“Celebrate the Mistakes You Don’t Make”

Most neurotypical people don’t fully understand or recognize ADHD struggles — and why would they? It’s hard for people with ADHD to describe their experiences because they are so complex and all-encompassing. There’s also a false familiarity (“Everyone’s a bit ADHD!”), so neurotypical people often assume that they know what we’re describing when they have only a vague or watered-down idea.

The truth is that ADHD is genuinely debilitating at times. For example, I’ve spent all day writing this, but it was originally meant to be a 10-minute edit.

There are days when I struggle with ADHD impulsivity in ways that seemingly mess up my life, even when I’m being careful and working on managing my impulses. I take responsibility for my actions, but I’ve also beaten myself up for years over past mistakes. These blips and slips do not represent who I am, my skills, or my true character.

[Do I Have Hyperactive Impulsive ADHD? Take This Test]

The Mistakes You Don’t Make

Neurotypical people tend to notice our mistakes first and, to a lesser degree, our ‘surprising’ success stories. What they don’t see are the mistakes and blips we stop ourselves from making. Most of our personal progress in managing our ADHD symptoms is invisible to others, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore or discount it. Even small steps in the right direction deserve recognition.

For example, I have a habit of saying things that come out the wrong way when I’m nervous. I’ll see the other person’s eyebrow go up, assume the worst, panic, and try to dig my way out. This has — and never will — work, especially at work.

To solve this, I stop, close my eyes, open them again, make eye contact, and say, “Sorry, that came out wrong, and now I feel a bit silly.” Then I smile, which is a positive cue, and ask a related question to regain the flow of the conversation.

Most people would shrug off this interaction, but when it happens, I know I’ve made progress. I try, in those moments, to recognize that I’m spending time and effort addressing ADHD traits that matter.

[Download This Free Guide to Managing ADHD and Intense Emotions]

Is It Worth Getting Upset?

Impulsive mistakes don’t define me; neither do first impressions and strangers’ opinions. Over time, I’ve learned to recognize and understand the difference between a royal screw-up that will have a long-term effect on my life and things that are just normal human errors or behaviors that temporarily irked someone.

Think about your past dramas. Do you still talk to the people whose opinions kept you up at night for months? Do you even remember what you actually said? Was it really that important to you or to them?

Chances are that awkward, little mortifying moment was the funniest part of the person’s otherwise boring day. It probably made you quite endearing to them, but you’re assuming the worst because a lifetime of criticism has exacerbated your RSD and accentuated your sensitivity.

Instead, I’d encourage you to embrace and try to enjoy your silly ADHD moments for what they are. You are not the first person to giggle at a funeral or accidentally interrupt an exciting conversation because you want in. Being a bit embarrassed is quite cute, and it’s okay to be nervous and feel silly. Everyone does it, and everyone puts ‘their foot in their mouth.’ If anything, you’ve probably replaced all the stress and tension in the atmosphere, and with some humanity and joy, and that is an invisible victory unto itself.

Embracing ADHD Impulsivity: Next Steps

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