Choice and Obligation; the ADHD catch 22

There’s a clear difference between choice and obligation, although to most healthy adults they are regulated with relative ease. More importantly, they are intrinsically different in their definition than they are to someone with ADHD.

One such example is the multi-step process. Of anything. In the average functioning adult, this is a series of choices made in view of a final goal or outcome.

In ADHD however, it is almost always only the FIRST step that is the choice. Every step that follows is a *result* of that choice. An obligation.

I believe this also lies at the heart of the defiance and difficulty with authority that is typical of ADHD.

Making the choice to wash the dishes each night – as a separate choice during each individual evening – if one wishes is manageable, tolerable, and rewarding to complete. But the very second it becomes an expectation of all nights, or we are told to do it – the choice is taken away from us and it becomes an immediate obligation.

Obligation is exhausting, difficult, and at times impossible for people with ADHD to manage. Our perfectionism places us under duress to live up to the obligation. Our sense of failure tells us we can’t possibly meet that. Our sense of control over ourselves is taken away. Tedium is immediate – no matter how enjoyable the same activity was when it was our choice to engage in it.

Obligation makes us misfire and fall over.

You may find us advocating for the ability to choose in non-ADHDers in a way that seems over the top… But we champion the cause because to us choice = lifeblood.

The less we are making a choice – moment to moment, day to day – the less capable we become.

Add in the motivational differences – we are not at all motivated by reward to obligatory or ‘have to’ activities, and often even with enjoyable ones. We are motivated by freedom of choice; that we chose in this moment to be doing this thing, and we are motivated by challenge.

Tell us to do something – and this challenges us to do differently AND means we are choosing. We’re just left with the opposite as the only ‘choice’.

It’s a half-thought motivated by a conversation I had with a similar friend, but it was a classic ADHD ‘accidentally stumbled onto something profound’ moment, worth mentioning here even without a neat conclusion.

Choices and challenges are the keys to ADHD but choices need to be in the moment… My choice to work a job one day can become obligation on day two. The more I need the job the less capable of doing it I become.

Nike had no advice for ADHD. We wish so very dearly this misfire wasn’t as limiting, that ‘Just Do It’ was something we had the chemistry to put into action like those without this disorder.

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