Another source of ADHD denial is the way we’ve defined freedom and discrimination in the United States. In a class I taught, I once posed a question about discrimination. Way back in the olden days I sold cell phones, the kind that only made phone calls and had roughly 18 minutes of battery time. If you wanted to listen to music on your phone you had to duct tape a cd player to it. The store where I worked required a two-year contract and a $250 deposit if a customer did not have a credit card. One customer who did not have a credit card complained to me that the policy was “discrimination.” I asked my students if they agreed. They said no.
We had a long discussion and came to the conclusion that in broad terms “discrimination” applies to being judged negatively based only on things which one has no control, such as race or gender or height or whatever, whereas other kinds of decisions are based more on things people can control. There are lots of exceptions, but that seemed, for everyone in the room at least, a good starting point. A customer with poor credit did not merit a credit line. You can argue about to what degree people have actual control over their finances, and there may be systemic discrimination in play, but the popular conception is that one has some control, or at least should.
I think for less serious forms of mental illness, that many people believe the symptoms would be controllable if the sufferer just tried harder. According to this line of thinking, for someone who is not obviously mentally ill, not ranting and writing manifestoes and wearing unwashed clothes, what’s the big deal? Just buck up like everyone else. And that person better not get any special help! It’s okay to discriminate against people with mental-illness-lite because those people are suffering the consequences of their own actions. No one says to me You wear glasses? You should just try harder to see more clearly. But I was told a thousand times you could do your homework on time if you really wanted to.
Everyone experiences sadness, grief, loss, and hopelessness at times and for some people such emotions turn into clinical depression and others they do not. Everyone at some time has trouble settling down to focus, but people who have more trouble may look like they’re just not trying. Hyperfocus confuses the issue because ADHDers have tons of attention for things they like. It’s true for me. I can spend hours reading a book when I really need to spend ten minutes opening my mail. Turning off that hyperfocus kind of attention is just as hard as turning on other kinds. And it has nothing to do with intelligence.
In the United States, these discussions of deficit and agency and accommodation take place in a context where traditional values include self-reliance, rugged individualism, and the meritocracy. As an example, see the “you didn’t build that” dustup from the 2012 presidential election, where a vague pronoun turned into a tussle about American values.
(Next: Victorians mess up everything.)
All my posts on ADHD Fakeness.