I HAVE ADHD PODCAST - Episode #238

November 21, 2023

A Beginner’s Guide to ADHD, Part 2: ADHD is (NOT) a Gift

Is ADHD a superpower? Is it not a superpower? We’ll talk about that today, in our “Getting Back to Basics” series, part 2.

If you’ve been around here a while, you know that my position is – NO! ADHD is not a superpower. It’s not a gift. It’s not awesome!

When people say ADHD is a gift or a superpower, they point to traits like creativity, hyperfocus, and inventiveness.

So sure, Simon Sinek, if you’re a rich, white, super smart, privileged man, you can look at some of the qualities that you have and say – “ADHD is an amazing quality of my life.”

But here’s the thing: If you’re a student struggling in school with very few resources, without the privilege of a diagnosis, treatment, or support, who’s being made fun of or rejected by their peers, then – NO, ADHD is not a gift. 

Labeling ADHD as a superpower invalidates people who are struggling with this neurodevelopmental disorder. It can even lead to victim-blaming: “If ADHD is awesome, then I’m the problem.”

In my opinion, this is not the right way to address ADHD. It’s actually quite the opposite.

I worked for a decade with students and their parents. I, myself, am a parent to two children with ADHD. I’ve found out, time and again, that telling children the truth, validating their struggles, and giving them coping skills is a better way to go.

Saying ADHD is awesome invalidates your true experience and reality. Instead, understand ADHD challenges and understand how to cope and reach out for help and support.

It’s so important for us to live in the reality of what ADHD is and how it affects us.

As you navigate your ADHD journey, I want you to know that YOU are amazing, not ADHD. YOU are the gift, not ADHD. Your personality, your goodness, and your generosity are all gifts. Don’t let ADHD take the credit for your badassery!

If you want help better understanding the role ADHD plays in your life, I invite you to check out my group coaching program FOCUSED. Come join our incredible community of like-minded people who are learning to thrive with their diagnosis instead of just surviving.

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Kristen Carder

Welcome to the I have ADHD podcast, where it’s all about education, encouragement and coaching for adults with ADHD. I’m your host, Kristen Carter and I have ADHD. Let’s chat about the frustrations, humor and challenges of adulting relationships working and achieving with this neurodevelopmental disorder. I’ll help you understand your unique brain, unlock your potential and move from point A to point B. Hey, what’s up, this is Kristen Carter and you are listening to the I have ADHD podcast, I am medicated. I’m caffeinated. I am regulated, and I’m ready to roll.

I actually think the claim that I’m regulated may be slightly questionable at the moment, but we’re gonna go with it. It’s just regulation is a little bit subjective. And today, my kids have off of school because of teacher in service and Election Day. And I’ve been so off the entire morning. And like, it just seems like I mean, it’s not the morning anymore. The whole day. I’ve just been so off. And it’s funny because every once in a while I have this thought that’s like, wow, I’m really managing my ADHD so well. It’s barely noticeable. And then bam, I have a day like today and I’m like, oh, there it is. There’s that ADHD that I was feeling a little smug about so called overcoming. That is not the case, I can assure all of you.

The first sign was that I woke up on my own with no alarm because the kids didn’t need to get up and I ate breakfast right away, which I am telling you I never do. Like I know it sounds normal, but I never do that. I go to my AG1 straightaway. And then I go right to the coffee pot like every single day for a long time. That’s what I’ve been doing. And I don’t usually eat breakfast until like nine or 10am. I’m just not hungry and whatever, it doesn’t matter. But I went straight to the pantry. Today I got my frosted Mini Wheats and ate a bowl of cereal and then went to the couch. And then I was like, Wait a second, did I drink coffee? Did I drink my AG1 like it was so I know that sounds dumb. But when you do the same thing every day in a row over and over and over. And then all of a sudden, you just do something different, like my brain was like, um, and we’re going offline. So it was hilarious and annoying. And luckily, my only job today is that I have to like compose and record this podcast. But actually, that’s the hardest job that I have. I’m not sure. I just I can’t believe I’m here doing it.

Technically, I’ve been on the clock since 10:15am Trying to get this done. But it is now 11 And I’m just able to gather my thoughts and able to make this happen. So that’s three hours of quote unquote wasting time. Now I have a lot of thoughts about wasting time and what that means. And I usually do not use that phrase, but let me tell you, I waste I wasted time. And I’m not mad about it. I’m just confused like what in the world is going on? If ADHD is a superpower? Why can I just start my work when I’m supposed to start my work?

And that’s exactly what we’re talking about today? Is ADHD a superpower? Is it not a superpower? And how should we talk about it? But today when I was wasting time, like any good ADHD or I did something that I’ve been putting off for months, years really I did a big thing. While I was avoiding my work, I joined tic tac it’s not a big deal all of you on tic tac and you’re just like okay Christian, like finally you caught up and you got with the program but for me it was a very big deal not only that I joined tick tock but I also made my first tick tock video and in like full disclosure here I just had to Google whether it’s called a real on tic tac, tic tac I’m not even going to edit that out. I’m not sure what is it called when it’s on tick tock I think it’s just called a tick tock oh my gosh, I am 42 years old and it is showing anyway. It’s probably a very clear sign that I should not be on the tick tock but if you want to be my friend and connect with me, please do because this could be fun.

My name is Kristen Carter dot ADHD, or my handle or whatever I wanted to use my real name. It felt like a big grown up step for me So Kristen Carter dot ADHD. Don’t forget my last name is car D Er So yeah, after years of avoiding it. For some reason, my adorable brain decided that today while I should be writing a podcast, today was the day to join Tik Tok. So I currently have eight followers. I would love a few more or if you want to hang with me on tick tock, come on over. So now it’s 123. I have a meeting at 2pm. And honestly, I’m just using that deadline as the fuel for getting this podcast done, which is just sometimes what you got to do. Sometimes you just have to use the fuel of a deadline to get the stuff done. And that’s fine. There’s no shame in that. There is no shame. But if ADHD was a superpower, I would just be able to do what I need to do when I need to do it. Am I right? Am I right? Okay, so today is episode two of the Getting Back to Basics series. So I wanted to take a few weeks to pop out a couple short episodes on the basics of adult ADHD because this podcast I have ADHD podcast has been around for nearly five years, and it’s grown and evolved. And I’m realizing that I personally really love, love, love long form content, like episodes that are an hour or too long. But you the listener might not enjoy that. Or you might not have the patience for it. And I remember when I was exploring my ADHD years ago and looking for podcasts on ADHD, the ones that had long episodes are a huge turnoff for me. I was like, Yeah, I’m not listening to that. I’m not sitting and listening. And now, I don’t know.

Now I listen to podcasts all day long. So whatever. Anyway, I’m here with a few shorties for ya. Okay, we’re getting back to the basics. So make sure to subscribe, hit that follow button. So you don’t forget that this pod exists. Because you will, because you have ADHD. And if you’re loving this content, it would seriously mean the world to me, if you would hit that five star rating button. Spotify listeners, I see you, you are going crazy with your ratings. And I appreciate you so much. I’m sending you a big hug. So today we’re talking about a very controversial topic that tends to get people fired up on both sides, myself included. And that topic is the question.

Is ADHD a superpower? Is it yes or no? So if you know me at all, if you’ve been around here for a minute, you know that my position is that no, ADHD is for sure. Not a superpower. And I’ll go into that in great detail. But if you are new, and you’re kind of shocked to hear me say these words, don’t turn this episode off just yet. I promise that I will be kinds and I will be empathetic and nice and loving and good. And I will do my best to make you feel encouraged and seen, even if our opinions differ on this topic. Okay, so here’s the official Kristen Carter position. And that is that ADHD is not a superpower. It’s not a gift. And it’s not awesome.

There it is. I said it. And I see things from time to time from well meaning kind people, whether in the ADHD industry or in the media saying ADHD is a superpower ADHD is a gift. It comes with so many benefits. And when that happens, I am filled with rage. I’m looking at you, Simon Sinek that’s exactly who I’m looking at right now. I just cannot because here’s the thing as we get rolling here, here’s what I want to say. People who claim that ADHD is a gift or a superpower or is amazing or awesome. They point out traits that are common among people with ADHD and they say look at sheers are so creative. Look ADHD ears can hyper focus. Look ADHD ears are so inventive.

Look, ADHDerss are whatever you fill in the blank. There’s all of these like, common themes where people attribute positive characteristics and someone’s personality or cognitive ability to ADHD. And what I want to say as we get started here is not everyone with ADHD is creative. Not everyone with ADHD has an amazing memory. Not everyone with ADHD is inventive. Not everyone with ADHD has the cognitive ability to thrive. And so, sure, Simon Sinek if you are a rich, white, super smart, privileged man.

Sure, you can look at some of the qualities that you have and say ADHD is an amazing quality of my life. But if you are a student who is struggling in school with very few resources, without the privilege of a diagnosis or treatment or support, who’s being made fun of who’s being rejected by their peers, who is being yelled at by their parents and teachers, that is not a gift. Okay?

So ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can be absolutely debilitating, especially if it’s left untreated. ADHD has ruined marriages. It’s caused car accidents, it’s caused debt and job loss and it even shortens life. expectancy, there have been studies to show that ADHD shortens life expectancy. That doesn’t sound like a superpower to me. Okay? That’s not even like the shadow side of a superpower. This is the outworking of symptoms of a mental health condition that has the potential to ruin lives if it’s left undiagnosed and untreated. Now, there’s so much research and information out there in the world to indicate how severely ADHD can harm our lives if we don’t treat it properly if we don’t have a lot of really good support. And I’m not that’s not the point of this episode. I’m not going to get into that. I’ve actually done an entire episode on that topic called the dangers of ADHD. It’s right around episode 100. I think it’s like 103. And if you haven’t listened to it, I do highly recommend that you check it out. Because in it, I present a lot of research and give a lot of evidence to like how ADHD is not really great. And I hope that the big takeaway is wow, this is something to be cared for. Wow, this is something that I should take seriously. Wow, this is something that I should consider treating in myself and or in my child. Okay, so I cite a bunch of scholarly articles, which are also linked in that episode show notes. So again, it’s called the dangers of ADHD. But that’s not the point of this episode. In this episode, I’m concerned about how we label ADHD and I’m concerned that labeling ADHD as a superpower or as a gift or as the Holderness family likes to call it awesome. Which I love the Holderness family. Amazing Race winners. Awesome creators on YouTube. Love them.

But But why are you making T shirts that say ADHD is awesome? Why? In my opinion, this is doing more harm than good in the ADHD community. One of the reasons why I believe this is true, because labeling ADHD as a superpower actually invalidates people who are struggling. Think about it. If this is a gift, or if it’s superpower or if it’s supposed to be awesome. Why am I struggling so much? Why can’t I get my life together? Why can I hold a job? Why are all of my relationships falling apart? I must be doing something wrong. If ADHD is awesome, and my life is not awesome, then I must be the problem. That’s not what we’re looking for here people. Now my suspicion and in my experience is that parents of ADHD children are tempted to help their kids see ADHD through the lens of being a gift or a superpower or awesome, which actually the Holderness family has said. So pen and Kim have both said their son has been diagnosed with ADHD and they don’t want him to look at his brain as if it’s broken. They want him to see the good things about his brain, and I am all for seeing the good things about your brain 100%. But why are we saying that ADHD is a good thing.

There’s good things about your brain. There’s good things about you your personality, we’re going to get into all of that. But listen, I worked for a decade with children who struggle in school, I owned a tutoring center and I sat with families and students. And I saw time and time again that educating kiddos and telling them the truth, and then giving them coping skills is the better way to go. And I happen to be a parent of two kids with ADHD myself. And I never Of course, I don’t want my child to feel badly, or to struggle or to look at themselves as being broken. But first, the truth is that life is full of feeling badly. And hello. Like let’s just live in reality here. And to try to paint ADHD as pretty or fun or superpower is the perfect way to invalidate my kids experience and having them question their own reality. Wait a second, this doesn’t feel awesome. I can barely get my homework done.

I cannot control my emotions. I’m being rejected by my peers. I’m struggling with intrusive thoughts. I can’t sleep at night I can get myself out of my bed to my alarm. Why are you telling me this is awesome. And so what I am saying would not match their reality and that is the perfect way to invalidate someone and impair their ability to build self trust. Instead, I’d rather my child understand the challenges of ADHD and know how to deal with those challenges. understand exactly how to cope, how to get support, how to reach out for help, rather than view it as awesome or superpower and then not take it seriously or think that there’s something wrong with them because they don’t feel very superhero ish as a Her son with ADHD and occasional anxiety and depression, food and nutrition are parts of my life that I’ve always been a struggle for me. I don’t love to cook, I forget to eat meals and the texture of mushy, cooked vegetables really drives my sensory issues crazy. This is why I rely on ag one as a daily nutrition supplement that supports whole body health. Now, I started using this product a year and a half ago on my own with my own money paying out of pocket. And I’ve loved it, I’ve used it persistently, and I’ve noticed a big difference in the way that I feel. So when ag one reached out to sponsor this podcast, it was literally the first partnership ever, that I’ve wanted to say yes to. And so here we are. I love that AG1 is made with 75, high quality vitamins and minerals and Whole Foods sourced ingredients. I love that no matter how inconsistent my diet is, I can always count on it to provide daily nutrients and gut health support that my body craves. My body is like Oh, actual nutrition. Thank you so much, Kristen Carter. So if you want to take ownership of your health, it starts with ag1, try ag1 and get a free one year supply of vitamin D and five free travel packs with your first purchase, go to drinkag1.com/ihaveadhd, that’s drinkag1.com/ihaveADHD, check it out.

Now, I’m not a model parent. And that’s not what this podcast is about. But I do feel like it’s relevant, because I think a lot of this is coming from parents with kids who have ADHD, who don’t want their child to be stigmatized, or to feel like they’re broken. And so if this is you, I want to give you a script. This is what I helped parents to do. When I worked with students who struggled in school. So many of them had ADHD. And so many parents would say to me, I don’t want to tell my kid, they have ADHD, I don’t want them to feel like there’s something wrong with them. And I would I would always say is, um, they already feel like something is wrong with them. They already feel that, wouldn’t it be better to give them a reason for their struggle, rather than to pretend that they’re not struggling? Or to make them feel like the reason that they’re struggling is their character or their problem? Or they’re like not doing it? Right. And so the scripts that I would give the parents I would say, listen, here’s what I recommend saying to your kiddo. You know how you’ve been struggling in school so much? The kids like, yeah, you know how you hate doing homework? It’s like, so not fun. Yeah. You know how your other friends?

Like you told me that Johnny is getting a good grade in history, but for some reason, like you’re not getting a good grade. And that’s really frustrating to you. Yeah. Okay. I’ve really good news. We’ve figured out why we’ve figured out why you’re struggling. And the reason is not that you’re lazy. And the reason is not that you are doing something wrong. The reason is because your brain works a little bit differently. And we didn’t know that. And now that we do know it, we’re going to help you. We’re going to give you the support that you need, so that you can be as successful as you want to be. Hello. Isn’t that what every child and honestly adult would love to hear?

That is not creating ADHD as a superpower that is living in the reality of what ADHD is, and putting the spin on like, listen, we’re going to help you we’re going to give you support. We don’t need to bring in stigma here. The reason why you’re struggling is because your brain works differently. And now that we know that your brain works differently. We’re going to do these things to help you and so maybe you choose to medicate. Maybe you choose to interact with his schoolwork differently.

Maybe you choose to get the kiddo an IEP or a 504 plan, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Okay, so parents, we do not have to spin ADHD as a superpower in order to make our kids feel good. Our kids already feel bad. And what they want is validation. In my opinion, in my experience, what kids want is validation. I knew there was something different about me. And I want to point you to your own experience. Isn’t that what you wanted before your diagnosis? Or if you are pre diagnosis right now, isn’t that what you want? Don’t you want validation? Don’t you want someone to say hey, you’re smart. You are amazing. You are gifted. You are a beautiful gift to the world but Your brain works differently. And if you don’t take care of the way that your brain works, you probably are going to continue to struggle. So let me help you figure out how to support your brain. Okay, when my own ADHD kids are struggling, or when they complain about, you know, something that would be related to a symptom, or when I’m frustrated with how their ADHD is manifesting, I really try my best to validate their experience. And I usually say something like, You know what, this is really hard. And you’re right, it’s totally unfair. And I’m so sorry that you’re struggling. And I’m sorry that you have to deal with this. This is so annoying and hard. What do you need? How can I support you? Here are the things that work for me? Do you want to try and see if they work for you? Now, this validates their struggle, and it gives them the space to ask for help. And what if we say the same things to ourselves? My friends, what if when you are struggling, you say to yourself, you know what self? This is really hard. And this isn’t fair. And I’m sorry that you’re struggling? And I’m sorry that you’re having to deal with this. What do you need? How can I support you? What is out there that maybe we’re not taking advantage of yet? What can I give you that we’re maybe not implementing yet? I mean, doesn’t that feel way better than to say, Oh, come on. It HD is hard. But it’s also a gift. I mean, look at the bright side. Look at the bright side, you’re so creative, which maybe they’re not creative. I’m telling you, not everyone with ADHD is creative.

Alright, so this brings me to my next point, which is, in my opinion, saying ADHD is a superpower or a gift or awesome, it’s borderline or maybe even overt, honestly, I can’t decide. It’s a form of toxic positivity. A mental health diagnosis that has a myriad of negative symptoms, and even more negative outcomes is not a gift. And in my opinion, when someone is struggling, which Hello, everyone with ADHD is struggling to tell them that it’s a gift. It’s, it’s not okay, it’s kind of gaslighting, right? It’s positivity. And in a place where just it’s inappropriate. What I’m looking for is validation and empathy. I don’t need you to spin this. Alright, ADHD is hard. Can we just live in reality, we do not need to create a fantasy of it being awesome. We can learn to accept that ADHD is difficult. It doesn’t do us any favors to gift wrap ADHD in a pretty package. And gaslight ourselves into thinking that we should actually be thankful for it. Because here’s something that I think is really important. And this is one of the main reasons why I get so passionate about this particular topic, and about labeling ADHD as a gift or awesome or superpower.

Here this reading, why would I medically treat a gift? Why would I spend my money for support of a superpower? Why would I work so hard to obtain a diagnosis, if I’m just going to find out something is awesome. It’s not necessary to put the steps in place to take care of something that I should be super happy about or thankful for or viewing as a gift. Right? And so this is why my blood boils when people in the industry or famous people, Simon Sinek the Holderness family says,

Listen, it’s awesome. It’s amazing. I’m so grateful for it. Here’s what people hear. This is something that’s super great. And you should be super grateful for and you should look on the bright side, and you should feel good about it. And so if that is the case, why am I going to seek treatment? Why am I going to get a diagnosis? Why am I going to work so hard to get medication and acquire medication? And y’all that is hard enough? Am I right? Why am I going to put supports for myself in place? Why am I going to spend money on therapy or coaching? If this is a gift and beautiful and awesome, I should be so grateful for it? Why would I work hard to treat it? And there in lies the danger? Because that is actually really dangerous because what research shows us is that untreated ADHD is very dangerous. If it’s awesome, there’s no need to take it seriously and treat it with care. Like let’s think about the things that we labeled as awesome. sunsets, rainbows, the beach sex, the work that we do in the world. Food, sushi, guacamole, all of this is awesome. and all of it like, gives to my life in a really amazing and healthy way.

And I don’t need to do anything to support those things or treat those things or make those things. I don’t know, like better in my life they just exist in, they’re amazing. But ADHD makes everything harder. It makes everything harder. And so to label something that makes life harder, as awesome, it’s not great. That’s not that’s delusion. That’s delusional. Okay. Now, people will point out specific aspects of ADHD and say, well, this part is really good. So for example, there is the hyper focus ability with somebody who has ADHD. And so what that means is that oftentimes, when we are super interested in something, we can hyper focus on it and block everything else out. And that can appear as awesome. But let me tell you something about hyper focus, someone with ADHD cannot just turn hyper focus on or turn it off at will. And so a lot of times, we hyper focus to our own demise. We hyper focus in a way that is detrimental, we hyper focus and block everything else out and forget that we have kids or forget that we have a partner and forget that we have to like, go pick somebody up or cook dinner or do the dishes like everything else kind of falls apart while we’re hyper focusing. That is not awesome. It also leads to burn out. That is not awesome.

Okay. So even when we have that, like amazing hyperfocus couple hours where we’re just down the rabbit hole, and we’re on the right thing, and we’re doing what we should do, and we’re really into it. First of all, it’s usually only after things have been hard and we’ve procrastinated for days or weeks or months. And then we go down that hyperfocus rabbit hole and everything else goes to crap. Sorry to say it, but it’s usually what happens. And then at the end of it, we’re burnt out and emotionally and mentally hungover for days. Okay? So hyper focus is actually kind of debilitating it. That’s not a positive part of ADHD. Do you know what would be a gift? A gift would be the ability to organize my thoughts clearly, prioritize them set a goal and methodically carry out the goal little by little without burning myself out and without the rest of my life, going to crap. And then finishing on time, and not getting stuck on that hyperfocus rabbit hole, and going too far down the line, but just finishing when I needed to finish, all of that would be a gift, all of that would be awesome. That would be a superpower, it would actually be a perfect brain. Right?

And listen, a perfect brain would be a superpower, a gift and awesome. But ADHD makes that impossible. And so it’s so important for us to live in the reality of what ADHD is, and how it affects us. And when you hear someone in the media or someone who is famous, or someone even in the ADHD industry saying, ADHD comes with so many benefits, I want you to ask them, please show me the clinical research of the benefits of ADHD as long as actually question, but it doesn’t exist, right? Because that would be like saying, what are the benefits of depression? What are the benefits of anxiety? What are the benefits of bipolar disorder? What are the best? Like what are the benefits?

So now why do we have to do this with ADHD? We don’t do it with any other mental health condition. Why do we have to do it with ADHD so dumb? My intention here is not to discourage you at all. My intention here is to encourage you to live in reality and take ADHD seriously, when ADHD is diagnosed, and treated and supported, and you’ve been able to rearrange your life in a way that works best for your brain, you can thrive. You can do what ever you want to do. You can become whoever you want to be. And let me tell you something, you are a gift. Let’s not delegate the great things about you to ADHD. Don’t give ADHD credit for the good things about you. You are a gift, your personality, your energy, your compassion, your empathy, the pain you’ve been through that you’ve been able to overcome your laugh and the quirky way that you do things around your house, your ingenuity, your love, your generosity, your sense of humor, your quirks, your understanding of other people, your anger, your willingness to help your spontaneity your sense of justice, your curiosity, and everything else that makes you you. That’s a gift. You are a gift to the world. It’s you. It’s not ADHD, we don’t have to call ADHD a gift. When we know that we are a gift. You don’t have to label ADHD is awesome. When you know that you are awesome. Why are we delegating the good things about us? And saying that it’s ADHD? No, no, no, no, no, it is yes, hard. ADHD can be treated and supported. ADHD can be overcome to an extent.

But that is not the gift you are the gift, your personality and everything that makes you you is a gift. And I am so glad. I’m so glad that you are here that we are connected, okay? Because I want you to own what you do. I want you to own your gifts and the great things about you and know with full certainty that you are amazing not because of ADHD. But because of what you’ve been able to overcome despite ADHD. And because of who you are at your core. Ah, you are the gift. You are amazing. You are awesome. It is not ADHD that’s going to take credit for who you are, and for the goodness that you bring to the world. So stop delegating it to ADHD, we are doing that. Or don’t you can do whatever you want, because you’re grown up, and you can do whatever you want. But listen, I’m sending you so much love today and I cannot wait to talk to you again next week. If you’re being treated for your ADHD, but you still don’t feel like you’re reaching your potential, you’ve got to join focus. It’s my monthly coaching membership where I teach you how to tame your wild thoughts and create the life that you’ve always wanted.

No matter what season of life you’re in or where you are in the world focused is for you. All materials and call recordings are stored in the site for you to access at your convenience. Go to Ihaveadhd.com/focused for all the info.

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