The moment that I got the papers from the psychologist - written in bold letters at the top, ‘ADHD diagnosis’ - I felt relieved. Even though I sort of knew I had it, it felt good to have someone else confirm it. That I have a superpower.
Of course growing up I didn’t see it that way, I just knew I was different and not like I was special, but more like I was broken. If I were to describe that feeling, most of the time it felt like being in the back seat, just floating along while my brain took me places. Taking the blame for it each time it got me into trouble and then I’d break myself apart for not being better than that. Obviously that didn’t do my self-image any good. I’m telling you this because there will always be struggles having ADHD whether we like it or not. But with an understanding of how your brain works and knowing how to work with it and not against it, it could become your best quality, even something you call a superpower.
What is ADHD? Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. There are 3 types:
• Inattentive type: Easily distracted, trouble paying attention.
• Hyperactive/Impulsive type: Trouble sitting still or waiting for their turn, not thinking before acting.
• Combined type: Symptoms of both Inattentive and Hyperactive/Impulsive types.
Combined type is the most common, that’s where I am. Hi. I’m Glowie, a 24 year old singer and songwriter from Iceland. I was diagnosed when I was 20 years old. Even though I figured I had ADHD a few years before that, I had to be diagnosed to get the help I needed. In the last four years I’ve been really conscious of my behaviour, thoughts and feelings.
Getting a better understanding of myself, of how my brain works, how my ADHD works. I’ve tried medication which I still take and it’s helping me a lot with being more focused and therefore more confident. I’m trying to become the best version of myself; that’s my goal and it should be everyone’s. I’ve written and released a song about ADHD and how I consider it to be my superpower. Like I said before, I didn’t always see it in a positive way. In fact most people - with or without ADHD - see it as a problem. But it doesn’t have to be. What made it so negative to me growing up is that I didn’t understand it. It seemed like no one around me understood it either.
In school, the message was clear: I just wasn’t good enough. Education is important so we need to explore ways to be more flexible for those who learn differently. I struggled in school until I was about 11 and then I just stopped trying. I gave up. I used the word ‘stupid’ when describing myself. I’d say it jokingly but deep down that’s exactly what I thought I was. Nobody ever told me I was stupid except me. But equally nobody ever told me ‘you have ADHD and that’s okay, it just means you learn differently.’ I really needed to hear that. Instead I decided to stop caring about my education because that was easier than feeling hopeless all the time. I just did what I had to do to get through school.
My struggles with ADHD outside of school were sometimes trickier to spot. So often it would look like I was careless, rude, annoyed or cold in my attitude.
Forgetting someone’s birthday, losing other people’s things that I’d borrowed, looking distracted when people would talk to me, forgetting to meet someone somewhere; the list is endless. It all looked and sounded like I didn’t care about anything or anyone but myself. But that’s just not true. It feels like everything is out of order in your brain, like a constant storm, information not in place but moving around in circles. Most of my energy goes into just handling my thoughts and everything that’s happening around me, whether it’s noise or movements, that’s enough of a challenge. Having to listen to someone and respond or remember to do something later; there’s just not much space or energy left to think about that. It would be normal for me to want to avoid getting into situations like this, avoid trouble and disappointment, and so I did. Growing up, if I had the choice, I chose to be alone. I wasn’t a loner (although for years I believed I was), it was just an excuse I made up so it made sense to others that I liked being alone. In reality I was just escaping my struggles with ADHD. I went through a period of time where I felt like I needed to announce my ADHD every time I’d meet someone, like I was apologising before anything happened. It didn’t help me take any responsibility for my behaviour, it just made me feel even more incapable of communicating. Plus, it didn’t prepare the other person for anything, it just made them uncomfortable, like they needed to talk to me differently, but they didn’t know how.
Later on, I was lucky to find other things that made me realise I was so much more than my academic record. Music was a saviour. I could press play, listen to a song that I loved and instantly feel like I was on a different planet. I’d slip off into ‘Rainbowland’ as I call it. A place of daydreams that I’d end up acting out in real life (that’s the Hyperactive/Impulsive type; I never think twice before doing something, no matter how ridiculous or unrealistic it is). People often said I was good at thinking outside of the box, but the thing is I just didn’t see the box.
I would daydream about being on a stage in front of a big crowd, travelling the world, singing, dancing, bringing joy to people; that was my biggest goal.
When my self-image was breaking apart in school all day, I’d build it up again by singing in my bedroom and then later, going to dance class. Then the same thing all over again the next day and the one after, a constant cycle of breaking... building... breaking... building. Of course I had my doubts every now and then about this dream becoming a reality but I never gave up and I like to think ADHD had something to do with that.
I was diagnosed in 2017. Since then I’ve learned something new about myself almost every day. One of the things I’ve learned is that ADHD has nothing to do with how smart I am. ADHD doesn’t only come with struggles but strengths as well, and no matter how much I complain about having ADHD or announce it when I meet people or punish myself for having it, it’s still going to be there. So I might as well own it, take responsibility, stop seeing it as a weakness and make it my superpower instead.
Because looking back I realise I wouldn’t be where I am in my music career without my Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, jumping at any opportunity I got without hesitating and using all my free time practicing to get better. And of course ‘Rainbowland’, my favourite place in my mind that I so easily drift into. A place where there’s no box, just a bunch of ideas for songs, music videos, photoshoots, art and poetry - all the things I love. So actually, when people congratulate me on how far I’ve come despite having ADHD they couldn’t be more wrong. I’m here because I have ADHD.
I’m no expert. I’m no doctor. I don’t know exactly how or why the brain functions in a different way for people with ADHD, although I’ve read some very interesting facts about it. But I know for sure that it’s no behaviour problem, it’s not about willpower, it’s something we simply cannot control. We’re not careless, we’re not crazy and we’re not stupid. We have passion, creativity, hyperfocus, ingenuity, persistence and are willing to take risks. If you know someone who has or might have ADHD who’s still trying to fit into that box everybody talks about, then please help free them.
Let them know we don’t belong in that box.
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Photo Credit: Gudlaugur Andri