ADD and the Myth of the Tormented Genius

There is one response to revealing my ADD-diagnosis that I haven’t discussed yet. This response is typified by saying something like “but you must’t think of it as a disability. You are just gifted, and so creative.”

Well now, I have a lot to say about this. Firstly, I recognise the sweetness behind the response. Also, it appeals to my ego to think of myself as this uber creative type.

However, ultimately, I think this response is ultimately disempowering to me. Let me explain why: for me, it is helpful to self-identify as having a disability. This is a label that doubtless many other people with ADD would be uncomfortable with. SO let me be clear, I speak only for myself here. For me, identifying as having a disability is to identify with a powerful disability-rights movement that mobilised around the slogan “we are not disabled, the world disables us.” The intention of this movement is to show the social and environmental contexts of disability, the ways that disability is in fact produced and manufactured by, for example, a building without an elevator for a wheelchair.

In my case, the university environment I am in disables me in a number of ways: in expecting students to be able to structure, research, write a book in four years with limited support. By making the expectations for said book implicit, rather than explicit. I must make “an original contribution to knowledge.” What is that? I must “master my field.” How? What does that mean to you? More subtly, I think the university disables students by pretending that this process is easy. Maybe, even by pretending that a strong academic mind is also one that is psychologically “normal”, untainted my mental illness. I have been scared of revealing my status for fear of not being offered a job after I finish, for example. For the possibility of being seen as “fragile” instead of the much-needed “functional.”

In these ways, I have a disability within the university. Stating that is empowering for me, you don’t need to protect me from the words that I use. In contrast, saying that I am “just gifted”, or “creative” erases the acknowledgement of the difficulties I experience in this environment. It erases the ways that I am disabled, and puts the onus back on me, the one who needs to “overcome” their own circumstances.

If I stay in the university, I hope I will be able to live out of the closet with my disability. I hope I will be able to make a space for other students with mental illness or ADD to do the same.

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