Explaining ADHD to EVERYBODY ELSE
Short answer? It’s not gonna be easy.
Here’s why. The topic of ADHD has become relevant enough in our culture for people to form strong opinions about it, but NOT relevant enough for those opinions to have any basis in FACT. The unfortunate result of this situation is that we will likely encounter people who are vehemently unwilling to discuss the possibility of an ADHD definition that differs from the ones in their minds. Instead, we will hear countless refrains of “everybody has a little ADHD,” “ADHD only affects children,” “ADHD is an excuse for lazy, selfish people,” and “ADHD doesn’t really exist.”
Of the people who ARE willing to open their minds to new understanding, not all of them will readily accept the idea that YOU have ADHD. Some people, especially those who have known you for a long time, might even argue with you to the point that you have to drop the subject just to make peace.
If the possibility of friends and family flat-out disbelieving you makes your panties start to bunch, I’ve got a little mind-nugget for you:
You don’t need ANYONE to believe, agree with, or understand you.
You read that right. You don’t need it.
Now, I agree that it would feel nice if everyone in your inner circle jumped right on board the ADHD train and started telling you how smart you are for figuring all of this out. And, if several of those people also volunteered to be part of your ADHD support team (and you DO need an ADHD support team), even better.
But who is responsible for learning about the ins and outs of ADHD? You.
Who is going to be the one putting in all the hard work to make life changes that will propel you forward? You.
Who is the explanation REALLY for? You.
And here’s the bad boy: What do you expect is going to CHANGE if your friends and family understand your ADHD?
Well, they’ll cut me a little slack and stop thinking I’m a terrible person.
Newsflash, darling – if they’re in your inner circle, they don’t think you’re a terrible person. Most likely, they care about you very much. They may get frustrated when you don’t meet their expectations, and that frustration may cause them to treat you unfairly. But the solution isn’t to force them to understand, it’s to REEVALUATE EXPECTATIONS.
I’m afraid you’ve lost me, Jess.
Let me explain.
Say your spouse gets upset when she gives you a list of groceries to buy on the way home from work, and you ALWAYS forget to buy them. This makes her feel unimportant, unloved, and unable to trust you. Armed with your new knowledge about ADHD, you could ask your spouse if she would be willing to call or text you every day at 5:00 (or whenever you leave work) with a list of the groceries she’d like you to pick up. If she agrees, then suddenly her expectation has changed from “He should remember to pick up groceries,” to “He should pick up groceries when I call him.” If this setup works, the frustration in your marriage will have decreased without your spouse EVER having to admit that you have ADHD.
Here’s another example. Maybe your job involves working with a team of people you routinely piss off due to your habit of dragging your feet when finishing projects. Knowing, as you do, that starting projects is FAR easier for you to do, you could reach out to a more detail-oriented teammate and offer to trade some duties so that you got to be more involved with starting projects and he/she took over most of the wrap-up work. Again, the expectations of your team will have changed from expecting you to do something you’re bad at, to expecting you to do something you’re good at. Far from needing to UNDERSTAND your ADHD, they don’t even need to know you HAVE it.
Okay, but what if I really DO want to explain ADHD to some people?
Well, that’s really rather easy, right? Give them a succinct version of what you’ve learned so far. Maybe something like:
“ADHD is disorder caused by differences in brain chemistry. It affects children and adults, males and females, and can include symptoms like forgetfulness, poor time management, difficulty focusing, and trouble making plans or completing tasks. Everyone experiences these symptoms on occasion, but in the case of someone with ADHD, they occur so often that can become nearly impossible to manage daily life.”
If they are curious to learn more, explain what you know. Give them personal examples. Or, direct them to an ADHD site like this one. And don’t forget to thank them for their open minds.