Essential reading—Laziness Does not Exist by Devon Price
I am often asked the question by clients with
adhd—particularly clients with recent diagnoses— “what should I read?” To be honest, I am not thrilled with most of the literature on the subject. Even the books like Driven to Distraction, which is well regarded and written by medical professionals with adhd, misses so much of the complexity of the interior experience of adhd that I am sometimes hesitant to recommend it. For those interested, I wrote a short critical essay on that book that you can find here.
One book about which I am in no way hesitant about recommending is Laziness Does not Exist, by Devon Price. This is not a book about
adhd… but it is a book that directly speaks to one of the fundamental problems encountered by people with adhd, namely the use of judgmental and moralizing language to describe simple metabolic states. And perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that this book speaks directly to those of with a particular neurological difference, adhd, because Dr. Price has subsequently written a book entitled Unmasking Autism: Discovering the New Faces of Neurodiversity. This is not to say that autism and adhd are the same thing, but… it is my contention that there is substantial overlap among neurological differences and other phenomena we term psychopathology or mental illness.
The book’s premise is entirely contained in the title: laziness is not a phenomenon found in the world. It’s not a thing… at all. It is the conflation of lack of metabolic resources to get work done in the world with a judgment that those with a lack of metabolic resources to get work done in the world are morally suspect or simply bad. Here’s what Price writes at the end of their introduction to the book:
When people run out of energy or motivation, there’s a good reason for it. Tired, burned-out people aren’t struggling with some shameful, evil inner laziness; rather, they’re struggling to survive in an overly demanding, workaholic culture that berates people for having basic needs. We don’t have to keep pushing ourselves to the brink, ignoring our body’s alarm bells and punishing ourselves with self-recrimination. We don’t have to deny ourselves breaks. We don’t have to fear laziness. Laziness does not exist.
I constantly here people with
adhd refer to their incapacity to get work done as laziness. But that is not correct. The moral judgment contained in the word lazy—badness, lack of care, etc.—is an explanation/accusation launched against those who simply have differing levels of metabolic capacity. It is analogous to saying to a person of short stature that the reason you can’t reach the reach the top shelf in the cupboard is a result of not trying hard enough, or that it’s not important enough to you. If you reaaaaaalllllly cared, you could reach it. But, of course, that’s foolishness. There is no moral failing in not being able to reach the top shelf: some are taller and some are shorter. So it is with adhd: some have more bodily resources to get things done and some have less.
Price does the thing that many people and communities have done with respect to derogatory language—that is, take it back. I, myself, am doing something similar when I write ADHD as
adhd (which you can read about here). But here, I am resistant, because the language that best describes the state of having diminished resources is simply to say lack of resources or fatigue. This state does not require extra descriptors, because adding extra language suggests that there is something else going on here… but there is not.
All of us with neurological and metabolic differences need to hear the title of this book ring in our ears, because to use the language of laziness against others or ourselves is to do a kind of judgmental violence that is neither accurate nor effective.
If you’d like to read more of the work of Devon Price, you can find it at their substack page at the following url: https://drdevonprice.substack.com/.