I held strong opinions on ADHD long before I knew much about it. When I first got into playwork, freshly impassioned by children’s rights, it seemed a horrifyingly easy way to medicate children into little boxes of conformity and obedience. I thought of canaries in coal mines, how some suffer first under conditions that hurt everyone. Everything I read talked about over-diagnosis, about all those boys who simply couldn’t sit still.
It was only at Parish that I met children struggling so heroically with their differences, that I saw how useful terminology might be. But more than once, colleagues would point to a specific behavior as “so ADD” and I said some version of “but we all do that, don’t we?” then looked out over their surprised faces. No, came the reply. Not everyone does.
So, I started reading other stories – about how girls in particular can be under-diagnosed, how intense social training can twist ADHD into depression or anxiety. The quizzes included questions both specific and diverse. Feeling alarmed in busy shops? Never quite making it to the post office, despite a thousand good intentions? Scattered organizational systems, cycles of procrastination and panic before bursts of intense focus… All of it, extremely familiar.
Huh, I thought, filing that away.
Then at a conference, a woman I respect enormously mentioned she’d recently been diagnosed with ADD and experienced a sense of relief. She said that name allowed her to stop calling herself lazy or careless or stupid for the things she couldn’t change, for the difficulties she’d kept secret.
“I’ve been… wondering about that myself,” I said. She nodded.
“Welcome,” she said, and punched me on the arm. I grinned. The more I looked around the more brilliant, beautiful, fascinating women I met with stories similar to mine. Most of all, there is satisfaction in reading a list of traits that includes both aspects of myself I love, and those I have spent hopeless years trying to eradicate. Thinking of them as flip sides of the same coin allows me to be more generous with myself, more gentle.
Labels are always imperfect, shifting as our understanding and interpretation of differences change. Like all tools, labels can be used to connect, empower or oppress. But for now, thinking about this label in reference to myself doesn’t feel medicalization, it feels like the start of acceptance.