Failing at Normal: An ADHD Success Story | Jessica McCabe | TEDxBratislava

Translator: Leonardo Silva
Reviewer: Mile Živković Hello, brains! I say that to you
because, if you think about it, it wasn’t really you that decided
to come here today. It was your brain. And whether you decided to walk,
or drive, take a taxi, or ride a bike, that decision was made by your brain. Behavior, all behavior,
is affected by the brain. This is a story about my brain. So, I was a smart kid. By 18 months, I was speaking
in full sentences. By third grade, I was scoring
post-high school on standardized tests. I had, as all my teachers agreed,
so much potential. I was also struggling. I didn’t have many, any, friends outside of books. I was easily overwhelmed.
I spaced out in class. I lost things constantly. And trying to get my brain to focus
on anything I wasn’t excited about was like trying to nail jello to the wall. But I was smart, so nobody was worried. It wasn’t until middle school, when I was responsible
for getting myself to classes on time and remembering to bring
my own homework, that being smart wasn’t enough anymore,
and my grades started to suffer. My mom took me to the doctor
and, after a comprehensive evaluation, I was diagnosed with
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD. If you’re not familiar with ADHD,
it has three primary characteristics: inattention, impulsivity,
and hyperactivity. Some people with ADHD have more
of the inattentive presentation. Those are the daydreamers,
the space cadets. Some have more of the
hyperactive-impulsive presentation. Those are the kids
that usually get diagnosed early. (Laughter) But the most common presentation
is a combination of both. (Laughter) My doctor and my parents decided
that, given my shiny, new diagnosis, maybe stimulant medication would succeed
where spankings and lectures had failed. So I tried it, and it worked. The first time I took my medication, it was like putting on glasses and realizing I could see
without squinting. I could focus. And without changing anything,
my GPA went up a full point. Honestly, it was kind of miraculous. By 14, I had friends that liked me. By 15, I had published my first poem. I got a boyfriend. By 17, I knew I wanted to be a journalist. My local college had a program
that would guarantee admission to USC. They had a really great
journalism program. So, I signed up at my local college
and I started taking classes. I moved in with my boyfriend. Things were going great, until they weren’t. I started having trouble
making it to class on time. I aced a statistics course, but I forgot to sign up in time,
so I never got the credit. I took classes so I could help
my boyfriend with his career, but I completely lost sight of mine. I never made it to USC. By 21, I dropped out of college
and moved back home. Over the next ten years, I started
and quit, or was fired from, 15 jobs. I ruined my credit. I got married, and was divorced within a year. At this point, I was 32, and I had no idea
what I was doing with my life, besides reading self-help books
that didn’t seem to be helping. What happened to all that potential? Was I not trying? No!
I worked harder than anyone I knew. I didn’t even have time for friends. I was that busy. I had potential, though. So, my failure was clearly my fault. I just hadn’t done
what I need to do to reach it, and, honestly, I was tired of trying, putting more effort into life
than everyone else and falling farther and farther behind. At this point, I could
have given up on myself, I could have decided that everyone
who’d thought I had potential was wrong. But I didn’t, because I knew that it was my behavior
that had gotten me here, and behavior is affected by the brain, and my brain has ADHD. Looking at my behavior, I knew: even with medication, even as an adult, my ADHD was still
interfering with my life, and what I needed to know was how and why, and, more importantly,
what could I do about it. I started to do some research, and I found a lot of great information. I found a lot of bad information too,
but that’s another talk. But there’s good information out there. Websites, podcasts, talks,
by researchers and medical professionals; books that would have been
way more helpful than the self-help books I’d been using
that were clearly written for normal – well, there’s no normal –
neurotypical brains. A lot of what I found, though,
was either super technical or seemed like it was written
for parents and teachers trying to deal with ADHD kids. There wasn’t a lot
that seemed intended for us, the people who have ADHD. So, I started a YouTube channel. I had no idea how to start
a YouTube channel, but I started a YouTube channel. I almost called it “How Not To ADHD,” because that was about all
I knew at the time. But my boyfriend, Edward,
talked me out of it. It turns out lots of people
need help understanding ADHD, including, maybe especially,
those who actually have it. I was no exception. I thought ADHD was
kind of the same for everybody. I thought it was mostly
about getting distracted. I thought having ADHD was maybe
the reason that I was failing at life. And I thought I was what needed to change,
in order to be successful. I couldn’t be successful and still be me. Spoilers: I was wrong. So, let’s go back for a second, let’s
go back to what brought us here today: the brain. Understanding the brain you’re working
with, it turns out, is kind of important, and that’s true whether that brain
is your employee’s, your student’s, your kid’s, your significant other’s, or your own. ADHD affects between 5 and 8%
of the global population, which means, statistically speaking, there’s between 37 and 60 of us
just in this room. You can’t tell who we are just by looking,
but it’s fun to watch you try. (Laughter) So, at some point, you’re going to meet
someone with ADHD, work with them, give birth to them, or fall in love with them. Chances are you already have. And, at some point,
you’re going to ask yourself, “What is going on in their brain?!” So, after two years of learning about ADHD
and a lifetime of experience with it, after having the honor of connecting
with researchers, and doctors, and ADHD experts, and tens of thousands
of ADHD brains all over the world, what can I tell you to help you
understand ADHD? By the way, many of them
helped with this talk. First of all, it’s real. It’s not bad parenting
or lack of discipline. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder. It’s currently the most
well-researched mental condition, and there are actually
measurable differences in the brain. These differences are larger in children,
but, for most people, they never go away. In other words, adults have ADHD too. While rates of ADHD diagnosis
are increasing, it’s not because of an increase
in sugar or technology, or lack of spanking; it’s not, any more than people drowning in swimming
pools is because of Nicolas Cage. Correlation does not equal causation. Those are real numbers. (Laughter) It’s from both an increase
in understanding that ADHD exists, that girls, adults, and gifted
students can have it too, and ironically a lack of understanding that being hyper, misbehaving,
or struggling in school does not mean you have ADHD. ADHD is more serious than I realized. The primary characteristics – inattention,
impulsivity, and hyperactivity – don’t sound all that serious,
and I didn’t think that they were, but, in real life, they translate
to people getting into more accidents, being more likely
to get fired, get divorced, significantly more likely
to struggle with addiction. I learned that ADHD is on a spectrum. Raise your hand
if you’ve ever lost your keys, or spaced out in the middle of a lecture. If you’re not raising your hand, I’m going to assume you spaced out
in the middle of this one. (Laughter) The thing is, while everyone experiences
ADHD symptoms sometimes, an actual diagnosis is based
on how many of those symptoms significantly and chronically impair
multiple aspects of your life. Just like you can get sad
and not have depression, you can get distracted and not have ADHD. And just like you can have
mild depression or severe depression, ADHD can range from mild to severe. I also learned ADHD
is a terrible name for ADHD. It creates a lot of confusion. We don’t have a deficit of attention! What we have trouble with
is regulating our attention. As ADHD coach Brett Thornhill puts it, it’s like your brain keeps switching
between 30 different channels and somebody else has the remote. Sometimes we have trouble focusing at all, and other times we get stuck on a channel
and can’t pull ourselves away, which in real life might seem
we don’t want to do homework because we’d rather play video games,
and short, sometimes that’s the case. But the truth is there are plenty of times
we want to able to focus, we try, and we just can’t. Current understanding
is that this difficulty has to do with the way our brains produce
and metabolize neurotransmitters, like dopamine and norepinephrine. I learned ADHD is highly treatable. Stimulant medication boosts
these neurotransmitters, which is why it helps us focus. It’s very effective for around 80%
of people with ADHD. And I learned that
medication isn’t enough. ADHD affects much more than our focus. It impairs executive functions
like planning, prioritizing, and our ability to sustain
effort toward a goal. It affects our ability to regulate
our emotions, our behavior, our sleep. It’s not one program in our brain
that works differently; it’s the whole operating system. It can affect every aspect of our lives. And there are a ton of strategies
out there that can help. Cognitive behavioral therapy, coaching,
even meditation or regular exercise can help make a huge difference
understanding your brain. I knew I had trouble focusing,
and I knew my medication helped with that. What I didn’t know was that getting
overwhelmed all the time had to do with poor working memory,
and that making lists helps; or that the reason I ran late all the
time wasn’t because I didn’t care, it’s because ADHD’ers
have a skewed sense of time, and that using a timer could teach me
how long things actually take. Mostly, I expected to learn
what I actually learned: that ADHD is real; addressing it is important; and medication is not enough. What I didn’t expect to learn: that I wasn’t alone; I had an ADHD tribe; what a difference it would make
to connect with it. There are people with ADHD
in every country, every culture across the globe. Yes, even in France. (Laughter) And this tribe is awesome. Comparing myself to people
with neurotypical brains, I felt really bad about myself. Why couldn’t I keep my house clean
or finish a project in time, instead of waiting
till the very last second? But seeing the positives
in fellow ADHD brains helped me recognize
and appreciate my own strengths, ones I couldn’t see when I was
just staring at my weaknesses, which is what I’d been doing for decades. But ADHD brains have
a lot to offer the world. We tend to be generous, funny, creative. ADHD’ers are 300% more likely
to start their own business. We not only think outside the box; we’re often not even aware
that there is a box. (Laughter) We may struggle when
our brains aren’t engaged, but ADHD brains are great
at tackling tasks that are urgent, working with ideas that are new, wrestling with problems
that are challenging, and dedicating themselves to projects
that are of personal interest. This YouTube career I’d stumbled into
was all of those things. At 32, I was divorced, miserable, and had no idea
what I was doing with my life. At 33, I’d started my own business,
and was connecting with ADHD experts. By now, at 34, I have a team of volunteers
helping with the channel. I’m engaged to this amazing man
who helps me produce the channel, works right alongside with me,
is doing the slides right now – and, as we discovered, also has ADHD. (Laughter) I’m working on reaching out to schools so that kids don’t have
to wait until they’re 32 to learn about their brains. And I’m doing my very first TEDx talk
here with you today. (Cheers) (Applause) But wait! There’s more! Wait. (Applause) That did sound like the end
of the speech. I’m sorry, it’s not. (Laughter) I’m happier and more successful
than I’ve ever been in my life. So, what happened?
How did I reach my potential? Three things: one, I learned
about my brain, my ADHD brain, both on my own and by connecting
with others who have it. If you judge a fish
by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life
believing it is stupid, unless it happens to chat
with another fish and realizes fish aren’t great
at climbing trees, and that’s okay, there’s plenty of ocean. Two, in learning about my brain, I found and stumbled
into a job that engages it. If you spend all your time trying
to get a fish to able to climb a tree, you’ll never see how far it can swim. It turns out I can be me
and still be successful. I just had to find my ocean. Three, I learned strategies
for challenges I still face. I have no fish analogy
for this one, I’m sorry. (Laughter) I guess I learned how to swim. Once you know what
your brain’s challenges are, you can find solutions to them. Once you look past the stereotypes
and assumptions about people with ADHD, and dig deeper, you learn
what ADHD actually is. It’s not people who won’t stop fidgeting,
or getting distracted. It is brains that are
chronically underaroused, trying to get the basic level
of stimulation all brains need. It’s not about procrastinating
or not caring. It’s having executive function deficits
that make it hard to get started. And it’s not people being lazy
or not trying enough. It’s kids and adults struggling to succeed with a brain that doesn’t always
want to cooperate in a society that wasn’t built for them. Society is our user’s manual. We learn how our brains and bodies work
by watching those around us. And, when yours works differently,
it can feel like you’re broken. So, what I’m trying to do
is reach out to these people wherever they are
in the world, and tell them, “You are not weird. You are not stupid. You do not need to try harder.
You are not a failed version of normal. You are different, you are beautiful, and you are not alone.” If you don’t ADHD yourself, chances are
you know somebody who does. They’re your employee, your boss,
your friend, they’re in this room. I hope this talk helps you
understand them better. If you do have ADHD, welcome to the tribe. (Applause) (Cheers)

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100 thoughts on “Failing at Normal: An ADHD Success Story | Jessica McCabe | TEDxBratislava

  1. Thank you, this was very comforting for me. I was literally just feeling bad about myself two minutes before finding this video, feeling like a failure or like I'll never be good enough. This video came right on time and makes me feel very hopeful about my life 🙂

  2. I feel like she understands me more than I understand me…
    I teared up everytime she did because I know exactly how it feels…

    Whats up ADHD tribe? I love yall…

  3. "I worked harder than anyone I knew" you lost me at that sentence. Never presume to know the struggle of others.

  4. thank you for being brave, i fell in tear IN THE GYM and a i really wanted to applaud, it took me YEARS to tale and channelize my ADHD mind

  5. thank you!! I have been going thru so much these past few months and struggling this my whole life. It was meant that I listened to this today. Thank you!

  6. Never in my life have I been able to describe how I feel! It was almost as if she was reading from my thoughts it literally made me cry.

  7. When I was a little girl my teachers always said: "great pottential but she's always too distracted and not focused at all". I didn't understand that and my parents didn't give much of a attention to it, because I was smart and probably just a distracted kid. Now that I'm a teenager struggling with depression and anxiety I talked to my mom about this but she didn't believe me because I have the habbit of searching for too many mental disorders and self-analizing myself 24/7, because I don't have enough money for a therapist to tell me what's wrong with me. So I don't know if I have this or it's just my depression and anxiety influencing my life.

  8. This really hits home with me, I m 31, got diagnosed at age 29 and started taking medication Concerta. Only now my life is starting to look like its going somewhere instead of going round and round. If I only had started taking medication sooner!

  9. I watched from when you just started and to see where you are now is incredible. you gave me hope for true understanding of ADHD. Thank you. Super super proud of you.

  10. This is how I want people to see me. Not as someone that needs to change. Someone who is creative, intelligent, and free spirited. Yes, I have ADHD, but I'm not inhibited by the way my brain likes to think, and I'm not ashamed of the way I admire the things I find wonderful in the world around me. Nobody should have to feel like a 'defect'.

  11. I agree with most of what this chick is saying – but I still think she would definitely benefit from more spankings.

  12. I figured out I have adhd around the same time I had to drop out of college. Now I’m starting new classes at a different school in a couple weeks to help the business I started myself. Feeling terrified, but determined

  13. I tried explaining that my mind connects everything I have ever heard saw or learned and that it's like a thousand things are going on in my head at one moment and I just get dismissed it hurts sometimes but I love who I am

  14. I am a space cadet and honestly I feel like a failure because of how far I have fallen behind my peers, honestly it is frustrating.

  15. " I ACED a statistics course but I didn't get the credit because I failed to sign up on time."

    How is that possible? You can't just walk into a class you aren't signed up for, let alone attend every class and do all the work! How did the teacher (At Southern California U!!) not notice you weren't on the roster for the class?? At my college you'd be asked to leave the classroom almost immediately.

  16. I've struggled with impulsive behavior for a long time. It's effecting my relationship as of recently. I'm 30 years old never been married don't have kids and I'm waiting table's and getting re certified through NASM for personal training. I feel so far behind the ball and unsuccessful. It's hard to stay positive. I've been sober for 5 years and now I'm trying to make the transition out of the restaurant business and into fitness which is my passion. I've had impulsive behavior issues my whole life. Long story short I'm hoping to get better so I don't lose the woman I love.

  17. tbh I'm crying rn. I just recently got diagnosed with ADHD and it explains so much. For so long iv been so frustrated with myself on why it seems like i fail everything i d. but really my brain just works differently and I'm slowly beginning to understand it. to everyone like me that has ADHD you aren't broken just like she says. You're beautiful and you're accepted. Find your niche and find something that you can do and that embraces your ADHD brain.

  18. I'm married a man with ADHD and have a child with ADHD. Her channel made our communication so much better and my child is doing so much better in school because of it!!

  19. Literally late for work because I was sure I will be able to see this talk and make it on time. Time is so relative.
    The talk was brilliant, thank you

  20. I discovered that i have mixed adhd about a week ago. Now i know that it wasnt my fault that my life was ruined soo many times from school times till now. I am 34 and i'm trying to learn about myselfe now.

  21. It’s not ADHD. It’s the medicines side effects. Damage has already been done and I can’t fix it 😢😭

  22. Omg that was so awesome and emotional. Love this woman! I just found out at 47yrs and 39kg, mind and body destroyed by stress, anxiety, PTSD… that I have ADD inattentive, as well as autism/aspergers. Double whammy. I’m so lost, alone, isolated, depressed and scared, despite all the youtube videos, facebook groups… I’m completely housebound and only see a few people. I really want to start my own thing and am so inspired by others who have done, but the terror paralysis is too much. I have a long long way to go to acceptance, understanding, grieving my lost life and relationships, but I know deep down the key to unlocking it all, my true self and potential and purpose, is in starting my own business and expressing and sharing my creativity and crazy stories with the part of the world that may care, and even understand… not condemn, ridicule, criticise, abuse, bully, neglect and abandon. Well, that too because well some people are just arseholes. But after all I’ve been through and go through on a daily basis in my personal world, I really don’t care what some ignoramus thinks about me, nothing can be as painful as being treated inhumanely by people you love and depend on. I need to succeed so I don’t ever have to be this weak, vulnerable and petrified of being dependent on cruel people ever again. The end, lol. Xo

  23. welcome me to the tribe , I spent over 20 years of my life trying to figure out what was the problem . Probably we'd gone throw the same path . You are great

  24. Brilliant Speech. Was diagnosed at 56. I coudlnt understand why I had 100's of tunes in my head playing at the same time!

  25. I literally just started to think today that I might have ADHD and after researching I realised I had all of the symptoms. Then I just watched this and literally everything she said made me cry my eyes out because it was like finally listening to someone who understands for the first time. I’ve felt so hopeless and weird my whole life and for the first time I just felt like it’s okay…

  26. At 49 years old and about to become a grandfather shortly, I was diagnosed with ADHD last month. All my strange and erratic behaviour all my life suddenly made some sense.

  27. Thank you for sharing your story. I was diagnosed since childhood and it always made me feel different. I used to be that weird guy (which is probably why I’ve never dated anyone). Fast forward until now when I realize I still have ADHD and it’s now affecting those around me and also sent me into a depression for a period of time. Recently a friend of mine asked if I had autism by the way I act

  28. Well, I'm cryin'!
    I'm nearly 60 and just figuring out what's always been my issue,
    This resonated with me so so so so much…
    Where's the fuckin' tissues

  29. My middleschool teacher had adhd and he's absolutely wonderful. At 50 he's still plays with the kids, and is a amazingly engaging teacher. He can switch so easily between topics and grade levels, and is just an amazing history buff.

  30. Thank you Jessica for making this video! I can totally relate. Your video has changed my way of thinking about myself. I never thought to search for an ADD/ADHD group for adults, this is a wonderful idea, I believe this may help in pursuing employment opportunities. And I will subscribe to your channel.

  31. I think I have adhd and I want to tell my parents but with my sisters health issues and my anxiety about it. I don't know how to tell them..I'm afraid to sound overdramatic or make them think I'm just seeking attention. I don't know how to tell them especially when I'm not sure they'll even take it seriously…
    Any advice?

  32. sounds like the was just so obsessed with living up to her delusional sense of "potential" that she pushed herself so hard, she failed at everything. to succeed you need balance, not OCD obsessions with perfection.

  33. I'm 26. And Today is the day I realize I have ADHD. I Can't concentrate for a longer period, I'm Worried about many things at a time, I Talk fast most of the times, I switch from a task to another without completing it, And I don't like to drive bikes or cars because I easily get distracted with random thoughts in my head.. and the list goes on. Glad to meet Team ADHD. ✌

  34. Thank you so much Jessica McCabe. I’m almost 50 years old and you’re perspectives help me so much. Forever grateful, Teri

  35. This hits home extremely hard. Goodness. It's like she described my life with laser precision. Props to her for never giving up.

  36. Thanks for putting this up. I am 30 and I still dont know if I am suffering from adhd but I felt connected I cried out so loud. I have been cursing myself whole life trying to be something that I can't

  37. Same diagnose and been in higher education (eg. college, university) for quite a few years now (had to restart 3 studies so far) and finally things actually feel like they're falling in place, recognising the situation and somehow trying to talk about it with others helped a lot. Your speech – look at it as a talk or an insight – is by far one of the most honest i've seen in quite a long time. This moved me.. Thanks

  38. As someone just diagnosed within the last year at the age of 37, this hit home. I'm not alone and it's a great feeling.

  39. Thank you Jessica! I'm 51 years old and was diagnosed about. 7 years ago. At that time I had been in recovery from alcoholism about 3 years and was seeing a therapist for relationship difficulties and other life struggles. My primary physician and therapist both referred me for the assessment. Until just a couple weeks ago I hadn't yet learned that my sleep (lack of)pattern and the inability to be on time for MANY things even while on medication were from ADHD. Since then I've been exploring YouTube for quality information to learn and share with others. Your talk was validating and empowering which I'm grateful to have received. In Oct ,God Willing, I'll celebrate 11 years of sobriety. As long as I don't give up on me I am a success. God Bless you!

  40. Thank you so much. This is also my story! I am mid 30s and feel 20 something because, there is so much missing time. On the bright side everybody says I am "young at heart" I know the feeling of falling further behind.

  41. not even two minutes in and i'm already crying because i can already tell that she understands me, because she, unlike most people who talk about adhd, she (1) actually has it, (2) is a woman, and (3) actually knows what she's talking about.

  42. Yup, that's me. The only plus I have is I can read people extremely well. The internet calls it Empath. Anyone relate?. …I also caught myself having to go back to re hear her several times. Yes she draws my full attention but my brain starts day dreaming because of words that trigger me to look back on life (with A.D.H.D.)..anyone else for that too lol?

  43. Thank you so much. This video helped me realize that I had ADHD. It allowed me to get the necessary diagnosis and treatment that I needed. I have since made tremendous progress in all aspects of my life , both proffesionally and personally. I am eternally grateful .

  44. I have to get tested cause I’ve been having symptoms my whole life but I’ve been stubborn. Until I realize how much I was affecting my job recently. My lead tells me multiple times that I need to focus. The last day she said that I really got me upset because I didn’t mean to get distracted and tried hard to focus on her.
    My nephew has ADHD and we’ve always got along well cause I had energy to play and keep up with him. He is 14 now but what hit me that I should get it check out.
    My sister told me at a party that she thinks I have ADHD and her son has it.
    I ignore her and just said it was how I am. My personality even though ADHD effects that. I didn’t know it at the time.
    I thought forgetting where I put my phone or keys at. Misplacing things at work and forgetting where I put them at. Was just me being clumsy.
    In school I did terrible too.
    So for my own sake… I’m going to get tested to see if I have it.
    I have a couple friends who have… who also think or thought I had it too…
    Watching their behavior at work makes me think of my own.
    Sooo time to get this tested.
    I couldn’t even finish this video but I’ll watch it later.
    I’m going to try and sleep again even though it’s 9am and haven’t slept at all last night… beside 3 hours

  45. I'm 36, a mom of 3 boys; I homeschool them part time (they go to a school 2 days a week) – I'm always behind on "teaching them" and I'm still NOT diagnosed with ADHD.
    When I went in to get diagnosed, 4 years ago, a female psychologist told me I was depressed and anxious and NEITHER had anything to do with ADHD. Unfortunately that meant my ADHD has still gone undiagnosed, I treat it with supplements and routine, and CBT when I remember. I may never be full diagnosed, because no one will listen to me.
    Depression and Anxiety are symptoms of ADHD, and no one ever told me. And most doctors don't know – they would rather drug you for depression that "misdiagnose" you with ADHD. I'm in Canada, btw, so my health care is still failing me.

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