Most of us have spent our entire lives feeling broken.
We grew up knowing something was wrong with us, even if it at the time we didn’t know it by its four-letter acronym. We’ve spent years, even lifetimes, trying to get normal. We’d have been better off to escape Wonderland on the tail of a tardy rabbit. That would have been just as realistic.
What I’m saying is this:
If you are still trying to become normal, you need to wake up. There is no Wonderland. There is no normal.
Why Embrace the Joys of ADD?
Yes, 8 out of 10 kids may be able t0 sit still in class. Not all of those 8 will pass those classes with flying colours though. 8 out of 10 people don’t lose their keys every single day. But not all 8 of those will have tidy homes. 8 out of 10 people don’t interrupt in conversations. But not all 8 out of 10 are great conversationalists.
All of the things that make up our ADD-selves, the part of ourselves through which our ADD traits manifest themselves, those are things that other people (who don’t have ADD) also experience. Lots of people are frequently late. Lots of people are incredibly disorganized. Lots of people are long-winded interrupters who seem to have no point to their stories.
Just because we have all of those things, we are told we have ADD.
But let me ask you this: If a tree falls in a forest, does anybody hear?
Or put another way: if an ADDer is put in an ADD-friendly environment, do they still have ADD?
Let’s imagine I sent you on a little vacay for a couple of weeks. I left you on a deserted island, with only a spoon, a tarp and a box of matches to aid your survival. Because I am a wonderful travel agent, I also informed you that there were wild beasts from which you would need to defend yourself whilst simultaneously searching out a food source. Then I left.
Would your ADD hinder you in any way during your stay?
Think about it. You have no itinerary. You don’t have to awake at any set time, and there is nowhere you have to be. You have no home to maintain, no items to lose but the clothes on your back, and no one expecting you to remember the shopping. There is no TV to distract you. It’s just you and the elements of nature. Your duty is to survive and enjoy whatever the day may bring.
Would ADD get in your way AT ALL?
How might it help you?
People with ADD are often quick to react. They are frequently distracted by all the stimuli in the environment which, in this hypothetical environment, makes them a “scanner”. It’s pretty useful to scan the environment frequently when you need to watch out for predators and seek out your prey. Hyperactivity wouldn’t harm you in anyway either – it’s quite useful to be constantly on the move when you need to survive, or so I’ve learned from the Walking Dead anyway.
If you still can’t see what I am blatantly trying to tell you, let me encourage you to think of it from a different perspective. How useful are the skills of sitting still, listening in class, being neat, tidy and organized and punctual when you are running for your life (or at least for your stomach)?
Yes, of course, it’s not a real-life situation except on Survivor. But that doesn’t change the fact that if you were able to live in a different environment, your ADD might not be a problem at all. Maybe you don’t live on a deserted island, but that doesn’t mean you have to conceptualize yourself as the problem, rather than the environments modern society allocates us to live in.
You know, it’s only been in the last 100 or so years that kids were forced to sit down and learn the same standardized curriculum in a group of thirty same-aged peers. We think that’s normal. But if the world is tens of thousands of years old, and we’ve only started teaching our kids that way in the last century, in my books – that makes school abnormal. It may be the way we do things currently, but it’s not the way we have always done things and it’s very unlikely to be the way we will always do them.
Yes, the world has seen an explosion in ADD diagnoses. I don’t think it will always be this way. If Daniel Pink in A Whole New Mind has anything to say about it, I’m right. You should go read that book (or listen to the audio).
There are plenty of things that the ADD mind is adeptly built for. Like creativity, and innovation. Like chaos management and crisis resolution. Like firefighting and emergency response. Like, like, like….
You see, when you look at things from a “broken” perspective, you assume that you need to fix something that is wrong, when nothing is wrong at all. It is what it is. When you celebrate what is good about that thing, you find a place for it.
That’s not to say that ADD doesn’t have its disadvantages, of course it does. But there are a lot of hazards to being a genius. And many hazards of being frugal. And also many hazards of reclusive or self-restricted. We don’t have to think that those things are ALL BAD though.
I happen to think that there is a place in this world for us ADDers. Thom Hartmann, author of The Edison Gene: ADHD and the Gift of the Hunter Child, agrees with me. He’s a pretty smart guy, so you should believe us both. Even if you don’t agree, at the very least you must accept that having ADD isn’t all bad, all of the time.
Research shows that ADDers have a higher tendency towards creativity. They also suggest that ADDers are frequently drawn to intense, high-demand and high-risk careers such as entrepreneurship.
You may not be one of those people. You may be, like so many of us, stuck in a career that is ill-suited to your energetic, associative, divergent thinking and need for constant stimulation and frequently changing environment.
It’s a lot easier to feel bad about being in the wrong place than it is to feel about being the wrong person.
I don’t have a simple solution to this. Try as hard as you can to find a better job for yourself. But in the meantime, try as hard as you can to make your job fit you.
The point about celebrating ADD isn’t to stand on top of your roof top and shout into a megaphone how wonderful you are. That tends to draw the wrong kind of attention to yourself and may lead to an all-expenses paid trip to a psychiatric facility.
However, celebrating your differences can have real advantages. People who celebrate their differences aren’t limited to ADDers. With the change in the way we think about “normal”, the idea of normal becomes a more and more obscure concept. Once upon a time, the only so-called normal people were white heterosexuals, with husbands who worked 12 hour days and smoked cigars, while their wives baked bread all day and their children played kick-the-can.
C’mon. Normal is so last century. But even last century…
Albert Einstein was not normal. Thomas Edison was not normal. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks were not normal.
Normal never changed the world.
The Risks of Trying to Be Normal
The strengths of ADD are inherent in their challenges. Abundant minds tend to be scattered. Energetic people tend to have a hard time sitting still. And quick-reactors tend to be impulsive at other times. It’s just the way it is.
But there is more to this point than accepting it’s okay not to be normal. You can never get to where you want to be – to get the most out of life – when you are trying to work towards a false ideal.
Sometime, you might get to where you wanted to be. You may get very, very close to normal. And in the process, you may lose everything that was wonderful about you as you were.
I know this first hand.
I will never profess to be normal but I can say that I got very close to acting like a normal person on a routine basis. I got to the point where I was never late. But it usually meant that I was a harried mess trying to get out the door, shouting and badgering the kids to hurry up. I stopped making impulsive decisions and “winging it” most of the time. Instead, I was always thinking about next steps, appropriate courses of action, and reasonable expectations. I lost the ability to be spontaneous.
I became an automaton of efficiency. I was the family Border Collie, herding them all day long.
I learned to keep my environment neat and organized. But I became dependent on it. I couldn’t function in a disorganized environment. I spent so much of my time keeping things in check that I started doing less of the creative stuff. I daydreamed less. Which meant that I seldom had any ideas at all, let alone good ones.
I became very dangerously close to not having ADD anymore. Though it would never go away, I came close to shoving it in to remission. It required herculean effort to be normal. So much so that I lost my way. I actually caught myself wishing I could be more ADD again.
Life was certainly more chaotic with full blown ADD, but it was also a lot more fun. Though at times it was frustrating, I enjoyed living in my head and having interesting ideas. Sure, there were many projects that I never finished. But without my ADD brain, there were also fewer ideas and the projects that I did take on all tended to be very mechanical and lacked flare.
I couldn’t keep it up, being someone who I wasn’t. The pendulum, they say, swings both ways. It seems that my pendulum had to swing completely in the other direction, before it could come back to the middle ground in a reasonably feasible way.
Now, I am living in what I call ADHD Integration. Its where I am able to take the parts that work for me and keep them, while managing the parts of ADD that don’t work for me. I don’t want to give the impression that I can turn it on and off, but rather that I have the ability to switch gears when I need to.
The whole point is that I was extremely unhappy when I wasn’t letting myself be ADD. I was functioning better on the exterior, but I had lost a core part of myself and failed to fulfill my needs to be creative, expressive and spontaneous.
Embracing ADD does not mean that you just let yourself be late, disorganized or dysfunctional in many areas of your life. But don’t try so hard to not be ADD that you lose everything that is wonderful in the process. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.
Some of the most interesting people I know have ADD. I also know many interesting people who don’t have ADD. The difference is that the people who don’t have ADD don’t walk around feeling broken because they don’t fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants. They fit in to the world but that doesn’t make them better people. It just means they’re better at fitting in.
People who don’t fit in have a place in this world. The shoes you have to fill may not be comfortable but no one said life was going to be comfortable.
Embrace who you are and what you have to offer the world. Be yourself. Manage ADD by all means, and don’t let it interfere with your happiness, but don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking you’d be happier without ADD in your life because trust me, you won’t.