[F]or those who agree with the norms embedded in ADHD concepts and practice, diagnosis and treatment can come as a welcome relief. Adults dismayed with broken relationships, lack of success at work, or past or present academic failures often embrace the biomedical interpretation of their life story. (Susan C.C. Hawthorne, “Institutionalized Intolerance of ADHD: Sources and Consequences,” Hypatia vol. 25, no. 3, p. 517)
I’ve known for some time that I would eventually need to start a blog of my own. But it was reading this passage earlier today, as part of my literature review for my master’s thesis, which finally galvanized me to get off my ass and do so. So, here we go…
When I first matriculated to the the graduate program in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Oregon State University, back in January, I had a very specific goal in mind: to broaden my understanding of feminism enough that I would be able to do justice to the subject someday as a writer. I specifically hoped to land a job as a feminist blogger focusing on women’s health issues. But it became apparent to me relatively quickly that there was one women’s health issue that I specifically was meant to focus on: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).* Feminist theory, after all, teaches us that Woman’s experience is valuable; not something that invalidates whatever research you’re conducting.
Another unexpected turn my graduate studies have taken is toward Disability Studies, an interdisciplinary academic field concerned with, yep, the study of disability. Within the DS canon, there are two basic schools of thought:
- The medical model, originating from the view that disabilities are pathological, and thus, undesirable, and should be treated, if not completely cured, with modern medicine.
- The social model, based on the premise that disability is in the eye of the beholder; that it is how society views and accommodates (or, doesn’t) natural human variation.
Among my mentors in DS at OSU, there is a general consensus that of the two, it is the social mode that comes to the closest to getting it right. The thing is, though, that my personal experience just doesn’t jibe with that.
It’s true that a lot of ADHD symptoms, as Hawthorne expertly articulates in her article quoted above, could easily be viewed as simply differences, and even adaptations: A person who is unafraid to speak his mind, who doesn’t bow to social convention, who is a multitask-er, actually sounds pretty great. But I am of the belief that ADHD exists on a spectrum, and at the very end of the spectrum, is me. I don’t get distracted (i.e., concentrate on multiple stimuli at once); I struggle to concentrate at all. If you have difficulty concentrating, even in your most private moments you feel impaired. So you can change the architecture of a building, and make people more tolerant, but that won’t make me suddenly able to focus on getting ready in the morning without pharmacological assistance (more on this later).
All of this is to say that thinking of my disability, not as a personal illusion or a subjective notion conceived by an non-accepting society, renders my persistent struggles (for indeed, I was diagnosed and first treated 20 years ago, at age 5, yet I still struggle with severe ADHD symptoms today) as a disabled woman real and valid. And that is feminism at its finest.
* In true ADHD fashion, I’m going to put off writing a detailed piece on just what ADHD is, and my lifelong experience with it, till I feel like I can do it justice, i.e., not right now.