New year, same hyperfixation. I cannot stop thinking about the superpower narrative and wondering: where the hell did we get this idea that we should turn disability into an asset? I think I figured it out!
Listen while I tell Gray what I’ve discovered about the ADHD buzzword “omnipotential” and how it fits into the long history of American self-help literature, which includes: state-funded self-esteem research, Benjamin Franklin’s (possibly satirical) proverbs, and the ableist bedtime stories of questionable businessmen. (Full transcript with links to side tangents below.)
Jess: You're listening to Sluggish, I'm Jesse Meadows, and back by popular demand is my partner, Gray.
Gray: Hello. Good to be back.
Jess: We've been having a really bad time in Florida, so it's been a while. What are some things that suck about Florida?
Gray: [heavy sigh] I honestly don't know if it's Florida at this point or if it's just that like, enough crappy stuff has happened that I now have like, a full vendetta.
Gray: We got the flu, and…
Jess: Traffic is endless and, uh-
Gray: Everything's 40 minutes away. It doesn't matter if it's down the street. It doesn't matter if it's 10 miles away. It's, it's 40 minutes.
Jess: The light.
Gray: Oh my God. The light. The light is like, there's just so much of it. There's no trees blocking it. There's no hills blocking it. And so you walk outside and it's just like, it's so oppressive. It's just like, in me.
Jess: It hurts.
Gray: I don't think anybody agrees, people are gonna be like, yelling.
Jess: Like, what are you talking about?
Gray: Like, what is wrong with you? Oh, it's January. You prefer to go from the place with some of the best beaches in the country back to Philadelphia. Trust us. It’s terrible here!
Jess: I looked at the weather in Philly the other day, and it was like 50 degrees and like, cloudy. And I was like, ugh, perfect.
Gray: That's our ideal.
Jess: Well, at least for winter, because I want to winter. And then we just, it got interrupted and now it's just weird. Just bright and hot.
Jess: So I have like, all this stuff in my head that I wanted to dump onto you. Maybe you could help me figure it out. I kind of feel like my brain is like, those bulletin boards in the cop shows, and there's like all the clues all over it. But like, I can't put the string up and connect it? So maybe you can help me with the string connecting today.
Gray: That's how I always feel.
Jess: I mentioned this very briefly in my last newsletter, the connection between Ed Hallowell's superpower narrative and the self-esteem movement. And I've been thinking about this a lot ever since we were driving to Florida and you were watching the World Cup final on your phone. [laughing]
I was listening to podcasts, and I listened to this podcast about the self-esteem movement and like all of this policy and pop culture stuff that was going on in the late eighties, early nineties, which was around the same time that Ed Hallowell was writing Driven to Distraction, his famous ADHD book.
So I feel like there's a big connection here. But I wanna start off with something else. Have you heard of this word “omnipotential”?
Gray: Mm. I think like in a YouTube video about like, productivity once.
Jess: Oh, you've heard of it?
Gray: I think so, it sounds like a weird buzzword that like, somebody would use to sell a book.
Jess: Well, I had never heard of it. And it was brought up in the Discord by a subscriber, onsilver_stars, who asked if I'd done any research on it. And so I did a little Google and the first thing that came up was, uh, an ADHD influencer named Jesse J. Anderson, who has like a pretty big following on Twitter.
Jess: And let me just show you this TikTok of his.
Another weird symptom of ADHD is the mindset that you can do anything if you can maintain focus or interest in that thing. This isn’t an exaggeration, Dr. William Dodson talks about this, it’s a thing that’s called “omnipotential”. This is often why kids in school with ADHD are labelled as gifted, but struggle with a lot of the basics of school. If you want to hear about some more weird symptoms of ADHD, give me a follow.
Gray: Oh, so I can do anything, literally anything, if I can just focus on it.
Jess: Yeah, he's calling that a weird symptom of ADHD, which like, doesn't really make any sense to me. The feeling that you can do anything is a symptom of ADHD? To me that's a symptom of like, American culture. We were taught that, you know?
Gray: Yeah. Oh yeah.
Jess: He is referencing, he says Dodson, who is William Dodson. He's an ADHD psychiatrist who writes for ADDitude Mag. He's one of the like, three main ADHD psychiatrists that I think you can trace any kind of popular discourse back to. I looked for where Dodson said this, and it was on Ed Hallowell's podcast, they're talking about like, how you diagnose ADHD, and Dodson says this:
“If you ask a person with ADHD, look back over your entire life. If you've been able to get engaged and stay engaged, Have you ever found anything you couldn't do? A person with ADHD will think for a second say, if I can get engaged with something, I can do it. The term that is out there that's used out on the internet is people with ADHD are omnipotential."
So he is citing people out there on the internet, and people out there on the internet are citing him.
Gray: So it's just a, a circle jerk.
Jess: I think it's one of those, yeah, like weird circular things that don't actually mean anything and people-
Gray: No, it doesn't mean anything. Do you even have to like, analyze it to understand that it doesn't mean anything? I mean, like, I get that these buzzwords are used, but it's just like, I don't know, like any person in general, if they focus on something, they'll do something. I don't know. It's just another, “your brain is a Ferrari”, sort of deal.
Jess: Well, what I think is really interesting about this is I like, I kept Googling and I found a blog post by this entrepreneur who was talking about how he's omnipotent. And I was like [laughs] because like, I grew up in this very Christian context where like, you only use the word omnipotent to refer to God.
It's almost blasphemous to like, call yourself omnipotent. But there are a lot of people interpreting this word omnipotential as like, being a derivative of the word omnipotent, and I'm just like, are you, you're calling yourself all-powerful? Like, that's not a symptom of ADHD.