ADHD is a story we tell ourselves about a pattern of behavior. As such, it isn’t real. It’s not real in the sense that all the stories we tell ourselves aren’t real; they are mere interpretations/representations/translations of reality. In the strictest sense, nothing is real other than reality itself. In this sense, ADHD is not any more real than democracy, love, God, and fantasy football. To quote a cheesy movie, “There’s no such thing as an ass.”
The philosophical sense of “real” is not what people use when they question whether ADHD is a real thing or not. I hope you’ll forgive my rhetorical trick in the title and keep reading. The best search engine hits on my blog come from “fake” and “ADHD.”
I get a little flash of anger when someone says that ADHD, anxiety, or depression isn’t real because these things affect me, the same way I get defensive when people assert that online classes aren’t real classes because I teach a lot of online classes, and people who make those assertions don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.
Putting anger aside, though, I ask why would a person need to make such a denial? People who use the term “real,” aren’t usually interested in metaphysics.
Consider Andrea Yates. She’s the woman who drowned her five children, one a time, whose lawyer used postpartum depression as a defense. She was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
I teach a class called “Justice in Literature,” which is a general education class for criminal justice majors. I’ve used an essay about this case in class to talk about culpability and mental illness.
Most of my students are young enough not to have heard of this case, but knowing only a few basic details of the case, more than a few students have responses that condemn Yates. They say things which seem cruel, like “she didn’t want to be a mother any more and used depression to get away with murder,” or “everyone is depressed sometimes, but only lazy people use it as an excuse.”
I don’t condemn such points of view in class, but explore them further, trying to use a factual approach as much as possible. One detail I provide is the fact that by “winning” the case, a now-treated Andrea Yates spends her time in an institution with perhaps a fuller consciousness of her loss. At the time of the murders, she was denied treatment despite warnings from her doctor and kept confined to the home by her strongly religious husband, and was convinced that by drowning her children she was saving them from eternal damnation. People take many things from the Andrea Yates story; I’ve heard people blame religion, patriarchy, a too-weak medical system, a too-strong medial establishment. As a teacher I think it is more important to explore the reasons for one’s honest responses to texts rather than pretend to adopt the “correct” reading. The former instance is called “learning” and the latter is called “coercion.”
(Next: Who said ADHD is fake? Uh . . . I did.)
All my posts on ADHD “fakeness.”