This article I read talks about how casual and incorrect “jokes” or references to many serious conditions like bipolar disorder, depression, celiac disease, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder cause a cultural effect that devalues the seriousness of these conditions. Naturally, early responses include suggesting that people who share this view need to lighten up or have a sense of humor. We do have a sense of humor; if we didn’t, these things wouldn’t have gotten so out of hand. But there’s a tipping point and, in all the cases the author listed, it has been reached; this humor has now become detrimental to the very people it once demystified. I know this for several reasons; first of all, I have intimate knowledge of a couple of these conditions myself, second, I know people with some of them as well and finally and most importantly, my son has ADHD.
Back before I knew what I was dealing with, I laughed at all the “ooh, butterfly” lines, too. We’ve all been easily distracted and we can all empathize with that. Here’s the thing; that’s being easily distracted. ADHD is NOT being easily distracted. That’s where all of these things fall down; they describe the closest experience someone who is neurotypical has to what the actual condition is. The problem is that those experiences are often not even in the ballpark, and that, over time, people who haven’t encountered people with the ACTUAL condition start to think that the “jokes” are actually close to the reality. If we lived in a world where everyone was fully and completely educated on even the rarest of conditions, then it wouldn’t matter, but we don’t. We live in a world where people really think that the parent of a child with ADHD just doesn’t discipline enough. I’m here to tell you that I went to lengths I never thought I would go in disciplining my child. One of the things I have had to do since his diagnosis (at the age of six and a half) is work to undo all the damage that “discipline” caused. And that’s just one of many very inaccurate ideas that people have about ADHD that spring from pop-culture concepts and jokes.
I have learned to hate the “ooh, butterfly” line. If ONLY it was that easy. If ONLY it was that simple. So I thought about creating a better metaphor, something that would give people a real idea of what it is like to live with ADHD.
Having ADHD is walking an invisible dragon.
Most people are walking invisible dogs on permanently attached leashes, okay? They go through life and their attention-dog sees this over here or that over there and tugs them over. Now, some people have Chihuahuas and aren’t going anywhere they don’t want to go. Some people have Great Danes and WOW can they get hauled around, but some solid tugs and maybe a stern voice will eventually pull them back.
My son walks an attention-dragon. The thing FLIES, people. And all he can do is hang on to the leash for dear life and try to enjoy the ride, so that’s what he does. He’s laughing on the outside, but he knows that he is completely out of control. There is NO tugging that dragon back. It’s about 300 times his size and it can fly. I’m left standing on the ground, yelling at him to come back down, and he would like to, he really would, but he can’t, no matter how hard he tries. There have been times he’s wrestled that beast till he was in tears. Times that my fighting to hold on to him almost tore him in two.
My son takes medication that turns the dragon into a Great Dane for a number of hours. Now, Great Danes are still hard to manage, but they are miles easier than dragons and life is tremendously better for everyone. Someday, he’ll be better at controlling the dragon; most adults with ADHD don’t need medication anymore. (And just think about how amazingly strong they must be, to be able to wrestle that dragon all on their own and mostly win. My husband is that kind of person.) But, for now, my son is an eight year old kid with a dragon attached to his arm, a dragon I’m stuck fighting to keep hold of my sweet, gentle, brilliant child without hurting him in the process in a world where people all seem to think he’s being tugged by butterflies.
It’s not butterflies, people. It’s dragons.
P.S. I decided to have my son read this before I published it. He liked it, agrees with it, and thinks I understand him. It’s a good day.