Is ADHD a Superpower or Not?

A dog standing on a hill in a superhero costume and a dog lying down looking worried with the text: Is ADHD a superpower or not?

There’s been debate lately.  The question: Is ADHD a superpower or not?  Personally, I think it is.  I also think it’s fine for you to define your ADHD however you like.  

  1. Superpower: I don’t want people who identify with the superpower metaphor to feel shut down and I really want us to continue to see and love our amazing brains! 
  2. Not a superpower: I truly hope that this does not mean that you can’t see your unique strengths. 
Let’s define ourselves the way we choose

Some people have been rather vocal about ADHD not being a superpower.  This makes me a little bit sad, but again, you need to define your ADHD for yourself.  However, in today’s hyper-critical and reactive social media environment, I was feeling like my superpower view was getting shut down.  I’m not sure that was the intent of the not-a-superpower contingent, but it was how I was feeling.  So I’m writing this, hoping that we can all agree that however we want to define our neurodivergence is OK.  

I do hear that the superhero term is challenging for some to consider.  ADHD is a true struggle and certainly not to be ignored.  Like most of us, I have experienced ADHD my entire life.  I have gone through times when I was extremely dysregulated. Until I really started treating my ADHD, I would say that it impacted my life and the lives around me in many negative ways.  I understand how hard it is to live with this brain structure that makes life in our culture so very taxing.  

I hear that folks are feeling like their struggles with ADHD are being invalidated by the idea that ADHD can be a superpower.  Invalidating our struggles is never my intent, but hear me out:

Do superheroes experience challenges? 

The superhero metaphor doesn’t mean that I’m perfect or always strong.  In media, all superheroes have dark sides, fallibility, serious misgivings about themselves and their powers, extreme learning curves, and their own versions of kryptonite.  

It’s not that my ADHD doesn’t come with challenges.  I dropped out of high school, partook in many too many substances, drove too fast, almost died many times, jumped around from job to job, college to college, major to major, state to state, spent more than I earned, fucked up many relationships, etc, etc.  These are all very disruptive, unhealthy, extremely expensive, time consuming, and sometimes very dangerous activities that I did largely because of my ADHD.  

What you pay attention to grows

If I sit around paying attention to my kryptonite, to how badly I’ve behaved, how many stupid things I’ve done, dwelling on my many mistakes of the past and how many mistakes I’m likely to make in the future, then all I can see is me as a failure.  My confidence plummets.  I don’t want to take any action at all because I know I’ll fail, I’ll fuck it up somehow, and then I’ll be even more of a failure.  When I do this, I get stuck.  Paralyzed with the fear of future inadequacy.  

When I pay attention to all of the amazing things I can do, write a blog and a newsletter in an hour and a half, see big pictures and make connections that others often miss, open my heart and my mind to new experiences, find empathy and compassion for my fellow humans, feel my emotions deeply, see solutions outside the box, jump into exciting opportunities when they arise.  Then I can move forward.  

Celebrating my strengths does not mean I forget my struggles

Letting myself be super proud of all of the amazing things my brain does does not mean that I don’t learn from the mistakes I’ve made and will make in the future.  It does mean that I don’t beat myself up about them.  It means that I am able to forgive myself.  It means that I am able to learn from what I’ve done and put systems in place to help me avoid these mistakes in the future.

Look at all the amazing things folks with ADHD can do: Simone Biles has ADHD, Richard Branson has ADHD, they think Alber Einstein probably had ADHD.  I am quite sure these folks allow(ed) themselves to see the gifts in their unique and challenging brains.  

Let’s all use the words that work for us (as long as they’re kind)

It’s ok if you don’t think of your adhd as a superpower, but isn’t it also ok if other folks do?  I’m not sure I understand the harm in that notion.  

Let’s all be who we are and use the language we need to use to help us understand our brains and our future possibilities.  

And next time, let’s talk about what our superpowers can look like!

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