Terry Huff

I grew up with parents who spend much of their lives serving others. My dad had a family grocery store with a delivery truck, and we took groceries to elderly, handicapped, and families with no means of transportation. He and Mom were among five couples who co-founded a social service agency called AGAPE. Dad later co-founded a disaster relief program with other members of his faith community. My parents taught me to live a life of value to other people and the community. I got bachelor's and master's degrees in psychology at Middle Tennessee State University and worked in mental health and developmental disabilities before returning to graduate school at the University of Tennessee to complete my master's in social work. After obtaining my license for independent practice, I worked at Vanderbilt and Family & Children's Service before beginning my private practice in 1996. Diagnosed with ADHD in 1994, I began to specialize in serving other adults with attention disorders. I soon learned that "attention deficit" was a misnomer that reinforced the notion that individuals with ADHD simply were unable to focus their attention. If allowed to rename it, I would call it "attention management disorder." My practice evolved into multiple services. Providing psychotherapy just isn't enough, and many adults with ADHD don't need traditional therapy anyway. So, I started a support group for adults, and began to provide workshops for ADHD couples and a meditation workshop tailored to the needs of adults with ADHD. Most recently, I've begun to write and speak on how to live well with this neurological difference. After years of hearing clients say, "I never thought about it that way," I decided that I might be able to help others by offering a perspective that would appeal to the inherent resourcefulness and creativity of this population. I wrote a book with the intention of sharing this perspective and helping more people than I could help in my office, my support group, and the workshops. My book has been a labor of love, which is the title of my last chapter. My wish is to enhance the lives of adults with with brains wired like mine and inspire them to use their talents to achieve their life goals.

Starting Over…Again

Dear loyal readers: I have just completed the longest stretch of neglecting my blog since beginning it. I’m not sure there is such a thing as a writer who doesn’t write, but I am sure that anyone can put their wheels back on the tracks and allow forgiveness. Phillip Moffitt eloquently tells his readers just to start over without the distraction of self-criticism. “If you fail to be mindful of a hindrance, then you can be caught by it; if you recognize it, then you have options…you can just start over” (from Emotional Chaos to Clarity).

I accept your forgiveness with gratitude, just as I forgive you for dropping the ball at any point in your life. Let’s just pick it up and run with it. Why not?

In March I will begin writing my next book without undue attention to some ideal product. I don’t know how long it will take, or if I will be pleased with it, but I have something to say and I’m going to say it. 

During the remainder of Black History Month, I intend to be mindful of the courage and persistence of Black American leaders throughout our history. Those leaders are descendants of slaves who literally built this country on their backs while in bondage. Their lives exemplify the power of unity and nonviolence. If we cannot be inspired by Back American History, we’re not paying attention. 

2020 International ADHD Conference

October is ADHD Awareness Month and the 2020 Virtual international Conference on ADHD is around the corner. The conference will be online this year, Nov. 5 – 7. John Ratey and Kathleen Nadeau are keynote speakers, along with Sinbad, talking about his life with ADHD.

Organizers have built in plenty of opportunities for participants to interact. Plus, attendees have two weeks to watch as many sessions as they want. Registration is a bargain this year, as are all the other costs of attending. You can see more here: https://chadd-2020.pathable.co/.

I will  be speaking November 5, addressing professional helpers on navigating their relationships with clients. Relying on sources from research on mindfulness and the brain, on therapeutic alliance, and on experiences of support group participants, I will address elements of the helper-client relationship that are associated with positive outcomes. A collaborative and trusting partnership is the foundation for helping individuals attain the goals they bring to us.

No matter how skillful helpers may be, they will not be helpful if they cannot understand their clients and know how to establish a trusting relationship. If I pushed my clients to meet my expectations, they would push back or withdraw. But they will tolerate challenges by a helper who can understand and accept what it is like to be in their shoes. They are not looking to be cured or overhauled; they just want to live well with their ADHD.

Dogs Living With ADHD

I have blogged about being my dog’s retriever (Aug 21, 2019), and have speculated that all dogs have ADHD. But Wilson shares one experience with my non-ADHD spouse in relation to me. Their patience is often tested by their ADHD family member.

My wife recently suggested that I begin gathering everything I need for walking Wilson before saying, “Let’s go for a walk.” So, here’s the checklist: get the bag and training treats, grab my cell phone, get his leash from the leash basket, find my house keys, make sure I have some poop bags, and tie my shoes…before inviting Wilson to walk.

My usual pattern is to say, “Let’s go for a walk,” and then consider what I need to take with me. Wilson has learned to wait with skepticism while stretched out on the floor, resting his chin on the kitchen tile, moving only his eyes. He follows my movements, and his posture conveys this: “I will get up when I believe you are truly ready.” My wfie says something simiar when waiting for me. He watches me as I pick up the leash and then put it back down to look for my phone and house key. He observes me grabing the leash again, then kneeling and putting it on the floor, next to my left foot, while I tie my shoes.

So now, I’m preparing to take him on a night walk and getting what I need to take with me. After going to the bathroom first to take care of my business, I search for the flashlight, get the training treats, and make sure the little poop bag holder (attached to his leash) has bags in it. Then I get the leash, find my cell phone, grab my house key, and say, “Let’s go for a walk.” He looks confident in me now as he gets up from the floor and steps forward. 

Before changing the order of these tasks, it took me so long to get everything together that I could not always find Wilson for the walk. He would give up and go to bed. But tonight, he remained in place, anticipating an invitation to walk. And as soon as he steps outside, he becomes the sled dog, dragging me up the street. I regret having allowed him to watch a PBS documentary on sled dogs. 

 

There’s No Pill for Open Awareness

You won’t find open awareness in a pill. A pill for ADHD helps most adults activate, sustain attention and effort, comprehend when reading or listening, and have some order in their daily lives. Medicine may help with all of that, but it might not help you maintain awareness of time, other people, and tasks that are not right in front of you. Medication does not prioritize. 

 Once your attention is locked into one task, you might forget other priorities that have dropped off your radar. It is not always a good thing to maintain laser-like focus. Managing attention requires moving fluidly between states of open and focused awareness. Losing awareness of what is not in front of you can create problems in your work and in your relationships.

 Have you ever started working on a task that hooked your attention so fully you forgot that you started boiling eggs thirty minutes ago? I’ve blown up eggs before. The ceiling above my stovetop displayed the evidence for weeks. Have you ever gotten angry when someone interrupted your hyper-focused attention, even when you needed to pull your head out? Individuals with ADHD tend to have trouble making those shifts. Pulling back to open awareness is an understated problem for us, in my opinion, especially when we are focusing on personally stimulating or novel tasks.

You can cultivate open awareness by training your brain and practicing, just as you would train your body for athletic competition. We call it mindfulness training. Adults with ADHD who take medicine and also meditate seem to make more gains than those who only medicate their symptoms. Daniel Siegel, co-founder of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA, says meditation can be as effective as medication for ADHD symptoms. 

 Turning the lights up on your constantly shifting internal state, while observing your external world with clarity, and being mindful of how the two are linked, can help you integrate what is relevant in the moment. 

You can train your brain to 

  • be more aware of awareness…of when you need to redirect your attention.
  • be more attentive to subtleties of nonverbal communication that you may otherwise be overlooking or misreading.
  • be more observant of your emotional reactivity to situations and people, aware of assumptions that are unduly influenced by strong feelings.
  • stop avoiding uncomfortable feelings so successfully that you are disconnected from them, or not attuned to the feelings and experiences of others around you.

This is what mindfulness is; it is the opposite of mindlessness.   

Not all mindfulness practices are the same. Knowing what you’re doing and why you’re doing it makes a difference. I suggest finding an experienced meditation teacher who understands open awareness and how to cultivate it.

  

Working From Home With ADHD

How do you manage working from home with ADHD, where your attention is more divided than in your normal workplace? I’m dealing with this at the moment, working at home in one room while my wife works in another. It helps that she is working here as well. Her commute is shorter than mine, as she travels from the bed to a desk in the bedroom. I travel from the bedroom to my sunroom office. I can see birds and squirrels from where I am sitting!  

It helps that my wife emerges from the bedroom office only for lunch or coffee. Now that I am cooking and cleaning more than ever, I feel valued, but those tasks are unplanned. I see dog hair on the floor and grab the broom or vacuum cleaner. I feel hunger and start preparing meals. 

So, here’s where I’m directing my effort now, for what it’s worth. I clean up and dress for work to start my work day, not just to look professional, but also to mark the beginning of the workday. I clock in, so to speak.  I close my blinds while doing paperwork and when writing, like right now. I will see the outdoor world later when I break to walk my dog. I open the blinds when I see clients so they can see me on their screens. It is not difficult for me to focus narrowly on them because screens have a way of locking in my attention…I’m sure your spouse has noticed that about you! Hyper-focused attention can help when my work is in that narrow space of a screen.

At the same time, I can find myself brainlocked on an unimportant activity if I haven’t prioritized. I’m at my best when I preview important tasks before locking my attention into the work. As the ADHD experts say, medicine doesn’t prioritize. I need a strategy and tool for that, and I need to remain in a state of open awareness while planning, and before shifting into a more focused state.

When in the office, I don’t snack, call friends, watch news, or do anything that I wouldn’t do in an office or sanctuary. I wouldn’t make a phone call or play a free cell during a religious service or when meditating. Why would I do those things at work? I can schedule recreational activities outside of the work schedule. I can check news headlines when I break for lunch. When I clock out at the end of the day, I try to leave it completely if I can. That way, I am defining a beginning and end of the workday, and I’m more productive when clocked in.

Stay safe during these trying times. Eventually, we will get to more normal routines, whatever they will be. I suspect we will experience some lasting changes in how we live at home and in the world together.

We need each other…always did. Perhaps we are going to be more conscious of our mutual interdependence and need for community. Unity might save us and our planet; division will risk everything we have known. We all belong. As my friend Mike Himelstein said in a song lyric, “Each one is God’s gift to the world.” https://youtu.be/D8ZvnZuOfQQ

Two Brains Can Be Better Than One

Prisoners of the present are good in a crisis…right? Well, perhaps not always, not in all circumstances. The coronavirus pandemic is not a momentary event. It calls for conceptualizing the future, planning, maintaining steady effort over time, and dealing skillfully with emotions. Those are not strengths of most adults with ADHD. 

So, what do you do when your ADHD symptoms could jeopardize your life and the lives of others? I think the answer is complementarity. You can team up with brains that are different from yours, ones that complement your imaginative, unconventional, resourceful brain. 

To be a mindful partner, you will need to listen to others with an open and flexible mind, and speak succinctly with respect for the listener. You can experience the joy and benefits of diverse brains working together. 

Rather than envy how the brains of others work, or think that yours works better than others, respect how different brains work, and how productive they can be when they work collectively. Lending your brain to the Big Mind of collaborative effort is powerful. 

Maybe you know this already. If my solution is a no-brainer, forgive me! 

Now and Not Now

You may have heard that adults with ADHD live in two time zones, now and not now. It appears that the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic is yet to come. Since it is not as bad now as it will become, according to reliable sources, ADHD adults are at risk for disregarding risks. 

Anticipating the future and preparing for it is not our strength. If we remain unconcerned or mindlessly distracted until the worst is at hand (until not now becomes now) we could be endangering ourselves, our families, and others around us.

Being realistic is not the same as being caught up in mass hysteria. Emotional chaos is more likely when we are trying to avoid or escape uncomfortable feelings. Anxious feelings are compounded by desperate efforts to reduce anxiety. 

I’ve heard from people who believe that fears about the virus are being caused by the media, rather than by the facts that the media are reporting. Fear is not an abnormal reaction to disturbing news. Dissemination of information in the public interest is vitally important. If you read a social media post that worries you, check out its validity through another, more credible source, much like a responsible journalist would do. 

This is not a time to bury your brain in the mindless stimulation of electronic devices. If your spouse tells you that your head is stuck in your anal cavity, listen with an open and flexible mind. Your partner’s interest may be in saving your life and protecting your family. This is a time to be a partner with your spouse and make sound decisions together. Stay informed, but don’t become immobilized by overdosing on news. The most essential news will be repeated. 

Make time in your day to pause and center your attention in the present moment. Be mindful of where you’re directing your attention. Be quietlly attuned to what is going on inside you and around you. If you feel anxious discomfort, notice it without judgment and let it be. Consider your feelings as messages, telling you to pay attention to something.

Wisdom can be found in silence. Take time to pause, pray, and quietly contemplate the common thread that weaves us together in universal experience. 

May you be safe and healthy as possible, and may all of us treat one another like family. Our differences matter far less than what we face together. We need each other.

Taking ADHD to College

Is your ADHD teen prepared for college life? I wasn’t. My parents thought I would be under the watchful eye of my brother, who was a year ahead of me. We lived together in an apartment my first year, and he had already found his family of brothers before I arrived. It’s called a fraternity. 

My brother and I shared a car. He needed it one day when I would be in imprisoned in afternoon classes. He asked me to meet him on campus before my first class so I could tell him where I had parked it. “The car is on East Main St.,” I said. I didn’t add that it was out of gas! He still likes telling that story. It begins it with, “I will never forget…” He hasn’t. 

My parents didn’t attend college and had no idea how to prepare me for living independently and managing academic work at the college level. I was barely 18 years old and maturationally challenged. After a couple of false starts and interruptions, I began to enjoy the academic work and discovered creative ways to manage my schedule, papers, and preparation for exams. The library was my best environment for studying; our apartment was the worst. Higher level undergraduate classes and graduate school were more interesting than the early classes. General education classes were structured too much like high school then. 

Preparing kids to leave home should start long before high school graduation. By the time your teen is in the eleventh grade, you are lucky to have some influence, and you can squander it if your aim is to control what you can’t. Trying to assert control often results in push-back, which is not abnormal at that age, developmentally speaking. 

Appealing to your adolescent’s drive to get away from you can help. I often asked adolescents in therapy if they wanted my help in getting their parents off their backs. No teenager ever declined my offer. One 17-year-old began doing homework immediately upon arriving home from school. His explanation reflected his developing awareness and acceptance of his ADHD. He explained that (1) completing assignments early prevented interruptions of preferred activity and having to restart the dreaded academic work later; (2) having medicine still active at 3 pm helped him complete assignments efficiently and without careless mistakes; and (3) his parents were more flexible and generous when he could show completed homework by dinner time.

Unlike the parents of my adolescent clients, I had the advantage of a brief relationship and no prior history with them. Your teen may decline your generous offer to help him acquire independent living skills, learn to organize and prioritize academic work, use adaptive tools, and employ adaptive strategies. Professional support can encourage your adolescent and preserve family relationships. An academic coach, professional organizer, or summer program may help prevent wasting tuition on a failed semester. And you can save your child from becoming discouraged and embarrassed to be back home with you while his peers are moving on. 

You can find links to websites and books for parents on the resources page of my website: http://terrymhuff. You can follow links from those to other websites and explore more resources. There are many. Keep browsing. 

Meditation and Medication

I have done both…concurrently and separately. I have meditated and medicated with my ADHD. I have far more experience meditating, having practiced for a few decades. Nothing has given me more presence and emotional balance than meditation. 

But I still have ADHD. I first took medication for it 25 years ago, and the effect was so remarkable that I thought I was trying on someone else’s brain. I never believed, until then, that any human ever heard everything that was said in a meeting or lecture. Seriously!

So, here I am, starting medication again, and at a different stage of life. My hope is that medication will help me be more consistent with meditation. And maybe the meditation will result in more consistent effects of medication. Are you following this? The difference between the two words is just one letter. 

I once thought that substituting a “t” for the “c” would be sufficient for my ADHD brain. Dr. Daniel Siegel has cited research at UCLA suggesting that meditation may be as effective as medication. Maybe so, but my 25-year single-case study…with me as both researcher and subject…doesn’t confirm it.

I should care that serious researchers employ a large pool of subjects and scientific methodology. Still, for every rule there are exceptions. I just don’t care to be exceptionally deficient among peers with deficits. I believe those two words come from the same root. So, I’m a minority within a minority. I guess you could say I suffer from attention double-deficit disorder. 

 

Revisiting Medication for ADHD

I must admit to having been a little smug about managing my ADHD without medication, until I had to give up coffee. Recently, my doctor recommended eliminating caffeine after determining that I belonged to another minority besides the ADHD family—people who cannot metabolize caffeine normally. Although meditation has helped more than anything, I need medication to keep parts of my brain from obstructing the other parts, and to maintain my routine of daily meditation practice! One effective solution does not negate the other.  

I had no idea how effectively caffeine had been treating my ADHD until I discontinued it. I had been increasing my coffee intake in recent months, as the desired effects of it seemed to be diminishing. One cup in the morning was not keeping me alert. Then a bolt of lightening hit me! I had an episode of atrial fibrillation, the first in 12 years. I had not had a single episode since correcting the problem with an ablation surgery. 

When I abandoned my Kurig and Starbucks, I began to lose and misplace all sorts of items: two jackets, new eyeglasses, my phone log, ear buds. I was having difficulty activating on tedious tasks, and I was jumping from one task to another without completing all of them. 

Whatever aversion you may have to medication for ADHD, you’re not alone, but I recommend not ruling it out until you have given it a run. And don’t give up if you cannot tolerate the first one you try. One size does not fit all. The best medicine and right dosage that works for you will likely be different from what works for me. As for giving it a try, consider what one prominent ADHD expert once said to me: “It’s a quality of life issue.” 

There is much to do, and I need to prioritize my work, get started, keep my wheels on the tracks, stop allowing interruptions, and quit spending so many hours a day looking for things I’ve misplaced. 

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