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Have you ever noticed that people with ADHD say some pretty negative things about themselves? After recording 50 episodes of the ADHD Aha! podcast, we certainly did. 

In this special episode, host Laura Key and producer Jessamine Molli count down the five most common labels and adjectives guests use to describe their ADHD symptoms and behaviors. They listen to clips and dive deep into ADHD myths and stereotypes. Laura also shares her take on what the ADHD Aha! podcast is really about. 

Episode transcript

Laura: Dive in and just say hi to my favorite producer ever.

Jessamine: Well, that's quite a compliment. Thank you.

Laura: Are we starting?

Jessamine: Whenever you want. We are rolling, so...

Laura: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "ADHD Aha!," a podcast where people share the moment when it finally clicked that they or someone they know has ADHD. My name is Laura Key. I'm the editorial director here at Understood. And as someone who's had my own ADHD aha moment. I'll be your host.

Aaah, this is exciting, Jessamine!

Jessamine: I know.

Laura: Oh my gosh. Well, we are here for a very special episode of "ADHD Aha!" It is our 50th episode, and I'm here today with our producer, the wonderful producer of "ADHD Aha!," Jessamine Molli. Welcome, Jessamine.

Jessamine: Hi, everybody. Hi, Laura.

Laura: I can't believe we've done 50 episodes.

Jessamine: I know. It's really wild.

Laura: Do you remember when we first started and I had no idea what I was doing?

Jessamine: Do you remember me telling you that I thought you were a natural, though?

Laura: I do remember that. And I figured you were just telling me that to give me confidence, but...

Jessamine: No, I meant it.

Laura: Oh, well, thank you. You're too kind. Knowing that you've always been listening in and ready to jump in with suggestions or support has made this fun and easy.

Jessamine: It's been such an awesome show to work on. I've loved it. I've loved the community that's been built around it.

Laura: So let's tell our listeners what we're doing here today. It's not just us chitchatting about how much we enjoy each other. But we could do that! We could do that for a while.

Jessamine: Yeah, guys just know that I cut out about 30 more minutes of that and it's all just...

Laura: Just praising each other nonstop.

So today, we thought it would be really cool to do an episode about ADHD labels. So what do we mean by ADHD labels? So Jessamine, I'm sure you've noticed this. When I'm interviewing people, I'm kind of always listening for the words they use to describe themselves or the words that they say other people have used to describe them. Because I find just personally, as someone with ADHD and through listening to all these folks I've talked with, that those words, especially the ones with the negative connotations, they really stick. It's hard to let go of them.

And it's almost like so much of this journey — yes, we talk about what was your "aha" moment? What led you to get an evaluation and get diagnosed? But so much of the journey is about kind of unpacking those words. And becoming self-aware and understanding that these words that we use to describe ourselves, they're actually just ADHD symptoms that we've interpreted in a negative way and then use it to blame ourselves. And we carry the shame around.

Jessamine: And it matters that you put that label on. And I mean, it's not just like, oh, that's something I say about myself. What we internalize about ourselves, what we call ourselves, has an effect.

Laura: Yeah. We are going to go in reverse order today. So we're going to talk about five labels, adjectives, negative words that we've heard over and over again from our guests. This is a very unscientific — we have not done an official investigation of how many words. We haven't done like a semantic analysis of all of our shows.

Jessamine: Oh, that's a good idea.

Laura: We should do that one day. But yeah, these are just — these are the words that have stuck out to us. And we're going to play some snippets of some interviews. And Jessamine, I can't wait to hear how you've been hearing these interviews and get your perspective on them.

Jessamine: Yeah, you know, I've been there right along with you, hearing these interviews multiple times. And the patterns, I think, is a big thing that we have noticed. And you're able to bring it into the interview a lot of times, saying a previous guest said this and make connections. And I always think that that is the thing that people respond to the most is like, oh, that's exactly how I feel or what happens to me or how I talk about myself.

Laura: I'm glad that you've noticed that, because secretly I've always been worried. Is Jessamine bored on the other line. Because I think our listeners probably know that we edit these interviews down to about 20, 25 minutes. But they come from an hour-long conversation with each of our guests.

Jessamine: Yeah, we have a lot of data at this point with 50 episodes.

Laura: Yes. Without further ado, number five, number five? Should we get a drumroll? Can you hear that?

Jessamine: That was actually really good. That sounded great.

Laura: All right. So number five: We are going to start with the word "ditzy." Not everybody uses the word "ditzy" exactly like that. I'm lumping it together with other terms like "hot mess" or "space cadet," and in some ways "messy" as well.

Jen: Everyone had always called me really ditzy, and I was always considered really out of it and kind of, I don't know, lost and messy and disorganized, and I can't clean my house. And I remember having this conversation with my friends, saying "I'm really stressed out because the pandemic has made my house unlivable practically. I don't know what to do, but I don't even know where to start." And she had sort of said, "Oh, well, you're probably too depressed to clean it." And that really stood out for me because I wasn't depressed. And I said, "No, I'm happy."

Kai: Every little change in light or noise or sudden movements really just threw me off. I could be really extremely focused on a task and something would happen, and I would just be gone. And it would be a struggle to come back to that task. I would just be frazzled for the rest of the day. And I use that word "frazzled" kind of lightly. But it felt like thousands of tiny explosions were happening in front of my face at all times.

Jenny: I was always forgetting things. I was always late to meetings. I had no concept of time. I was always locking myself out of my apartment. Locking my keys in my car. Running out of gas. Just feeling like a race car with no brakes. And it was just like — and I was messy, and I couldn't keep a calendar, and I would forget people existed. It was just so much. So much.

Laura: Oh, my gosh. It's emotional to hear it all stacked up together like that. We just heard from — it was three people, notably all women, which we should talk about. So we heard from Jen Barton. She was an earlier guest of ours. She's living in England. She's a writer and a mom. We also heard from Kai, who is a comedian, and she'll come up later in this episode with another adjective. But the way she talks about frazzled and the tiny explosions happening in front of her face all times, that's very powerful. And then Jenny Lorenzo, another comedian, talking about being late, no concept of time, and people being like, why can't you just deal with this? Yeah, all women, Jessamine. What's up?

Jessamine: I think women are willing to put that label on themselves a little bit more as a way of apologizing, because a lot of these things can affect other people. Being late is the big one that for me, really, like, what always feels so guilty and so stressed out whenever I was trying to go somewhere, because I knew that person was waiting an extra 10 minutes and maybe was bored or annoyed with me.

And the responsibility I felt with that — or causing a chain reaction because I locked my keys in the car, or my room was a mess and I couldn't get out of the house. That's when I would have to take it on myself and say, "Oh, I'm so sorry, I'm a mess. And so please forgive me because I'm a mess." And I think that is something that women are a little bit socialized to do.

Laura: Right. Socialized to like, never make mistakes like that, to be on top of organization, to be serene and just like on time. Because it's not like men and people who present as men don't lose their keys or don't show up late.

Jessamine: They just don't feel the need to be as apologetic, I think. Which is great.

Laura: Yeah. I mean, I think that's a place where we try to get to in a lot of the interviews, is like, let's stop apologizing for this and just say, hey, I have ADHD, I'm going to be a little late, and we're just going to work with that.

Jessamine: Yeah, it is. I definitely use that word. It's almost like a safe, cute term, too. Like, "I'm just a little ditzy. I'm a hot mess." Right?

Laura: No judgment for the folks who use it. I use it to describe myself all the time. And I think that the acceptance of labels like that is — contributes to the fact that women are underdiagnosed with ADHD.

Jessamine: I think that's true. Just kind of dismissing it as something that's just part of your personality. Like, I think that has come up over and over again, where guests are like, oh, I just thought that that was that was me and that's just how I am. And that's hard because it feels like a moral failing. And that's the kind of lost-in-translation thing because it's actually brain chemistry or it's a thing you're struggling with that's out of your control. But instead it feels like you just have this problem, and it's your fault, and no one else has this problem. And so the guilt comes into play again.

Laura: Yeah, it is a lot to unpack. And there's another clip that we wanted to play that is a little bit different but related. So I know that "messy" was a word that Jenny Lorenzo used in her clip. I want to play a slightly longer clip from Jeannie. She talked us through the process that happens in her brain when she's trying to clean up her house.

Jeannie: I can never get my home clean all at one time in a certain amount of time. So I have to start in my bedroom. I'll go — I'll make up my bed. I'll put my shoes back in the box. I'll put all of my clothes, I'll hang them back up, whatever it is. Perfume, if it's sitting out or whatever, anything, just putting it in order. I'm dusting, wiping things down.

If I step out of my bedroom and go into the bathroom, I know it's time for me to clean the bathroom. So now I am turning on the shower with Ajax in the tub, and I'm taking stuff off of the cabinet because now we're going to clean the cabinets. So now my bedroom is not complete, because I need to now take the clothes off the bed even though I made it. But now the clothes that was on the chair is on the bed and has to be put away. I haven't done that yet.

I walked out. My phone may ring. It may not be near me. It may be in the living room. Now I'm in the damn living room and I'm like, oh, OK. So now I know I have to sweep the carpet. I don't like the vacuums. I like to sweep. I going to sweep the carpet. I'm going to polish the wooden table. OK, so I'll start with that. I'll answer the phone. But now that I'm talking, I put it on speaker. Now I'm cleaning that.

The bathtub is still running. Let's not forget the bathtub is still running. The clothes are still on the bed. But I started in the living room. So now the living room is half clean because I hung up. But now I'm like, oh, I have to go to the bathroom. Now I go to the bathroom, I use the restroom. I'm now moving everything around. I'm washing my hands. Well, let me clean it up.

The clothes are still there. The living room I haven't finished sweeping. There's six different piles of dirt in the living room. Then you know, the couches. I have pillows that I need to fluff those. Oh, wait, I have a coffee cup and the cereal bowl in the kitchen I need to clean. And I usually wipe my stove off or what have you, because this dust or what have you. Oh, so nothing is complete.

Laura: Oh Jeannie — my favorite, I think, is "Let's not forget the bathtub is still running." Jeannie was such a fun guest. I loved her candor.

Jessamine: Why did you want to pull that one clip out specifically?

Laura: I'm going to be really honest. When she started going through that whole scenario, I was getting a little bit impatient. And I remember feeling frustrated. I'm like, oh, this is going to be too long of a response to whatever question I had asked that led up to this. And then when I, like, relaxed and started to let it kind of wash over me, I was like, oh, wait, no, this is actually perfect.

I don't think that people who don't have ADHD can understand how something that is seemingly so simple is actually extremely complex for someone with ADHD. Like clean the house. Yeah. That sounds like one task, right? No, it's like 80 tasks rolled into one, and it is so hard to get it organized. And if you're distracted and you got the bathtub running and you got to go get your coffee and then you got to get your Ajax or whatever. Nothing gets done.

Jessamine: I think that's a good point because again, it goes back to the label. Like they just see messy. They don't see the challenges that equal messiness for people with ADHD and executive function disorders.

Laura: Right. And we're laughing because our guests are phenomenal and they find the humor in these situations, and they make us laugh and have the self-awareness that makes us all feel comfortable when we're talking about these challenges. But they are real challenges. And I'm just so grateful to our guests for their candor, their humor, and helping to make visible the things that a lot of people don't notice about ADHD.

So that was "ditsy" aka "space cadet" aka "frazzled" aka "hot mess" aka "messy." That was number five.

Number four is the word "intense." I don't really have a feeling negative or positive around this word "intense," but I think that the way that I've noticed it being used on the show, it's kind of become like a catchall for a lot of things. And we usually hear it from parents, at least in the sample size of the show. Now we have one example where it's not from a parent, but let's hear from some of our parents using this word "intense" to describe their kids.

Emily: When he was in preschool, he was 3 years old. I remember he started to have some kind of really intense behaviors. He would have meltdowns and scream and just become so intensely angry.

Michelle: I recognized very quickly I had this really intense little person on my hands. And it was a journey of discovery. Like, why is this child like this? Is that something I'm feeding him? Is it something I need to do differently?

Laura: So the first we heard from was Emily, who was talking about her young son. And we also heard from Michelle Kuipers, who is the mom of Marc-André Leclerc, who is the subject of the Netflix documentary "The Alpinist." I was so impressed by her honesty and her love and her approach to parenting through that intensity. It couldn't have been easy.

Jessamine: Yeah, it seemed very based in sort of understanding and just trying to figure out what he needed, not what the world needed from him — in a way that I think was probably very freeing for him.

Laura: There was another mom — Andrea also talked about her daughter as being intense. So at least three moms that we've encountered talking about their kids with ADHD as being intense. And I think when they use the word "intense" — I can't speak for them. But when I bring it back to ADHD, sometimes I think what they're really talking about is trouble managing emotions, which is an ADHD symptom and behavior that a lot of folks don't know about. I mean, we know about it. We hear about it all the time on the show.

It's one of those ones that in an upcoming interview, listeners, you're going to hear from a doctor who said he wants this trouble managing emotions to be like rubber stamped in the description of ADHD in the next version of the DSM.

Jessamine: And it's a huge part of it. And it's the part that probably makes people feel one of the words you have under here. Crazy, you know.

Laura: Right, right.

Jessamine: Under this category. Because you're like, what's — why am I reacting in this way that is so out of control? And everyone else seems to take things in stride.

Laura: Mm hmm. So this word "intense" is not something that we've only heard from parents. It also came up a lot in our interview with Ange. Ange was the one who described the iceberg infographic. She was talking about all the symptoms that are underneath the surface of ADHD, including trouble managing emotions.

Ange: I dated a guy that was into hockey, and so I wanted to immerse myself as much as I could in learning about hockey and going to his games. And I'm not a sports person, like it has to be very intense for it to hold my attention. And so trying those things on and feeling like, OK, I can make this fit, but then after a while it's not fitting right. And then I'm finally like, OK, I'm resigning myself to this isn't what I actually like.

Laura: And that's just one clip throughout the interview. Ange was talking about how she needs intense connection, right? She talked a lot about her romantic relationships. She was so open and honest about feeling just very, very intense emotionally and that she felt like she could be, quote unquote, like too much for people.

Jessamine: I just noticed sort of this difference when the parents are talking, you know, when you're talking about someone else with ADHD, you use the word "intense" because you're feeling the intensity of their emotions or their attention. But then when you're self-describing, you're like, "I feel like I'm too much for people." It's describing a similar thing, but from two sides of the coin. So I'm too much because I do all this like hyperfixation or I can't stop talking. I was going to ask you if you think talking too much kind of fits under this category where you can't really rein it in.

Laura: Yeah, I think it does, because, you know, and that like ditzy side of the coin, they might be like, oh, they're super chatty, right? But it can also be like, wow, I can't get out of a conversation with this person. Or I can't find a way to plug in because this person is so intense and like, hyperfocused on everything they're saying.

Jessamine: Yeah, but that actually that kind of leads into another thing that I actually think is wonderful. But hyperfixation really is geekiness. Like if you are hyperfixed on one thing, you will become a geek about that thing, which — I personally have a mantra that if you're not a geek about something that I find you kind of boring. I think ADHD people kind of take that to the next level.

Laura: Yeah, yeah, yeah. The hobby hopping and hobby collecting and just like, getting super into things.

Jessamine: Yeah. And the thing that stood out to me about the "intense" category of words that we have is that — and I think maybe I'm speaking from some experience — but like some bullying in school usually comes from standing out. And intensity is definitely a way of putting too much of yourself out there or being just a lot for people. I'm kind of looking at why each of these are actually a problem and damaging to kind of put on people. And maybe I'm thinking more about the actual effect of this than the label in this case, but it definitely is a hard one to deal with.

Laura: Have you been described as intense, Jessamine?

Jessamine: Not intense, but definitely weird. Too much. I definitely remember being too much, to be honest.

Laura: Hey listeners, by the way, you should write in to if you want Jessamine to be a guest on the show and share her story. Just saying. Sorry, Jessamine.

Jessamine: Yeah, I know I'm being really cagey because I don't know if I should say — I don't actually have a diagnosis.

Laura: You can say that.

Jessamine: I'm just relating to these things. I have been from day one, everyone, relating to everything intensely. And I had been wanting to get an ADHD diagnosis for a good 10 years. So I know that's something a lot of you can relate to too.

Laura: And that is the purpose of the show. We want people to recognize these symptoms in themselves, right? So that they can do their thing. All right. Well, I'll leave you alone on that right now. We're going to pivot.

Jessamine: Let's pivot.

Laura: All right. Number three. Can you hear my snapping? This is my version of a drumroll for this one. I should use a different sound for each of them.

Jessamine: I like it.

Laura: OK. Number three is "troublemaker," aka "problematic." Also potentially intense, but I think in a different way. What we're talking about with the "troublemaker" label here is this ADHD connection to impulsivity and hyperactivity. Maybe listeners are noticing a theme. I think each of these adjectives or labels kind of relate to different ADHD symptoms. Let's hear from some of our guests.

Nabil: It's so easy to switch off, especially in rigid, structured places like college, university, that you come in, especially when you're already othered because like, you're the foreign kid, you're the immigrant. And then on top of that, you've got, you know, the condition. It's just — it's so easy, so easy to find yourself malingering, as my mom calls it.

Laura: Malingering?

Nabil: So, yeah, yeah. I've been on some wild and wacky adventures.

Olivia: It was hard to navigate because I didn't really think what I was doing was wrong. I just wanted to have friends and be chatty and play. And I always really looked forward to recess, but it was often taken away from me because I was a quote-unquote trouble child.

Chris: Like I indulge in such intense behaviors. I feel like — like when I mentioned earlier about like when it comes to like my motorcycle, like I love going fast, like I love stuff like that. I don't know, maybe because I'm an adrenaline junkie or I just love stuff like that — going fast or like jumping off a cliff. And my friends would be afraid to. I'm saying there's nothing to be afraid of, just jump.

Laura: Oh, each of these was really powerful in their own way. Let's start with Nabil, another comedian. We have a lot of comedians on this show.

Jessamine: I mean, think about the dopamine hit you get from being on stage and getting laughter.

Laura: That's a really good point.

Jessamine: People like being comedians.

Laura: Oh, my gosh. Yeah. But Nabil was talking about — "malingering" is the word that he used. And then he also shared a story about going to jail, which is where he discovered his comedic chops. So people getting into trouble as a result of their ADHD symptoms.

And with Olivia, she was struggling with hyperactivity and she needed to, like, get out of her seat, she needed to move, she needed to do things. And she was labeled this — "trouble child" was the term that she used.

Jessamine: I always had trouble with arbitrary rules as kids and something like, oh, you're getting up too many times to go the bathroom or whatever, which has happened multiple times in episodes where like, oh, I just would pretend to go to the bathroom because I needed to move around.

Laura: And then it's perceived as defiance, which is a word that René Brooks used when we chatted with her about her needing to get more chores so she could have more structure and then just being labeled a defiant child who wouldn't do the thing. It's emotional and everybody carries it in a different way. In Nabil it comes out through his comedy. With Olivia, I know, she carried it in a lot of really emotionally difficult ways for a while.

And then René, I mean, it's kind of contributed to her platform. She's done all this amazing work. And then Chris was a really emotional one for me. Chris was one of our earlier interviews, and it was one of the first times that I think I really started to pay attention to the adjectives. That was the first time, if I'm remembering correctly, that I stopped in my tracks and I was like, "You just used the word 'problematic.' Is that a word for yourself, or did someone else give you that?"

And he almost teared up at that moment. And he shared that it was his family who had been giving him that word — as a result of things that I would deem being caused by impulsivity, which is an ADHD difficulty. That interview was a turning point for me and for the show.

All right. Let's go to number two. I'm going to do a different sound effect this time. You ready? I'm going to save my best sound effect for number one. Rrrrrrrrrrrrr! I'm super proud of that, by the way, because I never used to be able to roll my R's, and now I can.

Jessamine: Love it.

Laura: So, number two. This one's an emotional one for me. "Bad."

Jessamine: Oh, simple and so, so damaging.

Laura: Dude. Sorry to call you dude. This has been a thing for me since before I even knew I had ADHD. It has always bothered me. The black and white. This is good. And this is bad, right? That food is bad. That food is good. And to use it in the sense of like you are bad as opposed to that thing that you did that one time was bad. There's such a difference between that. But what I noticed in so many guests, even when they don't use the word "bad" explicitly, what they're really saying is like, "I'm bad." "I'm a bad person." "I have a bad personality."

Jessamine: Yeah. Assigning a moral value to a neuro issue.

Laura: Mm hmm.

Jessamine: It's just so dangerous.

Laura: Yeah. And understandable why it happens.

Kai: The next day, I went to my doctor and said, hey, doc, I don't know if I just have a terrible personality, because I'm not paying attention to anything anyone's telling me. And not that they bore me, but I just can't focus. Or I have ADHD. And she went, I don't think you have a bad personality, first of all, but let's do the test. Let's check. And lo and behold, I couldn't even focus enough during the tests to take the tests.

Laura: So we heard from Kai earlier. She talked about being frazzled. This is what we're seeing is kind of like the result of that feeling. Just a bad friend, terrible person. Oh, that crushed me.

Jessamine: And it's back to what you said, too, about bad person versus a bad action, right? Like maybe, Kai, as a result of her ADHD symptoms, was doing something that was what a bad friend would do. And she might need to find a way to compensate for that or fix that. But that doesn't make her bad. She wasn't doing it with an intention of hurting a friend. She just was having attention-deficit disorder.

Laura: Right, exactly. No. And at we talk a lot about, too, how kids with ADHD and adults with ADHD can feel remorse and grief more intensely, including when it's related to something that you did. If you have this awareness that you're struggling with something and then you do it, it's almost worse to know. You're like, oh my gosh, I just couldn't control it. What's wrong with me? I'm bad.

Jessamine: Every time I have a social interaction, the next day I'm like, OK, what did I say? How did that come off? It's so stressful. Even if I think at the time, like, this is great, we're having a wonderful time, the next day I've convinced myself I was being bad.

Laura: Oh, my God. Oh.

Jessamine: You want to do Lacey?

Laura: Yeah. Let's hear from Lacey.

Lacey: If there's too much noise, if there's too many people asking me too many questions, it's like my temper just goes through the roof. It's crazy. And I'm like, now that I'm aware, I tell my husband or my kids, I'm like, hey, guys, I'm getting a little overwhelmed. And they're like, stop, don't talk to Mom.

Laura: Oh, Lacey. So she didn't use the word — like she didn't say "I'm bad." But what I took from this was the things that she has to do to cope with her ADHD give her so much mom guilt. So again, it's like a result. It makes her feel like she's a bad mom. That is a real feeling, let me tell you, as a mom with ADHD.

Jessamine: How do you cope with it?

Laura: I mean, I don't know if I even do. I'm still learning. I do the same thing that Lacey does when I get home from work. I'm like, I got to — I need a moment. I cannot set shift that quickly. So my kids are like, can you play with me? Can you go do something? I'm like, no, I can't right now. I need 15 minutes. And then they're so disappointed. It's heartbreaking. But I need that transition space.

Jessamine: It's funny because I experience that with my niece and nephew, but I'm like, I don't care. I'm not your mom, so I...

Laura: Damn! Cold blooded!

Jessamine: I'm like, I'll talk with you later. I'm on Aunt Time. Like you have to wait. OK, so that was Bad Mom or Mom Guilt. And this is sort of Partner/Dad Guilt.

Laura: OK, let's do it.

Jon: I think my ADHD causes a burden on her because, like, for example, and I think a lot of people who listen to this podcast will really resonate with looking at a room that needs to be cleaned and just being totally paralyzed at where to start? And you're like, I have no idea how this is going to get done. And if it does get done, it takes me all day, 10 hours, maybe two days to get a room clean. And it's finally clean, and then the rest of the house is still a disaster. And she can clean the same room in like 30 minutes to an hour, like boom boom boom boom, get it done. And I'm always amazed at how she can just do that.

Laura: Jon and Rachel. It was so cool to have a married couple on the show, one with ADHD, one without ADHD. And again, Jon, struggling with a lot of the things we've already talked about in the show: organization, messiness, and feeling like a burden.

Jon's not the only person who used that term "burden." Remember Pablo? He also talked about feeling like a burden. He was the one who talked about his working memory issues. There was Jake. We talked about being irritable and feeling crackly, and he talked about how he's lost relationships and he always felt like a bad friend. Just PSA: People with ADHD are not bad. OK?

Jessamine: They're just struggling with things that you just don't have to struggle with. So if you do them, then you're bad.

Laura: Oh, my God. Aunt Jessamine comes for it.

Jessamine: Exactly. But you know what? In finding that clip from Jon, I found something that I thought was really helpful, which was Rachel's side of that same burden feeling. So I want to play that for you.

Rachel: The thing that makes the biggest difference is that Jon says stuff like that to me. And he's really, really good about saying stuff like that to me. Like from the beginning, from when we first started seeing each other. Everybody wants to be seen and heard. It would be nice if things felt a little more fair. You know, maybe I did half the work, he did have to work. That would be nice.

But what's even more important than that is that the work that I do gets recognized. And I get seen, and that's understood. And so that's been super helpful for me. Because I know it's so easy for a lot of the non-ADHD partners to grow resentful of having to overcompensate.

Jon: Shoulder the majority of the responsibilities.

Rachel: And shoulder more of the burden at home.

Jon: Day-to-day matters.

Rachel: Exactly. It's been super, super helpful for us that Jon is always so forthcoming to me. Like, wow, you did so much here. I don't know how you did that. And I think you're amazing. And not just pay lip service, but really, really mean it.

Laura: Wow. Thanks for pulling that clip. Acknowledgment of others and self-awareness for the win.

Jessamine: Yeah. I mean, we don't want to just say what all the problems are here. There are solutions out there. And that's the important thing about hearing other people's stories, is how they are navigating this. I don't think Jon had heard Rachel say that before. I remember them having a moment and he was like, wow, you know, like, I'm feeling all this guilt and all this burden. But from her perspective, she's like, no, you're doing the right thing for what tools we're working with here.

Laura: Yeah, totally.

Jessamine: It was really beautiful.

Laura: Oh, my gosh. I just got chills. I mean, really, the show, it's about ADHD symptoms and "aha" moments and the path to getting evaluated and diagnosed. But ultimately, it's about self-awareness.

Jessamine: Yeah. And acceptance, too.

Laura: Oh, deep thoughts.

All right. Are we ready for number one?

Jessamine: Here we go.

Laura: K. Do you want to hear my special sound effect?

Jessamine: Yes.

Laura: This is a skill of mine. This is our drumroll to number one. And if you can tell me what animal it is, I'll send you a cookie. What is it?

Jessamine: Dolphin?

Laura: Yes, dolphin!

Jessamine: I want my cookie.

Laura: In my eighth-grade yearbook, I was known for "dolphin sound."

Jessamine: That's beautiful. Well done.

Laura: Thank you. So that was the drumroll. Ready for number one? The word that gets thrown around probably the most in our unscientific investigation of this, both by people who have ADHD about themselves, and from the world at large about people with ADHD: "Lazy.".

Jessamine Boom.

Laura: Lazy. Slacker. Not trying hard enough.

Jessamine: Talk about, like, a moral judgment for something that is out of your control in a lot of ways.

Laura: This is the root of so much shame and guilt. This idea of you're just not trying hard enough and you're doing this on purpose. "You're using ADHD as an excuse" is such a big one. But, and like, you kind of understand where people are coming from when they use that because the ADHD symptoms are invisible for the most part. Remember the iceberg infographic, right? And when you meet someone, you don't say, oh, this person has ADHD. You can't know that right away. But nonetheless, I don't want to make excuses. Like it's just — it's not OK.

Jessamine: Oooh, you just said something that really unlocked something for me, which was I would always hear the phrase like, "You always have an excuse. There's always an excuse." And I would always respond like, "It's not an excuse, it's an explanation." Late because of this. I lost my homework because of this.

Big one. And I would be like, I'm trying to explain to you what happened. I'm not saying that makes it so it's OK that it happened. But like, I just need you understand why I've made this mistake. The desperation of trying to explain when you don't have the tools or the understanding, you know?

Laura: Yeah, I feel you. Let's hear from Tony and Shaun.

Tony: So I realized that my grades at university were really slipping. I was starting to fail. And I just had to, like, sit back and ask, why am I failing all of a sudden? Because I always assumed I was lazy or couldn't do my work on time. But it didn't feel like that.

Shaun: There is a lot there that from an outside perspective would show somebody, hey, this guy's — doesn't have his crap together, you know, like he's probably a slacker. So I — part of it was like, I think I just said, you know what? You want me to be a slacker? I'm going to be a slacker. And I would skip school and I would go skateboarding all day long instead of going to school or whatever it was, like, I just skipped out on it.

Laura: Vicious cycle. I think that we have so many clips that we could have pulled of how painful this term is. And our big plea is to have people stop using that term when describing people with ADHD. But what about Rebecca? Oh, she was so poignant when she talked about laziness.

Jessamine: Yeah, I mean, if there was ever a solve for this label, I think Rebecca has found it.

Rebecca: And she wrote that the thing about lazy people is they don't actually care that they're lazy. They don't care that they're letting people down. They're fine with that pattern, truly lazy people. So if you're sitting around calling yourself lazy because you can't understand why you can't get things done, and you're beating yourself up about it, perhaps you're not lazy. Perhaps it's something else.

Laura: Oh, Rebecca. Yes. Giving yourself grace.

Jessamine: So important.

Laura: Yeah, that's the thing. All the people who we talk to, they've been busting their butts, compensating and taking on extra jobs and doing extra school and, like, just...

Jessamine: The opposite of lazy. It's more work to accomplish all these things that are so much easier for people without ADHD. It's the exact opposite of lazy, which is irony.

Laura: People with ADHD are not just lazy, OK? We're not doing this on purpose.

Jessamine: I wish I was truly lazy as you described it, and I didn't care that I wasn't doing the things I was supposed to do or whatever.

Laura: Yeah. Wouldn't that feel amazing?

Jessamine: Oh, that'd be so nice.

Laura: But yeah, that was really resonant for me, I think for you, Jessamine, and also for all of our listeners. We got a lot of positive response from Rebecca's episode. I again shout out to everybody who writes in. We love hearing from our listeners.

Jessamine: But the other thing she said that hit me again this time listening through was — what basically sums up everything we're talking about in this episode — is, yeah, if these were just my personality failures, if these were just moral failings, if these were just me being bad, then it is what it is. But the reality is there is a lot that can be done. Because it is actually caused by completely different things than what these labels seem to suggest.

Laura: Jessamine, with the three-pointer at the end.

Jessamine: Sometimes it all just comes together like that.

Laura: So that was our list. Let's run it down one more time, just to recap. Number five was ditzy, aka hot mess, space cadet, messy. And based on the interviews that we've done, to me, that ADHD connection was around forgetfulness, disorganization, time management, etc. And then that word intense. OK, too much. And I tie that to trouble managing emotions, which is an ADHD symptom, behavior, etc. I'm sure there are a multitude of symptoms that each of these words could be related to. But again, not a scientific list, people. OK.

Jessamine: Based on our now 50 conversations.

Laura: Yes. Number three, troublemaker, aka problematic and kind of intense in another way. I view the ADHD connection here as impulsivity and hyperactivity. And then number two, bad. So I don't actually relate that to any one ADHD symptom. As we said, I think this is like a combination. Yeah, all of them, like all the things happen and then you describe yourself as bad in some way. So maybe it should have been number one.

But again, we digress, because we saved the biggie for number one, which was lazy. OK, slacker. And you know what? I haven't really given a lot of thought to what's ADHD symptom that relates. Maybe it's trouble getting started on tasks, trouble completing tasks, getting distracted. I think it's similar to bad. Again, all of the ADHD struggles you may have culminate in like "I'm just lazy, I'm just bad."

Jessamine: So, we kind of talked about it, but I just wanted to hear you say a little bit again why you wanted to put this particular list together, and why it was important for you to sort of distill this into an episode.

Laura: I mean, maybe it's a little selfish of me. This has just been what's most interesting to me, first of all, through all of these interviews. But again, I always look and listen for these words that people use to describe themselves. And maybe that's because I'm still on this journey myself.

I'm constantly trying to be self-aware and mindful of — I just said this, but what if it's actually this instead? I just said I'm a bad mom, but maybe I just am tired today. Or I was late and then it ruined my schedule for the whole day. That little click of a difference. I mean, that's basically all I do in therapy...

Jessamine: Giving yourself grace. One of the most important things I heard in therapy was just because you have a thought doesn't mean it's true. And I think that is something we've got to use when we call ourselves any of these words. Just because I say I'm being so lazy doesn't mean you are lazy. And maybe investigate that for a minute.

Laura: Right. Or maybe you're being lazy today. It doesn't mean you're a lazy person or a slacker or a bad person.

Jessamine: Hugely important distinction for sure.

Laura: Everybody wants a lazy day.

Jessamine: There is also something I think about: hearing these words that you call yourself, and you're listening and you're like, they're not lazy. Like I'm hearing everything they're saying. I would never call them lazy. But I can call myself lazy, right, or spacy or whatever it is. So being like, OK, can I give myself the same benefit of the doubt I give that person?

Laura: That's a that's a big theme. These interviews are catharsis for me as well. Every interview, I learn something about myself and hear little pieces of myself in everyone I speak with, and that's been really powerful.

Jessamine: I can see that. And it's really — I think it's been good to see you connecting those things and working through your stuff while you've talked to everyone else. I love it.

Laura: Thanks, Jesssamine. Did you have other questions for me?

Jessamine: Well, I was going to ask what you think people should do with this. What's a good way to help cope with these labels?

Laura: Well, I mean, I think the most important thing is to share the podcast with everyone you know, and subscribe, leave comments, etc. I'm just kidding. But we do like when you do those things.

I think we learn through stories. We get context about ourselves through the context that other people provide when they're talking about themselves. And when you can relate and you can hear your own story, I think that is the work. Just listening and being mindful and being like, oh, I do that, oh, maybe I'm not so terrible. That's what I hope.

Thank you for doing this with me today, Jessamine, and thank you for helping me and the Understood team build the show.

Jessamine: Thank you, Laura. This is awesome. I'm glad you made this episode. We'll do more stuff like this.

Laura: Thank you. I was nervous, but since you were here with me, I felt OK about it.

Jessamine: We didn't even have the mimosas we had talked about.

Laura: We did — see? We're completely sober. Everyone needs to know that. But we considered not being sober.

Jessamine: Maybe for the hundredth.

Laura: Yeah. For the hundredth. And if my boss is listening, you didn't hear that.

Jessamine: All right. Thank you, everybody. Thank you, Laura.

Laura: Thank you. Thanks, Jessamine. Thanks, everybody, for listening.

You've been listening to "ADHD Aha!" from the Understood Podcast Network. If you want to share your own "aha" moment, email us at I'd love to hear from you.

If you want to learn more about the topics we covered today, check out the show notes for this episode. We include more resources as well as links to anything we mentioned in the episode.

Understood as a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently discover their potential and thrive. We have no affiliation with pharmaceutical companies. Learn more at

"ADHD Aha!" is produced by Jessamine Molli. Say hi, Jessamine!

Jessamine: Hi, eveyone.

Laura: Briana Berry is our production director. Our theme music was written by Justin D. Wright, who also mixes the show. For the Understood Podcast Network, Scott Cocchiere is our creative director, Seth Melnick is our executive producer, and I'm your host, Laura Key. Thanks so much for listening.


  • Laura Key

    is executive director of editorial at Understood and host of the “ADHD Aha!” podcast.

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