My goal for this article is to share with you 10 tools that have helped me achieve peace emotionally. There is an abundance of practical advice on coping with ADD, but I don’t want to talk about the practicalities of living the ADD life.
No. I want to talk about the tools to help on an emotional level for moving forward into a life characterized by wholeness and flourishing.
I was diagnosed as ADD inattentive as a kid. I was held back in first grade and struggled early on in school. I wasn’t stupid. I just literally wasn’t listening or even “there” so to speak. I was the quintessential dreamer, a little space cadet. I still remember having a blast leaving class and hanging out with adults who tested me for ADD. I had no idea why I was there. I was prescribed Ritalin and it gave me mild turrets. It was horribly embarrassing, yet funny looking back now.
Then one day, I was prescribed Dexedrine and everything changed to the tune of straight A’s virtually over night. My parents were happy and I was happy because achieving felt good.
However, there was a catch. The emotional and psychological effects of taking a pill to “achieve” affected me deeply. Quite frankly, these are often unaddressed by society, particularly, if you are on this ADD meds longer term, from childhood into adulthood as I was.
Certain questions plagued me.
Will I fail if I stop taking medicine? How much of my success was really me? Is this a crutch? Did I choose the wrong career and could / should I even do this without medication? Am I being true to myself?
There really are no definitive answers. Realizing this is a difficult part of adulthood. “Experts” are just people and in 20 years, these very experts will have different answers and opinions. However, there are tools I used to find the right answers for myself on my journey, because that is ultimately what matters. Below are the tools that helped me move forward and grow and feel whole, but first:
You have the permission to feel whole. YOU my friend are just fine.
Tool 1: Balanced view of medication
This is always the controversial part, so let’s get this out of the way right now.
I have had to come to this conclusion about medication. It is not a black or white decision. Rather, it is situational. Truthfully, implementing some of the tools below may require medication at points in your life or all of your life. THIS IS FINE. Believe deep down that is absolutely fine to get the support you need in a thoughtful and healthy manner. Everyone needs support in some fashion in life.
You and I have to ask ourselves this question,
“If I’m being true to myself, who do I really want to be and what will support those efforts?”
Sometimes it’s medicine that supports. Sometimes, it is not taking medicine and embracing your intrinsic gifts.
If I am brainstorming to write, paint, or come up with a creative concept, I can literally shut my eyes and just dream. Things just come to me. If I need to plan for the future, I consider medicine to be like my morning coffee. I need it to wake up from my “day dream.” The key is balance and what your balance looks like depends on your personal experience with ADD.
Tool 2: Embrace the struggle
People who never struggle, never grow.
The less you struggle, the harder it is for you to grow as a person. Growth is inherently painful.
If you have ADD, you are going to struggle a little (a lot) more in life to find your place.
Nearly all adults I have met in life who have ADD have a depth and ability to understand the human condition that is incredibly beautiful. They have struggled. They have not fit in. They have failed. They have been labeled. Most importantly, however, eventually they overcome. You will also overcome, so embrace the struggle no matter how bleak things look. Learn to laugh about it, and give yourself grace, because you are being molded into an incredible person. Believe it.
Tool #3: Own it
Instead of being sad that you aren’t doing well in your boring career, own your ADD, and do something awesome.
Looking back, even though I failed to do this many times, I have actually had a really interesting life so far. I’ve been all over the world, I’ve switched careers, I’ve started a successful business, I failed in a business, I’ve experienced more things and have more cool stories than most people. You can do the same.
Tool 4: Embrace an accurate definition of intelligence
What is intelligence? Here is a clue for you. It’s not straight A’s. It’s not insanely high SAT scores, or several degrees or even a PHD.
Intelligence is merely a function of what you are doing and whether you have cultivated the discipline to stay true to yourself so you choose the right course.
You can be brilliant, but not be able to focus, because you are doing the WRONG thing. For more on this, read this article, “what would the world be like if we stopped labeling people as smart or dumb?”
Tool 5: Leadership
As a person with ADD, you have to become the leader of your own life.
Most people can just go through the motions and follow the norms. You will likely have to chart your own path. Do you think Ty (who has to be ADD) from the Extreme Makeover Home Edition went to school for his job? Do you think there is a masters degree for that?
You have to have the faith to move forward when the certainty of an MBA isn’t an option for you. That means accepting only the labels YOU give yourself.
Tool 6: Trust that ADD is be a blessing in disguise
I use the word trust, because there are times when you can’t imagine it being anything but a curse.
I used to get so annoyed when people would say ADD could be a gift. I would think to myself, “Dude, it sucks. You have no clue.” ADD can shatter your confidence and it often comes with some tasty side dishes called depression and anxiety. It can make you look dumb in front of other people. But trust that there are upsides for those who persevere.
The following are gifts of ADD:
- Failure. Yes, failure. You see, failing well takes practice and eventually leads to confidence. Every time I am absent minded and can shake it off, I consider it practice for trying new things that might not work out, knowing that I can shake it off.
- Confidence. Failing and rebounding from a failure produces confidence. There is a myth in society that success produces confidence. Nothing could be further from the truth. I know people who have it all together, but fall apart at the slightest failure. To be truly confident, you must be vulnerable.
- Vulnerability. Embracing vulnerability will empower you. To move forward in life, you will have to hone the art of communicating your limitations while holding your head high. To fully understand the power of vulnerability, you must watch this ted video of Brene Brown.
- Innovation. Necessity is the mother of invention they say. Although it may seem counterintuitive, your ADD is an advantage , especially if you embrace vulnerability. I have discovered solutions and made connections that most people wouldn’t have ever thought about. I am decent at public speaking, because in college, I used to “study” for tests by going into an empty classroom at night and teaching an imaginary class. Being able to be move around while talking through my notes helped me learn.
- Relationships. You will find that combing vulnerability and the desire to innovate will help you become really good at building rapport with people and scanning your network for people who can help you when you get stuck, which if you are like me, is often.
Tool 7. The truth
One of the fundamental concepts that you will have to accept is:
You are not your brain.
This was particularly difficult for me to accept. We live in a scientifically driven culture and we can easily assume that we are merely a bag of skin and bones with operating hardware called the brain. If the hardware is bad, you are broken. However, you are not a soulless machine. Humans have souls. You are not your brain. In fact, your true self can override your brain. You are in charge of your brain and making your brain work better for you and medicine can be a healthy part of that equation.
One of the best books for you to read on this is a book called, “You are not your brain,” by Jeffrey M. Schwartz, MD.
If you have ADD, you will inevitably find yourself mulling over this question:
Who is really broken here? Me or society?
We live in a society that promotes sameness, and repetitive tasks that are boring as hell. That’s kind of a double whammy if you have ADD. Society wasn’t built for us in terms of education or corporate environments. That is fine, because things are changing, which leads me to hope for the future…
Tool 8: Hope
There are many reasons to be hopeful if you have ADD.
The world is slowly starting to value creativity more and more, and value less and less linear thinking. Additionally, there are huge advances occurring in the understanding of the brain, which will only mean a better understanding of ADD and how to deal with it. Additionally, with the internet, people are connected and sharing solutions like never before.
Tool 9: Passion
If you find the courage to embrace your ADD, you are more likely to discover your passion in life. Why? You will likely try lot’s of different things and see the world a little differently.
Most people will read about finding their passion, failing to understand three concepts fundamental to passion and flourishing life:
A child with ADD has a unique opportunity to do this at a young age. This is why you often hear stories about the kids failing out of school only to discover some passion at an early enough age to catapult them into an amazing life.
Of course, there are plenty of times this doesn’t happen, which brings me to a message for parents out there.
Parents! It is your job to bring out the unique abilities intrinsic to your child. The question isn’t whether medication is good or bad. The questions is whether it is needed at time to help your child step into who he or she really is. It is hard to let a child fail, but when you fully understand that life is a series of obstacles to overcome, you see the cruelty of promoting achievement through failure avoidance. It is failing well and recovering in the context of unconditional love that you help a child flourish and become who they were meant to be. This is one of the best gifts you can give a child, and it will set them up to flourish as an adult.
Tool 10: Support
Surrounding yourself with positive, authentic and amazing people is literally the most important thing you can do in life, ADD or not. Don’t be afraid to draw boundaries for who you let into your life. Not everyone deserves it.
You may need to see a counselor to work through issues you have. There is no shame in this, and truthfully, the world we better a better place if everyone saw a counselor to address the wounds we all experience as children and the struggles we have coming to terms with “stinking thinking.”
I truly believe that these tools will help people out there move past the mental hang ups associated with being ADD. I hope the lessons I learned can help you grow and flourish faster than if you had to learn everything on your own.
You’re awesome just the way you are. Keep on truckin.