how to explain that ADD is not just "I have that too sometimes"

How do you guys deal with people "comparing" themselves to your ADD?  Does it mean they think they have ADD too, that everyone has ADD in some way, or that they don't think my ADD is a big problem because hey, they are dealing with "the same" problem without any medication?  I hear all the time that "Everyone can't focus sometimes."  YES, BUT!  

So, what *is* the difference between my procrastination and any college student who pulls all-nighters before every major assignment?  How do we explain that yes, we *do* have it worse than average, and yes, meds work for me and I am right to take them, and that I feel my brain function doesn't compare to a "normal" person's unless I have those meds in my system?  That yes, I am different from someone who "just can't pay attention" at work?

Yesterday I "outed" myself to a coworker.  I described lack of impulse control as one major symptom.  I said ADD runs in my family and told her how my grandfather can't control his impulses to save everything that he finds interesting - how he says he might read that section of today's newspaper again some day.  He's 84 and has a spare bedroom and a basement piled floor-to-ceiling with stacks.  

My coworker started talking about how her family also had hoarders and how her aunt can't sit on her own couch any more because it's covered with stuff.  Well, sure, there's even a TV show about hoarders, but that isn't the point I'm making.  Does she think her aunt has ADD too?  Or what?

Is it just an urge to compare yourself, to tell similar stories, to make conversation?  Or is it somehow lessening the importance of my different brain chemistry?  Every time I hear "Oh, I/my mom/my brother/my cousin does that too," my first reaction is "You're trying to say I'm not legitimate.  You're saying, we all have that problem and how come I should get help for it when you have it too and have done fine?  I'm not worse off than any average person and ADD seems like something everyone has." 

I was diagnosed when I was nine years old and have been taking Ritalin since then - and it's worked.  I've made good.  I earned a master's degree from a respected university and am holding down a successful job, living as an expat in Ghana, with a loving (though often impatient!) boyfriend.  I'm sure Ritalin would help anyone concentrate... and I'm just as sure I wouldn't have gotten this far without it.  So how do I justify that I'm, well, more different?  How do I explain the difference between garden-variety "can't focus on a paper" and my own worst days, when I can't even focus my eyes on the person I'm talking to two feet in front of me without immense effort?  And no, friend, making lists doesn't always work, because I can't always hold myself to my own commitments.  And no, I can't "just tell myself not to buy it."  And yes, I get that you were "hyper" as a kid and exercise can help with that in everyone.  But please believe me that you AREN'T "just the same," and that on a normal day you are able to TELL yourself to focus and then like magic you do it, while me, the muggle, posts in forums rather than doing work because the idea of making this post is magnetically drawing me back, no matter how often I close the window or start other work-related tasks.  

 

So how do you guys go about telling people that it's more than "we all have that sometimes, just yours is a little worse"???  Do you have any particular argument(s) or examples or metaphors you've found very convincing to help people get it?

I suspect every reason you posted are true for some

I suspect every reason you posted are true for some people in why they might discuss shared symptoms with you. 

Does it mean they think they have ADD too, that everyone has ADD in some way, or that they don't think my ADD is a big problem because hey, they are dealing with "the same" problem without any medication? ... Is it just an urge to compare yourself, to tell similar stories, to make conversation?  Or is it somehow lessening the importance of my different brain chemistry?

There will always be people who think every non visible diagnosis is crap...we've all seen overmedicated zombie kids and natrually some people will use that to decide NO ONE has ADD.  Are these people right?  Of course not   They are just opininated buffoons who don't know what they are talking about to me since they clearly are not informed about the evidence but have a strong opinion anyway.   I am always stunned at how many people post to forums that they thought ADD was a crap diagnosis all their lives, and then THEY got diagnsed with it.  I just can't imagine why ppl with the symptoms would be so quick to disregard it, but that is a discussion for another time.  The point is sure some people have that reaction, sadly.

But it is this part of your post that concerns me...

Every time I hear "Oh, I/my mom/my brother/my cousin does that too," my first reaction is "You're trying to say I'm not legitimate.  You're saying, we all have that problem and how come I should get help for it when you have it too and have done fine?  I'm not worse off than any average person and ADD seems like something everyone has."

This smacks of the over-defensiveness of ADD to me, but that is naturally based on our experience since my husband was diagosed.  We don't have ppl being judgmental to us over his diagnosis.  We mostly have just had people commending how well he does and that they could never tell if he didn't tell them--he is inattentive and that is much easier to be invisible outside of your household.   He could easily take offense and think that they are saying he has a fake diagnosis, but I have never heard anyone say that who I feel meant it for that reason.  Will have to ask hubby if he feels the same.  I've heard some people who are chronically ill take offense when someone says "you look really good".......like that means they don't believe this person really has a sickness.

WHY ON EARTH WOULD ANYONE JUMP TO THAT CONCLUSION ESPECIALLY IF THESE PPL ARE YOUR FRIENDS?  People talk to make conversation.......they try to relate what they experience to what you say you are experiencing and most are interested in how your experience is the same or different.   They compliment you when they think you are doing well and/or looking well.   Many people are trying to understand what ADD is....the people who've asked the most questions later revealed that they thought they/their husband/a child/ might have ADD and wanted to talk about it to someone who appears to have it under control.  I think we are now up to about 8 people who now realize what their families are dealing with because they asked my husband or I questions and read books we suggested.  They are hoping to get them to the level that my husband has reached--which he does well but if they lived with him, they would realize way too many things still fall through the cracks.

Do we look at them as minimizing the frustration of my experience dealing with my ADD husband or his struggle to stay on top of it?   NOPE we look at it as a compliment that the effects of our hard work definitely are paying off.  We're not exactly going through all this effort so that his symptoms will be glaringly obvious to people you know?   When someone tells one of us about how well he is doing.........even if they say it in a way that seems to imply they have it SO much worse than we do (and like I said some do), I just smile and thank them and we might add something like "you should see how long it took him to get around to cleaning up the yard/fix the roof of the shed/help around the house before he got treatment".

I really don't believe most ppl are making a comparison or resenting that you take meds....though there are always anti med ppl out there so a few might...   I think most ppl are just trying to figure out what it means for you since they care about you &/or because they wonder if they are going through something caused by the same disorder.  Think about how rampant ADD is and undiagnosed too......you can make a real difference among your friends.

motives

People's motives vary, but I don't think any of them have to do with trying to minimize what you are going through.  People who think ADHD is a bogus diagnosis usually say so right out loud.  Reasons why I  might mention a similar experience when a friend shares something they are going through.  (And these could apply to the people you share your ADHD story with).

1.  They are trying to reassure you.  (i.e., others have this difficulty, too:  you are not alone)

2.  They are trying to connect your experience to themselves, in order to connect to you.

3.  They are curious how what you describe might be different from regular procrastination, forgetfulness, etc.  They are trying to understand!

4.  lastly some people are trying to do the above, and just aren't good at, and say stupid things. 

Mostly, however, I think it is this:  All the little bits and pieces of ADHD do sound like regular issues everyone has.  It truly is the degree, constancy, and having all the symptoms simultaneously, all the time, forever and ever, that is the strain of the disorder.  Unless the people involved live it like that, no one else can really understand it.  As the non ADHD spouse, I have had the same "problem" you do in trying to explain what living with ADHD is like.  I knew for 35 years that something was "off" in my marriage, but descriptions of all the "little" events (financial, inattention, hurtful remarks, no personal responsibility) to others just made me sound like a whiner, too needy, too sensitive, etc.  It is the totality that causes the pain, for both the ADHDer and the spouse.  And it is the totality that those on the "outside" can't comprehend.  Suppose I said I have a bad toothache.  Someone else might say, I've had that too.  It sucks, but everybody has one sometime.  But if I said I have the worst toothache you can imagine, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and it is never going to go away, another person might say, OMG I can't imagine how awful that is.  I AM NOT SAYING ADHD IS LIKE A TOOTHACHE THAT NEVER GOES AWAY!!!.  Just trying to give an analogy.  

Lastly, I would recommend that unless you already have a very close, meaningful and lengthy friendship with someone, you not talk much about ADHD.  Do what you need to do to manage it.  I have had a sleep disorder for 25 years that continues to get gradually worse over time, yet the symptoms are things that "everyone" experiences from time to time.  I gave up years ago talking about this to others, even to my immediate family except when absolutely necessary.  I just do what I can to manage it.  No one who doesn't have it will ever understand.