I have attention deficit disorder (ADHD), and I wouldn’t change it for the world. In fact, I’m working to change society’s understanding of ADHD.
You know me. I was that kid in elementary school, the little redhead who was sent to the hallway countless times for drumming on his desk. When I was ordered to be still in line, I hopped around with excitement. I blurted out my thoughts when I was told to raise my hand. It turns out that what got me in trouble in school was not so much a deficit.
Today, the same energy propels me across the country to meet with teachers, school administrators, students, and parents to dispel the myths of ADHD and other cognitive differences.
It took years, but I’ve learned that the problem is not me or my ADD, but the system under which we live. During my school days, I didn’t fit into an environment that seemed determined to confine my energy. In fact, the system local:"denied me recess" — the one time I was able to freely express myself — as punishment for my classroom misbehavior. When I left the K-12 academic system, I blossomed.
To be proud of myself and my work — and to find fulfillment in life — I needed an environment that worked with my ADD. Believe it or not, preschool and college provided that. I was able to direct my own play and study, and follow my passions in environments that tolerated and supported my differences. I can still see myself in elementary school, backpack unzipped, papers spilling everywhere, but my Lego universe was unbeatable.
Now the world values my energy and creativity in a new way, and I have built a support network to help in my areas of weakness. My paper-management skills haven’t evolved much, so my accountant earns his keep during tax time. That’s just fine, because it allows me to focus on book projects and public speaking.
The journey of understanding myself and my challenges required a personal transformation — from the defeated high-school student to the successful author and public speaker I am today. How did I do it? By peeling back layers of hurt and “failure,” I discovered the plenitude of possibilities in my adult life. Sitting still doesn’t matter now. In my world, it is the antithesis of success.
As I got to know myself and discern my limitations, I was able to change my outlook and take ownership of my future. After college, I knew better than to apply for a nine-to-five desk job!
I thought hard about what was “right” about me — not the deficiencies or pathologies that haunted me as a child. I embraced my positive attributes, and I started to have fun. I traveled the world, meeting other people who were labeled “cognitively different” and talking with them about their strengths. I saw ADD as a gift — of enthusiasm, wit, and energy. I built a career based on what I loved doing. I gravitated toward people who embraced every bit of me — my humor as well as my tardiness.
So, cheers, fellow ADDers! Be proud of the gifts ADD affords you: a gusto for life, a capacity to dream large, the ability to set goals — and the energy to meet them. In being comfortable with yourself, you can change how the world perceives ADD and recognizes its strengths.
This September, recount your successes and what makes you stand out from the crowd—like the time you put your mind to it and ran an eight-minute-mile marathon or completed the Sunday crossword puzzle before your second cup of coffee.
Have a sense of humor about your ADD: Toast yourself at dinner for not having misplaced your keys in the morning or for having remembered to take your debit card out of the ATM. Let yourself—and others—laugh to take the pressure off of being perfect.
By celebrating your small feats, you will be able to tackle bigger challenges. Even a simple change in language can transform your self-esteem and others’ perception of your accomplishments. Use “and” more than “but.”
For example, I could say, “I finished this article, but it was three weeks late.” That statement discounts my accomplishment, as if the final product were flawed. I prefer, “I finished this article, and it was three weeks late.” The second statement is equally true, and it doesn’t diminish all of the work I put into it. Next time, I can say, “I will be on time!”
Use this month—this year, every year—to share your pride over the gifts you have. The world’s appreciation of ADD depends on your feeling good about yourself, so tell your friends, family—even the bagger at your local grocery store—all about your condition, especially if they know little about it.
Talk with Your Friends
Your friends may be your best support network. True friends won’t sweat your arriving 10 minutes late; they will accept your flaws—or not notice them—because they appreciate your personality, values, and world view. They can see the big picture.
Besides lending their advice and help, your friends celebrate your success because they know the challenges you had to overcome to achieve it. When you’re out having dinner with friends, tell them about how you found your car in the parking lot in under a half hour, and, at the same time, thought of a software program, algorithm and all, to find it even quicker next time.
This article comes from the Fall 2008 issue of ADDitude.
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