ADHD: Finding the Order in DIS-Order

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) is an important topic for me. As someone who was diagnosed later in life, this meant living life in a constant fog, being judged or criticized for being “lazy” and “not working up to potential”, and living with the shame that comes with the misunderstanding that is ADHD. Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s meant that this condition (and I use that term loosely) was not well understood, particularly for those who did not carry the outwardly hyperactive component.

First, I would like to point out that I believe ADHD to be less of a ‘condition’ or ‘disorder’ than it is simply a way of being. Just as thinking is an individual component, being, or not being ADHD is similar – it is simply a different way of organization that occurs in the brain. I have heard it articulated that the non-ADHD brain automatically organizes and sorts information into different categories and compartmentalizes the information before it ever leaves the brain, making the translation to action more seamless, while the ADHD brain does not do this prior organization. Instead, it expels the information as one large blob, with the assumption that the body will automatically know what to do with the information after it leaves the brain.

I like to refer to this as the “ball of yarn effect”. In the non-ADHD brain, the yarn resembles the way it was bought at the store – organized, wrapped tightly, and where each string component is completely parallel with the one next to it, forming a perfect and beautiful pattern. In the ADHD brain, the yarn is a jumbled mess, sometimes knotted, but always a challenge to find the ends of the string. This means that, before the ADHD person can hope to process the information, they must first untangle the mass of knots, usually beginning from the middle – which is not ideal, because one must be conscious of what is happening on both ends to avoid further tangling.

ADHD affects a person in the learning environment for sure, but it also affects every single aspect of life particularly in relationships including parents, siblings, extended family, peer groups, teachers, colleagues, managers, and intimate partners. Contrary to some beliefs that people “grow out of” ADHD, this is not really the case. The ADHD brain is still the same – it has not learned to compartmentalize information any better than it did before – what has happened, however, is the individual has learned their ways of responding to stimuli are not acceptable – that society favors those who can pre-organize information. We learn to fade into the background, to not call attention to ourselves or our struggles, because this is not a place of safety. We learn what we need to do to appear to be a normal, fully functioning member of society – and this is exhausting.

I recommend diagnosis in almost all cases – not for the purpose of medicating, but to start learning some coping strategies and tools that can help to function in a world that is not always ADHD-friendly. These can include learning how to use schedules in a way that can work for the ADHD brain by training it to organize information better, understanding and identifying potential triggers, and accessing support through groups of like-minded people. ADHD can be a challenge, but there are also some very beautiful aspects of this type of brain function as well. For example, I have found that people with ADHD are some of the most creative people I have met. We also can access a perspective that other people don’t have, and we can look at a situation and see solutions that other people don’t see.

Although in the past (particularly growing up) I had identified my ADHD in a more negative light, I have moved beyond this perspective and I no longer see it in the same way. The challenges are still there, yes. But, the benefits are also still there. If I could go back in time before my birth and change the way my brain operates – if I could choose to NOT have ADHD – I would never choose not to have it. I would miss too much of the uniqueness that ADHD provides. I would cease to be ‘me’, and that is not something I am willing to sacrifice.

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