The Moment That Helped Me Reframe My Lifelong ADHD Diagnosis

Dr. Edward Hallowell, author of Driven to Distraction, says the ADHD brain is like a Ferrari with bicycle brakes: powerful but difficult to control. My ADHD makes me lose my phone, but it also makes me who I am, so if I’m going to love my life, I have to love my ADHD.

The structure and function of the ADHD brain are a throwback to a time when you had to be a badass to survive. (Visual cue: Raquel Welch as the iconic cavewoman queen in One Million Years B.C.) The frontal lobe—home of impulse control, concentration, and inhibition—is smaller, because the primitive badass had to react on instinct, without fear. Neural pathways don’t connect or mature at the same rate, because it was more important for the primitive badass queen to be better at killing sabertoothed tigers than she was at reading novels. Dopamine and noradrenaline, powerful chemicals that regulate sleep and facilitate communication between brain cells, were on a slow drip, because she had to wake up at the snap of a twig.

I, like 5 percent of children and 2.5 percent of adults, am a primitive badass in a world that wants obedience and conformity. Even if we wanted to be the orderly people our loved ones want us to be, we don’t have it in us. We must embrace who we are or die trying to be someone else. 

The benefits of ADHD include creativity, intuition, resilience, and the ability to brainstorm. I’m good at damage control because I’m constantly losing things, showing up late, and pissing people off. I’m good at multitasking, because I’m not hardwired to concentrate on one thing for a big block of time. Because my attention span is limited, I don’t see time as linear; the ADHD brain processes past, present, and future as a Spirograph of interconnected events, which gives me a certain Spidey sense about fashion trends and technology.

My brain chemistry craves sensory input. Sounds, images, puzzles, art, motion, experiences—everything that triggers adrenaline or endorphins—that’s all as necessary as oxygen for the ADHD brain. I don’t just love fun. I need fun. Fun is my jet fuel.

The primary disadvantage of ADHD is that people around you are often inconvenienced, weirded out, or hurt by your behavior, so you’re constantly getting judged and punished, which makes you feel like shit. Suicidal ideation is higher in people with ADHD. Self-loathing and self-medication are epidemic. If the rest of the world says you’re obnoxious or stupid or just not braining right, loving yourself is an act of rebellion, which is beautiful but exhausting, especially when you’re a little kid. With that needy little kid always inside you, your life becomes an epic quest for love—or whatever feels like love in the moment.

Even if you have the most wonderful, loving parents in the world (and I do), diagnosis doesn’t always happen early, especially for girls who are good at hiding the symptoms. Treatment of ADHD has traditionally focused on squashing undesirable behavior. In the 1980s, no one ever said, “Relax, little girl. There are many different kinds of intelligence.”

Instead, people told me I was dumb, bratty, careless, ungrateful, or not applying myself. And none of that was true. I was grinding away, trying to fit in, until I grew strong enough to say, “F*ck fitting in,” which is what I intend to teach my children from the beginning, no matter what their neurodevelopmental profile happens to be.

When I was in my early twenties, a doctor explained what was “wrong” with me and put me on Adderall. That was a love/hate relationship that went on for about twenty years—me and Adderall—until Carter and I met with Dr. Hallowell.

Dr. Hallowell said, “This condition, if you use it properly, is an asset composed of qualities you can’t buy and can’t teach. It’s stigma that holds us back. Stigma plus ignorance. A lethal combination.”

I felt that lightning bolt you feel when someone speaks a hard truth you’ve always known but never heard anyone say out loud.

“Our kryptonite is boredom,” said Dr. Hallowell. “If stimulation doesn’t occur, we create it. We self-medicate with adrenaline.”

Some of us have discovered that ADHD is our superpower. I wish the A stood for ass-kicking. I wish the Ds stood for dope and drive. I wish the H suggested hell yes.

I’m not bragging or complaining about it, just telling you: This is my brain. It has a lot to do with how this whole book thing is going to play out, because I love run-on sentences—and dashes. And sentence fragments. I’m probably going to jump around a lot while I tell my story.

The Spirograph of time. It’s all connected.

Excerpted from Paris: The Memoir, by Paris Hilton. published March 14, 2023, Dey Street Books.