(originally published August 8, 2014, updated October 9, 2020)
I bet, like many ADHD adults, one of your superpowers may be your ability to think outside the box in many contexts. But, if you think your ADHD is a handicap, you may be falling short in doing this when it comes to managing your ADHD so you can create a life that works for you.
In part, this may be because somewhere along the way you fell into the trap of comparing yourself to your neurotypical peers. As part of this comparison you decided you need to operate the way they do. And, when you discovered you couldn’t do this, you decided you’re handicapped.
That’s just not true. You’re not handicapped. Sure, it may be easier for your non-ADHD peers to work on tasks that don’t interest them and persist without getting distracted so often. But you have strengths they may not have, like the ability to hyperfocus, be spontaneous, resilient etc.
But, if you don’t value your strengths as much as you value their ability to follow through, be on-time and be organized, you’ll always think you’re less than. Because of this perspective you might be trying to overcome your ADHD by figuring out how to operate like your neurotypical peers.
That’s where it becomes problematic. Because, instead of trying to figure out how to manage your ADHD in a way that works for you, you might be putting your energy into figuring out how to be like everyone else. If you are, you’re wasting your time and energy because you can’t be like your neurotypical peers.
But you can be the best you. Ready to see how to stop seeing yourself as handicapped and start accepting and working with your ADHD so life can be easier?
Are You Ready to Accept Your ADHD?
To stop seeing yourself as handicapped one of the first steps you’ll need to take is to accept your ADHD. Stay with me for a bit. I know you may be wondering, “Why would I want to accept this part of myself? It’s so hard!” Fair enough. One reason for moving toward acceptance is you’ll likely experience less struggle along the way. Really.
In part, this will be because as you strive to understand, appreciate and work with who you are with all your strengths and challenges — accept your ADHD — you will have more energy to access the internal and external resources available to you to work creatively with your ADHD.
You also just won’t be so resentful, as illustrated by the paradigm shift in the statements below:
I have never been able to get anywhere on time. My friends and family are always mad at me. I hate it! It will never change.
I’ve never been able to get to places on time. I know my sense of time and ability to transition is a bit wonky because of my ADHD. Hmm… I wonder what I can do to get to places on time more often.
I’m sure you can see how a shift toward acceptance in the second statement can help you be in a better place to figure out how to reach your goals while working with your ADHD, rather than struggling against it. Nice, right?
It’s A Journey Not A Destination
Of course, I don’t expect you to embrace your ADHD from the get-go, and neither should you, especially if you recently discovered you have it. It’s normal to feel a whole host of emotions, including relief, anger, sadness, etc. And, as is true for many ADHD adults, your journey may frequently alternate between hopefulness and despair.
While your path will not look the same as any other ADHD adult, at various points along the way you will experience some or all of the feelings Murphy and LeVert (1995) outline in their Five Stages of Coping:
Stage 1: Relief and Optimism
I’m not “lazy, crazy, or stupid.” There is a reason I have all these challenges!
Stage 2: Denial
I’m fine. I don’t want to read about it. I don’t want to hear about it. They’re just going to tell me to take drugs. Besides, it’s a kids’ thing!
Stage 3: Anger and Resentment
Why do I have ADD? Why can’t I be like everyone else? And, if I would have been diagnosed earlier, life would have been so much easier.
Stage 4: Grief
I can’t do anything right. I’ll never get what I want. How will I ever get through this?
Stage 5. Acceptance
I’m ok. It is part of who I am. But I am not my ADHD. I have the resources and the capacity to figure out how to work with my ADHD. And, if I need help, I can get the support I need.
It’s normal for adults with ADHD to feel grief, anger, and resentment, especially with a later life diagnosis. The danger is staying stuck either because you are struggling against the diagnosis and/or your feelings.
Trying to Squash Your Feelings Will Only Expand Them
I know you may be tempted to try to control the “negative” emotions that come with your ADHD experience. Because, well, you just want to be happy, right? Be careful. If you give in to this temptation, it will likely backfire. Rather than minimizing your unwanted feelings, your efforts will likely cause them to expand. And make it harder to reach your goals.
If you’re curious about how this happens and what you can do to avoid the happiness trap, check out my article Do You Want to Get Rid of Your Negative Thoughts and Feelings? You can start to learn how to accept the emotions that inevitably arise as work with your ADHD. And stop trying to squash them.
Stop Trying to Prove You Are Enough
You may also, like many other ADHD adults, find it hard to ask for help. If you do, another key ingredient to stop seeing yourself as handicapped and start accepting your ADHD is to stop telling yourself, “I should be able to do this myself!”
Your reticence to ask for help may be a byproduct of the shame you feel because of your perceived failures. As a result, you may feel compelled to prove to yourself and others you can “go it on your own.” That’s not going to work, as everyone needs help, whether in their professional or personal lives,
So, if shame is getting in the way of asking for help, you’ll need to work on becoming more shame resilient. Then, as you feel better about yourself with all your particular challenges and strengths, hopefully, you’ll be more willing to give up the Lone Ranger mentality.
When you’re ready to stop going it alone, you can start asking yourself, “What is the best way to get this done so I can focus more on my areas of strength, when possible. Because, as ADHD experts, Drs Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey, point out:
The best way to change a life of frustration into a life of mastery is by developing talents and strengths not just shoring up weaknesses.
Sure, there will be times you’ll need to operate in areas that are challenging for you.
But what would happen if you made more of an effort to ask for help in areas where you are not as strong? One way to do this is by delegating more often in the form of hiring, bartering, assigning tasks, or simply asking for help from your trusted colleagues, friends, and family.
If you could stop seeing yourself as handicapped and stop trying to prove you are enough, where would you want to get help right now to be able to do more of what is important to you? Isn’t it time to take off the mask and let go of the Lone Ranger façade?
Yes, It Really Is This Hard
Feeling you’re handicapped may also be a result of the thinking that, “Learning how to make these changes shouldn’t be so hard!” But it is hard, right? And wanting it to be easier can make it hard to persist in learning how to manage your ADHD and reach your goals.
If you think it shouldn’t be so hard, I bet you’ve forgotten about some of the emotional upheavals you experienced when learning a new skill. Can you think back to the excitement, anger, surprise, disappointment, thrill, etc. you experienced when learning a new skill? Was it math, soccer, piano, or something else?
Take a moment to recall the ups and downs you experienced when learning that new skill. It’s the same with learning how to work with your ADHD. You’ll need to be willing to give up some comfort as you move through the Four Stages of Learning and toward more mastery when it comes to your ADHD
Right now, if you’ve been trying to learn how to work with your ADHD for a while, you may be in the stage of Conscious Incompetence. In this stage you have more clarity on what you don’t know, and you know it’s important to upgrade your skills. But you just don’t know how to do that effectively, yet.
This can be a scary place to be, for sure, as you wonder, “Will I ever be able to do better?” But, if you can remember that this is the way learning happens, you might be more apt to persist, rather than give up because you think, “Well, I’m just handicapped.”
When You Feel You’re Not Making Enough Progress
Last, believing you are handicapped may also be the result of feeling like you’re just not making enough progress as you tried to work with your ADHD. Underlying this feeling might be the belief that change should be linear, consistent, and readily apparent.
While you know that, like other ADHD adults, you may tend to be ahistorical. That is, you might have forgotten from experience how messy change is and how long it can take. Can you think of a time when the process was hard, but you met with success? Hold on to this vision. Because remembering this can help you persist through the messy middle.
Then, check in with yourself when you feel you’re not making sufficient progress. Ask yourself, “Am I wanting this process to be more like turning on a light switch?” That is, are you expecting to flip a switch and voila things are better. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Yet, wanting this, when it is not possible, will only contribute to your frustration. So, to persist through the messy middle, in addition to remembering that change is messy, make sure you acknowledge your progress, however small. At minimum, ask yourself during your weekly review, “What am I most proud of this week?”
Without this time to reflect on your progress, you may tend to remember more of what is not going well. And, as you collect evidence for why you can’t create the change you want, you might give up too soon. If you’re not able to see where you are making progress, check in with a family member, friend, or colleague.
So, what are you most proud of from the past week?
Do You Think Your ADHD Is A Handicap?
Think of all of the stories you are telling yourself right now about your capacity to make changes as an ADHD adult? Are you telling yourself you’re handicapped? Though it may be hard to make the changes, are you ready to reframe your stories to help you persist? You can start by asking yourself:
- What is the story I’m telling myself about my ADHD and my ability to work with it?
- Can I be sure this story is true?
- How is my story impacting my ability to create the change I want?
- Are there alternatives storylines that would be more helpful in creating the change I want?
- How do I feel and think about my ADHD when I reframe my story to match this alternative narrative?
The story you believe about yourself matters. Make sure you’re not stuck in the wrong storyline — one that could be holding you back. Over the next week pay attention to your stories. And see if you can reframe them to be more helpful.