Love the Brain You’re With

I have nothing but respect for those professionals who are helping us eat better, exercise more consistently, have a bedtime, and meditate daily. It makes us better. Hats off to the organized and compassionate people who are willing to help us…without condescension.

Still, these useful tips that improve us don’t “cure” ADHD. And although there is no cure—just as there is no cure for creativity—ADHD is not responsible for how we feel about its features, nor how we respond to the response of those affected by us. We are all capable of accepting of our brains and the effects of ADHD on others. Most of all, we can express gratitude to those who understand and accept us as we are. And we need to accept us as we are!

Accepting your relationship partner includes allowing her/him to notice what you are not seeing. Why would you not want to add missing pieces to the picture? Instead of responding with, “Stop acting like you’re my parent,” you might consider responding like an adult and say, “Thanks for understanding and caring enough to be helpful.”

I can tell a difference in my daily functioning when I’m not practicing mediation daily. The negative effects inform me, and the remaining challenge is to put the wheels back on the tracks without harsh self-criticism. If I have suffered from negative effects of neglecting to meditate yesterday, I can mediate today!

I am far more mindful than when I was first diagnosed with ADHD at age 44. But I learned just yesterday morning that I’m still capable of washing my checkbook. The good news is that the permanent press cycle is not as hot as the normal cycle, which is why the cover survived and is still usable. There is more good news: My bank manager proudly called late yesterday, following my inquiry, to inform me that she had printed a copy of all those checks! Those sanitized and indecipherable carbon copies of my checks were replaced…same day! Best of all, there was no judgment…by them or me! Okay, just a little by me, but I didn’t allow much thought to be wasted over it.

Living well with ADHD doesn’t mean being less ADHD. It means doing your best with the brain you were born with. And if you can’t be with the brain you love, love the brain you’re with!

Tennessee Tag: “IAMLATE”

My wife and I were returning home from a recent author event when she spotted a license plate on the back of a car that read, “IAMLATE.” It was on the back of a sporty white convertible, idling at a red light, just one lane to the left and in front of us. A woman was at the wheel. I tried to get my iPhone out of my pocket to snap a picture, which I imagined inserting into my next blog…this blog.

But the light turned green before I could get the phone out. My wife said, “Just follow her!” and I tried my best to keep up.

I could see her for a while, weaving in and out of traffic up ahead, like a NASCAR driver, heading toward the late afternoon sun. I weaved as well, but my wife critiqued that I was not driving as aggressively as the woman we were chasing. I still can’t figure out how she got so far out of sight so quickly, but it occurred to me why she was trying so hard…she was late!!!

Good Night!

Do you have a consistent bedtime, or do you just keep going until you are no longer able to stay awake? I battled this problem much of my life and still struggle with it at times. There were times, when writing my book, that I would go to bed only after my head began dipping suddenly toward my laptop.

Late at night, when silence and solitude replace distractions and obligations, you are undeterred in initiating a preferred activity. Although you put off starting manageable tasks that feel imposing, it is easy to activate your attention with a preferred interest. The preferred activity grabs hold, and suddenly, the bliss of your selective attention hijacks almost every region of your unmanaged brain.

You are not going to be interrupted late at night, and that feels so good! Am I right? And your attention doesn’t need to be managed when locked into one state of awareness. Fully submerged into that intensively focused state, you feel competent. You can do anything…except track time and consider the consequences of choosing to push the limit. Nothing else is on the radar. And even if something else appeared on the radar, it would not be flagged as important! If some thought about needing sleep should surface somewhere in a remote corner of your brain, you might counter that your medicine will help you stay alert the next day.

It may not occur to you that using your medication to recover from loss of sleep is drug abuse. Your doctor didn’t prescribe it to help you pull all-nighters! In fact, if you use it for recovery from depriving yourself of sleep, you may as well be taking one pill to make your ADHD worse and another to make it better. At best, the medicine might bring you back up to just below your normal ADHD baseline, but YOU WILL NOT BE TREATING YOUR ADHD. You will know it the next day, but the next day is some other time and not now. You are a prisoner of the present (borrowing a phrase from John Ratey’s, Shadow Syndromes).

There can be other reasons for your difficulty getting to sleep or remaining asleep through the night. Sleep insufficiency can result from excessive movement when sleeping (restless legs syndrome), staring at a screen late at night (reducing your brain’s natural melatonin), being exposed to excessive noise late in the evening, having a co-existing condition (anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, addiction, sleep apnea), living a sedentary lifestyle, taking too high a dosage of ADHD medication, or taking medication too late in the day.

It is best to have a regular bedtime and allow some quiet time before getting into bed. Exercise and meditation are especially good for enhancing the quality of your sleep. Meditation can help you be more aware of your state of attention. If you are serious about living well with ADHD—with or without medication—you need to be serious about getting adequate sleep. Give it up…shut it down…say good night!

Good night.

Fly Your Freak Flag on Independence Day!

Those of us with ADHD know very well that we are different from the majority, and we have every reason to fly our freak flags proudly. I feel an urgent need in these challenging times—after the recent tragedy in Orlando—to shout out that gay lives matter! I’m proud to be receiving invitations to wedding receptions from gay and lesbian friends just beginning to enjoy the benefits of marriage that I’ve had for over 36 years. It’s long overdue. Lifelong commitment between loving partners is a family value that is good for all of us. And I’m proud that ADDNashville embraces diversity in our support group family.

As we near the end of Pride Month and approach Independence Day, let’s celebrate our collective identity as members of one American family—brothers and sisters of different faiths, nationalities, races, and biological makeups. I’m proud to be part of a diverse culture where colors of the rainbow comprise one spectrum…where everyone has a seat at the table…where we can stand united.

Let’s stand together, continue to accept and support one another, and oppose misguided efforts to divide us. On Independency Day, I plan to celebrate our country’s independence, and equally important, the  interdependence of our human family. We have to accept the truth that there is suffering all around us…if we wish to heal it. Alienation is not healing. We all belong.

Don’t Read This Now!

I opened my lap top this morning, and it immediately tried to direct my attention. “Ding…you have 15 messages.” I almost took the bait! If I had gone there, you wouldn’t be reading this! I would not only have checked my messages, I would have replied to some of them…maybe even followed some links and read some interesting articles. And then I would have looked at the clock and shouted out some expletive! “I’m going to be late! Where the (blank) did the time go?” 

Where does time go? What a funny and useless thing to say. Time doesn’t go anywhere; your attention is what travels. You can direct it or be pulled downstream. You can paddle your boat if you choose, but to do so, you have to be aware of awareness. That is what mindfulness means. To pause and step back before going into that focused state where you easily get stuck—especially with preferred activity that grabs and holds your attention, like email.

If you want to learn some simple and effective ways to pause and reset your attention, check out Casey Dixon’s mindfullyadd.com. There is a small fee that is worth paying, as you will save yourself time and counterproductive energy.

So, next time my blog pops up in your email, feel free to pause and say to yourself, “I’ll save it and read it after work.” But what did you do after you read the title? I know…believe me…I know. And now you’re going to be late! 

Some Negative Thoughts about Positive Thinking

“There is a vast difference between positive thinking and existential courage,” says Barbara Ehrenreich, referring to those who signed the Declaration of Independence, which was a life-risking act (Ehrenreich wrote this in her book, Bright-sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America). Those courageous individuals were visionaries and realists, trying to get something done, putting their values and their lives on the line. They were not idealists who thought that positive thinking would get the job done. I have some disagreements with some of Ehrenreich’s assumptions, but I agree with the essence of her message, that authenticity is more important than “positive thinking.” 

Mindful awareness is often associated with notions of positive thinking, and with being calm, centered, and perpetually happy. But accepting all that is true in any given moment means accepting some truths that are not very pretty. There are dark and grim truths that we have to live with. Life is like that. It is unhealthy to close our eyes to the dark realities and wish only for the bright ones. The pushback makes life harder than necessary, whereas acceptance brings peace. 

Some people confuse acceptance with complacency. But accepting that some things are not to be tolerated can compel us to take action. For example, we cannot be aware of injustice, and accepting of human interdependence, and be unaffected by injustice. We often experience peace when we relieve suffering. But one’s internal experience of peace is a byproduct rather than a goal. 

If you practice meditation just to feel better, you won’t. You have no reason to feel better or worse than you feel. But inflexible thinking can make you feel angry or anxious. Suspending certainty in your thoughts and being flexible, on the other hand, are antidotes to what Daniel Goleman calls destructive emotions (in his book, Destructive Emotions).

If you are using meditation like a drug, trying to rid yourself of uncomfortable feelings, you will only learn to be uncomfortable with discomfort. And you will circumvent insight by being excessively concerned with your feelings. None of us has transcended illness, aging, and death! But if your effort is simply to connect with the truth of your experience, with other people, and with all of life, then your mindfulness practice can shape your values and help you live with intention and purpose. And if you live a conscious life, you are likely to experience the peace you were seeking with your unreasonably positive thinking!

Want an Ideal Spouse or a Skillful Partner?

Alain de Botton has something constructive to say about marriage in his New York Times article, “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person.” He says that “compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition” (Italics mine). View the full article at http://nyti.ms/25piD1a.

My wife was nuts to agree to marriage six months after meeting me. But thirty-six years of experience with each other has given us confidence that we can figure out how to tolerate our differences and disagree skillfully. Neither of us has an easy partner, but we know how to deal with each other’s craziness. 

If you have ADHD, you may wish your partner would be more accepting of your differences. If your partner is still with you, then perhaps you got your wish. If you have trouble tolerating your partner’s frustration with your symptoms, then perhaps you could be more accepting. 

You may be especially sensitive to your mate’s frustration with you. I get that…trust me! But frustration is not banishment. You cannot engineer your partner’s response to your symptoms, and your partner cannot remake you to be the ideal spouse (de Botton says there is no such thing), but both of you can practice being skillful partners.

Skillful partners are neither defensive when confronted, nor contemptuous when confronting their spouse. Allowing influence is good for your partnership, and therefore good for you. When you allow influence, you will have influence.  

Shame and Self-Compassion

I have been exploring what professionals have written about shame, and I came across this paragraph from an article in Psychology Today (July, 2013) entitled, “How Compassion Can Heal Shame from Childhood,” by Beverly Engel, LMFT”:

Until a few years ago, the subject of self-compassion had never been formally studied. But recently there has been some breakthrough research done on self-compassion by researcher and social psychologist Kristin Neff from the University of Texas at Austin. Among other things, Neff discovered that self-compassion can act as an antidote to self-criticism—a major characteristic of those who experience intense shame. It was found that self-compassion is a powerful trigger for the release of oxytocin, the hormone that increases feelings of trust, calm, safety, generosity, and connectedness. Self-criticism, on the other hand, has a very different effect on our body. The amygdala, the oldest part of the brain, is designed to quickly detect threats in the environment. When we experience a threatening situation, the fight-or-flight response is triggered and the amygdala sends signals that increase blood pressure, adrenaline, and the hormone cortisol, mobilizing the strength and energy needed to confront or avoid the treat. Although this system was designed by evolution to deal with physical attacks, it is activated just as readily by emotional attacks—from ourselves and others. Over time increased cortisol levels lead to depression by depleting the various neurotransmitters involved in the ability to experience pleasure.

It is challenging to practice self-compassion when someone misunderstands and berates you, but awareness of who you are and who you’re not can only come from within. Your work is not to change others, but to know yourself. You might not be able to correct inaccurate notions that others have about you, but those notions don’t define you. That is why the first chapter in my book is “Who You Are and Who You’re Not.” No one but you can be an expert on what is inside you.

On Being and Becoming

Imagine going to a professional who doesn’t get all the subtleties of ADHD, and he begins by assigning tasks that he believes will improve your daily functioning. You think his ideas are good ones, but you either forget them, or you don’t prioritize the tasks and don’t get them done. You are embarrassed and feel as if you are letting the therapist down. It doesn’t take much to trigger our shame. That is why I don’t begin there.

If you fail at implementing a therapist’s practical suggestions, you may appear—either to yourself or your therapist—as if you are unmotivated. But there you are, seeking help to improve the quality of your life, which suggests that you are motivated.

It is easy for you to buy the notion that you are not good enough as you are, that you should be better than you are. It is my contention that you are unlikely to actualize your vision if you feel you are not yet capable, that you first have to have a much improved brain, and you should first become like the other 95%. When we get too focused on becoming, we lose awareness of being. Being exceptional is being different, and if you want to do something exceptional, dare to be different.

When I thought I needed to become like the image I had of a “real author” before starting to write a book, I couldn’t start. When I decided to start without undue concern that I was unqualified, unlikely to finish, and highly unlikely to get a publishing deal, I was able to start and sustain my effort. I was doing nothing extraordinary, just mindfully engaging in pleasurable activity every time I permitted myself to write. And my ADHD defiant streak helped me activate…as I was going to write what I damn well pleased!

The practice of mindfulness is more about being than becoming. It involves acceptance and compassion for oneself, which is a good foundation for acceptance and compassion for others. 

Sleepless in Seattle

I had some interesting meetings last week with advocates in the Northwest. The leader of a CHADD-affiliated support group in Portland, Oregon has an interesting history. Glenn was one of a minority in his unit in Viet Nam who survived brutal combat. After a year in the infantry, he became a medic, initially on the ground and later on a helicopter. Medics on the ground were easy targets, as they had to move around under fire to try and rescue their wounded comrades. I could tell right away that Glenn has a big heart and can identify with the emotional pain of his ADHD peers. His support group is mostly a discussion group (vs. a speaker group) where participants share their personal challenges with ADHD and support one another.

On another day, in another city, I met with Dr. Thom Field, a native of the UK and a neuropsychologist in Seattle. Dr. Field’s important research and writing are mostly about the use of neuroscience in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. He has a personal meditation practice. He was interested in how our support group works, and I was glad to describe what we have created together in Nashville. As we said goodbye, Dr. Field acknowledged being in the ADHD family. He asked permission to quote me in his new book.

On Friday, I met with a physician in Seattle who specializes in treating adults with ADHD. Dr. Angela Heithaus has ADHD and has two sons with the disorder. She has a large collection of ADHD books and told me that she came to the practice of treating adults with ADHD by way of primary care. She works with a few therapists in her suite. Dr. Heithaus clearly is dedicated to enhancing the lives of adults wired like us. I was a bit envious of her office, the east window of which is all glass and overlooks the Puget Sound.

A few of my books have been sold in Canada. And an Amazon help desk operator in the Philippines asked me one night if my book is available on Kindle. She wants to read it. She helped me cancel the accidental purchase of my own book. I swear I have no idea how that happened. After buying three books on mindfulness, I reviewed my purchases and somehow had bought my own book! Perhaps I should write a review of it, or even better, I should write an article and title it “Mindless in Seattle!” : )

 seattle-369153_640

Download Forms

Click below to download my patient intake form.
You may download in PDF format (click here for a free program to open this type of file):

Download in PDF format

Sign Up

* indicates required
Choose info you'd like to receive



Support Group

To receive email reminders of our meetings, click here to contact Sara Skillen.