By Doug Harris
[Link to part 1]
[Link to part 2]
I honestly believe I’ve made more progress with my ADHD in the 10 months since attending the 2013 ADDA Conference in Detroit than I had made in the previous 15 years. I’ve already spoken of the empowering and energizing effects of the Conference. Looking back, I can readily identify several specific important things that happened for me.
It began in a preconference session I attended entitled, “How Later-in-Life ADHD Education and Diagnoses Transformed Two Lives.” The two speakers shared their personal journeys and I found their stories really resonated with me. And in telling their stories they also introduced me to ADHD coaching, a concept that was new to me and seemed so full of promise. I decided then and there to investigate it further when I got back home.
Since I was on crutches, I didn’t venture out for lunch Friday but stayed back at the hotel. Luckily, I did, because I discovered there was a networking lunch going on. I decided to see what opportunities were available to get involved with ADDA. I arrived early so no one was sitting at any of the tables yet. I grabbed my box lunch and sat at the table with a sign that read “Communications.” Before long, I was joined by some members of the Communications Committee and by a few other people who also were interested in what Communications was all about. It turned out to be a fortuitous choice as I had a chance to meet several people who were very involved working behind the scenes for ADDA. I was impressed with the vision I heard and ended up joining the committee as a writer. Perhaps the biggest selling point was the promise that the Committee was ADHD-friendly. That made it feel safe for me to take a chance and get involved.
The Conference was held within an hour’s drive of my home so I wasn’t surprised to so many people who had nearby Ann Arbor listed as their hometown on their nametags. In conversations with these people, I discovered there was an active ADHD support group in Ann Arbor I hadn’t known about. ADHD had not been on my radar for years so I wasn’t surprised I was unaware of it, but I was ready to get involved again so this discovery came at a great time.
Arriving home from the Conference, I experienced the same feeling of emotional letdown I had experienced after my earlier ADDA conferences. But the next day was the meeting of the local support group and I got to see a lot of the same faces again. The continuing support available through the group has made a huge difference. I’ve made a lot of friends, learned a lot from the guest speakers and have even become part of the leadership team. The ADDA Conference is still an awesome weekend and I wouldn’t miss it, but now I also have a community of my tribe that’s there for me all year round.
The following Monday was my first meeting with the Communications Committee. Again I heard familiar voices over the phone, people I’d met at the Conference, which was really nice. Even though we are spread out over multiple time zones and countries, it still feels like a real community. Here were people with a shared vision working together to spread the word about ADHD and ADDA. I’ve found the Committee to as ADHD-friendly as promised and it’s given me fantastic opportunities. Being able to write for this newsletter is an honor, and in doing so, I’ve had the chance to meet and talk with many fascinating people. I’ve also enjoyed corresponding with readers from all over the world. This opportunity to discover my ADHD voice and connect with people has been priceless.
I also followed through with my plan to investigate ADHD coaching and coach training. I expected my enthusiasm would wane over time, but I found just the opposite was true. The more I thought about serving the ADHD community through coaching, the more excited I became. Here was a chance to take all the things I’d learned the hard way throughout my life and channel them into helping others, and in doing so, helping myself.
Wary of my track record with commitments, I initially signed up for just the first two courses; the first covered the basics of ADHD while the second was about personal transformation. With my experience, I found the first class was largely review, but the second class was new to me (although I was a bit skeptical about claims that this class would be life-changing). But I had already experienced the life-changing effect of an ADDA Conference, so I was open to the possibility it could happen again — and it did!
My personal transformation began in that class, continues to this day and no doubt will continue for the rest of my life. I’ve realized I must live my life wholeheartedly embracing my ADHD. For most of my life, I didn’t know anything about ADHD. In the 15 years since my diagnosis, I tried living a normal life, applying the occasional ADHD patch to a problem but more often using my ADHD as an excuse. Of course, making the same mistakes again, even though you now can use ADHD as an excuse, doesn’t make them less devastating. Adding a strategy here and there to deal with ADHD problems may tidy things up on the surface, but the problem isn’t on the surface — it’s much deeper.
I recall playing the children’s game, “Hot and Cold” in elementary school. A classmate would go out into the hall and another one would hide the blackboard eraser somewhere in the classroom. When the child returned to the room, we would try to guide them to the hidden eraser by yelling “warmer” when they were getting closer and “cooler” when they walked in the wrong direction. Eventually we would be yelling, “You’re on fire!” just before they found it.
We all are born with an inner voice that similarly guides us in making decisions, telling us we’re getting warmer as we approach the choice that is right for us, and cooler as we drift away from that choice. However, that voice grows ever quieter as you ignore its guidance. And that’s what happens when you make decisions based on what others think. As a child, you might be told what you should do and that advice — no matter how well intentioned — simply won’t be right for you and the way your brain is wired. Over time, these societal expectations become internalized and you hear them in your head, in your own voice. At the same time, if following your true inner voice constantly results in trouble and disapproval, it’s only natural you would grow to distrust it. The result is like a classroom of children yelling both “You’re hot!” and “You’re cold!” at the same time. You’ll find the eraser if you blindly stumble upon it. That is how I lived my life in the past, hoping to blindly stumble upon the right decisions.
What I discovered, however, was that my inner voice, though quiet, was still there. And as I learned to recognize it and listened to it, it grew stronger. One exercise we did to find our voice again was to make a list of all the moments we could recall of times when we did something that resulted in great personal satisfaction. When I finished the exercise and read the entire list, the pattern was obvious. A very few times, I succeeded doing what someone else thought I should do, but far and away the majority were the result of me using my strengths in ways that I enjoyed. Those were the times I had trusted my inner voice. Your inner voice will always steer you toward using your strengths.
Of course, with ADHD, there’s also a voice telling us to do the impulsive thing, to pay attention to the sparkly thing, to respond with strong emotions. It is just as important to learn to recognize this voice so you can pause and consider whether it is serving you well in that moment.
With ADHD, pitfalls seem to loom everywhere. The more you can learn about ADHD in general and your own ADHD in particular, the better prepared you’ll be to minimize the impact of those weaknesses.
Understanding the executive function model affected me dramatically when I saw the different ways that my brain’s wiring impacted me. Similarly, I’ve benefited from what I’ve learned about the role of emotions in ADHD and how they make me prone to react in certain ways. Where I once would immediately get down on myself for doing something wrong, I now find I can separate my sense of self from my brain wiring. Instead of just getting mad at myself, I am more likely to respond with curiosity about how I got into a situation and about how I can avoid it in the future given my ADHD brain.
Getting involved with the ADHD community, both locally and internationally, and reinventing myself while embracing my ADHD, has given me a stronger sense of hope than I have felt in a very long time. And because this hope is based on both my strengths and my ADHD self-awareness, it is a realistic hope.
It’s hard work, but I have a working internal compass again, and it is pointing me in a direction that feels right to me. That’s not to say everything is suddenly easy. Realizing how far I’d drifted off course and how many years were wasted is painful. Some days the void between where I am and where I want to be can seem discouragingly wide. But I am confident that if I keep learning all I can about ADHD, if I stay connected, if I keep up with my coaching, if I keep practicing mindfulness and if I keep running, I will end up in a good place.
I have a new concept of my potential and this time I am going to live up to it. I broke my foot over a year ago and my return to running has taught me valuable lessons about patience. I am finally able to run 10K again, and my pace is gradually approaching what it was before the injury. But more than that, I know that if I keep doing what I’m doing, next October, three days after finishing my advanced coach training, I will run and finish my first marathon. That seems like a fitting metaphor for my life with ADHD.
Douglas Harris is an ADHD Coach near Ann Arbor, Michigan. He works with intellectually gifted adults 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.