Confession: ADHD is not my Superpower
What I Love and Hate About my ADHD Brain
A common thing I’ve encountered in the ADHD community is the theme of reframing your ADHD as your superpower.
Now, before we move any further, let me be clear: if you see ADHD as your superpower, I think that is beautiful and wonderful. I’m in no way, shape, or form suggesting you should change your mind. I simply don’t resonate with that sentiment, and that’s okay.
I’ve come to approach my ADHD brain in much the same way I’ve started approaching my body. Some days I feel attractive. Other days, I don’t. On the days feel ugly, I’ve stopped trying to convince myself I’m pretty. Instead I embrace this truth: my body looks how my body looks, in ways I like and in ways I dislike. I am not obligated to be good-looking and it is not a requirement to be of the opinion my body is good-looking in order to be grateful for my body and all it allows me to do or to love myself and my body.
Do I think seeing yourself as beautiful is a bad thing? NO. But it’s not what works for me.
In the same way, on those wonky brain days, whenever my ADHD is making my life difficult, I’ve stopped trying to make myself love my ADHD. I’ve simply started accepting this: my brain is what it is, the awesome and the frustrating. I don’t have to persuade myself to think ADHD is my superpower and love everything about my ADHD as a prerequisite to being grateful for the cool things my brain is capable of and all its strengths or to love myself and my brain.
With that being said, here are three things I love and three things I hate about living with an ADHD brain:
WHAT I LOVE ABOUT MY ADHD
The thrill of learning something new or figuring something out is one of my favorite parts being alive. And in hyperfocus mode, it just gets better. When I bought my camera, I spent multiple hours straight watching tutorials and experimenting hands-on to learn everything I could about using the different modes and features of the device. When I was first considering ADHD medication, I listened to podcast after podcast and read article after article on the topic and now consider myself a confidently educated consumer. Right now, I’m obsessed with cosmology and philosophy. I think I’ve learned a few semesters’ worth of information on my own this past month or two from any and every relevant source I could get my hands on. Losing myself in hyperfocus is a high.
Two: Understanding People
Noticing everything, yes, can be a burden. But picking up on microexpressions, body language, social cues, and tones on an almost subconscious level also makes me incredibly in tune with other people’s emotions and motivations, even when well-concealed. This has helped me throughout my life to give the sort of presence and feedback someone needs (even if they don’t realize it until they get it) and to avoid some unscrupulous characters and potentially dangerous or otherwise negative situations.
I attribute this trait to how quick and all over the place my thoughts are. I’m able to look at something and think around every side of it, which means I’m pretty good at identifying the root of issues, possible solutions to problems, and potential problems to solutions. This helps me be prepared (sometimes overly so) for things and to create solid plans of action or systems to try. It’s hard for me to run out of ideas!
WHAT I HATE ABOUT MY ADHD
One: Poor Emotional Regulation
ADHDers are no strangers to the spiral. My good friend, the spiral, comes to visit at the slightest hint of a negative emotion or situation and quickly plummets into an intense (usually internal) reaction. Down this spiral, everything is black and white. I didn’t just buy the wrong almond milk at the store again, I’m the most careless person on the planet. I didn’t just miss a detail in instructions, I’m stupid. I didn’t just make a mistake, I’m the worst friend/wife/family member anyone could ever have. I’m not just feeling upset, I want to die. The spiral, once I’m sucked into it, is very hard to bounce back from. It’s not fun knowing rationally something really isn’t a huge deal, but still feeling so emotionally out of control about it.
Two: Working Memory
Even having mentioned the spiral, I think for me the most frustrating part of ADHD is my poor working memory. From minor inconveniences like walking into a room or picking up my phone and not remember why I did a majority of the time to potentially costly or embarrassing ones like locking myself out of my car or work, losing important items, having a hard time keeping up in learning/playing complicated board games, or completing forgetting commitments I’ve made, working memory is at play. Yes, there are external systems and hacks to help make up for the deficit, but not entirely--and it would be so much more efficient to just be able to remember!
Overwhelm, for me, typically comes from one of two places: noticing everything or not being able to break down something I need/want to do. For example, sensory overload happens when my brain isn’t filtering out irrelevant environmental inputs, like a background noise or the way my shirt feels. Little things like this can add up and leave me feeling depleted by the end of the week. Whenever I’ve been in an overstimulating environment, like a loud restaurant or in my classroom when one of my toddler had a rough day, my brain can become fried and overwhelmed very quickly. There’s just too much going on. This can go for emotional things as well--picking up on other people’s emotions from the cashier at Walmart to a parent of one of my students at drop-off to the character in the TV show I watched to my husband when I get home can be exhausting.
And then there’s not being able to break something down, like a task or change in schedule My thoughts are moving in a thousand different directions and can’t seem to work together to decide what steps will be required, where to start, or how to get it done. This leads to the thing appearing insurmountable and overwhelming. When it comes to a change in schedule, my brain flips out--a predictable schedule gives me a sense of control. Whenever it is changed by someone who is not me, my brain has to recalibrate which is an overwhelming task because, if you will recall, my thoughts are moving a thousand different directions (and my schedule had been the one thing standing still!). Tears are not uncommon whenever this happens.
I will say, before wrapping this thing up, I’ve built on my own and with the help of my ADHD coach many strategies and systems to cope with and work around the hard parts of ADHD. In addition, medication has helped tremendously with my emotional regulation and feelings of overwhelm. My spirals are less frequent and nowhere near as deep; I can pull myself out more easily. And, because I am more in control my thoughts (which happen to be moving at a more reasonable pace now) I am better able to process information and tackle projects. I am thrilled with my decision to trying medication this summer.
With or without medication, the good and the bad, my brain is what it is. Creative and scattered. Empathetic and overly sensitive. Observant and forgetful. Resilient and fragile. I love myself. I’m grateful for all the things my brain can do despite of and thanks to my ADHD. It is what is and I will continue to find gratitude even if no one is wearing a cape. I hope you can too.