By Douglas Harris
My life as an adult diagnosed with ADHD can be broken into
three phases: not knowing, knowing with my head, and knowing with my heart. Before diagnosis, I knew something wasn’t
right but I didn’t know what it was. For
many, this period lasts most of their lives.
For years, the only explanations for shortcomings are character flaws,
laziness or willful troublemaking. A
great relief accompanied my diagnosis.
The second phase was largely cerebral; I learned all I could about ADHD
and how it affected me. ADHD was an
external challenge to be studied, examined and faced, but by the same person
inside that I had always been.
It was at the 2001 ADDA Conference in Atlanta that I began
the third phase — transformation. Real
progress begins only when you believe in your heart that this is who you
are. You reframe your understanding of
yourself, and ADHD becomes an integral part of who you are. I’d been fighting ADHD; at that Conference I
reached a tipping point that led to acceptance of my ADHD.
When I returned from the 2001 Conference, a sudden change in
family finances made continuing coaching or therapy impossible. It was devastating to discover the key to my
problems only to have it taken away. I
now faced a life knowing I had ADHD, but without the support I had come to rely
I found I couldn’t return to the way I was before as I knew
ADHD was a part of me; I couldn’t un-know it.
However, I found this suddenly took a nasty turn. Where I had previously been willing to try
new things and take on new challenges, naïvely hoping they would work out, I
now felt a sense of doom. I stopped
taking on any new challenges because I sensed there was no future in them. Yes, in the past I would try things, be
enthralled for a while and then quit as I lost interest, but now I quit before
I even began. Every opportunity was
rejected with, “What’s the point?” or “What’s the use?” I wasn’t the same person I had been, and
without realizing it, I’d slipped into period of chronic depression.
Hindsight is 20/20 and I realize now that the few things I
chose to pursue during that time were mere diversions from this
depression. I became involved with my
church and later in Community Theater, but each grew less rewarding over time
as the newness wore off. In both cases I eventually burned out and withdrew. I now see the fingerprints of ADHD all over
Several years ago I took up running as way to exercise my
dog. I had tried running before but this
time I stuck with it and really enjoyed it.
Of course, now I realize exercise is a great antidepressant and running
served as a form of meditation as well.
I started entering races and eventually ran the Detroit-Windsor half
marathon in 2012. I had even decided to
come back the next year and run the full marathon.
My training continued steadily through the fall, winter and
spring. I was on schedule to run the
marathon until one day in my first trail run I stepped on a rock and badly
rolled my foot. I was able to finish the
race and thought it was only sprained.
However, x-rays proved it was broken and four weeks later, I discovered
the bone had moved and begun to heal wrong, so now I would need surgery. This effectively meant the end of running for
the year. It was a dark time; I lost the
one thing I truly enjoyed and I lost the antidepressant benefits it provided.
It was then I discovered there would be an ADDA conference
in Detroit that summer. It had been a
long time since I last thought about the Conference, but I couldn’t pass up
this opportunity. Despite my doubts and
depression, I harbored hopes I might recapture some of the magic I had felt
before. I immediately registered for the
conference and made a hotel reservation — in the very same hotel I had earlier
reserved (and cancelled) a room for the marathon. I’m not superstitious but this had the
feeling of something meant to be.
I was still on crutches when I arrived at the Conference. After I registered, I sat down to rest my
arms and immediately met a woman also attending the conference. We struck up a conversation and, as if we
were old friends, we shared our stories, challenges and dreams. Within minutes I felt that same magic I had
experienced years ago. We made an
immediate connection the same as those I had experienced at my first conferences
many years earlier.
In the opening keynote speech Sari Solden referred to there
being a man in the audience who had gone to the first ADDA conference many
years ago and who had come back saying, “I met all these amazing people, bright
people, really smart people and they had the same problems I did.” I just knew she was talking about me.
My initial experience was repeated throughout the
conference; I learned a lot but I also reconnected with my tribe. After 13 years away, I felt I’d come home
again. This, more than anything I had
experienced or tried in the intervening years, restored the feeling of
hopefulness I had experienced at earlier conferences.
We all face challenges.
All adults with ADHD struggle, and at times it can seem
insurmountable. There are tips and tricks,
therapies, strategies and coping mechanisms, and all of them help, sometimes
they help enough, and sometimes they don’t.
Eating well helps, getting enough sleep helps, exercise helps. You might say common sense helps. But in my experience, nothing helps like
forming a human connection with someone who understands exactly what you’re
Nothing comes close to connecting with your tribe.
Douglas Harris is an ADHD Coach in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He works with intellectually gifted people struggling with ADHD. With coaching, clients discover how to tap into the full potential of their extraordinary minds and put in place the ADHD-friendly strategies to make those dreams a reality. Reach him at Doug@ADHDSynergyCoaching.com.