Point of view: James

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Listen. I want you to understand.

I was 7 when I started cracking my knuckles to stim whilst I tried to sit still. I was 9 when I started to dread parents’ evening. I was 11 when I was told by teachers I was an embarrassment for pretending I hadn’t heard their instructions. I was 13 when my dad nicknamed me bone-idle. I was 15 when I massively underperformed in my GCSE’s. I was 16 when I stopped turning up for college. I was 17 when my own family member said, “I don’t think you are smart, you’ve never proved it”.  The day I turned 18 I failed my A levels. 

As long as I can remember, teachers told me “James you’re bright but you’re lazy so you’ll never achieve your potential.”

Still though, I re-sat everything. Externally of course, because there was no way I could face the boredom of sitting in a classroom. I taught myself by body doubling with my brother while he sat some of the same exams for his own A-levels.

I was 20 when I started Uni. I was 20 when I stopped turning up for classes that were just so long and dull. University gives you freedom though. Nobody checks on you. So I carried on. I was 22 when I decided: this year, my final year, I need to work hard. I was 22 when I stopped doing nights out to take away my distractions. I was still 22 when I was struggling to write a 10,000 word dissertation, and a suggestion of dyslexia was put forward. I got checked. I passed the screening, but my examiner was unconvinced. 15 years she’d been doing this, and she could tell I was cheating. I felt ashamed, I didn’t mean to cheat. I was just trying to answer the questions. 15 years she’d been dealing with neurodivergent kids, she told me, and she could tell I was one. She did eight hours of psychometric testing and encouraged me to get checked with a psychiatrist to explore a possibility of ADHD on the same day she diagnosed me as dyslexic. 

Dyslexic, ADHD? Me, surely not? I read books all the time and the only kid I knew who’d had ADHD had thrown chairs at teachers. My mum insisted though. Three weeks later the psychiatrist who confirmed the diagnosis asked to use my patient notes at a conference he was presenting as an ‘absolutely textbook’ case of ADHD. 

“Whatever”, I thought, “just let me get out of here”. The meeting had taken an hour by this point.

I said to my mum on the way out “I don’t mind you telling people about the dyslexia, but don’t mention the ADHD.” I knew next to nothing about the condition at this point but somehow I felt embarrassed. Naughty kids at school. That’s the only image I had. 

I was 23 when I told my mum, “Forget the embarrassment. If anyone asks, tell them. If it’s true, it’s true. There’s no point hiding it.”

I went back to university excited. Now I know the problem, I can fix it. This whole time I’ve had one hand tied behind my back but now it’ll be 10x easier, surely? “I wouldn’t bother if I was you”. That was what my supervisor said, “It wouldn’t be worth it”. I was shocked. Luckily, I’d never been very good at doing what I was told, so naturally I ignored her and went back. 

“You’ve got ADHD? What a load of shite”. A friend’s reaction when we met up at Christmas and I told him what I was up to.  He wasn’t alone. Lots of people I cared about, who were important to me and whose opinions I valued took time out of their day to correct me from the mistake I had made and inform me that actually not just myself, but the psychiatrist who diagnosed me, the DSM, the international plethora of empirically based research and the medical community were in fact wrong. Not just a little bit wrong but completely and utterly wrong and I didn’t actually have ADHD at all.  

I never thought I had ADHD, nor did I go looking for a diagnosis until I was instructed to. Once I had the diagnosis, I felt embarrassed. Now I was feeling guilty. Were these people right? Was I just using this as an excuse?

No. 

The answer is no. These people are not right, and I was not, and am not, using it as an excuse.

Myths about ADHD
“Everybody’s got something these days” ⁠— a teacher of mine.

First of all, this is plainly true. Everybody has something. Being people, they have to have some sort of substance. So of course, everybody has something because it is plainly clear that nobody has nothing. What people mean when they say this is “there is not so much evidence highlighting an increasingly diverse understanding of the human brain that I, as a lay person, can’t keep up with all these professionals.” That’s okay. I’m not asking you to understand all of medical science. I’m not asking you to understand the celestial laws of motion or the 2nd law of thermodynamics for that matter. Like me having ADHD, they are all true independently of your understanding or knowledge. I am quite simply telling you that I have ADHD.

“You’ve not got ADHD. I work with people who’ve got ADHD, and you’re not like them” ⁠— a friend. 

But I do have ADHD, I just told you that I did. I wasn’t asking you. When I was told to go and check if I did have ADHD, I did not come to you. Why didn’t I come to you? Because you are not qualified to make that judgement. What people mean when they say this is, “I know of people who have ADHD and their symptoms are not exactly the same as yours. I also do not realise that ADHD manifests in different ways. I am also not aware that 85% of hyperactivity, so that people who are outwardly restless are a minority of cases, yet these people inform the vast proportion of stereotypes regarding ADHD. However, rather than ask you questions to help broaden my understanding, I am going to resign myself to my ignorance and deny the existence of your day to day struggles, for which I have no information.”

“Are you sure? Do you not just think you need to try harder?” ⁠— a family member.

No, I’m not sure. I cannot be sure as there is no objective test. Because I wasn’t sure, I sought a second opinion from a second psychiatrist who told me again ‘yes James you have ADHD’. At some point there is only so much doubt that is credible. No, I do not think I just need to ‘just try harder’. If a person were in a wheelchair would you suggest the solution to their inability to walk would be to ‘just try harder’, or a blind man could see if he were to ‘only try harder’. The uses of the words ‘just’ and ‘only’ are interesting here. When people say this, what they mean is “I don’t understand why you find these things difficult and I don’t know how to help you solve your problem. I personally find these things so easy that I can’t even break the task down further to smaller components. Like walking or looking, I don’t think about how to do it, I simply do it. I can’t see anything physically stopping you so I struggle to understand why you can’t do these things easily too’. That’s okay. I’m not asking you for your help, or your advice. I am just telling you one piece of information, I have ADHD. That’s all. If it were as simple as you’re suggesting, please don’t insult me by implying I wouldn’t have been able to think of your solution on my own. I have spent my whole life wondering how on earth most people seem to do the things that I struggle with so effortlessly, so I can say with some conviction that it is not a case of ‘just trying harder’.

What I think is most difficult about hearing statements like the ones above as well as various others of a similar nature is what it reveals about how people perceive you. Did I forget your birthday because a) I have a condition which hampers my ability to recall such things or b) because I don’t care about you. Did I not do my homework because a) I have poor executive functioning and so need help or b) because I am lazy? Did I blurt out something I wasn’t supposed to say mid-sentence that hurt your feelings because I am a) cruel and malicious or b) I have extremely poor impulse control?

When people say to me that I do not have ADHD, they are not just saying that all of the small daily struggles I face are imaginary, they are also saying that rather than someone who deserves compassion because I have certain disadvantages, they believe I am lazy, cruel and careless. They are fundamentally denying my genuine attempts to do my best and judging me to be unworthy of adjustments and undeserving of a level of respect. This is in itself a very cruel and isolating thing to do. So, when I tell you I have ADHD, I am just telling you one fact. That fact remains true whether you choose to accept it or not. But please, before you respond, consider what you are and are not qualified to have a relevant opinion on because you do not get to decide whether or not I have ADHD.

SEN Magazine
Author: SEN Magazine

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