December 7, 2023


Amazing parenting technician

ADHD Superpowers? Don’t Romanticize a Disorder and Its Symptoms

3 min read
Young man in superhero costume sitting on top of building

Apparently, I have superpowers. But unlike regular superpowers — invisibility, shape-shifting abilities, laser-beam eyes — my superpowers are a bit more prosaic.

So prosaic, in fact, they don’t look much like superpowers at all: Lethargy. Impulsivity. Substance abuse. Chronic distractibility. Abject frustration. Unemployment. Neuroses. Irritability.

The Misadventures of ADHD-Man

Who can forget Marvel Comics #27? ADHD-Man rises after noon to defeat leftover takeout and doom scroll on Twitter while nursing a nagging urge to do something productive.

That obviously isn’t a real comic. And ADHD isn’t a real superpower. Not when I was a kid, and not today as others proudly brandish the irony-tinged proclamation across social media.

Don’t get me wrong: I understand why some people would refer to their ADHD symptoms as superpowers. I understand that it’s meant, in part, to communicate the neuroatypical advantages we have, like hyperfocus, boundless energy, and creativity. But these traits are a small part of the ADHD puzzle. Because what good is a creative brain, say, if it’s unable to apply itself? That isn’t cool; that’s Kafka.

[Read: 7 Myths About ADHD… Debunked!]

And yes, I also get that “ADHD is my superpower” is a defiant two-finger salute to a world that tries to tear neurodivergent people down. It’s also a nice thing to say to kids who are struggling with identity and ADHD.

I know what you’re thinking: Why am I getting worked up over something fairly benign? Because I was ADHD-Man for a long time. In my darkest days of pre-treatment, I was a substance-abusing, suicidal mess. I didn’t feel like a superhero. I didn’t even feel human.

Let’s Be Honest: There’s Nothing Romantic About ADHD

Historically misunderstood conditions enjoy greater recognition today than ever before. But there is much more work to be done. I’m certain a “What is ADHD?” vox pop on my city’s streets would produce more than a few shoulder shrugs and remarks like, “Oh, is ADHD the one where all the kids run about crazy and the parents give them ricin, or vitamins, or whatever to calm them down? That one?”

In the ongoing fight to raise much-needed awareness around ADHD, it’s vital we don’t romanticize it. Pithy expressions do little to help people with ADHD when they’re called unproductive at work or disruptive in the classroom. Instead of being cute, we should be clear.

[Read: 10 Things I Wish the World Knew About ADHD]

We should explain the endless love-loss pattern of hyperfixation that scuppers our chances of gaining proficiency in a hobby and often leaves us with clutter: unstrummed guitars in the closet; squash-racquets-turned-fly swatters; forgotten knitting needles threatening to rise from beneath the couch cushions. Others should know about our internal chaos and total inability to apply ourselves despite having the desire to do something, anything, other than perform an infinite start-stop loop.

We should explain the truly ugly side of ADHD. The stuff that, left unchecked, can cap a person’s potential and ruin their life. The consequences of missing a diagnosis in childhood. The yo-yoing employment status in adulthood. The susceptibility to substance abuse and other negative outcomes.

But nobody’s going to put all that in a Twitter bio.

Treatment Is the Real Superpower

The antidote to ADHD isn’t #slogans; it’s medication, therapy, and exercise. It’s formulating a game plan and running it each and every day so you don’t end up like ADHD-Man.

When I think back to my life before I was diagnosed with ADHD at age 32, it makes me doubly grateful for where I am now.

To me, the true superheroes are the people — far cleverer than I — who were able to devise solutions to help those like me. Thanks to them, I’m able to take a pill each morning that allows me to make healthy decisions, gives me greater control of executive functions, and helps me concentrate on tasks to a level that ADHD-Man never thought possible.

ADHD Superpowers: Next Steps

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