My feelings are big for a reason.
One of the common traits of ADHD that isn’t in the DSM-V is emotional hyperarousal. That basically means that I tend to feel emotions more intensely than others. I don’t just get a little mad, I get a LOT mad. I’m not just a little happy, I’m over the moon giddy. It’s overwhelming. It’s not just my own feelings that I’m sensitive to, but also the feelings of others. What others are feeling tends to hit me harder. This helps to make me a better therapist, but it can make the world “emotionally loud.” It’s nothing that I’m choosing to do as it is a by-product of how my brain is wired.
Kids with ADHD struggle much more with emotional regulation and need a lot more support in this area. So, parents, your kids aren’t out of control necessarily, but they need some understanding and support in learning how to calm down. That’s why I find that yelling and punishment strategies tend to be less effective with these kids. They stir up too many big emotions and impair the child’s ability to think clearly and stay calm.
For those of you struggling with hyperarousal, practicing meditation, mindfulness and other self-control techniques is crucial. Learning to cool that hot temper makes life easier.
I need to do things differently sometimes, different isn’t always bad.
Here are some of my quirks: I must always have a tv or radio going. The background noise actually helps my focus. I tend to have multiple projects going on at once. As I wrote this article, I’ve got a book I’m reading at hand, my Rubik’s cube I’m learning to solve right here, and I’m listening to music. I bounce from activity to activity. I tend to like having things out where I can see them so I remember to use them. I organize in piles. I’m pretty much the only person that understands my organization, but it works for me. This stuff drives people around me nuts at times. They don’t get it. They can’t work like that (the noise is distracting, the piles and things out in the open are like clutter, they can only do one thing at a time).
Here’s the thing. Each and every one of those potentially annoying quirks represents a coping mechanism that Maximizes the characteristics of my unique neurology. Bottom line is doing these things allows me to get stuff done…and that is the goal isn’t it?
If you love someone with ADHD, try to be understanding of their coping quirks. Just because these things would never ever work for you doesn’t mean they are wrong. If it’s your child, help her find her unique coping strategies that will let her succeed. If you’re a partner or spouse, try to have some patience and make room for what helps your loved one work. Perhaps talk non-judgmentally about the various coping needs and find ways to compromise around them so they are perhaps less intrusive.
If you have ADHD, be patient with those around you. It’s hard for people to fathom how we think. It is also important that we respect the needs and space of others if we want them to respect our needs. So, try to make sure your quirks don’t overly impact or interfere with the daily living of those around you. Instead of piles of organization all over the house, maybe agree on a specific place where you can keep things how you want. If you need constant noise like me, wear headphones to not disturb others when they need quiet. Those are just some examples, the important point is be willing to be flexible and compromise even though that may be a challenge.
I can’t “just pay attention”.
There is a saying I see on social media from time to time. It is attributed to Albert Einstein (though I’m not sure how true that is). It goes something like “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by Its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” What does this have to do with my paying attention? Simple, “Pay attention” is one of the most common things I’ve been told to do my whole life. My inability to do this seemingly simple thing has quite literally driven me nuts. It was like I was a fish being commanded to climb a tree.
At the end of the day, I can’t just “pay attention” as that’s not how my brain works. If I could do it, I wouldn’t have ADHD. My lack of focus isn’t some moral failing. It’s not rudeness or stupidity. Furthermore, more discipline, spanking, punishment won’t suddenly rewire my brain to be more attentive. The same goes for your ADHD loved ones. What does work is understanding how my brain works. For those of you in the tribe, understanding yourself and letting go the self-judgements is key. Learning how to create motivation to enhance focus, developing the discipline to let go distractors when necessary, make life a joy to live. ADHD doesn’t go away. It’s there got life, but it isn’t a life sentence.
Lots of little failures everyday leave deep hurts.
Inattention, disorganization, procrastination, anxiety. These are some of the things that I struggle wth on an almost daily basis. They lead to lots of little failures. Forgetting my homework at home even though I did it. Only doing one side of the worksheet. Losing things I need. Forgetting appointments. These can happen to me more often than others. Each one feels horrible when it happens. As a friend of mine says, “It’s like being pecked to death by a chicken.” The looks that others give me when I forget. The teacher comments on the report card…”He can do the work.” Or “he not only marches to the beat of his own drummer, he’s got his own band.” They leave marks that only I can see.
Folks with ADHD carry these invisible hurts and it leads to poor self-esteem. Hopelessness and helplessness are not far behind. This can lead to depression and even more anxiety. We become hyper sensitive to failure and rejection. In some cases, we just stop trying…we give up and just focus on anything at all that might make us feel good. Punishments don’t motivate us because they just reinforce the self-perception of failure and become objective proof that we can’t do what others seem to do easily.
Help us mend the hurts. Help us to figure out our own coping skills. Cheer us on. That’s what we need instead of constant criticism.
I can be scared to fail, but also scared to succeed and that can leave me stuck.
At it’s worst, ADHD can leave me (and those like me) feeling stuck. We don’t want to fail but keep getting tripped up by our foibles..,so the failure seems inevitable. We fear the failure. Ironically, this makes success scary too. If my failure is inevitable, then success can seem either unattainable or unsustainable. If I succeed, then there’s farther to fall when I fail. Quite the catch-22.
The truth is, failure is inevitable. We all fail at one time or another. Learning to appreciate the successes when they come and to not get caught up in the failures is key. Learning to appreciate the good and remember the bad is temporary is the most valuable lesson I’ve received. It’s such a powerful coping skill.
Parents, teach your kids this. Help them to stay in the moment and not get caught up in the kind of fear based thinking that paralyzes and leads to avoidance.
I need cheerleaders, not critics.
So all that being said, folks with ADHD need cheerleaders. They need people in their life who accept them for who they are, the good, the bad and the ugly. They need to be loved despite the foibles and quirks. They need people who will celebrate every little win and when things aren’t going well will speak the truth to them, but also say “you can do it!” Someone who will help put the lie to the belief of powerlessness, hopelessness and helplessness that all the little failures seems to create in us.
We don’t need critics. Telling how we screwed up is simply preaching to the choir. We know. We are painfully aware of when we’ve messed up. Our emotionality and sensitivity to rejection guarantee it. Instead of telling us the obvious, help us learn to do better. Remind us that we CAN do it (because we forget all too often). Have high expectations, make us strive to be the best…but cheer us to the top of the mountain, don’t shame us away from the bottom.
ADHD is a superpower, not a disability.
Most of this stuff has been, admittedly, really negative and, truth be told, living with ADHD can be really hard at times. The definition of ADHD is all about the deficits. Large sections of our society are often not ADHD friendly. However, I truly believe that ADHD is a super power. I’ve got crazy energy and drive (thanks hyperactivity!). Hyper-focus allows me to get more done in the morning than most people get done all day.
We have wonderful creativity. We are passionate. We can be a lot of fun (we’re experts at fun). We’re youthful. We can multi-task. We’re great at coming up with big ideas and getting them started.
These are really positive traits that can make for a wonderful life. All it takes is some self-awareness, some supports, some cheerleading, and some flexibility and ADHD as a disability virtually disappears.
I hope that you found this article helpful. Please feel free to share your experiences about living with ADHD (either as the who has it or as someone who loves someone who has it) in the comments below. If you would like to work on ways to turn ADHD into a super-power, please feel free to reach out to me. Erik@erikyoungcounseling.com You can read Part 1 here. You can read more about ADHD as a superpower here.
©2018 Erik Young Counseling LLC