This is what having ADHD as an adult is actually like
ADHD is something we talk a lot about when it comes to kids. But what about adults? ADHD is a chronic mental illness, which means it doesn’t go away once you reach adulthood. So what’s life actually like for adults who live with ADHD?
As it turns out, it can be really challenging. We probably could have guessed that, because there’s no such thing as an easy mental illness. But there’s still a strong stigma around mental health, and while it’s becoming more common for people to talk openly about anxiety and depression, adult ADHD still isn’t a huge part of the conversation.
Yashar Ali, a freelance journalist who has contributed to HuffPo and New York magazine, took it upon himself to combat some of that stigma singlehandedly. Ali is an adult who lives with ADHD, and in a must-read Twitter thread, he explained some of the most common misconceptions about the illness, and how it affects his day-to-day life.
1. I want to talk about ADHD. I was diagnosed with ADD when I was 13-years-old. To say it's misunderstood (both by people who have ADHD and people who don't have it) is an understatement. What people need to understand about those of us who have ADHD is we are not homogeneous
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) February 26, 2019
Ali explains that he doesn’t want to speak for all adults with ADHD, because the illness manifests itself in different ways for different people.
2. Because many people think those with ADHD all have similar symptoms and challenges, we don't often get the empathy and support we need. ADHD is something we live with every day, hour, minute. It can ravage our lives and you may not even be aware of it.— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) February 26, 2019
3. When people have asked me in the past to describe what ADHD feels like I get into details about how it impacts my life every day but I always add that for me that ADHD has caused me a great deal of emotional pain. It's a frustrating, infuriating disorder.— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) February 26, 2019
4. I want to be clear, I don't speak for everyone with ADHD but I have spoken to enough people over the last two years with ADHD that I feel comfortable speaking about it publicly.— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) February 26, 2019
But he goes on to share some of his own, personal experiences, which he says aren’t uncommon for adults with ADHD. He also calls out that very, very tired “squirrel” joke that people make, which is ableist and insensitive and we should definitely all have stopped making that joke by now, thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.
5. People who don't have ADHD often oversimplify what it means to have ADHD. I don't blame them, they're not living with ADHD. But that's one of the reasons ADHD is so misunderstood because it's anything but simple. That's why it's so hurtful when people jokingly say "squirrel"— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) February 26, 2019
One huge struggle for people with ADHD, Ali explains, is starting tasks that can feel insurmountably difficult, even if they’re objectively small.
Of course, Ali recognizes that he’s privileged to be able to talk openly about his ADHD without fearing any professional or personal repercussions. Not everyone has that luxury in their life.
14. Now, I realize that being able to talk about it is a privilege. People rightly fear that they could be seen differently at work or may not get assignments they deserve. This is a step-by-step process that will take a while...but it's so important because ADHD has an impact— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) February 26, 2019
He also talks about how kids are hugely more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than adults are, even though it’s a lifelong illness and many adults live with it.
And he talks about his own personal experiences with his ADHD affecting his life, both at home and at work.
Ali recognizes that he’s lucky to have had interactions with people who understand his diagnosis and challenges, because that’s often not the case when people disclose a mental illness in their professional lives.
22. Last year I was meeting with a company that wanted to hire me and I told them I have ADHD and would find it challenging to work in an open office environment..the people I was speaking to understood that and were happy to accommodate it. But it hasn't always been easy— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) February 26, 2019
23. One of the challenges for me is in order to focus on something like writing, unless I have the adrenaline that comes with not wanting to get scooped, I have to really shut out everything. But people don't understand that I can't do a back and forth when I'm in that zone.— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) February 26, 2019
He explains that not all of his workplaces have been so understanding.
Ultimately, Ali wants readers to take away from this that everyone has challenges, and we should work to understand and empathize with the challenges of others.
26. The best way I heard ADHD symptoms described was "a Venn diagram with many circles." But it all boils down to this: we have things that challenge us, things that may seem simple/silly to you, but they're things that can quite take over and destroy our lives if not addressed.— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) February 26, 2019
A lot of the people responding to Ali’s tweets are people who also live with ADHD, which is cool to see. It’s estimated that 4.4 percent of American adults have ADHD, and nearly half of those cases are considered severe, but only 20 percent of adults with ADHD actually seek help. That needs to change, and talking openly about mental illness is the best way to break down the stigmas that often get in the way of people seeking help.
Awesome thread @yashar. I also have ADHD and wasn’t diagnosed until I was 20. I still get nervous about people judging me for it or questioning why I don’t fit whatever expectations they’ve created about what it should look like. Really appreciate you writing this.— feminist next door (@emrazz) February 26, 2019
great thread. really appreciate it.— Imani Gandy (@AngryBlackLady) February 26, 2019
I’m all about baskets myself. And I couldn’t pay bills on time until auto pay became a thing. I haven’t balanced a checkbook in 20 years—I had to come to grips with the fact that’s it’s just something I can’t/won’t do.
Good stuff man. Also under appreciated aspects of ADHD:— Ovaltine Jenkins (@JewniorGong) February 26, 2019
-sensitivity to criticism/rejection.. tough for anyone; traumatizing for ADHD
-lack of impulse control.. Engaging in same behavior/habits you know are likely bad for you, because changing is basically insurmountable
Thank you, @yashar, helping us all better understand ADHD. In order to fully appreciate one another and our differences we must all be willing to both share and listen.— Valerie Jarrett (@ValerieJarrett) February 26, 2019
The important thing here is that this discussion has been opened. People are respectfully engaging, asking questions and learning. When it comes to mental illness, every, single conversation like this one is a big step forward.