“My ADHD is Like Curious George — Only More Nefarious”
“To help me see the ADHD, I came up with a visual aid – of ADHD as a monkey on my back. Not a nice monkey from a nature documentary. This is a mischievous monkey who will pick my pockets and steal everything if I leave the window open…When I look over my shoulder to catch a glimpse of him, he jumps to the other side. I can’t see him, but I know he’s there.”
I was diagnosed with ADHD a few years ago, at age 35. I wasn’t surprised. I’ve always had a lot of energy. Those close to me joked that I might have ADHD.
I’ve always known exactly what I wanted to do and have worked toward my goals since I was 14. Today, I’m an actor. I’m also a professional magician. So you can imagine my disappointment when I realized that there is no way to make ADHD disappear.
I’m a visual person, but it was hard to see, in the moment, how ADHD was affecting me. I did, however, become aware of my past behaviors: the unfinished projects, the unfulfilled promises, the negative self-talk. The more I looked back, the more disappointed I became with myself. And the more I learned about ADHD, the more I resented myself for traits and behaviors that might have kept me from being further along in my career.
I just couldn’t get out in front of my ADHD. I only looked back and saw what I did, or did not do, and got upset. It was a constant punch to my self-confidence.
To help me see the ADHD, I came up with a visual aid – of ADHD as a monkey on my back. Not a nice monkey from a nature documentary. This is a mischievous monkey who will pick my pockets and steal everything if I leave the window open. He’s so nimble that I never feel his physical presence, yet he’s constantly tapping me on the shoulder or putting his hands in front of my eyes to prevent me from seeing the full picture. He chatters in my ear when people are talking to me, making it difficult for me to pay full attention. When I look over my shoulder to catch a glimpse of him, he jumps to the other side. I can’t see him, but I know he’s there.
Finding the Structure I Needed to Excel
I’ve performed a popular magic show Off Broadway and on tour for the past decade. When the pandemic began and the entire world of live performance got canceled, I shifted to performing and teaching virtual magic lessons. So far, I’ve taught more than 900 lessons to people on every continent.
With multiple projects constantly in the works, the old me used to feel like I thrived on multitasking. But now I look back and see how poorly that served me. At the end of the day, I had 20 windows open on my computer, yet I had accomplished very little. Now I keep a prioritized list and focus on one project at a time. It has worked for me ever since the pandemic started, and I began to recognize my monkey.
One simple change has improved my awareness and control over my ADHD. Every night I write out what I’m going to do in each lesson the next day. I’ve never prepared for the next day like this in my life. Having a small outline with bullet points allows me the freedom to listen and be present when talking to a student.
Using ADHD Symptoms to My Advantage
I struggle with hyperactivity. It’s something that adults with ADHD typically outgrow, but I haven’t. I’m a high-energy person, and it has a positive effect on my work. Though I sometimes struggle with listening, I’ve learned that I thrive when I know what to do physically. I use that energy in teaching and performing, so that my energy is part of what makes me the guy people want to see on stage or on their screen.
I’m also guilty of occasionally losing impulse control. but I’ve found a way to make that work for me, too. When I’m really prepared for a 30-minute class, I can improvise. When I have that structure in place, I can trust my impulses. That works to my benefit.
Learning all this has been life-changing. I’ve developed tricks to catch a glimpse of the monkey on my back and find ways to occasionally tame him. By doing this, I’ve been able to function in a more manageable way.
ADHD is a bitter pill to swallow, but the condition is what makes me truly me. I’ve learned to love that person. I wouldn’t trade him (or his monkey) for anything.
How to Deal with ADHD: Next Steps
- Read: “My ADHD Diagnosis Connected the Dots in My Life.”
- Download: Your Free Guide to ADHD Coping Mechanisms
- Test: Do I Have ADHD? Symptom Test for Adults
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