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ADHD: Just Because You Can’t See It, Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Real

ADHD impulsivity; Zoë Kessler gets a doctor, surgery, and an ADHD diagnosisOne of the worst outcomes of the all-too-prevalent stigma associated with ADHD is that it prevents adults from seeking diagnosis. Once diagnosed, they’re reluctant to reveal that they have been.

Some of the reasons for their reluctance to share their diagnosis are obvious. You don’t have to look far to meet somebody who’s lost a job because they’ve disclosed at work, or who had close friends and family deny that ADHD exists.

Is ADHD a religion?

Shortly after my diagnosis I interviewed Dr. Gabor Maté, Vancouver-based physician and author of Scattered Minds: A New Look at the Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Disorder (one my all-time favorite books on ADHD).

I shared my struggles with Dr. Maté about understanding ADHD. I’d been confused by conflicting theories about its origins, what it actually is, how to treat it, and even whether or not it’s real. When I remarked, Sometimes I have a hard time believing in ADHD, Maté answered (in his oft-acerbic manner):

“What is it, a religion?”

I was taken aback. We chatted further, and he confided in a conspiratorial tone, “I don’t believe in it either.” He was probably teasing me, I’d have to check my notes for the context, but my point is, if two reasonably well-informed adults (both diagnosed with ADHD themselves) can have a conversation about believing in ADHD, how much more difficult is it to convince someone without it, or without the education, knowledge of the research, etc., that it exists?

Desperate times call for desperate measures

Given the nebulous nature of ADHD, with no definitive blood test or equivalent for diagnosis; and given that others can be so quick to judge and dismiss, I found myself during one especially dark period shortly after my diagnosis with a thought I immediately self-censured.

It would be so much easier if I was in a wheelchair.

You’ll understand this thought if you’ve ever shared your ADHD diagnosis and come under fire from someone’s skepticism, ignorance, denial, or outright attack.

Almost four years since starting ADHD from A to Zoë, I still receive the occasional (but vehement) personal attack on my intelligence, character, and alleged moral turpitude based on someone’s belief that ADHD isn’t real.

Out of the blue

Sometimes, all it takes is one other person to validate our ideas. That support can come like a bolt out of the blue.

For me, that bolt struck at a meeting where I’d practiced a presentation for the Workplace Wellness and Mental Health 2013 Conference in Toronto, Canada.

As the designated evaluator offered his feedback, I listened intently. I was glad he felt my presentation went smoothly. Then came the bolt out of the blue. He concluded:

“Disabilities take on many forms… Some are visible, others are not.

Physical ones … Like a wheelchair… Announce a disability and open a door for discussion.

Invisible ones, like yours, can be misunderstood.”

Tears sprang to my eyes. I barely heard the rest of what he was saying as he thanked me for giving an entertaining and informative talk.

I was stunned, not just by this impromptu validation for my illicit thought, but more so because I hadn’t said one word in my speech about the frustrations of sharing an ADHD diagnosis only to be met with hostility, rude remarks, or denial. I hadn’t said a word about how often people are fired or discriminated against because of it.

I didn’t tell him how demeaning or dismissive it feels to have your disclosure met with, “Oh, everyone has ADHD,” or “everyone struggles with that;” how frustrating it is to not be able to communicate the lifelong suffering – sometimes profound – that can happen before a late diagnosis and treatment.

I didn’t mention how often doctors and other medical practitioners who are turned to for help, themselves dismiss their patients with ADHD.

That’s why I cried.

I felt recognized by the perfect person to tell me my thought was ok. He reassured me that my thought wouldn’t offend anyone.

He was right: my disability doesn’t come with a wheelchair.

But his does.


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ADHD: Just Because You Can’t See It, Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Real

Zoë Kessler, BA, B.Ed.

Zoë Kessler is an award-winning author, journalist, and speaker specializing in women and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD / ADD).

A frequent contributor to ADDitude Magazine, Kessler has also created video, standup comedy, and guest blogs on ADHD and Marriage covering ADHD-related topics.

Zoë, an internationally recognized ADHD expert, has been interviewed on radio and featured in magazine articles, documentaries, and books on the topic of women and ADHD across North America.

Her newly-released memoir ADHD According to Zoë - The Real Deal on relationships, Finding Your Focus & Finding Your Keys (New Harbinger Publications, 2013) about life with ADHD is now available.

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APA Reference
Kessler, Z. (2013). ADHD: Just Because You Can’t See It, Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Real. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 19, 2019, from


Last updated: 1 Jul 2013
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