Note: Before reading this post, please know that I am not a doctor or an expert on ADHD (beyond living with it my whole life). Everything below is based on personal experience and my own opinion.
Lately, I’ve been talking a lot about the ways I attempt to “better”. Today, with the release of today’s Mikes on Mics episode that gets fairly in depth about my ADHD, it seemed a good idea to talk about the “mess”. As a diagnosed life-long member of the ADHD club, I thought I might at best add some insight or at least share some of my experiences.
I’m being very reductive, but for me ADHD isn’t a lack of focus, it’s a fundamental lack of comprehension of what focus is. My whole life, especially during school years, I was told to focus, focus, focus. They may as well have been telling me to understand Japanese. Where most people have natural filters that help them to block a certain level of distraction out, I don’t. At all times, no matter what I’m doing, part of my attention needs to be on paying attention. To geek it up, a significant amount of my RAM is persistently used on the act of focusing. At all times, my brain is fighting to shift its attention to every stimulus around me.
My brain is constantly trying to wander away from me, but it’s not for lack of desire or passion for how I’m spending my time. Often when I truly become engaged in something, I stop consciously “focusing” myself and that’s where the distractions come flooding in. This isn’t a matter of focusing on the right things, it’s a challenge of focusing on anything at all and has been since the day I was born. The things I enjoy are obviously easier, but I’ll never truly get lost in something because, to some extent, I’m prone to getting lost in everything and anything. I’ve learned to manage it, I’ve learned to be mindful of it, I’ve built a structure that helps me move through it, but there will never be a single moment when it is gone.
Patrick Rhone and Myke Hurley recently had a conversation about ADD on the Enough podcast. Myke had some concern (and has for some time) that he may have ADD. If you’ve ever felt this way yourself and have not taken the time to find out, I’d suggest you give it a listen (I also suggest you finish reading this post).
At the end of the episode, Patrick mentioned that he felt that more than anything, it’s essential that we embrace who we are. I couldn’t agree more, but when it comes to ADD and ADHD I’d suggest taking it a step farther. I spent years embracing my own ADHD and while that made me happy, it held me back. Over time, I found that it was not enough to work around it, I had to work through it. You certainly want to embrace what makes you you; but if it is ADD, it’s manageable, so seriously consider managing it. He’s 100% right that you have to lean in and learn to swim with it rather than constantly trying to fight against it, but it doesn’t hurt to learn how to be a better swimmer either. I can only speak for myself here, but to get anything meaningful done, I needed to find a framework to help me along.
ADHD or ADD is a constant issue that can be dealt with, either through medication (which I tried at one point in my life, but wasn’t for me) or by planning accordingly. For me, this is all about process and I’ve tried to make those processes as fluid as possible. I’ve tried to create environments that emulate the feelings of focus I had when I took ADHD meds. Without the scaffolding of my system, I’d collapse. While everyone’s needs will be different, I’ve often found that when it comes to legitimate ADD, there comes a point where it catches up to either your intelligence or your ambitions.
There is no doubt that there are real documented benefits, but when it comes to those of us with ADHD or ADD, it isn’t a matter of simply embracing who you are, it’s a matter of accepting who you are and fighting through that. It’s a subtle difference, but to me it has been an important one. It’s indulging in it in a controlled manner and using the benefits to my advantage, but ensuring that they stop holding me back. And I will tell you that as I got older, as I became more ambitious, as my projects became more complicated, it became harder to ignore.
There is a really big difference between “I lack focus” and “I have ADD” and the recipe for overcoming either one looks different. If I was having trouble walking, you’d suggest I go see a podiatrist. Well, I spent a long time walking though life with a mental “broken leg” and it wasn’t until I saw a doctor, had him set the damn thing, picked up a pair of crutches and then started putting pressure on it again that I walked any better (metaphorically speaking of course).
None of this is “woe is me” and I hope it doesn’t come off that way. I just thought you might appreciate some experiences from a card-carrying member of the club. I’ve actually come to love my ADHD over the years and believe it to be my secret ingredient. But like any secret ingredient, it takes time and skill to really know how to best use it. It also never hurts to find out exactly what kind of ingredient you’re dealing with to make the most you can with it.
If I haven’t bored you enough with my over-sharing, you can hear me talk ever more about this on today’s Mikes on Mics. My conversation with Mike Vardy turns into an interesting examination of the differences between self-inflicted overstimulation and perpetual distractibility. If you haven’t given the podcast a shot, this would be a good place to start.
Any other card-carrying members out there? Anyone think they might be, but are yet to find out? I welcome your stories.