In my work, I take this premise:
ADHD is not a defect to mend, but a magic to tend.
(The cutesy rhyme helps me remember this key value of mine.)
Let’s unpack that a little, starting with “not a defect to mend.”
- ADHD’s not something to heal, because you’re not sick.
- It’s not something to fix, because you’re not broken.
- It’s not something to transform, because it is woven into the very fabric of who you are.
- It’s not something to manage, because it’s not a money market account, or a recalcitrant employee, or a department in a corporation, or an evolving crisis situation. These are the kinds of things that need to be managed, you get me? Personally, that’s not the type of relationship I want to have with my ADHD. Management is not the type of relationship I want to have with any part of myself!
The “not a defect to mend” premise allows the reframing of a lot of concepts that are important to us ADHDers. Reframes like this:
“Diagnosis” > Awakening
“Symptom” > Trait
“Treatments” > Tools
“Untreated” > Untended
“Dysfunction” > Challenge
“Disorder” > Wild lavish neuroabundance
My attitude toward ADHD is strongly informed by what’s called the “neurodiversity paradigm.”
The word “neurodiversity” was coined in 1998 by an Autistic Australian researcher named Judy Singer. Even though ADHD is a different form of neurodivergence than autism, I believe we have a lot to learn from the incredibly active, dynamic, vocal Autism advocacy community.
The neurodiversity paradigm takes the perspective that neurodiversity is a natural and valuable form of human diversity.
- That there’s actually no one “normal” or “healthy” type of brain or mind, no one “right” style of neurocognitive functioning.
- And that, to directly quote Dr. Nick Walker, “social dynamics that manifest in regard to neurodiversity are similar to the social dynamics that manifest in regard to other forms of human diversity (e.g., diversity of ethnicity, gender, or culture).”
- Furthermore, “These dynamics include the dynamics of social power inequalities, and also the dynamics by which diversity, when embraced, acts as a source of creative potential.”
Thanks to the neurodiversity model, I don’t consider my ADHD a “disorder” or a “dysfunction.”
However, ADHD is considered a disability by many professionals, is identified as such under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and many ADHDers experience certain traits as disabling.
I readily acknowledge that when untended, ADHD can wreak havoc on our lives and our dreams.
But there’s more to ADHD than just our challenges.
Which brings me to the second part, “ADHD is a magic to tend.”
Obviously, ADHD’s not magic. You’re a human being, not a character in a fairy tale. But fairy tales, symbols, and metaphors carry their own deep truth. I’m using magic as a metaphor here, to highlight something you may have already noticed:
While ADHD comes with some incredibly challenging downsides…
… it also comes with upsides.
Personal gifts that are beautiful, meaningful, useful, liberatory, and precious.
You may not be used to thinking of your ADHD in positive terms.
There’s a reason for that—ADHD traits tend to be regarded as pathologies by the medical profession, as misbehavior by educational institutions, and as sinful character flaws by capitalism’s Protestant work ethic.
Here are some more reframes that might be helpful for you:
Hyperactive > Energetic
Hypoactive > Mellow
Daydreamer > Imaginative
Distracted > Sees details others miss, or sees the big picture
Forgetful > Present in the moment
Disorganized > Doesn’t sweat the small stuff
Stubborn > Persistent
Inconsistent > Cyclical
Moody > Not dead inside! Alive and willing to feel
Oversensitive > Empathetic
Impulsive > Spontaneous
Reckless > Brave
Chatty Cathy > Exuberant
Crybaby > Strong sense of injustice
These gifts are your very personal, specific ADHD magic.
The thing about magic is, like any power, it needs tending.
JK Rowling’s TERF politics are repulsive, but let’s consider for a moment how magic works in the world of Harry Potter.
Harry, Hermione (the real heroine of the books, if you ask me) and the rest of the gang might have talents for magic. But most of the time, they need to figure out how to wield it. That’s what they’re at Hogwarts to learn!
Until they learn about magic, they cannot begin to practice it. And until they practice it, they cannot become skillful at using it. They don’t know its quirks, they don’t know how to troubleshoot, they’ll never be able to push the envelope to discover hitherto unknown qualities of magic, or in themselves.
When you don’t know that your ADHD mind comes with special gifts, you’re way less likely to acknowledge them. Your gifts get buried under your struggles. If you don’t acknowledge them, you can’t cultivate them. You can’t enjoy them. You can’t deploy them in service of this world, your loved ones, or yourself.
My dream for you, for myself, and for all ADHD women…
…is that we have ample support for our challenges, and abundant faith in ourselves, pleasure in our gifts, and expression of our magic.
So now you’ve got a sense of how I think. Click here to learn more about how to work with me.