When you’re first diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you might have mixed emotions. On the one hand, you might feel relieved to finally have an explanation for your symptoms. You might be relieved to know why you regularly lose your wallet and keys; can’t tolerate boredom; have a hard time concentrating; are easily distracted by seemingly everything sometimes but have a laser-like focus other times; and can’t seem to finish things.
On the other hand, you might feel disappointed, angry or ashamed. You might think there’s something seriously wrong with you. You might bash and berate yourself, believing that you’ve found proof of your inadequacies. Clearly, I’m lazy. I’m just not disciplined enough. I’m such an idiot. I’m such a failure. I can never do anything right!
You also might adopt unhelpful perspectives that only exacerbate your negative thoughts and stop you from navigating ADHD successfully. Below, clinical psychologist and ADHD expert Roberto Olivardia, Ph.D, shared two belief systems along with why they’re wrong.
Not Using the Label “ADHD”
You might think that using the label “ADHD” limits you. You might worry that using it ensures you’ll have a bleak future. Many people have these concerns.
“Many people hate labels, especially when it comes to diagnostic labels,” said Roberto Olivardia, also a clinical instructor in the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “It is associated with stigma, feeling pigeonholed, and judged.” But the name “ADHD” isn’t the problem. It’s “the ignorance people have about the name.”
For instance, individuals may not realize that ADHD is a neurobiological and genetic condition. It isn’t caused by poor parenting, laziness or lack of intelligence, Olivardia said.
Also, contrary to popular belief, everyone isn’t “a little ADD.” Just because everyone can relate to procrastinating, being bored in class, and getting distracted doesn’t mean understanding what it’s like to have ADHD. “That is like saying that everyone can relate to being an alcoholic because they got drunk once at their friend’s wedding.”
Olivardia encouraged readers to embrace the label. Not using “ADHD” distances you from decades of research investigating interventions and strategies specifically for people with ADHD.
As he said, “Would we ever do that for a ‘medical’ issue?” Take the label “diabetic,” for instance. “If you were diabetic, it is essential that you know that in order to get proper treatment, so you can live a full, healthy, engaged life.”
Believing ADHD is “Curable”
Some books and websites promote the idea that ADHD is curable (and they have the cure.) However, if you see ADHD as a curable condition, you’ll (inaccurately) see your symptoms in a vacuum, Olivardia said.
For instance, you might work on your impulsive shopping habit without realizing that you’re really struggling with an impulse control issue. That means that your impulsivity may manifest in all sorts of ways: alcoholism, substance abuse, gambling, excessive video gaming, he said.
ADHD isn’t something to be cured. Instead, it’s a condition to manage, because it’s lifelong, Olivardia said. This means maximizing ADHD’s strengths, such as creativity, spontaneity and out-of-the-box problem solving, he said. And it means minimizing its pitfalls, such as inattention, distractibility, forgetfulness and a propensity for procrastination.
Managing ADHD takes hard work. But you can absolutely lead a successful and satisfying life. The key is to accept your diagnosis and find strategies that work well for you. Seek professional help from a therapist or coach who specializes in working with adults with ADHD. You also might find it helpful to take medication.
Either way, remember that you’re not lazy. You’re not stupid. You don’t lack discipline, and you aren’t a failure. You have a condition that many people have (about three to five percent of the U.S. population). You have a treatable condition that won’t stop you from leading a fulfilling life.
You can learn more about ADHD here.
Lost keys photo available from Shutterstock