All of us have bad days now and then. Some people have bad hair days and some have bad ADHD days. I’m best at preventing ADHD-related problems when I wake up each day and say to myself, “Today I have ADHD.” I didn’t do that last Monday, nor did I meditate in the morning. I’ve been off my game lately, and I blame it on my new puppy. It’s easy, and he doesn’t deny responsibility.
Last week, I agreed to meet with someone who is starting a new support group for parents of ADHD kids. I was eager to help, and this mom is doing all the right things. I added the meeting to my schedule, but sadly, not immediately following our phone chat. I entered her name and “Starbucks” into my calendar. I vaguely recall discussing which of two Starbucks would be most convenient, both being about halfway between us.
I crated my puppy at 8:45 a.m. on Monday and drove to Starbucks, pleased to be arriving on time at 9:05 a.m. for a nine o’clock meeting. I carried a copy of my book so Lisa could identify me. I saw only two women sitting alone, each of whom replied, “No, sorry. I’m not Lisa.” I asked an employee if he had recently served coffee to someone named Lisa. No he hadn’t.
Okay, I must have gone to the wrong Starbucks. The other was just five minutes away. Now I’m fifteen minutes late. Same story: “No, sorry. I’m not Lisa” and “No, I don’t recall serving anyone named Lisa.”
It took me ten minutes to find her phone number. At 9:30 I left a message of apology for my mistake. I told her voicemail box that I first went to the wrong Starbucks, which made me late to the correct one. I’m so sorry for inconveniencing you, I said.
An hour later, I received a return call from Lisa, gracious to say that maybe she was mistaken, but I doubted that. She doesn’t have ADHD. Turns out I was 48 hours early. We had scheduled the meeting for Wednesday, she said, and at the first Starbucks I had driven to.
I drove back home and took my pup to the park, then let him ride with me back to the wrong Starbucks where I had left my Red Sox cap. I’d called ahead, and yes, they had it. By the time I arrived home, Wilson was carsick and threw up on the passenger seat, adding another unplanned task to my growing list. I could hear the voice of an old Zen teacher: “Life’s like that sometimes.”
Vanderbilt baseball coach Tim Corbin told his team last week, after Duke had pounded them in the first game of their series 18-5, “It’s just a loss…that’s all.” Vandy went on to beat Duke easily the next two games to continue their run in the college world series. My “bad day” last week was just one loss…one day…that’s all.
This morning, like every morning, I have ADHD. I often tell my clients, “If you have ADHD, act like you know it!” I have vowed to resume doing that!
So, I chose a guided meditation on my Insight Timer app yesterday morning, and began sitting quietly on my back porch. Just as I began, I heard lawnmowers coming around the corner of my house. Of course, it’s 7 a.m. on Monday! I had a choice in that moment: Radical acceptance or pushing back and attaching to my to rising frustration. I said to myself something a wise teacher once said to me, “Now you have something to work with.”
Mother Teresa said something like this: “If you want to learn to meditate, don’t go to a mountaintop in India, go to New York City.” In other words, practice mindfulness right where you are, in the middle of a mess.
Three years after the publication of Living Well with ADHD, I am still a little shy about promoting it. With some distance now from its launch in 2016, I am trying to be more comfortable highlighting its value to readers. I want to tell you why and where you should consider purchasing it.
Many readers have told me that Living Well helped them accept their neurological difference, change their outlook, and achieve important personal goals. Some have said they have more confidence after reading it. I’m pleased that it has been useful and I’m grateful for the comments, but confidence is not a gift bestowed by an author or therapist. It comes from within, an effect of knowing your strengths and challenges and embracing both. It is an outcome of your willingness to be who you are with no apologies. You are one of seven billion people in the world, and still there is no one else like you; no one with your DNA, your history, and your life experience.
If you have ADHD, or care about someone with the disorder, here is why you may want to read Living Well with ADHD. It is not another book about changing yourself. It is about accepting yourself as you are so you can do some good with the tool that you were given. The very notion that you must change your brain disrespects the part of your anatomy that makes you uniquely you. It is important that individuals living with ADHD understand this. All of us, regardless of neurological differences, belong in this world and have a right to define our purpose. I’m less interested in brain-change than brain-acceptance. Using one’s brain effectively involves more than thinking about it, although it is both subject and object…we think about it with it. There is no other organ like it. It is a way we identify our selves.
Don’t misunderstand; sensible brain care is good for everyone, regardless of whether you were born with this difference. All of us should give mindful attention to eating healthy foods, exercising, getting adequate sleep, meditating, and refraining from abusing alcohol, sitting for hours without breaks, and worrying incessantly. A healthy brain, and wise maintenance of it, allows us to use our tool productively and achieve something of value with our lives. I read those books on brain care and find them useful; I just don’t write them.
I am drawn to spirited, creative, and resourceful people with ADHD, and I’m committed to being useful to them. I wrote my book over a two-year period while working full time. It was a serious commitment of time and effort in the interest of enhancing lives. When readers pay for a book, they are contributing a small amount relative to the author’s labor of love.
You can purchase Living Well with ADHD online or at bookstores. If you wish to support the ongoing efforts of the author, consider buying it directly from me through my website (terrymhuff.com), or from the ADD Warehouse (addwarehouse.com). My publisher, Specialty Press, Inc, is part of the ADD Warehouse family. I am grateful to Dr. Harvey Parker for believing in my book and investing in it. Supporting authors and publishers of books on ADHD supports the labor of individuals who understand your challenges and want you to live a fulfilling and meaningful life. If you cannot afford the full price, by all means, check it out at your local library, or buy a discounted copy from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
A heartfelt thanks to my readers and support group members who, like me, believe that we all belong and we all benefit from accepting and supporting one another. We don’t live in a vacuum, but in relation to others and to this earth we temporarily inhabit. This coming Labor Day, ADDNashville will celebrate its fourteenth birthday.
I’m reading a new book, written by a friend: Belonging: Feeling Loved, Comfortable, and Safe, by Paul Carlo, PhD. Dr. Carlo challenges his readers to examine the nature, importance, and history of key relationships—with family, friends, community, and all of life. He writes about being mindful of the reality that we are all connected. We share life with others, and with this world we live in. Acting from that awareness contributes to our physical and emotional wellbeing. The very survival of our planet may depend on consciousness of our interdependence.
We need each other more than we know. I often challenge ADHD clients to suspend certainty in their presumptions about others, and their notions of what others presume about them. We may share more similarities than differences within our ADHD tribe, and some of our challenges may be universal, but we are also unique. Our personal stories are not the same. ADHD grows up in different families, marries different individuals, has different careers and different life experiences.
I had a good start in life, growing up with parents who loved and protected me. I didn’t choose them; I was just lucky. Among my fondest memories are these snapshots of each parent.
My father’s protection: When I was a toddler, one of my father’s customers invited us to attend a social event at their home in Nashville. We dined outdoors in candlelight under a covered picnic area, downhill from the family’s home in the woods near Radnor Lake. After dinner, thunderbolts suddenly bombed us and dispersed the guests. My dad quickly put me on his back and jogged up the path to our car through the rain. His little passenger’s arms were around his neck, face pressed against the side of his father’s head. Dad was a giant that night, stronger than the thunderstorm.
My mother’s encouragement: Mom played piano by ear. Hearing melodies from the forties and fifties, my brother and I learned to harmonize as toddlers. Mom had us performing for guests, at talent shows, and one night in front of a large audience at the Ryman. We were not gifted, just precocious harmonizers. Mom convinced me that I could do anything I wanted to do. If I ever complained that I couldn’t do something, she would say, “Can’t never did nothin’.” Her encouragement inspired confidence. She once told me I had a good voice and could be a radio announcer. I believed her then. Her voice is the reason I got a broadcast license while in college and found jobs in radio for extra income.
My connections to peers and teachers were healthy in the early school years. That changed when I started high school. A traumatizing event made me fearful of others for the first time in my life. I masked my fear by appearing aloof. I began to underachieve academically. I acted out and sometimes tried to appear tougher than I was. I was expelled from high school two months before graduation. I seldom had a second date with any one girl in high school. I didn’t let them see that I felt intimidated. I went out with interesting women in college, but I did not know how to relate to them. Showing interest seemed to backfire, but acting disinterested protected me from rejection. I would head for the exit at the first sign that a loss appeared to be on the horizon. Occasionally, I would learn later that I had broken someone’s heart. I had no idea because mine was already broken due to my distorted perceptions.
There was nothing called ADHD when I was a young adult, but I know that rejection sensitivity is common in the ADHD family. When faced with perceived rejection, we may act defensively or attack. We disconnect rather than remain connected. We avoid or escape uncomfortable feelings instead of holding our place. We deny responsibility for hurting others by defending our good intentions. But denying our capacity to cause pain is denying the reality that we are all capable of it. To believe we are beyond causing pain is like believing we are beyond aging and death!
We are capable of acting mindlessly or mindfully. Mindful awareness, acceptance of self and others, and mutual effort bind us together. We all belong.
Here is a story I have heard too many times. I received an email message last week from a woman in East Tennessee who had suffered enough from effects of ADHD, only to suffer more from the disappointing and sometimes insluting responses from uninformed mental health professionals. I don’t blame the professionals, as we are all naive until we are not. Those of us who specialize in helping adults with ADHD need to reach out to communities who are not informed about the disorder and the complementary roles of different professional disciplines that can help. We need to insist that our local mental health professionals have access to education about ADHD. Recognition of adult ADHD is relatively new…just under three decades…and more work lies ahead to bring services to under-served communities.
For the sake of efficiency and privacy, I trimmed a little of K’s email message and deleted the name of a mental health agency. K gave me perimission to use her email message in this blog.
I am located in Jonesborough, TN (near Johnson city and Kingsport). I have been to many different counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists in this area, and I keep getting the same result. Mostly people who have information on ADHD that is decades old and have no clue what to do with it. I keep getting told things like, “You can’t possibly have ADHD because you did so well in school,” “Adults can’t have ADHD. It’s only a childhood disorder that you grow out of,” “Adult ADHD is very rare,” and many other ridiculous things. It is very frustrating to go to a professional and know more about your disorder than they do. I have done lots of research on Adult ADHD, read many books, etc. and I wish I could just treat myself, but that doesn’t work very well 🙂 It is also very frustrating because, everyone I call says that they treat adult ADHD, but then when I come for the appointment, they don’t have a clue. I have recently been asking if they specialize in ADHD, and you would be surprised at how many say they do before you make the appointment, and then when you come, it turns out that they have almost zero experience with it. I have had therapists tell me that if I would just “try harder”, I could do it, or “there is nothing we can do for ADHD except medication”. I even saw an ADHD coach in Asheville, NC, and after working with him for several months, mainly making lists and schedules that I could never seem to stick with, he said, “well, I gave you all of the tools, and you wouldn’t stick with it, so I don’t know what else to do for you”. It has been very frustrating to say the least.
I just recently made an appointment at _____ thinking that, since they are the largest mental health provider in this area, they would have at least one person who could help with ADHD. I called and asked for someone that specializes in ADHD, and they told me that they didn’t have anyone specialized, but that they saw a lot of adult ADHD, and many of their practitioners could help. So I scheduled an intake, and they said they would place me with someone who could help. I saw her yesterday, and she told me that ADHD in adults was practically nonexistent, because you grow out of it as you get older. She said that no one in their practice saw many patients with ADHD. She went on to tell me that she had never treated a patient who actually had ADHD, because they all actually have bipolar disorder. By the end of 45 minutes, she told me that I had bipolar disorder, and I “definitely don’t have ADHD”. She claimed that my “hyperfocus” was actually “goal directed behavior”, that my hyperactivity was hypomania, and that I need to be put on mood stabilizers. This was despite the fact that I was diagnosed with ADHD at age 7, and re-diagnosed as an adult about 5 years ago with combined type ADHD. After doing some research online, it turns out that ADHD is commonly mistaken for bipolar disorder, especially in women. It is very frustrating that, apparently, in our area ADHD is being commonly misdiagnosed as bipolar and that the knowledge level of practicing psychologists is so inadequate.
I have looked, and there does not seem to be any support groups for adult adhd here. It would be great to start one! Though there might not be very many people if they are all being misdiagnosed. I tried going to a support group in Asheville, NC for a while, but it’s about a 1.5 hour drive, and it just wasn’t feasible to go all of the time.
I have requested that the Tennessee Chapter of NASW (National Associatoion of Social Workers) offer training on adult ADHD for professionals in East Tennessee, as they did in West Tennessee in 2017.
Sunday night my wife asked if I would like to go out for a sandwich after working all afternoon on taxes. I was glad to get up and leave the house. As we approached the traffic light where we would normally turn left to Murff’s Craft Brews & Burgers, she asked, “Don’t you want to be in the other lane?”
“Yes,” I replied, shifting abruptly from the right lane, to the left lane, and then into the left-turn lane at the light, all in one skillful maneuver. I was like a point guard penetrating the the lane in the NCAA playoffs. I asked my wife if she thought I wasn’t focused. Her answer was correct. Yes, I was focused, so focused on taxes and March Madness that I was on the road to nowhere, as if I did not know the way to a familiar watering hole.
ADHD is not a deficit of attention, but an attention management problem. I was failing to shift my attention from an excessively focused state to open awareness. Once I pulled my head out, I was able to re-direct my attention to the road and make my skillful move into the turn lane. So, don’t tell me I can’t focus.
Open awareness may be more elusive to individuals with ADHD than the capacity for focusing. With all we know about attention management, we still focus too much on getting focused. We don’t give sufficient attention to the problem of failing to cultivate open awareness. Open awareness is where we notice both what is inside and outside of us, and where we also notice where our attention is going, which is necessary for intentionally directing our attention. If I had not been so totally focused when driving to Murff’s, I would have been more prepared for the left turn.
Normally, a few sudden turns will trigger my wife’s motion sickness, another understated hazard of being married to ADHD. She thinks I’m a poor driver, but I have never wrecked a vehicle when she was in the passenger seat, and I’ve never gotten a speeding ticket with her in the car…and I’m not defensive, of course. I’m a skillful driver, as I demonstrated last night. She’s just gets frightened too easily.
We arrived at Murff’s with normal appetites, and no motion sickness, only to learn that Murff’s had run out of food! No kidding! The restaurant had run out of food and was closing early. The only comparable experience I can recall was one evening when Murff’s had run out of customers by 8 pm and decided to lock up and go home, just as we were arriving. I can relate to Murff’s; the restaurant appears to meet the criteria for an ADHD diagnosis.
The evening worked out well for me. My generous wife let me choose a sports bar where I could get seafood gumbo and see the end of the Duke-UCF NCAA playoff game. I watched a UCF player drive the lane to the basket…lefthand layup…shot rejected. It was like my first shot…driving the lane to Murff’s…lefthand turn…then right to Murff’s…first shot rejected…Murff’s was closing…game over.
March Madness continues. I will drive to my accountant’s office this week. I am better prepared this year to be ahead at the buzzer and not have to make a last-second shot.
Now that I’m beginning to look like a senior citizen–perhaps because I’m a senior citizen–I’m having a new experience in airports. Airline employees sometimes volunteer unsolicited help when I travel alone now. Mild confusion, once inexplicable and annoying to neurotypical airline personnel, is more often treated as a problem of aging. That’s great news for Boomers traveling with ADHD…assuming you can tolerate being pitied…poor thing!
I returned to Nashville from Los Angeles last week, and a nice young taxi driver from Ethiopia drove me home. He had immigrated to the U.S. only six months ago. When we arrived at my house at 10 pm, he lifted my suitcase from the back of his taxi while I grabbed my backpack. Then he asked, “Do you have everything? Do you have your cell phone?”
I felt for the lump in my pocket. “No, I don’t think I have my cell phone,” I said. He leaned over the back seat of his minivan and retrieved my phone from the floorboard.
“I always ask,” he said. I tipped him and thanked him for that, and for telling me his story of how he came to the U.S.
Dealing with my neurological difference can seem insurmountable at times, but imagine trying to integrate into our culture with dark skin and an African accent in the current political climate, not to mention learning a new language well enough to work. I admire his courage.
I could see my breath when I exited the cab. I had left my favorite jacket in the Landmark Theatre at Westwood Plaza in Los Angeles. The jacket was never turned in to Landmark’s lost and found.
I hope that whoever found my jacket needed it, can wear a large size, and likes black fabric with black leather sleeves. If a UCLA student is reading this blog while wearing my jacket, with a Levi’s tag inside the collar, please contact me. It is colder here than there, and I will gladly trade a lighter jacket for it.
The best ADHD travel story I know starts at the bottom of page 75 in my book Living Well with ADHD. I’m grateful to Eric for sharing it. You can share your best ADHD travel story in the comment section below.
One thing I find fascinating about ADHD is the connection among various features of the disorder, and how that reality parallels the connectedness, or lack thereof, among parts of the ADHD brain. The seemingly separate features of ADHD are all part of one whole, just as separate musical instruments are coordinated as one symphony performance. The brain’s conductor (executive function) coordinates activity in a typical brain, like a symphony conductor coordinates activity of musicians. But an impaired conductor cannot coordinate a musical performance.
Features of ADHD include forgetfulness, disorganization, inattention, impulsivity, emotion disregulation, and difficulty activating and sustaining effort. These are parts of one disorder.
Memory and attention are interactive. You may forget what your partner told you and get accused of not caring, but that might not reflect a simple memory problem. You might not have been present enough to process what your partner said. When your attention is pulled this way and that way, with no inhibition or regulation of input from many sources, you may hear the words without processing a message. The same outcome may occur when your attention is laser-focused on something that overrides your partner’s words. Then she asks you the dreaded question, “What did I just say?” If you have a sense of humor, you might improvise a creative answer to make her laugh. If you have no sense of humor, you might get angry that she is quizzing you like an attorney in court.
If you are not mindfully present enough to process and file a message in your memory, there will be nothing in the memory bank to pull up later.
Activation (opposite of procrastination) and attention are interactive. If you cannot effectively inhibit attention to all that is vying for it in the moment, you may become immobilized and appear indecisive. If all tasks are equally important, choosing where to start is complicated, and prioritizing is inconceivable. Either way, you fail to start, or you jump impulsively into whatever grabs your unmanaged attention with no regard for priorities.
Impulsivity and emotional reactivity are interactive. You may get hooked into believing that something external to you caused your emotional reaction. So the fix is external, with no regard for the internal problem (reasoning hijacked by emotion). The meaning you make is not recognized as problematic, as thoughts have become facts. Being impulsive, you react aggressively or defensively to the person or situation that you believe caused your arousal.
I’m often asked, “Isn’t everyone like this?” Most people have some of the parts some of the time. Adults with ADHD are the sum of the parts. They have been like this much of their lives, and are like this in different settings, to the extent that the sum of these features impairs their daily lives. Learning may be affected, or relationships may suffer. Adults with ADHD may underperform at work or become workaholics who neglect their families. Impulsivity may lead to financial or legal problems, or injuries from accidents.
We are like cats. All cats are alike in some ways, but I’ve never had one cat who was just like another. Observe a group of adults with ADHD, and you will see individuals who might share little in common except for the features that affect them. Effects can vary widely. ADHD grows up in different homes with different parents, different siblings or no siblings, different levels of support or rejection. It marries different people, some who are understanding and supportive, some who are inflexible and critical.
I can say with confidence, after 13 years of leading an ADHD support group, that group members recognize each other as being in the same “family” despite our differences. We accept our differences because we are different and wish to be accepted. When people tell me, “You don’t look like you have ADHD,” I still don’t know what to say…but I never thank them.
Do you make to-do lists and then ignore them, lose them, or get derailed after the first task? I’m most productive when I start my day meditating first, and then writing my task list. I prefer pen and paper, using one sacred notepad that I keep nearby…except when I lose it. If you prefer using your mobile device, be mindful of risking the out-of-sight-out-of-mind problem. How often do you scan your entire list, or your calendar, on an electronic device?
There is more to prioritizing than creating a task list. The time you protect for making the list should be on your calendar. It may be your most important, non-urgent task. Non-urgent tasks are easy to neglect. Brains like mine are drawn like a magnet to urgency. God only knows what I’m forgetting in this moment, while pushed to meet my blogging deadline.
Starting your day by jumping into a task with a microscopic state of awareness interferes with open awareness. Start your day in an open state before engaging in selective attention. Prioritizing requires both states of awareness. Going from an open state to focused attention is easier than shifting from one object of focus to another. Doing is more stimulating than planning. Prioritizing tasks requires patience and inhibition of impulsivity. If you neglect to prioritize the task of prioritizing, you may remember a critically important priority after it is too late to begin the task. Feeling horrible about having used your time unwisely, you may distract yourself unwisely with negative self-talk. That’s where a meditation mantra can help: let it be…move on.
Beginning your day with a wide angle lens is important for living well with ADHD. You have an attention management problem, not an attention deficit. Broadening your awareness is no less important than focusing it. I have a harder time with open awareness. I can focus too well at times and lose awareness of time, other priorities, and other people. Poor attention management not only contributes to inefficiency, it can make you appear unconcerned about others.
Modern television studios use a small mounted camera for a director to employ for scanning and directing multiple robotic cameras. One robotic camera may show a wide angle view of the entire set, and another may focus on the face of a show’s host. We direct our visual attention in a similar fashion, first determining where to direct it, and then shifting from a broad view to a focused one. Scanning for where to direct your visual attention determines what you see. Scanning is like prioritizing.
Give your task list the time and attention it deserves. Expect occasional setbacks, but don’t waste time criticizing yourself for wasting time. Just return the wheels to the tracks in that moment of recognition, before the self-criticism engine starts. It takes seconds to get back on track and far more time to lecture yourself. The moment you have completed a task, direct your attention back to the task list, immediately, before your brain gets hooked by something urgent and less important. Just note what grabbed your attention and add it to your list if it is important. Then keep moving forward.
Now, back to my task list…
Do you have trouble deciding what to do first when you have many things to do? No one task seems more or less important than another. So you mentally spin like a roulette wheel, as if the ball is going to land on a number for you. You feel overwhelmed and immobilized. Adults with ADHD often feel like there is way too much to do, even when our workload is not that different from the workload of others and should be manageable.
If you have ADHD, you prioritize horizontally; each task is as important as all the others. What that means, in reality, is that we don’t prioritize. Prioritizing requires attention management, and your attention manager goes to sleep on the job. That is what ADHD is at the core, an impaired attention manager. It works inconsistently because of your neurological difference. If you take medication for ADHD, you may have an idea what it is like to organize and prioritize your work.
Whether you take medication or not, recognizing this problem points to an adaptive solution. Take Stephen Covey’s advice and schedule time for something important but not urgent. Instead of jumping indiscriminately into the first task that grabbed your attention, only to jump to another before finishing the first, you can schedule time for prioritizing. Of all people, you
need to pause before starting any task and consider your tasks for the day. You cannot do that when your awareness is locked up in a selective attention state.
We call it attention deficit, unfortunately in my opinion, because we have an attention management problem. In fact, it may be an attention surplus. The problem seems to lie in our limited ability to inhibit attention. Since you don’t have the attention manager of a neurotypical, prioritizing should be your first task of the day. Remember that you are impulsive and likely to jump into a task randomly, without regard to its importance. But I believe you can be impulsive and still know when your impulsivity can cause a problem. Scheduling prioritizing time is a way to prevent your ADHD from sending you into spinning.
I’m at my best when I have a task list. I keep a spiral notepad for my daily task list. Spiral notepads come in many colors. You can choose a particular color for your task lists so it is distinguishable to you and your family. The only problem I have had with this strategy is that I tend to grab the first notepad I find, often using a new one when I already have one in use. I’m still a rule violator at heart!
I plan to label and date a current one, always returning it immediately to my briefcase after updating it, and avoid using a fresh one when my current one is missing. I vow not to use a black for anything else when I cannot find a colored one. Colored notepads will be reserved for other purposes, like ideas and drafts for writing projects. To use a colored notepad for a task
list, or a black one for drafts of my blog, should draw a penalty flag. My brain may need a referee, perhaps an ADHD coach, as much as it needs an attention manager.
If you don’t know about professional organizers and ADHD coaches, click on this link: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/16/smarter-living/professional-organizers-productivity-clutter.html
Great novelists are teachers of life lessons. Viet Thanh Nguyen is a master of metaphor and simile, and author of the Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Sympathizer. In an interrogation scene, he describes the problem of being too close to one’s experience to see it.
…for we are the ones most able to know ourselves and yet the ones most unable to know ourselves. It’s as if our noses are pressed up against the pages of a book, the words right in front of us but which we cannot read. Just as distance is needed for legibility, so is it that if we could only split ourselves in two and gain some distance from ourselves, we could see ourselves better than anyone else can.
Reading this passage reminds me of how we can be so unaware of the effects of ADHD symptoms on others. We may be too nearsighted. To see our experience as others might observe it requires mental flexibility. To learn from our missteps requires the courage to observe our missteps with an open mind and tolerate feelings of embarrassment without retreating.
We can be so single-mindedly focused that we lose awareness of what is on the periphery of our selective attention. We can seem inconsiderate, not because we don’t care, but because we lose awareness too easily. For example, we can be so focused on a story we are telling that we don’t notice that the listener has other things to do. I was speaking to the owner of a restaurant last week who had other customers besides me…imagine that! It was one occasion when my wife and part-time attention manager should have kicked me under the table. I was on a roll when my listener interrupted me to get back to work.
The mindful speaking deficit for adults with ADHD is this: following our own thoughts while speaking, and trying to be succinct, requires extra mental effort and selective attention. We lose the big picture when we are too focused at the wrong time. For sure, engaging with others is where life happens, but it is not all that is happening. To someone whose selective attention is locked in place, it is all that is happening.
Our attention needs a manager, the absence of which is central to the disorder. There is no deficit of attention, just a deficiency in attention management. That is why boosting dopamine with medicine can help. It wakes up the manager.
Maintaining some kind of daily practice of mindfulness can help us to be mindful of where we are directing our attention, and whether we are even directing it at all. But it does not cure ADHD. I’m at my best when I wake up in the morning and say to myself, “Today I have ADHD.”