“Everybody does that.”

My least favorite response to an attempt to describe ADHD.

Because “everybody does that” really says this: my challenges aren’t unique. I’ve chosen to put a label on normal life while others buckle down and get it together.

“Everybody does that.” A close cousin to “yeah, but you just need to do it.”

If that’s your frame of reference, you and I aren’t living in the same world.

I’m not everybody.

Everybody does that, but…

For example, I’m sure everyone has lost a check before. It happens. But so often, you dread ever receiving money by check?

This was me five years ago, when I first started taking medication for my ADHD. I got a sinking feeling every time I held a check in my hand. Four years ago, I finally established a good system for handling checks. Three years ago, our bank started accepting mobile deposits.

Even now, I still find checks when I’m cleaning our house. I found one last week from 2007. The envelope was still sealed.

Likewise, I’m sure everyone has bad days, weeks, even months or years. But you know a bad day is only a day long, right?

Most people with ADHD have a poor concept of time. I’m not just talking about running late, oversleeping, or going down a Wikipedia rabbit hole until 4:00 a.m. (though that happens, too). The ADHD brain literally perceives time differently. Unless we teach ourselves otherwise, now is all we comprehend. Not now is such an abstract concept, it may as well not exist.

During a bad day, or even a bad 15 minutes, everything else stops existing. Imagine being blind to everything but the emotion you’re experiencing right now. It’s overwhelming. The highs feel great, but the lows can be all-consuming. A minor frustration can trigger blinding rage.

One day I showed up to a doctor’s appointment on the wrong day, went home, and had an epic meltdown about what a worthless human being I was. How everyone was better off without me, I was incapable of managing my own life, and I was foolish to have thought I’d amount to anything. That self, the one who screwed up, was all my brain knew.

A half hour later, I couldn’t have articulated what I was so upset about. It was almost like I’d been a different person.

And lastly, I’m well aware that everyone gets behind on home improvement projects. Everyone procrastinates. Everyone has a longer to-do list than they can manage. But it’s a question of magnitude.

Like when we had water damage on a small portion of our then-guest room ceiling. I expect many, if not most, homeowners would put off getting it fixed. It’s not hurting anything, it won’t get worse (we made an emergency call to the roofer), and you can ignore it if you don’t look up.

I decided that would be a perfect excuse to take down the whole ceiling, which was plaster, and replace it with drywall. And while I was doing that, it would be silly not to take down all four walls. I didn’t foresee the need for a plan. I only had eyes for the sledgehammer and the reciprocating saw.

Over a year later, that room still sat empty in our home. Empty of furniture, lighting fixtures, doors, and walls. A sheet of plastic hung over the doorway. The stink of old plaster and wood wafted through our whole second floor. I could smell it the moment I walked into the house. To go without touching that project for a year might not be so bad, you say, but I know the awful truth: we were nowhere near making progress. I was pregnant, and we needed a bedroom for our son. Without that deadline hanging over our heads, I have no idea when I would’ve set foot in that room again.

…it’s a matter of scale.

Gina Pera, author of Is It You, Me, or Adult ADD(the book that started it all for our family), sometimes refers to ADHD as “extreme human syndrome.” That is to say, in a way, that everybody does do these things. But some more than others, and some to a greater extreme. Some of us feel deeply impaired in our jobs, our marriages, our lives.

Next time you’re tempted to say, “everybody does that,” remember this: not everyone feels completely out of control of everyday life, even when they should be thriving. Everybody may do these things sometimes, especially under stress, but not everyone lives in that space all the time. When it’s all you’ve ever known, the chaos, anguish, and shame can be unbearable.

I look relatively successful on the outside — most of the time — but it’s been a long, hard road. I’m still the same person who lost all the checks, inflicted my epic freakouts on loved ones, and left a room stripped to bare studs for over a year. Now I just spend a lot of energy externalizing processes many people learn and do intuitively.

I know for a fact everybody doesn’t do what I do every day. It’s because they don’t have to.

That why, whether I’m celebrating small victories or hanging out at rock bottom, the last thing I want to hear is, “everybody does that.”

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