I always hear people talking sympathetically about how ADHD makes it harder to do certain things. But despite that apparent understanding of my disability, the neurotypical party line seems to be that we ADHDers need to keep pushing ourselves to our “full potential,” and that we will be able to do more if we try.
The problem is, neurologically speaking, ADHD makes the very act of trying a challenge in and of itself.
To quote the abstract of an article published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry in 2011, “disruption of the dopamine reward pathway is associated with motivation deficits in ADHD adults, which may contribute to attention deficits.” In other words, a hiccup in the nervous system of a person born with ADHD results in difficulty paying attention, AND trouble getting motivated to OVERCOME this challenge.
Think about this for a second: Wouldn’t it be sufficiently sucky to have impaired attention OR motivation? Wouldn’t either be enough on its own to have a deleterious impact, in both the short term and the long run for someone who, like any of us, is, after all, only human? I think we can all agree the appropriate answer would be ‘Oh my god, yes.’
And neurotypical people don’t seem to realize just how VULNERABLE being unmotivated can make you. Decades and decades after the birth of the American Dream, at least in the U.S., Western society continues to value a healthy work ethic above perhaps any other quality. So, it’s one thing to realize you lack the motivation to clean the kitchen, and decide to hold off on doing it tomorrow in the privacy of your apartment; faltering in this way in public, meanwhile, exposes you to the censure of your friends, family, colleagues, etc. It feels sort of like literally everybody else in the world is giving you side-eye.
Furthermore, this problem isn’t confined to questions of productivity; sometimes, even maintaining the ability to go about what to an outsider looks like ordinary daily life can be a significant struggle as well.
Do I speak from personal experience? You bet I do.
Between Oct. 25 and Nov. 8, I was visiting my boyfriend in Washington, D.C., where he’s in grad school. Washington is actually a lot like Portland; it’s big on public transportation. But it and I have always had a fraught relationship; the sequencing involved in navigating transit infrastructure is a sizable challenge for me. However, in D.C., I didn’t have an alternate means of transportation, i.e., my car.
Anyway, after a week of walking whenever outside my boyfriend’s apartment, I admitted to myself it was time: I had to take the bus. Unfortunately, this happened to coincide with me discovering that my pharmacist had not given me a full 28 days’ worth of my immediate-release Focalin when I went to fill my prescription for the month. Long story short, I was undermedicated and faced with a task that would require a tremendous amount of effort on my best day, on what was, in fact, my worst.
After about two hours, I managed to work up the motivation to input the information on my iPhone necessary for Siri to guide me to the bus and tell me what to do once I got on it. But to my utter lack of surprise, I was unable to find the bus stop and realized I would have missed the bus even if I had been able to pinpoint where to get on it.
I knew what my parents and my boyfriend would tell me to do: figure out where the stop was and wait for the right bus, or walk to an entirely different stop if necessary. But at that moment, I knew making even that tiny extra effort was totally and completely beyond my abilities. So although it was far more expensive than the bus would have been, I ordered a Lyft.
It’s inherently empowering to cease pretending to be in denial about yourself and what you’re capable of. The politically correct response to others pushing you to find more motivation within yourself is to express appreciation for their confidence and a plucky resolve to prove them right. However, I’ve had ADHD all my life, so the extent of my neurological stamina has long since revealed itself to me. I know what I can and can’t do. More importantly, I’m AWARE that I can’t do what I can’t do, and I understand WHY I can’t, as well. I and all people with ADHD deserve to live life authentically, limitations and all.
And that is just what I intend, from now on, to do.