An ADHD Owner’s Manual

For ADHD Awareness Month in October, I posted one fun fact a day on Facebook about what it is like to live with ADHD. And people seemed to dig it? So I thought starting a website to compile those fun facts, and maybe give people a platform to ask questions and share what they have learned, would be a nice idea.

But honestly, the core of it is I just love talking about ADHD. I have it, a lot of my clients have it (I’m a therapist), and I just find it overall interesting – so naturally I’m obsessed with finding out everything possible about ADHD.

Allow me to explain the title. An analogy that many ADHDers seem to connect with involves the concept of all of us being born into these flesh prisons and immediately receiving an Owner’s Manual for this thing called life. We are told that everything we need to know is in this one shockingly thin book, and if we just assemble the random assortment of pieces we’re given according to this book, we will be a Productive Member of Society.

So we all trudge through this confusing world, clutching our manuals, and people along the way identify these pieces we’ve got for us, so we can read the instructions and put the right nuts with the right bolts and the right gears with the right…other gears? This analogy is running away from me. Anyway, most kids have the right pieces, and they understand most of the directions. They might have to take it apart and reassemble once or twice, but for the most part they get it to work in the end.

But what happens if some of us have totally different pieces that don’t match our caregivers’, friends’, and teachers’ pieces? What if every class in school felt like the teacher going, “Ok everyone, take out your double-ended fiddlestick and attach it to your whatchamacallit. Ok great, now use that resulting contraption to complete lessons 2 through 5.”

And your parents say, “I don’t understand why you’re not using a hoosywhatsit like you’ve been told. It is very simple and I know you are capable of reading instructions. So you are grounded until you can learn how to use your tools to complete your obligations.”

You stare down at your pieces. Some of them have scuff marks from when you tried to get them to fit together, unsuccessfully. One piece you have never seen before in your life. None of your friends have it, you’ve never seen it online or on TV, and it is CERTAINLY not represented via crudely drawn diagram in this Owner’s Manual you have read so many times the pages are soft. And you have looked everywhere for this hoosywhatsit part, but you don’t even know what it’s supposed to look like so you come up empty. People are counting on you to make yourself a functioning machine to get stuff done and help others. And you care! You really want to be a functioning machine! Not just because you want to help the people you love but also because having this machine that doesn’t work quite right is !@#$%^& hard. And the more you try to fix it, the farther behind you get, while other people your age are actually taking their machines full speed ahead.

This is what it is like to have ADHD – and many other neurodiverse conditions. Even when we are doing well and using our machines to the best of our ability, it is because we are constantly aware of how we can make it work, how we can keep up, and how we have changed ourselves to do so. Sometimes we use random pieces of duct tape or superglue, and sometimes it works just fine if we can hold this piece up all.the.time. The most heartbreaking solution some of us use is discarding a few of those weird pieces entirely, even if we like them and they’re cool, and trying to get by without them.

But all of those solutions just don’t quite cut it, do they? Even with four times the effort, you are just barely at the same level as everyone else. Sometimes your machine totally falls apart and you have to start from square one – as a grownass adult!

Here’s the thing: All that bending and twisting and taping and throwing away is still trying to follow this manual, the one we got at birth, the one authority figures hold up with pride and say “I followed this to the T and that’s why I am Successful™! Just study this manual and you can be too!”

What if we ditched that useless manual? What if we instead look at these pieces we have been carrying our whole lives, rusty and stuffed in the closet, and started to just put them together using our intuition, some trial and error, and noticing how others use these parts? What if we stopped trying to build a car and instead started building a boat?

What if we wrote our own User’s Manual?

ADHD, especially for those of us diagnosed as adults, comes with the heavy weight of living much of your life believing you are broken and wrong. It is really difficult to shed that weight and rediscover those parts we hid under our beds as kids because we thought they were mistakes. But it’s possible. We don’t have to snip and tape ourselves to fit inside the world. Let’s start expanding our world to fit us.

That’s what I hope this blog will become; The User’s Guide for Our Magnificent ADHD Brain: collected, written, and edited by all of us.

Okay ADHDers and those that love us: let’s roll.

What has worked for you?

What hasn’t? 

What questions do you have? 

What do you wish others knew about ADHD?

Message me | theadhdmanual@gmail.com | Comment below ↓↓

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About Abby Minor, LMFT, ADHD-CCSP

I am a marriage and family therapist based in Seattle, WA. I also have ADHD! And I love learning more about it, by myself and with my clients. Join me as I create an ADHD Owner's Manual! (she/her)