Wednesday , May 19 2021

ADHD, a Lifelong Struggle (2018), Hacker News

A Lifelong Struggle

Updated several times since early 2018

I’m (years old) as of this writing in early ) and I have ADHD. I am done being embarrassed about it.

ADHD has been painted from hell to breakfast as a joke, a sham, and a thing spineless coddling parents use to excuse their children doing nothing all day. It is as invisible and as insidious as depression but nobody talks about it seriously. I don’t know that anyone has taken their life over ADHD before, and that’s fortunate perhaps, because as much as people disrespect and ignore depression, ADHD is just as harmful. Read on.

Everyone scoffs at it, even your friends who believe it’s real. Most people don’t even believe that. They may believe it’s a diagnosable illness, but they think it’s a minor inconvenience. Blaming anything on ADHD feels like a lie, a cheat, an excuse, because that’s how it’s received. ADHD is real, and after decades of mistreatment sufferers deserve more respect.

Preface: Bullshit Doctors Tell You

I want to begin by telling you what does disqualify you from an ADHD diagnosis. These are actual quotes from followers on Twitter, some of which I know personally:

“I tentatively brought up the idea of ​​ADHD to my psych who’s treating me for other stuff and he said since I can read books it’s not likely.”

“You’re an engineer, that’s not a field that people with ADHD have any success like you in.”

“yeah my doctor said because I didn’t doze off in classes I liked I didn’t have it”

This is criminally incorrect diagnostic procedure. These are not valid. If your psychiatrist or doctor tells you this, find a new one. Now read on to learn what is valid.

What It’s Like

I think that for most of human history ADHD was called laziness. I’m lazy as hell. What do I mean? I mean someone can ask me to do a simple task and instead I’ll stare into space for three hours. As in, “that boy has been sittin on that fence for two hours, if he’d just washed the damn thing he’d have been done an hour ago,” kind of lazy. That’s because my brain won’t let me focus on things I don’t want to do.

If I’m not interested in doing something, I can’t process any thoughts about how to do it. No, I don’t mean it’s not fun, I mean my brain will not do it. If I don ‘t want to wash a fence, I can’t think about how to wash the fence. I go into complete lockup. I ask the question, “how do I wash the fence?” and the answer will not come to me.

I can’t get to “first I need a bucket and water.” That thought will not enter my head, or if it can, it slips away from me. It pops in and out, getting forced aside by other thoughts about the things I want to be doing or thinking about. It feels like the idea is covered in oil and I keep trying to pick it up and it keeps slipping away from me.

In school I heard this refrain a dozen times a year: “once you get going you do great work! You’re just impossible to get going.” This was the story of my entire childhood.

I would sit down with math homework and look at the page and tell myself, “the problem says 60 & div; 5. What’s step one? ” and nothing would come to me. I’d stare at the numbers on the page, trying to think of what to do first. I write them down with the long division symbol, right? And then … and it wouldn’t go anywhere because my head was filled with thoughts. Not thoughts I wanted. Thoughts I couldn’t stop. About things I did not want to care about.

Thoughts about the feeling of the asphalt I laid on during recess at school, because my brain was so active that I couldn’t get interested in anything going on on the playground. I just laid on the ground or on a bench and my imagination raced for an hour before we went back to class.

Imagined interactions I imagined having with people I was intrigued by or disliked at school or in my family.

Fantasies about things I would do with my life or things I could have done in situations but did not.

This stuff would just circulate in my head, neverending. On bad days.

On good days I was unstoppable. I’d sit down and slam through an entire page of work in minutes, much faster than I should have been able to. I was a voracious reader and could devour any age appropriate book in twenty minutes. I did everything quicker and better than my peers when my mind was engaged. But that always, always, always meant I was enjoying it. I had to want it.

The good days, with math for instance, came when I actually got interested in the work. When I figured out some trick for math or was interested in the history I was supposed to be reading about, I got engaged so hard I was disappointed when I ran out of material. The problem is I had no control over this at all. If my brain decided not to engage, I had no control over it.

It’s 20 years later, I’ve been employed for a decade, and it’s still going on. I’m an incredibly inconsistent worker. I’ve been in trouble off and on the entire time I’ve been working because when I can get engaged with the work I tear through it at a fantastic clip, but as soon as I tune out, I’m out, and that’s it. Damn near nothing can motivate me.

Because it’s not a question of motivation, but ability to concentrate. If someone comes to me and says “I need to turn this excel spreadsheet °, can you figure that out? ” I can tear into it because that’s an interesting problem. If they bring me something dead boring, I can tell myself, “Okay, we’re gonna do this thing “as much as I want but it’s going to be a slog, just a god damned slog to get myself to even pick it up.

This is the truth. This is what ADHD is. And NOBODY wants to respect it because it sounds so privileged.

Doesn’t it? Doesn’t it sound so convenient, to get to just say, “Oh, no, I won’t do that because it’s not any fun. Go away. I have ADHD, you can’t get mad at me “? Sounds like a hell of a life! Haha no. That’s completely false.

Why It Sucks

You see, ADHD is obsessive, and we don’t get to choose what we’re obsessed with. It’s not a conscious decision and it’s not based on our personality. It’s whatever our brains want right this second .

You know that tired old joke: “wanna hear a joke about ADHD? A guy w– hey, a squirrel!” I hate to tell you this, but it’s true. I hate it, but it’s almost completely accurate.

The “anterograde amnesia” -style reaction is a little overblown. But that’s part of what’s so frustrating about it. I can be in the middle of a sentence, a really important one even, and if something catches my eye I can completely forget what I was saying. I’ll know I forgot it, but I can’t get it back. And yes, I know, this happens to everyone, but imagine if it happened every single time you tried to talk at all. And this usually happens in a matter of seconds.

I can be midsentence and stop to say “hand me that pen” and my last idea is gone because my brain is now thinking about pens. If you think this is fun or funny, you have never experienced it. It’s a fucking nightmare.

Do you know how stunted my capabilities are because of this? Do you understand how INFURIATING it is that I don’t get to choose my interests, they choose me? I have very little say in my hobbies. I can put myself in front of things but if my brain doesn’t latch on, I just don’t get to do those things.

I’ve talked to countless people with ADHD. Everyone says they were described as children the same way: “Smart, but lazy.” That’s me. My house is full of projects I can’t complete.

I started building a network analyzer out of a Raspberry Pi a while back. I worked on it solid for two days and got a really neat menu system built. I was working out the logic for how to proceed in my head, took a break, and the interest dissipated.

For the last two days, every time I was not working on that project, I was thinking about that project. It dominated my thoughts, I was constantly imagining new solutions and ways to do things I wouldn’t be doing for weeks if I had been able to proceed. And then the thoughts just stopped. And then they wouldn’t come anymore. I sat down at that thing four or five times, and each time all I could do was put my hands on it and stare at the screen. When I tried to think about it, when I tried to say what comes next , I couldn’t do it . I couldn’t even form the image of the project in my head anymore. I could get a vague sensation of it, and then it was gone, replaced by whatever took over my thoughts. And then I acknowledged what had happened, put it in a box, and that was eight months ago.

This is why I can’t program. Why I can’t draw. Why I can’t perform music. Why I can’t sew. Why I haven’t written a book and why I didn’t start putting stuff on my website until this year. More on that later. The number of things I have wanted desperately in my life, acquired the resources for, and just been completely unable unable to concentrate on, is so immense it’s heartbreaking to even try to list it all.

I can’t do everyday things because I can’t remember them. I can’t responsibly own pets, for instance, because I can’t remember to feed them. It works like this:

I get up in the morning and the cat meows at me. I think, “I need to feed him.” But I need to go to the bathroom first, so I do, and then I go downstairs because I forgot about the cat.

Half an hour later the cat comes down and meows at me. I think, “Oh, I need to feed him. I’ll finish typing this message and go do that.” I keep typing for two hours because I forgot about the cat after five seconds.

Another half an hour later, the cat comes down and meows at me. I think, “Oh, shit, I forgot! I’ll do it right now!” I stand up, pick up the dirty glass that’s on my desk to bring up to the kitchen, and go upstairs. When I get there I put the glass in the sink, then go back downstairs. Because I forgot about the cat.

What else do I have trouble with? Everything.

I’ve gone four days forgetting to shave because every time I thought about it I was not immediately next to the bathroom and ready right) that second to go do it.

I can’t shop without a shopping list or I’ll forget, almost consistently, all the most important things I needed.

Even if I have a shopping list, I will consistently forget to look at it. My brain will decide that I’ve memorized what’s on the list and when I say to myself, “I should look at the list” I will, involuntarily, feel myself lose the conviction to do that. The psychological term for this is “executive dysfunction,” I believe.

Reminders don’t help. I tune them out. If I put a post-it on the fridge, my brain just filters it into background static instantly. I’ve had post-its on my computer monitor at work for literally a year telling me to do things I actually do need to do, and if I try to read them I can’t focus on the letters. My eyes bring them into focus, but when I try to understand the words, they feel like they’re blurry .

Timers and reminders on my phone don’t work. They go off, I mute them or put my phone back in my pocket, and by the time my hand is back at my side I’ve forgotten what I was supposed to do.

Nobody Believes Us

One of the most important things I want to say is this: If you have ADHD, or think you might, it is not petty.

The fucking 2000 s. Scoffing GenXers and Boomers rolled their eyes and said it was all made up. They said we were whiny. They called us everything they call millenials now except they did not have the word yet.

ADHD is debilitating. It is not a “kid disease” and it doesn’t make it “harder” to do things. It is a fundamental difference in the way brains work .

ADHD means you don’t have the ability to “buckle down” and “just get to it,” or if you can, it requires MUCH more effort. WAY more effort than for someone without this condition. ADHD means you can’t begin a task until you trick your brain into wanting to finish it.

If you have ADHD, everything you’ve ever accomplished was done this way even if you don’t realize it. How functional you are with ADHD depends on its severity but also on whether you learned, by chance, how to trick yourself. Some people pick it up on their own but others need help. If they don’t get it, they just get left behind.


This is like having depression

This is like having diabetes

You are not lazy. You are not stupid. You are not incompetent. You are laboring under a terrible restriction.

Starting right now, you need to accept this. You need to look at yourself in the mirror and see someone who is fighting a disease, not an apathetic loser, not a failure.

ADHD is a sickness. It is a mental illness and it handicaps our brains so that they aren’t ours anymore. They are their own free agents and our personalities are drug along for the ride as they free-associate from one interest to the next. We are unwell and we deserve sympathy, not judgment and mockery, but instead we get treated like stubborn children and scoffed at.

You can change this. You can turn to someone who’s rolling their eyes at you and put venom in your voice and say “Do you understand what this is like?” You can make them feel bad.

You can do it, but you have to CONVINCE YOURSELF that you are sick. And then you have to tell yourself, “They just mocked my cancer.” Convince yourself that “haha guess you got distracted by a squirrel” is the same as saying “oops, don’t give a cookie to Sarah, she’ll die.”

You can get mad. You can put acid in your voice and rage in your eyes and “fucking try me, buddy” in your body language, and you can make them walk away hanging their heads in shame. I have done this, in real life. And when you do, you will respect yourself more and punish yourself less.

And we all punish ourselves. That’s the real tragedy of this illness. We are our biggest detractors because we know what we’re capable of. Better than our teachers. Better than our parents. They always said that they could “see our potential,” but we saw ten times what they did. Every day. We saw the things we could do, in our heads, and hated ourselves for not doing them.

My teachers knew I could write a novel in fourth grade. I knew I could write the Wheel of Time if I could just CARE ENOUGH.

Every time I got complimented on something I accomplished, I saw in my head what I wanted to do, what I intended to do. Yeah, I wrote 18 pages, but I envisioned 30. 28 Is what I got out in thirty minutes after staring at the wall all night and then finally getting scared enough of getting in trouble that buckling down became possible.

My head is full of ideas, all day. I want to create, I want to accomplish. But everything creates a blast of static in my head that I can’t penetrate. If I try to think about anything I either can’t at all because I just slide off of it and onto whatever my brain wants to think about, or as soon as the idea enters my head I’m assaulted by a cacophony of related ideas . I can’t think about step 1 because my brain is already thinking about steps 6 and 7 and worrying about things that aren’t yet relevant so I can’t even take the initial steps.

Even for the things that I want to do, getting started is hard . Suppose I’m at work and I think, “I need to send an email to

This is a messier subject. I am going to say things that will make everyone feel attacked regardless of what side of the issue they’re on. Please understand that all the behavior I’m going to describe, while harmful and counterproductive, is understandable. That doesn ‘t mean it shouldn’t change.

The Problems

There are three big issues with ADHD sufferers. Self-awareness, self-acceptance, and stigma.

Self-awareness: Many people were never diagnosed. Cultural depictions of ADHD are as accurate as depictions of any other mental illness – that is, not in the least. Most people who I’ve described my experience to say, “Wait, that’s ADHD? I had no idea. I thought that was just how I was. I thought it was a personal failing.” You may be the first person who’s ever told someone that they may have this condition.

Self-acceptance: I wrote this article in the first place for people who have it, know it, but for one reason or another will not acknowledge its effects on their life. The most common reason, I would think, is that they believe the misconception that used to exist, that ADHD is a “childhood illness” that goes away over time. The psychiatric community, as I understand it, acknowledges that 1/3 to 2/3 of children retain symptoms well into adulthood. They also may not understand that ADHD is the cause of their problems. You may be the first person who’s ever told someone that they are still being affected by this condition.

Stigma: Our society deeply stigmatizes the behavior of ADHD sufferers. They are called lazy, apathetic. Failure to accomplish tasks is taken very personally as an indication of bad character: “if you really cared you would have done what I asked” or “if it really mattered you would have remembered.” These are extremely traumatic accusations, often coming from parents, family and lovers.

An ADHD sufferer, almost without exception, has been accused of being a bad person at least once in their life by someone they cared deeply about. The times they tried to explain that ADHD was the root of their failures were treated as disingenuous “excuses” intended to let them slide. And, on that note, and most importantly, ADHD does not get better. It is a lifelong condition, to the best of anyones knowledge. Drugs may help, coping may help, but this is how you are. the mistakes you make because of it are ones you will probably continue to make, especially if you don’t have access to medication or effective coping mechanisms and assistive tools.

Unfortunately for ADHD sufferers, the specific mistakes that they make are ones that strike a nerve with many people. To understand how to live with them easier, you need to understand what’s going on in their heads.

ADHD sufferers are often unreliable, and cause harm inadvertently as a result:

“You SAID you would take the power bill to the post office, and you did, so now we have a late fee! Again! “

This kind of confrontation goes poorly for one specific reason: the accused person responds, “I’m sorry, I really meant to do it,” and then a critical error, “it won’t happen again. “

I don’t want to say, “this will never get better” or “you cannot ever be reliable,” because it is not true. But an ADHD sufferer’s knee-jerk reaction is self-blame. “Oh my god, I really messed up, and it’s bad, and I should have cared enough to get this right , and I’ll do better next time. ” They’re wrong about why they messed up. They think they have bad mean – and thus, they think they are a bad person – and this creates a feedback loop, where each time they mess up they remember that they promised to improve, and that makes the shame intensify. The more times they’ve done it, the worse the shame is.

And believe me: ADHD sufferers know how many times they’ve forgotten to take the trash out on trash night. But you may be the first person to ever tell them it’s okay to mess up.

The Solutions

So, here is my advice on how to help someone who has ADHD. A partner, a family member, a friend, a coworker or a subordinate, though I’ll just say “friend” here to save space. Whether you’re neurotypical or even if you have ADHD yourself, these things will help.

First, you need to drop the judgment. That doesn’t mean you can’t get upset that your friend messed up. It means that you need to remind yourself to think of ADHD before you think of malice, and you can’t personally attack them for a specific error. It’s counterproductive and harmful.

If your friend forgets to take the trash out for the second week in a row and you lose your shit because you now have nowhere to put trash and the apartment stinks, yes, you’re going to get angry. I’m not telling you to hold all that back. If you have to blow up, blow up, but you need to keep one finger tensed to hold back the ad hominem, the “christ, you ALWAYS do this,” and the “are you even TRYING” and the “why don’t you GIVE A SHIT. “

Second, you need to express that you understand and that you’re prepared to offer forgiveness as long as your friend is doing their best. This part is critical: I am not here to tell you how to treat your friends. I do not subscribe to the notion that I can tell you, a perfect stranger, the grounds upon which you can eject someone from your life etc. However, a healthy approach to coping with ADHD requires both acceptance and feedback when mistakes are made. ADHD does not mean your friend gets carte blanche to screw up all day and never apologize for anything. If they want to do better they still need to make an effort.

Third, work with them to develop solutions. People with ADHD do not get a pamphlet with coping skills and they have to be tailored to the person. Discuss things you have frequent issues with and come up with solutions ahead of time. Accept a certain amount of blame when things go wrong, if you deserve it. If part of the solution that you agreed on was “I will remind you to do thing at 3PM “and then you don’t do it, your friend is less culpable for forgetting. If that feels unfair, ask yourself: are you looking for a solution to practical issues, or upset that your friend isn’t “doing the right thing”? The latter is a bad look, in my opinion, if you care about them. However, it’s up to you to decide how much emotional labor you’re willing to perform for that person. I cannot make that determination for you.

Fourth, point out possible gaps before they happen. Remember that the ADHD is self-reinforcing – the same inability to remember to do tasks keeps people from remembering to use their coping tools and techniques. So when your friend says, “okay, I’ll take the trash out,” you can reply, “set a reminder on your phone.” If your friend has been significantly traumatized by past conflicts they may react to this poorly, because it can feel like someone saying, “I know you’re going to screw up,” before they’ve even had a chance to try, so a rapport and understanding have to exist. You can also offer, “I’ll bug you again in an hour” and set a reminder on your phone . Again, if that feels unfair, consider what your desired outcome is.

Finally, encourage your friend to not take tasks they feel uncertain about. Like almost any mental health issue, there are good and bad days. If they don’t believe they’re up to a particular task and are stressed out by worries about failure, it may be best to say, “I don’t think I can promise to get that done.” Again, this requires a rapport and understanding and has to be used in moderation so it doesn’t turn into hermit behavior.

I hope these methods help you develop a better relationship or a more functional home. Good luck to you and your friends.

Contact me at – I would love to hear your input, stories, disagreements, etc.

If you feel like this information helped you and want to thank me materially, you can send me a few bucks at my ko-fi .

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