wrote it all down for everyone to read. They described me like they knew me better than anyone else in my life. If ADHD doesn’t exist, how did they do that?

Sometimes, I’m rock solid about ADHD: the medications help. Period. If they’re placebos for my non-existing condition, so be it. Whether by trial and error, or just dumb luck, somehow, since I’ve discovered this thing called ADHD, my life has slowly improved.

Dear Santa:

For Christmas I want to stop worrying about whether or not ADHD exists. I want to stop feeling like I have to justify or explain it when I tell someone I have it. I want to trust the decisions I make for myself, and fully embrace who I am, without labels. And maybe even for five blissful minutes, I want to forget about ADHD altogether. Oh yeah – that – and a new bike. I’ll try to be good until Christmas.


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