ADHD: Full Life Consequences

ADHD: Full Life Consequences

I was helping a friend who was looking to get some ADHD coaching a while back, and in the course of the research came across some stats for ADHD sufferers' health outcomes which were bonkers: 37% more likely to get into car accidents? 11-13 years decreased life expectancy? This got me thinking about this piece again. It is genuinely hilarious, and apparently so dangerous that the so-called powers-that-be have taken it down and relegated it to the Internet Archive, but while I appreciate that taking the piss out of the lads who say that starting and not finishing projects is so ADHD or whatever is very funny, however you slice it a decade+ off your life expectancy is some serious stuff.

Reading it back, while it's obviously less to do with the conditions themselves and more to do with the online community around them, that creates complications—a lot of the people quoted are clearly extremely annoying but some would equally clearly be annoying whatever they're making content about because they're engaged in a project of brand-building. This isn't to say the content of their statements should be discounted entirely, but that their imperative is less clinical accuracy, but rather the creation of things which readers will want to like and share, stuff that is "relatable". It's Only ADHD Kids Will Remember This, designed simply to get marks to click on it. You draw people in with Barnum statements about situations which happen to everyone but which would seem freighted with additional significance if (say for the sake of example) you were someone who had recently gained an ADHD diagnosis—and I do get the impression a lot of these memes' propagators were, like me, diagnosed in adulthood.

(In very mild defence of the meme's creators, too: while a lot of the stuff is insane over-attribution, the actual symptoms of ADHD, especially for the less-hyperactive kind, are, frustratingly, things which sounds entirely "normal"—oh what, you can't focus on things you're not interested in? you put off things you don't want to do? you don't like being bored? truly, no-one else has ever suffered as you suffer—but to a medical degree. The problem with ADHD, for me, more than the symptoms themselves, is the mindset you get into, the state where you can't trust yourself. This, I think, is the difference between 'normal' levels of not being able to do stuff and There is no 'pull yourself together'. Anyway.)

Now, I’ve written about this myself, and I think I’ve been clear that while in many ways my life would’ve been different had I been diagnosed earlier—and some pains would’ve been lessened—I don’t think it necessarily would’ve been big-picture better; I'm generally very happy now, things have worked out for me. That said: imagine that your whole life, something you can't really articulate feels wrong and you don't understand why. Then a doctor tells you that you've got a condition which explains basically all of it—and not just that, there’s a tablet you can take which makes it way easier. You'd probably go through at least a period of not shutting up about it and seeking out other people who are talking about it in an interesting way. There’s a reason it’s called ‘the zeal of the converted’, you dig?

(It reminds me of the way that queer folk who come out later in life can seem a bit monomanical early on, but most will eventually chill out and integrate their new identity into their existing sense of self. They might still be involved in queer activism or whatever, but they're probably not posting three Facebook statuses a day on the topic. The trouble is that if you're on social media, you're exposed to enormous numbers of other people and so there's a seemingly infinite supply of people who've just been diagnosed and people supportively sharing their stuff—Endless September for realising that actually it's not just you.)

I think there's a further complication here too in that ADHD is a disability, but can also have... not necessarily benefits—the "D&D character sheet" model of disability where lack of ability in one area leads to compensatory additional ability in another that some people seem to subscribe to is very frustrating—but at lower levels, a lot of the more visible stuff can be viewed as 'quirks' rather than 'problems'. He gets into this:

As is the case with just about any online social justice movement, the people with the biggest platforms to talk about ADHD tend to be middle-class and upwards; freelance creatives, business owners, PhD students at elite universities; people who have the disposable income to spend thousands on equipment for hobbies they never pursue and imagine this is a relatable foible. Coupled with the insistence on the cognitive benefits, it creates the impression that it’s a disorder which mostly affects people who are successful, wealthy, and singularly gifted, but a little bit scatty.

Sure—guilty—but you know that doesn't grant immunity to the ~1/3rd increased risk of getting in a car crash, right? When he's not being snippy about people who went to fancy universities (and talking real, I cannot blame him for this), he does get into the negative outcomes:

There is research which shows a high correlation between ADHD and all manner of adverse life outcomes, such as addiction and unemployment. A lot of these studies have been funded or promoted by the pharmaceutical industry, and should therefore be read with a little skepticism, but it’s not remotely implausible that people with the associated traits would find themselves in trouble.
This is a side you rarely see on social media, where the public face of the condition is likelier to be a college graduate struggling to finish their novel than a kitchen porter getting fired due to poor time-keeping (what’s more, children from low-income backgrounds are more likely to be diagnosed, and later to become trapped in a cycle of poverty.) It’s not “elite capture,” exactly, as there aren’t really any principles to be hi-jacked, but the overriding air of bourgeois whimsy makes it easier to dismiss. The people struggling in low-income, precarious work are mostly absent from the discussion.

Sure, I get you: I remember having a discussion with a friend a few years ago where we reminisced on how our sixth form college (since closed down) was—though containing many dedicated and wonderful staff—kind of a dump. She talked about her brother struggled with his time there, and the more we talked about it, the more we realised that all this “it was a dump but it was our dump” stuff was facilitated by the fact that our academic capability meant we were pretty much always going to be OK, and that's not something everyone can take for granted. Now, her brother ended up working (as I presume he still does) a tree surgeon, a job which (while hazardous) seems fun and is (I know from my teenaged Saturday job at a garden and forest machinery repair shop) very monetarily remunerative—but had he not ended up in such a happy position, our "bourgeois whimsy" (good phrase) would've seemed a bit tin-eared to anyone who happened to overhear.

The bottom line is that the condition seems to bifurcate depending on context, and the difference basically seems to amount to “do you have the right balance of condition severity, mental horsepower, supportive environment and exposure to life opportunities to get you out on one side or the other”. But that doesn't mean the people on the "better" side of the split make it through without some real suffering. The end of the piece manages to reach a fairly sound resolution here:

Two principles come into play here: it’s good to take people at face value when they say they’re struggling, and you shouldn’t shape your worldview based on whoever you find irritating on social media.

This is the best ending to an "I've found something annoying on the internet" piece I've ever read, and every opinion columnist should have tattooed on the inside of their eyelids.

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