AD/HD Awareness Month! (What is AD/HD really??)

13 min read
painted-bees's avatar
By painted-bees
62 Favourites
Apparently it's AD/HD awareness month!

As someone who wasn't diagnosed with AD/HD until adulthood, I've always kinda wanted to make a post about what AD/HD is really about. There are a lot of myths out there, and the household understanding of AD/HD is actually very misleading... and very dismissive of our day to day struggles.

Actually, it's *because* of this vast amount of misinformation that I find myself unwilling to explain certain behaviors and short comings to people as "a symptom of my AD/HD". If you don't know what that's like, imagine having a badly sprained ankle--and when people ask you "Why can't you keep up, why are you walking so slow??" You'd sooner say "Lol I'm just goofing around" than admit that you have a sprained ankle--because if you tell them your ankle is badly sprained, they'll think you're just being lazy and making lame excuses for it. 

Thaaaaat's me! That's what I do.


Slaying the misinformation.

Here are some of things I've heard about AD/HD in my lifetime that are straight up wrong:

1) "If everyone got evaluated for it, everyone would be diagnosed with ADHD."

I try not to let this statement bring me down, but if I had a penny for every time someone said this to me...

To clarify, ADHD *is* a common misdiagnosis among children. And that's a damaging fact for everyone. As many as 1 million children in North America in recent years have received an AD/HD misdiagnosis. No wonder people think ADHD is a joke, right?
For this reason alone, I would (and this is a PERSONAL and UNEDUCATED opinion) avoid medicating young children and wait for their brains to develop before treating them for a condition they may not even have. As they grow up, rather than raise children dependent on medication, teach them coping mechanisms and habits that will help them get through their grade school years. 

HOWEVER, as children reach adulthood and begin to prepare themselves for life in the real world, coping mechanisms and  habits may not be enough. Medication may be the best solution that will allow them to function at a similar level to their neurotypical peers. And that's nothing to be ashamed of. 

Children do not "grow out" of AD/HD. Only 4% of the adult population is diagnosed with AD/HD. This is certainly not "everyone".
Please stop suggesting that AD/HD doesn't exist because "everyone probably has it". Not everyone does. Very few people do.

2) "No one even knows what part of the brain AD/HD affects. For all we know, it's all made up."

Children with AD/HD have smaller frontal lobes, and reductions of many parts of the brain including grey and white matter, the posterior inferior vermis, splenium of the corpus callosum, total and right cerebral volume, right caudate, right global pallidus, right anterior frontal region, cerebellum, temporal lobe, and pulvinar.

Chemically, children with AD/HD have delayed development of dopaminergic neural pathways, and adults experience an ongoing imbalance of dopamine and noradrenaline. These chemicals affect impulsiveness, attentiveness, happiness, and a slew of other critical moods and behaviors. 

Which leads us to

3) "Everyone gets a little excited and distracted, sometimes."

Yeah, you're right. But that's NOT what AD/HD is. AD/HD isn't a "sometimes" thing. 
Have you ever experienced a time when someone is talking to you--but you suddenly remembered that you forgot your phone at the restaurant and now that's all you can think of? Your brain REFUSES to let you listen to the conversation at hand until you're forced to say "Hold on, I forgot my phone!! I have to go back and get it!"  Because in your brains mind, losing your phone is a far more pressing issue.

That's what AD/HD feels like, but about everything, all day long, every day of your life. It's not just "sometimes I forget to lock the car, haha!" 
You get carried away in thoughts, mundane actions, small and insignificant details, and before you know it, you're an hour late for an important job interview that you've been spending ALL WEEK preparing for and doing everything you can to make sure you DON'T FORGET (because this happened last time, too!!). And what was it that made you forget this time? You got caught up reading your husband's sport's magazine while you were trying to force yourself NOT to get absorbed in anything so that you could pay attention to the time. (But the magazine was there, and while you never cared for hockey before, it suddenly became the most engrossing thing to you during the half hour you were waiting to leave for your appointment). Balls.

On a more common, day-to-day level, you get "in the zone" doing something either work related--or worse, something genuinely fun.
Three days have passed and you've done /nothing/ but sleep (less than you usually do), and work on this ONE THING you've been 'in the zone' for. For three days, you have forgotten to eat--all the chores you promised to do have not been done. You haven't showered. Your mom/roommate/spouse is very mad because this happens All_The_Time. But even when they're scolding you, you can only conjure vacant nods and random sounds of acknowledgement, because even still--all you can think of is THAT ONE THING you've been doing for three days straight.
(For me, this is usually painting or writing, or [god forbid,] both).

Both of these scenarios (and every variant thereof) are not just "once in a while" or "sometimes" for a person with AD/HD. This is the nature of their daily life. This is EVERY DAY OF THEIR LIFE. 
And every day, they have to build up walls and habits and defenses just to make sure that they can get done what they need to get done in order to survive like a normal functioning adult. And often times, these defenses, contingencies, coping habits... They often /fail/. And all an AD/HD person can do is laugh it off and try again. 

So no, not everyone gets this way.
Very few do.

4) "I might have AD/HD TOO! I have the attention span of--ooooooohhhh look, a shiny!!"
5) "You're not AD/HD. You're too quiet and calm!!"

Both of these are damaging, dismissive, very hurtful misinterpretations of what AD/HD is. 
AD/HD may or may not be accompanied by hyper activity. For many, many, MANY people with AD/HD--hyper activity is not a symptom they experience. 

The trope of the Hyper Active Squirrel That is Constantly Distracted by Shiny ObjectS(tm) is an inaccurate caricature of what AD/HD is. Unfortunately, AD/HD is rarely (if ever) that cute, harmless, nor easy to get along with. It's just not that superficially benign.

Allow me to explain the best I can--the REAL symptoms of AD/HD the best I can:


Remember that bit above, about 'being in the zone' for several days straight, at the expense of EVERYTHING ELSE? This is called hyper focus or hyper fixation. This is an absolute staple symptom for ADHD; everyone who has ADHD will experience this to some degree.
When you hyper fixate, this is one of the many many many natural "coping mechanisms' produced by the brain in response to its chemical imbalances.  
An AD/HD individual may find something engaging or fascinating--and the brain will fixate on it--sometimes for MONTHS and YEARS.  Why? Because it's /rewarding/ (dopamine). For someone like me, this means that--when I start a painting and it's going well--I will forget to do ANYTHING that's not related to the painting. I literally will not even PEE until that painting is complete. 
And if I am lucky, the painting will be completed in 1-3 days and my life can resume as normal until I start the next painting. 

Likewise, if all I ever want to talk about are my animals, a story I am writing, or the video game I am playing right now--or otherwise appear aloof and off in some distant space--this is why.  It has nothing to do with how much or how little I value your company, and everything to do with the fact that I have absolutely no control over what my brain decides it wants to fixate on.

The brain will fixate on any little subject or experience that is Emotionally Rewarding (and this can mean anything from things that are really fun, to things that make you really angry, or really sad) 

Which leads to...


This, perhaps the most outwardly destructive symptom of AD/HD.
Much like hyper fixation, impulsive behaviors are driven by the brains need to compensate for its chemical imbalances. 
This can take many forms;
Gambling and impulsive spending habits (out of control)
Risk taking
Adrenaline sports
Drug use (esp. stimulants and alchoholism)
Starting/pursuing arguments and fights
Conflict seeking/Attention seeking

People with ADHD may fall prey to many of the behaviors on this list, and I'd be surprised if any AD/HD person can identify with only one. 

These behaviors can and often do produce destructive cycles and repeat behaviors that have been referred to as "ADHD" games. 
Contrary to the name; they're far from fun. More often than not, the AD/HD person doesn't even realize that these are habits/behaviors that they are even doing, let alone understand that they are driven solely by their brains desire to balance itself out. Here are a few of them:

"Let's Have a Problem"
Many people with AD/HD pick on others to get a rise out of them, to get them upset, to make them crazy. 
 There is a reason why AD/HDers play this game: When the AD/HD brain doesn't have enough stimulation, it looks for ways to increase its activity. Being angry or negative has an immediate stimulating effect on the brain. When you get upset, your body produces increased amounts of adrenaline, raising the heart rate and brain activity.

"No Way, Never, You Can't Make Me Do It"
Opposition seems to increase adrenaline in the ADHD brain. Some people with AD/HD are argumentative and oppositional with all the people in their lives. This game has one rule: The first reaction to any request is "no, no way, never." 
Something as simple as being suggested to change out of sandals into running shoes in preparation for a long walk can be met with an instistant "No, I can walk just fine in my sandals". And by proceeding to making a big deal out of it, the victim of this game only plays into the AD/HD brain's desired outcome. 

"Fighting as Foreplay"
Many couples have described this fascinating game: There is an intense fight, then a period of making up. The swing of emotions is quick and dramatic. One minute you are fighting, ready to leave the relationship, the next, you are making up and feeling blissful.
The first step in eliminating these behaviors is to notice that you engage in them. 


This is a symptom that is currently considered unique to ADHD; meaning that all observed cases of RSD have only existed in individuals with AD/HD. Until proven otherwise, it is currently considered an AD/HD exclusive symptom: 
"Rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD) is an extreme emotional sensitivity and emotional pain triggered by the perception – not necessarily the reality – that a person has been rejected, teased, or criticized by important people in their life. RSD may also be triggered by a sense of failure, or falling short – failing to meet either their own high standards or others’ expectations."
The way AD/HD people cope with this is often one or both of the following:

They become people pleasers
They give up on trying. 

This means that AD/HD people may develop fictional personas that vary depending on the person they are interacting with. Their interactions become centered on appealing to the people they are conversing with, at the expense of their own goals and identity.
AS/HDers may also be exceptionally averse to attempting new skillets or moving outside of their comfort zone for fear of ridicule and rejection. 


Co-morbidity with ADHD is high--much higher in adults than in children. 
I myself live with co-morbid obsessive compulsive disorder, and grapple with depression. 


Ever meet someone who's always shaking their leg when they sit? Or rocks side to side when they stand? Or is always clicking their pen? Or grinds their teeth?
These are all "stimming" behaviors. I know they might drive you nuts, but please don't ask them to stop. It may be what's keeping them tethered to their situation. Without being allowed to stim, an AD/HD person may become immediately restless and experience increasing discomfort. It can become properly distressing.
Please, allow your AD/HD friends, family, and co-workers partake in their non-disruptive fidgeting and stimming.


Disorganization, lack of focus, hyper activity, etc are the posterchild symptoms for AD/HD, but these words just barely scrape the surface. They're merely the outward result of many or all of the aforementioned symptoms--and while you may precieve these as an inconvenience, to a person with AD/HD these traits shape their entire lives, decimate their self-esteem, and make day to day life infinitely more difficult than it needs to be. 

Have patience and understanding with us. We don't expect it, and we'll rarely (if ever) ask it of you directly... It's embarrassing... Especially in regards to a disorder that is so frequently brushed off as "no big deal". 

We're use to being told that our disorder isn't real--that we are simply lazy, unmotivated, and selfish...
We're told our entire lives, that we're not living up to our potential. That, if we could just "pull up our socks" we'd preform just fine.

And it feels really defeating when we *can't* live up to those simple expectations no matter how hard we try. Especially when everyone around us makes it sound so simple.

But--in the right environment, with the right people, we can thrive and outperform anyone! 
The industrial revolution was a huge disservice to those of us with AD/HD. Standardized hours, repetitive tasks, and the whole song and dance that comes with that is a hostile environment for anyone with AD/HD. We struggle to adapt. But a bit of understanding and encouragement goes a long way. Allowing us the space to understand ourselves more, and listening instead of ridiculing us when we struggle with expectations--these are the stepping stones to helping us achieve greatness. This can allow  us the chance to find  where we belong, to discover a lifestyle (often outside of the 9-5 grind) were we can thrive and reach our full potential.

I was blessed with a husband who allows me to work WITH my AD/HD instead of against it. With him, I've been allowed to find my lot in this world (and accept that my lot may be an ever changing sort). He's been patient, supportive--and we learn about these behaviors and develop coping mechanisms and habits together. 

I hope that everyone with any disability; no matter how misunderstood, 'insignificant', or dismissed it may be, finds a loving and nurturing situation that allows them to be the best they can be.

Happy AD/HD awareness month! 

© 2016 - 2020 painted-bees
anonymous's avatar
Join the community to add your comment. Already a deviant? Log In
MemeAches's avatar
Wow! I've been diagnosed with this fairly recently, and I've never heard of RSD before, but the second that I saw that, I immediately thought "that is something I do all the time!" My dad has this too, and we're not too sure about his biological father (adopted and seen his bio father once on a trip to California) but by his gambling and former drug addictions, it might be plausible to say that he had it too.
Emmmet's avatar
Wow, I was diagnosed with AD/HD a year ago and didn't really take it too seriously, but this is really convincing me. I have so many of these things, which is probably why I was diagnosed now that I think about it.
Szczurzyslawa's avatar
"Let's Have a Problem", RSD and stimming yes so much xD I thought I knew like everything about ADHD, and look at me, had no idea 2 first of those are ADHD thing. I thought I was was picking on people because I was agressive 'coz of ADHD but didn't know that it's to create problem just to stimulate the brain. RSD sounds scary familiar, esp the giving up on human interaction part. Is it also connected to feeling rejected by like fictional characters too? Like while writing role plays etc?

Whiness's avatar
add bipolar and adhd and you got a girl who cried over icecream when she was 15.. 3 months ago.. and locked herself in her room because of it..
Emberscarlet's avatar
I am an ADHD kiddo. Sadly has caused paranoia. Yay.
CFerretRun's avatar
Having been treated for ADHD since I was 4 (I'm now 30), I would like to share this please <3
painted-bees's avatar
go for it! :] <3
shadeykris's avatar
<3 <3 <3

my mom was diagnosed a few years ago.
kdpxva's avatar
Thank you. ^^
toomanyfandoms333's avatar
Wow. This really puts how i feel about having AD/HD into words, something I'm like never able to do
seeker4611's avatar
I need to say thank u, from someone who does not suffer from this. Also, kudos to ur husband.
May i please copy, i want to show it to a friend who swears she has adhd.
U write exceptionally well, most ppl ( imo) read either boring or condescending, u are neither. I actually read the whole thing!
The best of open doors and lighted paths on ur journey.
P.S. When u r ready, just mho, u should teach. U are gifted.
White ( and green!) light,
kevreau's avatar
thank you. i have ADHD, and ive sent bits of this to some of my friends to help them understand better why i do what i do, and its helped me answer that same question for myself. im a teenager, and ive recently been diagnosed, and not really thought much of it, as id always joked about it since i am a fairly hyperactive and, for lack of a better word, random person. (fuckin hate that word, random...)
BadWolfBeat's avatar
I must also point out the
"ADHD is just ADD!"
They have a difference
They're mostly similar
But ADD is without the hyperactivity and impulsivity
RabbitHearts's avatar
Thank you. As a fellow person with ADHD, when I read this, I cried at some points because of the accuracy and the fact that I do feel like I'm misunderstood. Even by my own mom. She doesn't understand why I can't do some things, she's saying those things that you mentioned that I'm being lazy or unmotivated, when it's not true. It's so frustrating.
Anyway, thank you for this.
I honestly didn't know that there was an AD/HD Awareness Month until now. XD
BadWolfBeat's avatar
Thank you for this
As a person with ADD (ADHD without the H)
I hate it when people say
"That's not real"
"You're making excuses for your behavior"
I also hate it when my mom says
"You can make yourself focus"
I can't
ghost--page's avatar
ADHD also has a significant overlap with other neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism! Since they often affect similar bits of the brain or can have similar manifestation - such as stimming, which is extremely common.
Bigwig1979's avatar
Very simply, thank you! It has taken me years to learn to accept who I am and to find a measure of peace with this disorder. I am still learning everyday about myself and the successes have slowly started to become real!
Ammoth's avatar
… So that sounds a lot like my SO. Hm.
I'm gonna dig around for more information on AD/HD, but thank you for making this post! It's really informative, and it did clear up a few things which I had learned wrong and gives me some more specific things to look for!
Thank you c:

I wanted to ask: do you have any resources for people with AD/HD? Or just… generally can you point me at places to get good, reliable information about it?
black-white-check's avatar
Thank you for this post! My brother was diagnosed with this after he was taken out of the house (long story), so it explains a few of his behaviours.
Squichu's avatar
Glad people are trying to raise awareness for ADHD and what it really stands for!

I remember the words from my psychology teacher a few years ago.. at the beginning of the semester we made a list of all disorders we'd like to talk about. She refused to add ADHD to the list, because "it's just a temporary fashion and an excuse used by troubled parents who can't find a reason for their children's bad behaviour. There is no real disorder like this."
Since one of my siblings was diagnosed with ADHD at age 7 -misdiagnosed btw- and my mother claiming that our father and his father and probably our uncle, too, all had the same issue (Yes, she was serious about this....) I was pretty interested in and involved with the subject; and only when my teacher said that "ADHD isn't real" I realized how the term gets misused and abused by so many people. :/
Szczurzyslawa's avatar
*falls on her knees* thank you
Larkitrope's avatar
this is very interesting and as someone who was misdiagnosed throughout my childhood for several different things (excluding adhd), I can appreciate someone who clarifies this <333
painted-bees's avatar
...Deviantart won't let me post sources because it thinks it's spam LMAO 
Note me if you want them.
anonymous's avatar
Join the community to add your comment. Already a deviant? Log In