Now we come to ADHD Myth #10: The symptoms of inattention in ADHD are nothing more than “daydreaming.” This is one more aspect of an over-arching popular myth about ADHD: It “pathologizes normal human behavior.”
A website called The Farmacy posted this misleading and stigmatizing “meme” (above) on Facebook. An Egyptian woman with ADHD, Madiha, responded with the comment below. We had a friendly back-channel exchange. Then she kindly granted me permission to share it.
(Funny enough, the particularly annoying meme above also inspired my friend Jaclyn at The ADHD Homestead to write an excellent post: Bad ADHD Memes and my Real Reason for Taking Stimulants.)
I love hearing from newly minted ADHD advocates, especially late-diagnosis adults. They bring fresh vigor to the online “discourse.” And they don’t back down. They know how high the stakes. I do, too.
The Difference Between ADHD and Daydreaming
Average daydreaming doesn’t cause you to grapple with remembering thoughts, tasks, names, and dates every single day.
Average daydreaming does not cause lost friendships and lost jobs. It does not cause failure in school, subject after subject. ADHD, however, can do those things. ADHD means you can become so enveloped in your daily racing thoughts—jumping from one uncompleted task to the next—that only weeks later do you realize you never returned that call—or remembered that friend’s wedding.
Average daydreaming doesn’t keep you up restless almost every night.
It doesn’t cause so much anxiety and depression.
It doesn’t ruin schoolwork, prevent you from applying the knowledge you know or cause you to be the last person to leave an (uncompleted) exam.
It doesn’t make you feel like you are a victim of your mind, constantly carrying you away from the best intentions and plans to a tornado of obsessive hyper-focused distractions that never end and result only in lost time. Constantly failing at perseverance and commitments of any kind.
Average daydreaming doesn’t make you more vulnerable to accidents, intense moodiness, job loss, failing education, drug addiction, suicide.
Average Daydreaming Doesn’t Severely Impair Life
The difference between ADHD and “daydreaming” is the difference between
- Feeling sad and being clinically depressed
- Being a bit shy and having social anxiety
- Being worried occasionally and suffering panic attacks
- Being moody sometimes and having bipolar disorder.
There is more science behind ADHD than you may know. Its existence has been traced back to at least the 18th century (“Newsflash: ADHD Dates Back to 1798—At Least!). It is no less legitimate a neurobiological and psychological disorder than Bipolar Disorder or Schizophrenia or Autism.
Yes, I disagree with giving stimulant medication to young children without exhausting alternative treatments first. But millions of children and adults suffering from ADHD have experienced dramatically changed lives thanks to these medications.
(Gina adds: Even very young children with ADHD might benefit greatly, in terms of health and safety, from medications. The New York Times made a hash of a misunderstood CDC report in Georgia. Soon all the news outlets were following suit. Read more at The Truth of 10,000 Toddlers Medicated for ADHD.)
Of course, it saddens me that people would give medications to children simply to curb normal childhood behavior. But it also saddens me when people write off ADHD as simply daydreaming.
Would you say to someone with clinical depression, “You are just sad”? Would you tell them, “You don’t need medication—just cheer up”?
ADHD might be over-diagnosed in some cases. But for millions of people, ADHD remains under-diagnosed, especially girls and adults.
I Used to Be Anti-Medication
People once resisted any psychological diagnoses. They preferred labeling people with mental illnesses simply as crazy and weird. This black-and-white thinking helps no one.
Here is the irony: I used to be anti-medication, just like this post suggests. Medication literally saved my life more than once when everything else failed.
I hope others will take this condition called ADHD as seriously as those affected do. I urge them: don’t be quick to write off other people’s experiences simply because they cannot relate.
Well done, Madiha!
You can read others in the ADHD Roller Coaster Myth-Busting Series here:
Your comments always welcome.
22 thoughts on “Myth #10: “You’re Medicating Daydreaming!””
To this day, I still have daydreams self-inserting myself into the various sci-fi and fantasy universes from the books I read. Why focus on what the boring teacher is saying when I can be a wizard?
🙂 Wizarding. Good work. If you can find it. 🙂
Re: Messerschmidt –
What an asshole.
Of course, that’s just my opinion – your mileage may vary!
I’ll add this disclaimer.
“Opinions reflect reader sentiment and are not necessarily the opinions of management.” 🙂
Ok but I don’t daydream. I have epilepsy and sometimes it looks like I’m daydreaming when I’m really having a small seizure so if you’re talking about daydreaming maybe think about epilepsy also because they could be just having a seizure but it could be daydreaming. If you see them starring try talking to them or wave your hand in their face. If they don’t respond then they’re having a absence or petite mal seizure some people call them
Thank you very much for bringing up that important distinction!
My friend’s child displayed exactly the type of behavior that you describe, about 20 years ago.
The parade of neurologists, etc. had attributed it to everything BUT mini-seizures. Daniel Amen, MD, who was local (to the Bay Area) at the time, was the only one to figure it out.
That essay was like a synopsis of my life and experiences. I’ve learned so many coping mechanisms (some helpful, some not so much) and I can tell you that it’s so nice to be able to find others with which to commisserate on my ADHD experience and journey.
Thank you Madiha. And thank you Gina for sharing this insightful, illuminating, and enlightening post. May more people read and be convinced.
Yes, Madiha wrote a powerful piece. There are a bunch more first-person essays in the archive, some related to the You Me ADD Book Club but most on random topics:
Perhaps you’d like to contribute an essay yourself?
Daydreaming is not always bad. Sometimes it helps us relax and calm the mind after a long day of work.
I’d say daydreaming is NEVER bad. If it’s not keeping a person from being functional in life.
The point of this post (did you read it?) was that there is a difference between “daydreaming” and the kind of ADHD inattentive symptoms that cause a person to just zone out too much, without even the satisfaction of a good daydream. They are two difference things.
Interesting… I was a chronic “daydreamer” as a kid (I’m 55 now) and was never seen to have any greater issue than that… since my “issue” was the Inattentive version of ADHD. I’d just float away… and since my daydreaming was married to “gifted++” intelligence, I was able to be a solid B+ student while looking out the window 95% of the time.
I am not convinced we have a great understanding of the human brain, as of yet… but it concerns me some that we seem to be narrowing the definitions of “neurotypical” to the point where “normal” becomes an increasingly tough target to hit. I am NOT against helping those who need help (my wife’s ADHD is helped considerably through meds)… but who gets to decide what “functional” truly looks like? For me, there is a deeper philosophical and epistemological question here– I can consider whether my life would have been helped by intervention… but WHO gets to be judge and jury in the debate of whether I “should be” able to concentrate enough to be a CPA, or left alone to be a “Creative Eccentric?”
Again, not opposed to appropriate help if it enables someone to not become a driveling idiot in the corner… but balance is important, too. Of course, that’s just my opinion… your mileage may vary!
Thanks for your comment, Peter.
Who gets to decide what children eat? Where they sleep? How they sleep? What their home environment is like? Where they go to school?
Parents have to make the decision.
The fact that you use the term “judge and jury” indicates that you see the ADHD diagnosis as some kind of victimizing label put on people, despite your wife having ADHD and taking medication, which you admit helps.
I don’t know what to make of this. 🙂
Only a fool would argue that “neurotypical” is a narrow range of behavior. Certainly the ADHD experts I know and respect have a very high standard for the ADHD diagnosis.
And I don’t know any neuroscientist who pretends that we understand human brain. We are only just beginning.
Adults in these children’s lives have to use their best judgment, weighing how the child is doing in all of life, not just whether the child is daydreaming.
I need to correct you. You said you never seemed to have any issue greater than “daydreamer” and yet you called it Inattentive ADHD.
That’s simply wrong.
The diagnosis of ADHD, no matter the presentation (hyperactive, inattentive, or combined) depends on many other criteria, including impairment in life.
Also, you write that you’re “not opposed to appropriate help if it enables someone to not become a driveling idiot in the corner.
That begs your own question: Who makes you “judge and jury” in deciding that someone with ADHD must be a “driveling idiot in the corner” to merit assistance with that most complex organ, the brain?
Would you similarly deny eyeglasses to someone who wasn’t walking into walls? I can’t help but notice that you wear eyeglasses. Is it possible that you don’t have “typical” vision? Why would you not just accept walking through life with your vision impairments? Why would you resort to false contrivances that improve your vision? See my point?
You can read more here: https://adhdrollercoaster.org/essays/eyeglasses-adhd-and-stigma-part-i/
Dear Mr. Messerschmidt,
With due respect to your right to express and share your opinion in a public forum even if I may not agree with them, I will now share my opinion with you, having heard yours.
I am speaking as one of those adults who has to decide how her own child is to be handled, and who herself was a girl who went undiagnosed because at the time the prevailing school of thought was: “Girls don’t have ADHD.”, or “She’s just lazy.”
Instead of individual specialized tutoring, socialization training, and possible medication, I was bunged into the Learning Disability category for math with your so-called corner dribblers- who incidentally, were the ones bullying me because I was quiet, had odd, unfeminine interests, and was clumsy. Instead of having someone explaining how math worked, I was repeatedly drilled on times tables and other math operations – it took me nearly five years to get out of that program and it was miserable.
Still, I survived. I made it through university by avoiding math-based coursework and degree programs as much as humanly possible.
Roll forwards a few decades: my daughter showed early on the EXACT same symptoms I had, only we knew what to do about them – and YES, there was bullying involved, bullying that I had to take on and deal with because certain kinds of children take inattentive dreaminess and difficulty in reading social cues as an open invitation to repeatedly attack because it’s fun.
After testing to confirm that it WASN’T a learning disability and further screening to confirm that YES, it was Inattentive. After years of putting out brush fires and coming up with life hacks for her on my part, it was a relief to know that I wasn’t imagining things or being a bad or worse, a helicopter mother.
Frankly, Mr. Messerschmidt, unlike you, I would FAR, FAR have myself and my child “labeled” as someone with ADHD and get treatment/accommodations than be mislabeled as basically educable mentally retarded with all the pigeonholing which comes with it – the shame, marginalization and humiliation we both could do without.
My point? If the label of ADHD gets my daughter the help, hacks, and possible medication she needs that I didn’t get so she won’t be marginalized as I was both socially, academically, and even occupationally, then label away.
I’m with you, Chris. Well said!
And kudos to you for surviving all that, and coming out strong. Strong enough to advocate for your girl. Whoop!
My husband felt the same way. I made an appointment with a psychologist that performs neurophych evaluations. She required both of us to watch all the testing 3-4 hours and then both of us to review the results with her. We observed our daughter struggle with parts of the testing that should have been easy and my husband was quite upset when we left because he realized he also struggled with those same things. When the doctor explained what was happening and how that would manifest in behavior and how medication may help he was onboard. We started our daughter in meds and after a few changes in meds found one that worked for her. My husband went for his own evaluation and was also diagnosed with ADHD which connected the dots on several issues he has had over the years.
It’s not for sure a parent also has ADHD but they often do and as our doctor explained it only needs to be treated if it is preventing the person from doing something they need or want to do.
Good luck with your daughter. It never hurts to be tested.
Great advice, Rosanne. Thank you!
Thank you Madiha for so eloquently describing the minefield of challenges we face with this disorder. It wreaked havoc I on my marriage and has made my children’s lives a constant challenge. It has devastated my ex husbands life and destroyed two of his marriages, despite me searching and searching for help. Sometimes the medication goes really well and sometimes it seems to make some adults worse. This disorder is so misjudged, but the literature is clear about the aid ranging effects. It’s just really really hard to get good services to help families on the edge.
I’ll make sure Madiha sees this, Penny.
Thank you for your comment.
Yes, it’s nothing less than a national health crisis, in my opinion, the difficulty in finding competent care providers for ADHD.
It would probably be a waste of paper. His mother is of the firm notion that this is a made up condition and when I even suggest mild dosages for our 12 year old daughter, he gets extremely defensive. I might try it though. Your book has given me a few strategies on dealing with every day life with a more or less functional ADHD household.
That is a tough situation to be in. Perhaps his own ADHD is blocking his compassion for his daughter’s struggles.
What I’ve found is that some “resistance” is less strong than it seems. It’s more of a knee-jerk thing, and more permeable than we might think.
Sometimes a matter-of-fact approach works best. e.g. “I’ve made an appointment with a well-recommended physician. You are welcome to join us to talk with the doctor about it. But I am not going to let our child suffer anymore, no more than I would let her suffer with vision problems instead of getting her eyeglasses. We will take it slow, and we will closely monitor her, and we will ask her how she feels.”
Oh how I wish my husband understood this.
Maybe you could print it out and leave it somewhere….