Updated: Apr 17, 2022
Have you accepted your ADHD self with all its strengths, struggles, and necessary accommodations? Or are you still trying to pass as a neurotypical "muggle", trying harder and harder to "just be normal", "just get organized", "just be calm", "just get it together"?
This is an unwinnable battle. You're not a neurotypical and you won't finally turn into one. Instead, self-acceptance will let you thrive in your uniqueness. It's the key to making ADHD magic. It's that simple. But not easy.
All the medication, coaching, and therapy in the world will not make you neurotypical you won't finally turn into a muggle
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental brain difference. It can't be "fixed". How much it affects you waxes and wanes over your lifetime.
But even with the best standard of care, your brain will remain different. As the adage goes, pills don't build skills. Medication alone won't do the trick. That's where coaching and sometimes therapy come in. And vice versa, often, the best coach or therapist can only optimally support you if you're on the right type and amount of medication.
Even with the best treatment in the world: you won't finally become neurotypical.
Building skills is like upgrading your software
As you build skills, your brain wiring does change. It's like upgrading your software, only that you have to build it yourself. So it's a long and slow process requiring lots of repetition. Thanks to the gift of neuroplasticity, however, your brain is able to change. That's the reason why coaching works.
Your hardware and operating system, on the other hand, will stay the same. And it's different from that of neurotypicals. It's like we run on Linux while most of the rest of the world runs on Windows and macOS. Interfacing is often a bit complicated.
Self-acceptance helps you face reality - yes, it's complicated sometimes (and we're sometimes complicated), but we can't just turn into neurotypicals because that would supposedly be easier for everyone.
Your unique ADHD struggles are not character flaws - Self-acceptance is key
We with ADHD are often a puzzle to our environment. Why can we be good at one thing and terrible at the next (clue: interest)? Why can we do the same thing well in one situation and not in another (clue: situational variability)? Why do we forget things /dates / tasks / our kid's birthday or even our own birthday (clue: working memory issues)? Why are we acutely emotionally attuned to some things and clueless about others (this is still a puzzle to me, if you have a clue, please write to me)?
To the outside world, we often look like we're not trying or plain lazy / stupid / uncaring. Like we just have severe character flaws. While ADHD may never ever be an excuse to be abusive, the day-to-day issues that make us hard on neurotypicals are explained by our neurobiology. We are not bad people. We try really hard. We care a lot.
Understanding our ADHD struggles, accepting them for what they are, and advocating for accommodations and support are the key to getting out of the shame spiral. Self-acceptance is the first step to thriving with ADHD.
Next, you may find that you've been tolerating judgments from people in your life that you're now no longer willing to accept. But that is the subject of another post.
Stop discounting your strengths; start celebrating them
In my coaching practice, I so often catch people with ADHD discounting their strengths. I am still guilty of that myself. Because we struggle so much with what others find easy, we seem to think that everything that comes to us easily cannot possibly be worth much. This is a huge mistake in thinking that predisposes us to being exploited. Let me explain.
As long as we feel we are "less than" and feel we need to compensate for whatever we've been shamed into believing about ourselves (slow / lazy / stupid / uncaring etc.) and we don't recognize how much value we add with our strengths, we can easily be guilted into doing more and more and more of what comes easily to us. I believe this is one of the causes of workplace burnout for ADHDers and exhaustion in one's personal life.
Our brains (all brains) have a negativity bias, so noticing what we rock at can be hard. It is so worth the effort. A place to start can be the free VIA character strengths test. Or write to me, and I'll send you a strengths survey worksheet to discover more.
Recognizing our strengths and offering ourselves appreciation for what we do easily and well is vitally important. It sounds simple, but for many of us, it's a tough mind shift. The more you practice, the better your brain gets at spotting the positive.
As this post about ADHD and relationships shows, we're sometimes a lot for neurotypicals to handle (and for other ADHDers as well). It's often easy for our neurotypicals to spot all our areas of struggle and judge us. What often goes unnoticed and is just taken for granted is the unique value we add to our relationships, thanks to our strengths such as creativity, enthusiasm, spontaneity, kindness, and forgiveness. Shining a spotlight on our strengths can change the dynamic in a relationship.
How will you remember to catch yourself using your strengths, working your ADHD magic, maybe even feeling proud of yourself? When you do, please take a moment to let it sink in, to really savor the moment. Our brains need the extra attention to the positive to anchor it. Let the moment sparkle.
Further posts you may like:
If you want to read more about how to make sense of our confusing ADHD behavior - with its superpowers and struggles, here's a longer post on that.
Updated European Consensus Statement on diagnosis and treatment of adult ADHD.
Kooij JJS, Bijlenga D, Salerno L, Jaeschke R, Bitter I, Balázs J, Thome J, Dom G, Kasper S, Nunes Filipe C, Stes S, Mohr P, Leppämäki S, Casas M, Bobes J, Mccarthy JM, Richarte V, Kjems Philipsen A, Pehlivanidis A, Niemela A, Styr B, Semerci B, Bolea-Alamanac B, Edvinsson D, Baeyens D, Wynchank D, Sobanski E, Philipsen A, McNicholas F, Caci H, Mihailescu I, Manor I, Dobrescu I, Saito T, Krause J, Fayyad J, Ramos-Quiroga JA, Foeken K, Rad F, Adamou M, Ohlmeier M, Fitzgerald M, Gill M, Lensing M, Motavalli Mukaddes N, Brudkiewicz P, Gustafsson P, Tani P, Oswald P, Carpentier PJ, De Rossi P, Delorme R, Markovska Simoska S, Pallanti S, Young S, Bejerot S, Lehtonen T, Kustow J, Müller-Sedgwick U, Hirvikoski T, Pironti V, Ginsberg Y, Félegyházy Z, Garcia-Portilla MP, Asherson P. Eur Psychiatry. 2019 doi: 10.1016/j.eurpsy.2018.11.001 Link to publication