“No, No Se Puedes…” (No You Can’t): Why “Inspirational” Stories Can be a Downer for Those With ADHD
I like to watch movies. More than watching them, I enjoy listening to them while I do other stuff. Background noise, if you will. Not really paying attention, just sort of having them on. I rarely sit and just watch a movie unless I’ve never seen it before, haven’t seen it in a very long time, or I’m watching it with a group who expects me to sit and just watch it. (I could go on about ADHD and background noise, but I’ll save it for another post.)
I’m mostly into kids’ movies and family-friendly movies. I like to keep my chick-flicks and action films PG-13 at worst and I avoid adult content as much as possible. This isn’t so much because of some kind of righteous law; I just find that adult content – especially of the sexual or violent variety – really just makes me feel bad. I’m a pretty cynical person to begin with when it comes to certain things, and I don’t need to intentionally expose myself to things I know will make it worse.
(… Forgot what I was writing about…. Where am I going with this?… Checking my notes… I feel like a “loading” screen right now…. “buffering… 80%”….)
All of that is to preface my shameless confession that I watch a lot of Disney channel movies, among other feel-good self-discovery type films. I have kids I can pin it on, sure, but let there be no mistake; I watch Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure while I’m completely alone. I’d be watching it right now if my girls weren’t already watching the original Tinker Bell film.
Lately I’ve got one beef with my typical movie genre. They tend to have a lot of those video montages where the main character decides they want something desperately, and so they kick-ass to get it. Ice Princess decides she wants to skate. Legally Blonde decides she wants to become a lawyer. Wendy Wu Homecoming Warrior decides she really DOES want to be kung-fu chick… And so they work really hard and they totally get it done!
Scenes like that used to inspire me. I used to get all motivated and ready to pick myself up and reach my dreams! Sometimes that feeling was met with a sudden realization that I don’t have any dreams…. But always that feeling was met with disappointment. Because after trying and striving and hoping, I’ve never succeeded in the way these “inspirational” testimonials have. And it’s not just movies. It’s blog posts and background news and self-help books and the like. For others, it seems so easy… Just a matter of really wanting it…
But, after years of telling myself I can if I just try hard enough, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I can’t. And now I just find these montages and success stories utterly depressing.
No You Can’t: Accepting Your Limitations
“No, no se puedes” is not going to make it into a feel-good Disney film (and if you know what movie I’m referencing there, please email me, because I’d love to remember what it’s called…), but though it goes against the “you can do anything” culture grain, there is a time and a place for accepting legitimate limitations.
And having ADHD is an undeniable limitation. I’d never call it a disability, because I think of it more as a trait than a disease. However, there are some definite disadvantages we ADHDers face in certain areas. Like housekeeping, for example. Just shoot me! Long-term planning? …What do you mean? Like planning for the weekend…? Managing time, remembering stuff, being on time, staying on task… These are all common issues in our community.
So what does that mean? Well, it’s simple. It means we’re never going to be Nancy Drew with her perfectly organized sleuthing kit and flawless everything. It means we’re never going to be Kim Possible – cheer captain, straight-A student, and teen superhero. Some of us will be lucky just to get out of bed in the morning and get to work or school on time.
But that does NOT mean we can’t be rockstars! All that means is that our strategies for success have to look entirely different than those of average Jane and Joe. We just can’t just decide we’re going to do something and then get it done just because we want to. We’re not wired that way. And until we accept that and start adjusting our methods to fit our natural dispositions, we’ll forever be stuck in a circular pattern of striving and guilt.
Yes You Can!: Accepting Your Strengths
We ADHDers have more passion in our fleeting thoughts than some people have in a lifetime. We’re innovative and creative and when we’re in the zone, it’s a sweet spot that neuro-typicals can’t even dream of. The cost of these assets is the need to temper our impulsivity and distractability with self-management strategies.
And that can be hard. It truly is a constant process. Not only does it take time to figure out what works and what doesn’t and what our behavior patterns are, but those things can be fluid and change over time. It’s a kind of vigilance that has to be intentional. But I encourage you to get on it and stay on it. So long as you learn something new about yourself and adjust going forward, even your failures can be victories.
For all our passion and hyperfocusing and enthusiasm, there’s always going to be mundane parts of the process that feel so unnatural to us. Things that other people don’t need special accommodations for, but we do. And we have to be okay with that. We have to be both humble and self-confident enough to set up our environment in a way that will get us to where we want to be, regardless of how “weird” or “pathetic” it is.
Equal But Different: Having Strategies to Win Doesn’t Make You a Loser
Don’t let anyone put you down or make you feel like you’re less just because you have to do things differently. If we utilize our resources, arm ourselves with understanding, and play to our strengths, we can be more successful than any “normal” person could have pegged us for. And once it’s done, is it going to matter how you got there? (Within reason, of course. I’m not advocating that any means justifies all ends as a whole, but in this context, I think it’s safe to say that having a unique method to our apparent madness is, in the end, irrelevant.)
Imagine two men built identical skyscrapers. The one did everything the “normal” way while the other had all kinds of habits, devices, and strategies to get him through the project. The skyscrapers are still equally impressive. Having ADHD is not a mark against your character. Having too much pride to stop shooting for “normal” and just accept who you actually are, that’s a mark against your character. Because until you can embrace yourself and your ADHD, you’ll never be able to adapt in a way that leads to success. And you might need an ADHD coach or medication to give you a leg up, but at least you’re doing the damn thing. If you’re waiting for the day that the hard stuff is easy before you pursue the big things, you’re gonna waste your potential on a hopeless dream.
So don’t be ashamed if you need to use 3 alarm clocks in the morning instead of hopping out of bed at sunrise. Don’t be embarrassed to use stickies or take audio notes. If you have to use timers, or noise-canceling headphones, or set up a private cubicle in order to get stuff done, then do it! And do it with GUSTO! If you can afford it, hire a housekeeper. And if your neighbor remarks how luxurious your life must be, just smile and let it go. You don’t owe the rest of the world an explanation. You don’t have to convince everyone of your ADHD condition to justify doing what you do. But you do owe it to yourself to do what you can to set yourself (and/or your ADHD kids) up for success.
Some days, a video montage of me trying to kick-ass is more like… an AFV video of people falling over themselves. I mean, check out this week’s trend if you don’t understand what I’m saying. I CAN’T be the only ADHD person out there to feel this way! But I take heart in the fact that I’m so much better now than I used to be.
I know that the more knowledge and understanding I arm myself with, the better I can perform. And I will keep starting over and/or pressing forward in both the little AND the big things, because my life isn’t going to put itself on hold until I get a handle on housekeeping or remembering to shower as often as I should. It’s not going to wait for me to get over procrastination and being driven by how I “feel” about tasks. And I don’t want you or myself to look back and say “Man, I didn’t even TRY….”
Attitude is Everything: Be Your Own Best Friend
I know that positive self-talk is a huge pain in the rear, but it truly makes all the difference in the world. We have got to get past the hostile voices in our heads telling us we’re losers because we’re not the Mike Wazowski on campus. We’ve got to approach our obstacles as puzzles that we have the power to solve. With ADHD, we live our lives on the difficulty setting “epic”, and when we change our perspectives and accept ourselves as we are, the results will be just that. Epic.