“What If My Intense Drive Is Because of — Not in Spite of — My ADHD?”
Like many women with ADHD, I’m a high-energy, creative thinker, boycotter of the status quo, and classic over sharer. I’ve long used these traits to help me succeed in life. You can, too. It all begins with hope.
When my son Markus was diagnosed with ADHD at the age 12, I met with a psychologist to learn more about it. Instead of answering my questions, she told me to scale down my very ambitious son’s expectations so he wouldn’t be disappointed in life. Who would ever tell a child that? Not me. Instead, I fired her.
Eight months later, I received the same ADHD diagnosis. Because our symptoms were so different, it took me eight months of learning about his ADHD to finally see his diagnosis in myself. I discovered that my drive and ambition were a form of hyperactivity.
I felt vindicated by my diagnosis. I had struggled for several years to explain symptoms that were getting worse as I got older (hello, hormones). I was tired of going to doctors who would, in essence, pat me on the head and say, “Honey, it’s nothing.” I knew it was something.
I also knew that, had my mother taken the same bad advice I had received, I would have never graduated from college, completed law school, or received a second graduate degree.
That’s also when I made it my mission to change the somber conversation around ADHD. I’ve long subscribed to the theory that whether we think we can or think we can’t, we’re right. I choose to believe that I can.
Do I have weaknesses? I do. I’m never on time for anything that’s not business-related; my husband will affirm that that means my business, not his. I’m incapable of washing a load of laundry just once; the smoke alarm is the only reason my house hasn’t burned to the ground; and I cannot tell a linear story to save my life — or yours.
But the flipside to my ADHD weaknesses are my great ADHD strengths. I’m not hyperactive, just otherworldly energetic. I’m not distractible, just incessantly curious. And, yes, I’m impulsive but isn’t it Dr. Ned Hallowell himself who posits that creativity is simply impulsivity gone right?
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Medication didn’t work for me, so I had to figure out what did. I learned that I need quick workarounds. If it’s complicated, I won’t do it. Exercise works well at increasing my dopamine, so I think of it as my medicine.
My day always begins with a workout. If I know I will have an especially hectic morning, I’ll make it easier to start my routine by sleeping in my gym clothes and just jumping out of bed.
The truth is that I have felt different my entire life. I’ve always been too much. Too chatty (as a child they called me the “Burlingame Blab,” after my hometown and because I’d share family secrets to anyone who’d listen); too intent on challenging the status quo (I proposed to my husband by flying a plane over Singing Beach, MA); too ambitious (I go big or I go home); too willing to say exactly what’s on my mind (like the time I told my kindergarten teacher that blue was a better color than the puke green she was wearing.)
Even so, I’d always done well in school, had never been fired from a job, counted my one and only marriage among my greatest achievements, and have always found clutter anxiety-producing. Could I really have ADHD?
ADHD is My Fuel
Thinking through my diagnosis more carefully, I made an important connection: My personal drive is a form of hyperactivity, and my interpersonal intuition is the reason I can walk into a room and read it even before anyone has uttered a word. These two ADHD traits have explained my entire life and confirmed for me that, by golly, I have ADHD.
That’s also when I decided to start a podcast for smart women — to help them connect and understand their brilliant, creative ADHD brains. What better way to find my people than by letting them know that I am their people?
[Click to Take This ADHD Symptom Test for Women]
But first, I had to educate myself on all things ADHD. So I read everything I could find from experts who have ADHD themselves — people like Ned Hallowell, M.D., John Ratey, M.D., Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D., psychotherapist and author Thom Hartmann, Patricia Quinn, M.D., author Linda Roggli, etc. After all, if I wanted to learn how to surf, wouldn’t I take lessons from a surfer who rides the waves daily, has experience with wipeouts, and has endured point break? Someone who has actually spent time on a board?
In our community of women with ADHD, we have professors, doctors, lawyers, and entrepreneurs. We have women who manage budgets in the billions and women who don’t but now know that they can. What these women have in common is the shared belief that they are successful because of their ADHD, not in spite of it. They are in the right environment, working in an area that takes advantage of their natural strengths and interests. These women are action-oriented. They don’t think about what they can’t do or what they wish they could do. They go out and do it.
My best advice for those diagnosed with ADHD is to focus on your strengths and delegate your weaknesses. The biggest mistake we make is trying too hard to fit in, instead of working on where we stand out.
I have never met a person with ADHD who wasn’t truly brilliant at something. That includes my son Markus, who has been my greatest teacher. This fall, Markus started his first semester as a senior in his third high school — the school where he’s finally cracked his learning code. At his new school, he’s earning a 3.7 GPA, playing varsity basketball, discovering a love for economics, and applying to colleges.
Markus taught me that creative ADHD brains need more structure, not less. In the right school (environment), with teachers who believe in him (our brains thrive on encouragement and praise and wither under criticism), my son’s sky is limitless.
Markus didn’t need his expectations lowered; he needed them raised. Once he confirmed that his teachers cared about him personally and knew how smart and capable he really was, hope took hold. Hope is the bridge to our success. It fuels our motivation, drives our determination and gives us the confidence to soar. I am a peddler of hope.
[Click to Read: “You Are Not the Sum of Your ADHD Challenges”]
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