Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The "Gifts of ADHD": Transforming Humiliation into Humility

A big obstacle faced by couples dealing with ADHD is denial -- that is, either partner refuses to concede that ADHD exists, that it is causing challenges, or that effective strategies truly exist.

The reasons for denial around ADHD are myriad and complex. For some who arrive at the diagnosis in adulthood, though, it's simple: ADHD feels like one more negative label, right down there with lazy, unmotivated, and careless. The temptation then might be to wholly reject the label and instead cling to a more "positive" spin: ADHD is a gift. In this month's guest post, San Diego-based psychotherapist and ADHD expert Lew Mills, Ph.D., MFT (pictured below), offers a nuanced way to reconcile "gift" and "disorder."

(To learn more about denial's psychological and even physiological foundations, check out the August and October 2008 issues of CHADD's Attention magazine, which excerpt my book's chapters on the topic. If you missed these issues, remember that CHADD members can access an online treasure trove of past Attention articles.)

I  look forward to your comments!  --   Gina Pera

You can always start a debate amongst a group of people with ADHD by asking whether ADHD is a "disorder" or a "difference." Is it a curse or a gift? It's everyone's favorite topic, and everyone has an opinion. Actually, I have two opinions. Like many big questions, the answer lies somewhere not just in the middle but at both ends.
On the positive side, if treated, ADHD doesn't usually have to ruin your life. What's more, there are lots of skills, abilities and characteristics that routinely come with ADHD, and which most people find appealing. This is why in debates about treating children, we always hear warnings about "taking the spark" out of some "Huck Finn" type of child. Never mind that Huck is a fictional character, and that if you had to raise him as your own, you would be a rather frustrated parent. Still, Huck has a charming perspective on the world, a winning way with people and an infectious enthusiasm for life. These qualities often do translate over to the real life people with ADHD.

But at the same time, ADHD is defined by symptoms. In the book of diagnoses, a person doesn't even qualify as having ADHD without "significant impairment." If it doesn't get in your way, it's not ADHD. This is literally "by definition." There also doesn't seem to be a "fully treated" ADHD yet. Treatments are clearly not fully "normalizing." We can just reduce symptoms. Usually a person comes upon the diagnosis because things have been going significantly wrong. The person who is being diagnosed is not naive about what they are up against. Hopeful "gift" sermons might meet with skepticism.

I suspect that virtually always, the person with ADHD has experienced significant shame in their life, about things that they were not able to do, and which came easily to others. One part of the difficulty is that the disorder is largely "hidden." ADHD adults say things like, "If I were in a wheelchair, people would understand how hard I have to try, but nobody gets it with ADHD." Furthermore, the debilitating aspects of ADHD are usually also confusing for the person who has it. As children, we cannot figure out on our own that we are disabled by ADHD. Instead, we erroneously attribute our own behavior to "bad character," lack of motivation, or worse.
Because of this, a central experience of ADHD is humiliation and shame. That sounds harsh, but it is crueler to ignore that, to date, the experience of shame is nearly inevitable. The depth to which our culture condemns the incapacities which ADHD brings remains largely unfathomed.
So why do I insist that ADHD is still "a gift" as well? It could be sentimental compensation for enduring what is clearly a big problem. But I have two other much better reasons.

It does bring gifts. I have frequently heard people with ADHD say that they know they see something in the world that nearly everyone else is missing. I don't think this is just a cheap self-aggrandizement, to make up for their pain. I think it is often true.

There are two more bits of good news here. I don't think that treating the ADHD makes these go away. And second, these really are the gifts that we find idealized in children like Huck Finn, or maybe like Harry Potter. They are hard to explain to the "muggles" who don't live in this wizard's world, but they are intuited and revered there, even as the wizards of ADHD suffer them like a secret scar.

My second reason for seeing ADHD as a gift may be a harder sell. I once quipped, "ADHD is God's way of teaching you humility." I think I came up with this after having to apologize for and explain something that I did which was indeed inexplicable. I slowly realized that there is some benefit in knowing that you can't control all the aspects of your life. This is despite the fact that you would like to and that society demands it of you. You have limits. You make mistakes.

"ADHD has the wickedly strange ability 
to force the understanding 
of our challenges. 
With luck, we then turn to 
studying our strengths."

In these modern times, when the concept of hubris is considered quaint in some quarters, a touch of humility may be a great gift indeed. But the trick, of course, is how to transform experiences of humiliation into the wisdom of humility. Often enough, they instead lead to greater defensiveness, arrogance and the hubris we would like to avoid. I think that the secret is to learn to accept our limitations, even at the moments when everyone else continues to condemn them. With acceptance of our limitations comes a new hope for our realistically appraised capacities.

Nothing takes a person further from him or herself than trying to perfect the challenged parts of him or herself that he or she doesn't understand. And nothing brings a person home as much as discovering his or her true strengths. ADHD has the wickedly strange ability to force the understanding of our challenges. With luck, we then turn to studying our strengths.

As we find our limitations, I think we are also more inclined to find the interdependencies we have with other people. ADHD will enforce asking for help. My personal goal is to say "thank you" at least as many times to those who help me out as I am obligated to say "I'm sorry" to those whom I disappoint. Once a person has to acknowledge that they cannot master everything by themselves, the door is open to seeing how universally we need to consider each other's strengths and challenges. In that, I believe, is a truer dignity than we might have gained otherwise. It can also lead to deeper and more rewarding relationships.

Gift or curse? Sometimes a gift feels like a curse. Sometimes a curse is a gift in hiding.

-- written by Lew Mills, Ph.D.
Your comments welcome!


  1. I could not agree more with this posting! I look at AD/HD as a gift...to me as the parent. I'm not sure my son sees it that way. While, I am not known for my patience, having a child with AD/HD forces you to reach into the depths of your being some days and pull out that last millimeter of patience in order to deal with the latest crisis du jour. I believe my son was sent to me to teach me this important life lesson and I'll be forever grateful to him.

  2. If ADHD is a gift, is it returnable? I would love to exchange it for, say, a touch of OCD or a nice jacket. Unfortunately, I probably lost the tags and receipt, so I guess I am stuck with it.

  3. In our family, we see ourselves as round pegs in round holes. The non-ADD are the square pegs, happily living in their square holes. The trick is to find a square hole out there big enough to fit you, if you can't find a round one. And don't let those Nattering Nabobs of Negativism into your safe round-hole enclave!

    I think ADD in a way is clarifying. You are SO GOOD at what you're good at, and SO BAD at what you're not. The book Now Find Your Strengths endorses this, and I recommend it. It doesn't address ADD. It does endorse setting up your life to maximize what you're good at and minimizing the rest (or paying someone to do it for you).

    I spent a lot of time trying to educate square pegs on the ways of us round pegs. Nowadays, I find round holes. Round hole schools, jobs, professional services, .... they are out there. And they can work with you the way you are.

    1. So right. My wife is lightning in a bottle when she's good at a task and quite the opposite otherwise. She hasn't quite gotten to the point of realizing that having limitations, no matter how many, in no way detracts from that lightning effect. I've never heard someone say, that $100 is bent so it's not worth as much.

  4. As a "gifted" one. I can say this is a "gift" that comes with a certain amount of pain attached. I know I view the world differently, I relate to time differently, and I relate to people differently. Unfortunatley we live in a society that rarely embraces diversity.

    For me growing up the educational system was nearly abusive in it's approach to my "gift." I was "sloppy", my handwriting warranted nightly rewrites, but never improved. I was "distracted", "disruptive" and of course "underachieveing." Rare was the teacher who realized and embraced my creativity, my out of thd box thinking and my ability to see things differently.

    Had this been recognized earlier and had there been stuctures and tools to focus on the positive aspects of the way I think, I know my life would have been somewhat less painful. But we learn more from our failures than our successes and I am beginning to address those areas that are a challenge for me.

    So now I am learning to harness my "gift" and work on those areas that create problems for myself and the people I love. In the process I am seeing who I truly am and who I am meant to be. It's a lot of work!

    I must improve my handwriting...I must improve my handwriting...I must improve my handwriting...

  5. I certainly know the shame. I'm almost 65 years old and have spent most of my life wondering why I couldn't do what my 4 brothers found so easy or what other persons did without a problem. Why couldn't I finish a Phd dissertation? Why was anything that demanded time prove so impossible? Why didn't I meet expectations? It must have been laziness.
    Imagine my surprise five years ago when I received the ADHD diagnosis. At first, I was angry at God, even though I'm an agnostic. Then somehow I became reconciled to my condition. Now when I daydream, it's okay. The same for when I feel fidgety. God, the nuns used to beat me up because I couldn't sit still!
    But as the West Africans used to tell me whenever I complained because the water or the electricity had run out: "What to do?"

  6. Harry Potter is an ultimate ADDer! My kids and I talk about how a particular impulsive action made his life more difficult, and what he could have done differently, and other ADD issues that are in the books. One of the reasons I love the series!

  7. My son has ADHD. My husband, son and I have had some very trying times, and we have made a lot of mistakes as a parent. However, now that my son is away at college, exclusively for students with learning disabilities, he is doing extremely well. I realize now that he is away just how much I love and miss him. I am grateful to God that He chosed us to be our son's parents and brought him into our lives for he has given our life purposes and meaning.

  8. Wow what a great post; I'm going to steal some of your words to help out a friend.

    What a great perspective, so true! Thank you so much. This post meant a lot to me! :)

    If I didn't have ADD & still had the IQ I have I know I would be so well off that I wouldn't have the relationship I do with God. :) I'm so thankful for the way God made me! Thanks again!

  9. As a parent of a child with ADHD-I really appreciate your article.

    He is my only child and I will forever be grateful to him for all that I have learned. He will be ten in December. And after many years of struggling and searching for answers, I have grown and feel so at peace now. I was always beating myself up as a parent-feeling judged by everyone when he did some really off the wall things. But looking back it didn't matter what anyone thought-it was about being true to myself and being the best mom I could be for him. So for anyone out there struggling through this-I hope you too can at some point be grateful for THE GIFT! Many blessings--Vicki

  10. I didn't realize there was such a condition as ADHD till my son was diagnosed with ADD five years ago, and while reading the symptoms, for the first time in my life, I realized I have ADHD. Social life has been challenging to me ever since I was a child, and after narrowly avoiding suicide in college, I found a way to manage my emotions. At this point, I see ADHD as a gift. It allows me to hyper focus on my passions, and gave me the opportunity to found and run three high tech companies plus work as a published B&W photographer. You better believe I tell my son ADHD is a gift, but he also needs to understand its shortcomings.

  11. I loved this article because it is so true! I get really frustrated at the debilitating side of ADHD in myself and my family, but I absolutely adore the positive gifts it brings. I love seeing things other people don't, and the understanding it brings of others.

  12. My son has ADHD. I don't try to hide it and Im willing to educate anyone about it who is willing to listen. The best day of my life was the day I learned to embrace him for who he was along with his ADHD. Someone once asked me what if I could take away his ADHD. I hesitated, because I would love to take away his pain that he feels when the world doesnt always understand him, but I would'nt take away who he is . He sees the world in a way that I could only wish I could. He has an understanding and an empathy for people who don't always have an understanding of him. I love him and all his quirks. Im his biggest fan. Though each day seems to be a new struggle. We get through together. I know in my heart he will be someone wonderful oneday. To me, He is my greatest gift.

  13. I have had the same thought...maybe this is a gift. ? Some days it's not a problem, and other days my ADHD gets in the way so badly that I feel like I have to tell people this is what I have. If I do tell them, they either don't believe me or think it is just an excuse. I've even apologized to someone by saying I have a "high-strung personality". When it bothers me enough, I want to get help for ADHD and go on some kind of treatment, but sometimes I do accept it as a gift.

  14. How could anyone call ADD a gift. People call you an airbrain and a bimbo, they think you are purposely forgetting to put stuff away etc. Lazy flighty and disorganized they say I am ...how could there be anything gift like about somthing that makes you feel so crappy and worthless. No one cares that you have ADD, they just know that you forget to do things, get sidetracked. They see you as careless and thoughtless. No one sees anything good about me. Maybe I am just a loser.

  15. Lady, you obviously do not have ADD/ADHD if you think of it as a "gift".

  16. At first reading this I thought it's not a gift. Geez for all the stupid things I do and say. For all the embarrasing moments when I wanted to cry because I couldn't remember what I just said and the shocked look on peoples faces. To loosing my family when I was diagnosed because they became very abusive towards me. Every day is a struggle for me. I'm severly allerigic to all the medications. I felt very helpless and afraid. But God pulled me through it and has made me strong. I still have it and I still do stupid things but instead of putting myself down. I say "Oh that was a moment". And I try to find the humor in the things I do. I might not always be able to laugh at that moment but later I have a good laugh. There are lots of moments in the day. And as far as my abusive family I'm glad I'm not with them anymore because they can't bring me down.

    And my kids love it because I'm kinda like a big kid who still likes to play with them. I'm not so serious like all the other moms. I think it's good that my children get to see that there are different people out there with different disabilities. They have more compassion towards us then others do.

  17. MY Grandmother's uncles, my Grandmother, my Father, myself, three of my four children, my cousin, his son--who knows how many family members---all have ADD/ADHD. I have always considered it a GIFT directly to me from God!!! Yes I am different, but then aren't we all!!! With knowledge of ADD/ADHD, comes behavoir management skills which in turn builds competency towards personal advocacy ---this is what turned our family from disfunctional drug addicts three generations ago into college graduates with exceptional jobs and personal relationships where we use our strengths and minimize our limitations protecting ourselves from failure. You can see your life as a glass half empty, half full, or as I choose---overbrimming!

  18. Wow! I needed this today. My 16 year old son with ADHD is having a really rough time with academics at school this year. For the first time in his life he's getting C's and the pit in my stomach about how badlly this is affecting his outlook for college in a few years is impossible to ignore. As a parent it's so painful to watch your child wrestle with his demons...and you say these are gifts! This blog gives me hope that there are some silver linings in the clouds.

  19. I truly wish I could find something about having ADHD as a gift but I can't and I seriously don't understand how anyone can find it so!!

    I HATE IT and wish it didn't exist, or at least, I wasn't one that has to be afflicted with it!!

  20. I knew there was somthin' different, or wrong with me long before I got the official diagnosis when I was 54, & eventually got on Ritalin to deal with it. Three years later, it's better, but still sucks, i.e. less difficult. Overall I'd give my useless left nut, to not have it. It's screwed up my life teriblly (sp). And, as we all know, time that can't be replaced, or done over. This redefining of it is a necessary evil so as not to kill yourself for all the crap one goes thru in a life with it. Many soscioties (sp) at large are at such a low level of consciousness about this and other thorny issues in general, that to have to deal with it is a life long sentence of frustration, to say the least. I'd much rather NOT have it......

  21. Excellent post! As a wife of an adult ADHD husband and mother to four kids, two of whom are diagnosed ADHD, I understand the every day challenges of life for those with the "gift". My heart often aches as I watch the struggle of my family members and others with ADHD.

    It is a constant challenge to stay positive and look for the "up side" of the condition.

    One thing that helped me was the book Delivered from Distraction. It felt hopeful. It also advocated two key elements to thriving for those diagnosed with ADHD. One was, finding the right spouse/partner. The other was, finding the right career. If you can do that, banking on your strengths, your life will be a little less chaotic, a little more supported by those around you.

    I also agree with the author about the humility piece. Having ADHD or understanding its challenges can open your eyes and increase your compassion towards others - anyone faced with challenges like ADHD. It has definitely taught our family to see past "challenges" and value the people.

  22. I have come to believe, too, that ADHD is a sublime gift. I used to suffer such rejection, but now celebrate! I came to realize that the world has plenty of lemmings...It needs leaders that think differently! If we're going to solve our country's problems, it's going to take more sophisticated solutions--- Who better than an ADHD person, who sees things from all sides rather than in a straight line, to come up with those much-needed solutions?

    ADHD has made me into the "go to" person in the office that everyone comes to for a more wholistic perspective, or to solve complicated problems. I can manage chaos that boils other peoples' brains, and do it well. I am a sporadic worker, but the work I found compliments my strengths. The work load is sporadic and cyclical, too! Everyone says "There is NO WAY I would ever want your job"!!! I love it, and know that God arranged this for me. For that I am grateful.

    Whether or not you "buy" everything he's saying, you all really need to read "The DaVinci Method". There is a lot of merit to many of the things he says.

    Again, I couldn't agree more that it's a gift. The only disadvantages are when other people impose their personal agendas on me (which is inappropriate), and when I want to have company at the house. What a mess!! :)

    My 10 year old son also has ADHD. He has straight A's (so far -- HA!) This is because we have taken measures to help keep him on task, and are slooooowly transferring more responsibility onto his shoulders -- along with tools, so he is not set up to fail. We also rely heavily on our loving God, who made us wonderfully and fearfully.

    Really, how arrogant is it for people to get angry when others don't think like they do?!?!? Should I be mad at all the non- ADHD folks? Heavens, no.. There is plenty of room, and different purpose, for all of us.

  23. P.S.

    Folks, no one likes to see our children suffer.. but you can lessen the suffering by learning from the pain. Life is a struggle for EVERYONE. Take the family whose child has leukemia, or cerebral palsy, or any of the MILLIONS of other life-threatening conditions. Mine (and my son's) just happens to be severe ADHD.

    I'm going to scold some of you now. What I see is some (not all) ungrateful people that are painfully self-reliant, shaking their fists at God, instead of leaning on Him for guidance and peace. When I stopped the chronic self-reliance and started being greatful (gasp!), not to mention discarding my pollyanna expectations, I was able to see that there IS NO PERFECT LIFE. There's just life. You live it. You squeeze all the joy you can from it.

    Put your unrealistic, perfectionistic, consumer mentality expectations on the trash heap where they belong!! Life is not a product you can return if you don't like it.. It is YOUR life. Create one that brings you joy. This doesn't happen overnight, so don't expect it to. When you have a joyful moment, SAVOR IT!!

    Seriously... We all have our crosses to bear, and they're all different. Ditching the victim mentality would be a great start.
    Second, work your strengths and work them to your advantage. Third, rely on (and thank) the loving God who did not create any flaws in you. He created you with a divine purpose. If you don't believe in Him, (wincing) yipe. Talk about a handicap..

    I am serious here. Life is not perfect for ANYONE. Get close enough to anyone and you'll see it's true. Don't waste time envying others, or feeling like you should be just like anyone else. Have the courage to love yourself!!


  24. I have the answer to global warming and the energy crisis - all I need to do is to harness the energy and warming love that flows and glows from my son. In the quiet of the morning when I am relishing a moment to myself in a quiet house, I will here his feet hit the floor and RUN out of his room - no matter that it is 5:30 am or some other ungodly hour. At first I am a bit selfishly upset (no downd time for Dad to read the paper). Then, he turns the corner into the kitchen and gives me his huge smile and 'our morning hug' followed by some scheme of what he wants to do or invent and suddenly I am the happiest person on the planet. ADHD can be a gift to the parents who have the difficult task of raising the most loving of children.

    On the other hand, it hurts me to my core to know that my son will have to deal with a life of frustrations that others may not have (at least to his level). My wife and I have agreed that there will always be a boy like our son on this planet and that it is our highest calling to get this right (giving him just the right mix of love and encouragement) - and for the very reason that we recognize this responsibility, we have been blessed to have a boy like him. It will not be easy for him - but I hope that with a good start from his family, he will be as happy as we are.

  25. I appreciate this perspective, as I continually struggle with all the labeling we do as a culture to try to make sense of diversity and to try to fit people into the ways of what we define as "normal." I realize that we are often trying to help people learn how to function in the world around them, but often "the world" seems a lot more troubled than some of the peole we are trying to conform. A lot of "controllers" have their own denied issues in my opinion. Just my rambling thoughts that this article triggered.

  26. I have a son with ADHD, and grew up with a brother and father with ADHD... I think you hit the nail on the head... it's *both* a disability *and* it brings its own gifts. It's a mistake to minimize or deny either. That said, the one thing I seriously disagree with is your comments about Huck Finn as an ADHDer... *particularly* his "winning way with people." Probably the most debilitating piece of ADHD for my son, my brother and my father is a serious inability to make and keep friends, to relate to people (have empathy or to think about another person's perspective or feelings) and to interact with people in a socially appropriate way. My son has struggled mightily with making and keeping even one friend. I can think of precious few people who have been "charmed" by my son and not driven to distraction and said all kinds and manner of negative things to him and to us for how we must be seriously messing him up. I agree with your second and harder sell :) the benefit of learning humility. I think part of the "gift" of ADHD (at least for me) has been learning to grow a thicker skin and to realize that living with ADHD is a whole lot different than it looks like from the outside. But I have to remember that I, too, was a wonderful parent before I had children. And if I had not had a child with ADHD I would never have learned what I have. But no... no "winning way with people" around here, sorry... wish I could say different.

  27. , I certainly would lean to the "gift" side of the equation. However, connecting emotionally, for the first time, to those around me coupled with the remorse associated with the path of destruction in relationships I have been responsible for, albeit as a result at times of ADHD, has made harnessing the gift a real challenge. I do think the healthiest change for me has be releasing the shame that I always seemed to hold on to. I feel so much freer for the first time in my life and thankful that ADHD has helped me understand my self better as a person.

  28. Nice. I love this post and couldn't agree more. Some aspects of my life have been more difficult because of ADHD but in other situations my ADHD traits have made me an asset. My willingness (or compulsion) to take risks has been equal parts blessing and curse. And I notice interesting things in the world and room around me when my mind is traveling as others' are focused. My ability to roll with the punches in the moment makes me well suited to things like moderating discussions, debating...while my hyperactivity makes it difficult for me to sit at a desk and get "my work" done. The best thing for me has been diagnosis because it's allowed me to start to see the line between "me" and "ADHD". Seeing that line has helped me to be able to see the plusses and minuses alongside one another and make decisions accordingly instead of being frustrated constantly by a nameless force.

    I know that everyone's experience is different and I respect that it leads people to different conclusions. And I know a couple of previous posters have said this in their own ways but it bears repeating so I'm saying it again in my own way: we all choose how we approach our day. Life may be genuinely frustrating for a variety of reasons, and ADHD may be a large factor in our daily frustrations. But why choose to spend waking hours being miserable? There's a difference between smoking sunshine/avoiding reality and choosing to meet any obstacles, not just ADHD with a proactive eye on solutions and trying new things if the old things aren't working. The solutions are part of the game of life that keeps like happy and interesting for this ADHDer ;) Lets me make life a game that I have the power to make choices in, even if I cannot always have what I want.

    I wasted years killing myself with perfectionism, trying to cope with my life.
    Now that I know I have other choices I am grateful and I prefer to spend my time forgiving my imperfections, and focusing on my strengths.

  29. If ADD is a gift, can I please give it to someone else before I end up killing myself? Telling someone to just "get over it" and "find the positive" doesn't help them find/keep a job. Jobs don't grow on trees, and not everybody can be an ADD coach or a CEO. Stop telling us to be positive! I wish I had a nickel for everytime someone told me to "get my shit" together! Frankly, I think everyone who thinks ADD is some kind of gift, or in the least bit positive, is full of shit themselves. I would give anything to not have ADHD! I certainly don't need ADHD to help me learn humility, THAT'S THE DUMBEST DAMN THING I'VE EVER HEARD! I don't need ADHD to help me learn to not be a perfectionist. And frankly, the work world doesn't want imperfection or human frailties, they want performance! I'm so damn sick of these "gifters", they can have my ADHD and then some! They can have it and revel in it! They can have all the gifts that come with it! I HATE ALL THOSE 'GIFTERS'! THEY CAN HAVE THE ADHD ALL THEY WANT!! I JUST WISH SOMEONE WOULD UNDERSTAND HOW MUCH I'M SUFFERING, ADHD IS NOT TO BE CELEBRATED!!! WOULD YOU CELEBRATE A BRAIN TUMOR? THAT'S HOW I FEEL WITH ADHD! I JUST WISH I WAS NORMAL!

  30. As an ADD mother trying to help her ADD son get through his freshman year of college without losing his scholarship, I must ask....are you serious?! I was gifted and my son is gifted. Being gifted and having ADD is like being the one of the fastest runners in a track meet but you have one leg tied behind your back. You have to want to succeed bad enough to put forth 300% more effort than everyone else and you have to have at least one person willing to run right behind you holding you up to keep you from falling. If ADD is a gift, I wish it came with a receipt. I would like a refund. Or an exchange. Or the ability to regift. I just don't know anyone I despise enough to give it to.

  31. Yes, I would like to return my gift, too. I have a kid who is so miserable - with early diagnosis, parents who understand, above average school - she says she will not have children because she does not want to pass on to any child what she has.

    I have never heard anyone with a gift they like, say that. Come on, already.

    Sure, any afflicted person may be able to develop skills or capacities due to having to cope with their deficit, but that is not the same as saying the affliction itself is a gift. I would much prefer to take my chances with a non-AD/HD brain and see what I might do instead of coping, compensating and developing character in this way. Many people without my affliction have fine and interesting characters. I wish I'd been one of them.

    Gift, my ass.

  32. My mistakes and failures are terribly painful to me on a daily basis. I have a lifetime of painful experiences saved up. BUT, from this I have enormous compassion and empathy for other people and I have taken a job as as social worker this year which I absolutely love. I find some people to be so judgmental but I have the ability to look at someone and see that they have struggles too. Our challenges develop our patience and character, and honestly, at this point in my life I wouldn't change anything because I really like that part of me (In fact, it's the quality I like most about myself). I HATE saying this because I am not an "adhd is a gift" rainbows and ponies kind of a person and the experiences that earned me the wisdom hurt. But that's where I'm at.

  33. As an undiagnosed ADHD adult who has all the symptoms, I have to say ADHD is a gift. But you have to be able to recognize what the gift is and what it can do in your life. If someone gives you a coffee maker and you try to make ice cream, you will feel defeated and think it is the worst gift ever. You will curse the person who gave it to you and wonder why you can never make it work right. You obviously live in an ice cream world, so why can't you make ice cream? This is ADHD. I have had to learn to use the gift I was given and quit trying to be what I was never intended to be. Oh, and I am mildly dyslexic. I love who I am. Who am I to complain to my Creator when he has a purpose for me this way? My husband and atleast one son is obviously ADHD and the other son is exhibiting signs of dyslexia. Yes, life is a challenge. But it's also a lot of fun around our house. We have two speeds: Moving and asleep. Why would I want to be "normal"? I drove semi before I had my kids and now I drive school bus. Both are perfect jobs for me. I have to be constantly scanning the surroundings and the control panels and rarely do I miss seeing anything. But I am not a detail person! I am definately a global person. ADHD has given me the ability to relate to those kids who are like me and to help them when the "normal" adults just don't get it. I have a purpose as I am. And yes, I do make the stupid communication mistakes. I offend without meaning to. I forget what I just said and wonder what the person is talking about when they are only answering me. I even had a teacher tell my mom that I was a "space cadet" (coming from a teacher wha acted like an airhead a lot!). Forgetful? Most of the time. I have an electronic organizer and hope I never lose it or I will be completely lost. My husband has been unable to hold a job for longer than two years and usually a lot less time. Now he's self employed and landed his first fleet account (he's a mechanic) and life is better for all of us. What "normal" people need to understand about us is that once we are "on-task" we cannot be disturbed or we will forget what we are doing and where we left off. The problem isn't us. It's them! Both boys go in next month for testing to determine what genetic things we have passed on to them and then be able to make the teachers understand that our kids are fine but you need to teach differently. I can't wait! For those of you who are discouraged, don't give up. Never give up your pursuit of learning. I am constantly online studying different things. Yes, people are cruel. Sometimes it is intentional. More often than not it's just people not understanding that yes, we ARE different. As another post-er said, we are round pegs in roung holes. We need to make others understand that there is nothing wrong with us; we're just different. Celebrate your difference!

  34. How is it a gift when you struggle to find a solution to something really important to you and a sound, or the heat coming off the top of a radiator, or a fly, or a particle of dust floating through a ray of sunlight, cause you to totally forget what you were trying to concentrate on?

    Its not, it is a definite curse. One that can result in hopelessness.

    However, there are times when it is useful, and if you focus only on those, then you might consider it a gift. But for many ADDers, those times are rare.

  35. I am a single mom with two sons that both have ADHD. the younger son is not as bad as the older son. I will be the one on the box saying I hate what this CURSE does to our lives. I am constantly being the referee of the bitter and violent fights that ensue from the constant bickering since neither of them can "get it together". I hate that I cannt just ENJOY my kids. I am alway son edge, the oldest breakes everything or steals everything he touches and make our lives MISERABLE! Yes, I have the meds, and yes - I have tried the USELESS counseling and YES I have WASTED most of the last 12 years DEALING with this rather than being able to focus on my kids...and enoying them. I hate it - I hate it...I am tired of it and it has taken too much away from my life!!

  36. The above comment really bothers me. A child cant help being born with ADHD. He didnt ask for it and he is struggling with it more than you. Take a breath. Give him direction and most of all patience, you will get back 10 fold. Start each day as a "do over" thats what we call a second chance to a bad moment. It gets better. Not perfect, but better. Remember that. I didnt believe it years ago, but it does. I made a promise to my son that if he always tried his best i would always be there for him, and so far it works. Dont give up on him, he need you more than you will ever know......

  37. I have "manageable ADD" - a great career that I Thrive in - I'm pretty organized (often due to simplifying my life) - I think ADD is a gift for me - and my children. I even think it's a gift for my husband. But on the "bad" days - my husband's ADD and my co-dependent (is there a better word) reaction to it - feels like a too frequent reset dial on the spin cycle. I am living with a fairly unconscious and untreated husband with ADHD - and it really can feel like a trap, not a gift. I get the gift part - on my more centered days - or when I can detach some. But I do grieve sometimes over an imagined relationship where I can count on my husband to follow through, to remember our discussions, to attend to the relationship, to notice his surroundings and impact on others. Tonight is one of those nights and I'm just feeling sad.

  38. You see. I see. Do we see the same thing? Yes! No! Q:What's wrong with that? A:Not a thing.

    Know what? So what, we are not all given the same gift/curse. It's not a gift to have ADHD, or any mental disorder. It's not a curse to have an active mind, that can solve a promblem quickly. But it is interesting to see both ends, instead of just the middle.

    Great article and great comments!


  39. Ive grown up all my life caged by this label that people slapped on me. the anxiety and fear of doing something wrong, analyzing and studying others to try a decern what it is that im doing wrong. What is it about me that a majority of people instantly recognize and dislike me for? I can remember, looking back on childhood, and finally agreeing with the doctors that yes indeed, i had ADHD, but back then when i didnt care to believe them i was the happiest person in the world. Nothing phased me, everyday was an exciting adventure...or i would make it one. It wasnt until i started to accept that im adhd that i became this miserable mess. Ive come to think of nothing being wrong with adhd other than the label enforced apon us.

  40. A gift? Is this a joke?

  41. I am certain that my 56 yr. old husband has AD/HD and I don't think that he will ever be treated for it. He disbelieves most modern psychology and has survived because of his well developed denial. Based on all I've read on this website and other sources - he is textbook. We've been together for 26 years. He does have uncommon gifts and most people adore him - at first. He is charming, funny, smart, and friendly. Although many who get to know him better wind up either pitying him or me or both. Some take his goofy unintentional gaffes personally and get offended. Because of his AD/HD he has never been able to fulfill his dreams of using his uncommon gifts - still they are there and they are part of him and this is who I fell in love with and married and stayed married to even after discovering and painfully experiencing the results of the disability. I once told him of my opinion and observations about him and AD/HD and he got so offended and hurt that I never brought it up again. He brooded - until he got bored with it. And even if he was diagnosed, he would refuse medication. He has painful arthritis and won't even take ibuprofen much less a prescription medication. I will continue to remind myself that he is who he is and I will continue to be more and more forgiving of the results of his symptom: the selfishness, the forgetfulness, the accidents, the procrastination, the ranting, the ubiquitous need for gratification... But most of all, I will grieve for his gifts and unrealized potential. Because he is unable to visualize or complete a task, much less a vision, he will never achieve the success he so craves, and the world will miss out on the best part of him. The other part of the equation is that we have a 12 year old son which I find myself scrutinizing for tell tale symptoms of AD/HD since reading about the genetic component of it. Some days I'm certain that he has it too and others not at all so he probably doesn't and the bad days can be attributed to his adolescence. And now that he's older, he asks why Dad never puts the toothpaste back in the same place, but he has to; why he's always late; why he sometimes can't seem to stop talking or says things that sound absurd to us; why he loses something or breaks something nearly every day... His adoration is not necessarily automatic anymore and I am determined that my husband continue to feel successful as a father because he has tried 10 times harder than most men I know. I've begun to explain the truth to my son, that he really can't help it, and he never intends to be mean and his brain works differently. My son has friends who have been diagnosed with it and are on medication for it and of course we all get along well with them. Ironically, my husband even sees himself in them and supports the use of meds for them without connecting the possibility that he could benefit himself. Sigh... So, I'll keep trying, keep loving, keep praying that we'll continue to find ways to cherish the gifts of my husband, always remembering that these and the challenging aspects of his behavior are all part of the guy we love.

  42. OK - yes ADD or ADHD has it's downsides, but - it can also be a hugh benefit for the one who has it. The ability to hyperconcentrate; the ability to see so many things around you; the ability to deal with change as a constant... Think of it this way, as everyone gets older - they slow down. So in your 40's you have as much energy as a 20 year old.
    In this day and age we are very lucky. To help with financial issues - we can have automatic deductions for a savings plan and automatic bill payments so the bills don't get missed. A computer word processing program helps with handwriting and so on and so on.
    I was in the film industry for 23 years and my guess is that a very large number of people involved in it have at least a mild case of ADHD. They just found a place where their behaviour was accepted and was actually a benefit to them and their employers.

  43. Dear Gina Pera
    Thank you so much for answering my question on Medpedia about CAPD. It was really surprising because I had just finished reading your book. Thank you again for your involvement in these sites.

  44. Hi Anonymous --

    I'm EVERYWHERE. lol!

    Yes, this is what happens when you take a Crusader Rabbit out of the newsroom. ;-)

    Please check my latest update on Medpedia. When I opened the mail yesterday, I found that The ADHD Report had addressed this very issue (APD and ADHD).

    (And if you found my answer helpful, please vote it as such. Some people are biased against MD "experts" and are less likely to vote for them. I do put some effort and thought into these answers.)

  45. Oops. I meant "biased against NON-MD experts."

  46. I think people should be very careful with this approach. While the intention is that of care, since many of us have issues with social judgments we may see such an action as an intentional fight. As such we will argue with it as if you had just made a logical proposition. Normal people must view this as hyperbolic
    in nature, just as we view such a spin on our disorder as hyperbolic.

  47. One of the things that is more gift than curse for me, at least for a while, is "New Project Mode." I like being able to dive into a new project with energy and enthusiasm, and if it's a short project, to finish it. The problem is when the project requires a longer term. I post about that here: http://distractedefiance.blogspot.com/2011/01/new-project-mode.html

  48. Hi Gamma,

    New Project Mode -- a common phenomenon. :-)

    Thanks for sharing your blog.

  49. Hello Gina,
    I am 36 years old....soon to be 37. I found your blog when I was trying to figure out why I love to start things, but cannot seem to finish them. This has been the story of my life. Like what others have written here I've always felt different as well. I've determined that I possess some of the uncommon traits which is good for me, but the common traits are driving me crazy at this point. :( Is medication the only solution? What about possible dietary changes?

  50. Hi there,

    Glad you found the blog. Be sure to read all the comments; they are often the best part! :-)

    That's a good question (what about possible dietary changes?) and it's one I hear a lot. But it's a difficult one to answer.

    First, I would ask what is your diet like now? For example:

    Are you eating lots of refined foods?

    Does your breakfast consist of coffee and a bagel or other white-flour product and no protein?

    Are you not getting enough vitamins and minerals, which are critical to brain function?

    If you're not optimizing lifestyle habitis like diet and exercise, that's good place to start when thinking of how to improve brain function and behavior. That's important for everyone, not just people with ADHD.

    That said, plenty of people with ADHD have eaten healthfully, gotten plenty of exercise and STILL had trouble overcoming ADHD symptoms.

    The bottom line is that, for many people with ADHD. the question of medication or diet is one answered with "both and" intead of "either or."

    I hope this helps.

  51. Such articles normaly written by those unlucky people who are not gifted with this curse....Only a true ADHD can understand the pain of having it...

  52. "Gift or curse? Sometimes a gift feels like a curse. Sometimes a curse is a gift in hiding."
    I'm newly diagnosed at 40. I can say that it has been a curse for a number of years in a number of ways. It undoubtedly caused a lot of personal problems in relationships and also depression and anxiety.

    However, all that is seen in a new light as I begin to understand the morphed form of this syndrome as it presents itself in me. I'm interested in the 'minor' symptoms that have perhaps sabotaged many efforts throughout my life. But then again maybe they have been gifts and provided much joy.

    I've always been weird. Very weird. If someone has 'known' me for a short period of time, the word 'weird' or 'strange' is gong to come up eventually. I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm fine with it and actually didn't like when I went through a more serious 'spiritual' phase. It wasn't me....

    The main curse that has caused so much grief in my life is the impatient, irritable, angry 'me'. I hate that guy. Even mood meds did nothing to it. It wasn't until I started on a stimulant was that trait finally quelled. For that, I'm grateful.

    I'm now in the process of wondering if perhaps there are 'gifts' or 'traits' that I've suppressed to survive. In my younger days, I would run around without a worry. I'd simply go with the flow with most things. Once I got married, got a house, two dogs and then my son, I changed dramatically. I put myself into a role of being responsible and I've done an incredible job. However, I've probably overcompensated and can only function well because of medication. Why do I say that? Well, maintaining that level of responsibility is extremely difficult and taxes me in ways that led to severe depression and horrendous anxiety. I'm a fanatic clock watcher so I don't miss appointments and be late. And I'm not....but that anxiety to stay on that and constantly worry if I'm on time wears me down. Likewise for making sure I remember the actual appointment/event. I have to use google calendar so I can see it on my phone and computer.
    My window of accessible memory or planning is about 5days ago til about 5 days from now. It has to be a big event (like a vacation) to even exist far in the future. Even then it's like a smudge 'out there'.....

    I mentioned all that because maybe the duress is because I'm too rigid about NOT letting the curse effect me and mine. Long ago when my family started, I decided to 'take one for the team' and I certainly have. I will say that I put them through hell though with my anger and passive aggressive behavior.
    I have made myself soooo responsible that I don't take risks or tear everything down into details to find something wrong with it. I have limited my life to be as simple as possible and don't take things on because that would be irresponsible... My impulsivity has been turned into extreme caution.
    The only impulses left are the 'bad' ones like drinking, impatience and a short temper.

    The only time I will actually let all this diffuse and be 'me' is when I go on a camping trip with friends and they are in charge. I don't care what we do. I don't have to make decisions and won't complain about whatever happens.

    So I think there are gifts and curses and perhaps curses that might be converted to gifts. I look forward to seeing where I've overlooked some of my talents to fulfill a role that has quenched the innate person I genetically am.

    1. Thanks for sharing your insights, Scott. I enjoy the way you express yourself.

      In my observation, undiagnosed ADHD can create a lot of confusion in all the ways you describe.

      It's like this giant but invisible Elephant in the Room that is making its presence known but not its identity. And there can be a tendency to contort oneself to appease this invisible elephant. Much like trying to appease a mercurial god who seems bent on messing with you.

      For example, a friend diagnosed at 50 says the diagnosis gave him the freedom to give up selling insurance (which he hated) and start a new business (which is doing well). Living with undiagnosed ADHD all his life, he just thought life was supposed to be a pain in the arse and "difficult." So he just hunkered down and kept selling the insurance. He was miserable, not only at work but in every aspect of his life. But he was doing what he thought he should be doing.

      What you're describing above (in becoming hyper-responsible) is typical of the poor coping mechanisms people with unrecognized ADHD have developed over the years. Just to get by.

      Once the diagnosis is clear and you've been handed the closest thing to a personal operating manual you'll ever get, it can become easier to separate your own personality, your own gifts and desires -- as distinct from ADHD neurobiology. That is, the biological imperative that might be clouding your own free will.

      This is a big topic, and I'm probably making a hash of it now.

      My personal opinion is that it becomes much easier to identify and express your "gifts" once your own particular brand of ADHD is understood and managed.

  53. Yes I'm currently trying to figure out my 'personal operating manual.' I suppose the main things I have been focusing on are the ways ADHD has presented itself in my life over the years. Honestly, its been a review of mostly the negative impact. I feel its important to have this data to improve my tool set for the future.

    However, I was just listening (audiobook) to Dr. Hallowell's 'Delivered from Distraction' and liked how he emphasizes focusing on the 'gifts' or talents instead of the 'deficit.' Granted that's a good thing for all people to do, but many years of 'curses' makes me want ascertain what might be 'me.'

    So yes, 'the biological imperative that might be clouding your free will' is exactly how I feel. 10 years or so ago, I tried to find something else to do with my life. My job had become boring because I knew how to do everything. I read a book called 'I could do anything if only I knew what it was' by Barbara Sher. Unfortunately, it didn't lead anywhere....I did start something but shortly thereafter bailed out. The only good that came from it was my entrance into photography, which I still do today.

    However, I've never had the guts to pursue anything that has come up on my radar because I see it as irresponsible and talk myself out of it. Not 18 years at the same job, I don't even think of other avenues. It's been years since I have....I hope that might change.

    I'm one of those who asks the 'big questions' and have searched for lots of meaning in the world and in my life. I've often wondered what I'm supposed to do to contribute to mankind. It's always been this nagging feeling that I have something more to give. Maybe not 'great' but certainly something. I have tried to figure out it countless times to no avail. In meditations it often there but blurry, out of reach and unclear. Perhaps with a better 'operating manual' I'll be able to find this 'gift' if it exists.

    1. There's something to be said for maintaining a stable base from which you can try new things on a small scale. If you leave all stability behind, sometimes you just end up...unstable. ;-)

      Good luck sorting it all out, Scott. In my experience, it's an ongoing process lasting a lifetime.


Thank you for your comment. To receive any responses by e-mail, click the "subscribe" link just below this box.