As a child I wasn’t diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, but I always new that I was different. As an adult, a doctor would later confirm my suspicions. I recall, childhood was laborious. My handwriting was extremely messy, I read slower than other students, and it was harder for me to get focused. I wasn’t the hyper kid bouncing off the walls, but I remember being a talker. The absolute most difficult thing in the world was taking tests.
From the time I was in elementary school all the way up until I got my master’s degree, test taking was never ever my forte. Only during special situations and classes that really interested me did my brain seem to memorize the material photographically. I recall one of my favorite classes was cultural anthropology at a community college. I don’t know why I enjoyed it so much, maybe because it explored a variety of cultures, societies, lifestyles, religions, and all with such an educated, yet open-minded objectivity. I found exploring cultures so fascinating, and I still do.
The professor, who had a doctorate in the field, combined all types of learning to make class as interesting and challenging as possible. From small groups to hands-on labs, watching videos, to the lectures (my hand still cramps at the thought of all the notes we had to take)- her class was by far the hardest I’ve ever taken, including anything I completed during my master’s program. Still, for some odd reason, I aced her class. One assignment in particular forced students to perform a field study that involved going out into the community and researching a religion, but the paper we had to write was more like a dissertation with all of its requirements. The tests, of course, were also the most challenging in my career because the professor provided five complex essay questions. There were no multiple choices or any hints to speak of.
The essays challenged the class to such an extent that I recall one student got so frustrated that he stood in the middle of a lecture and walked out. But before he did, he told the teacher off, saying something to the effect that the tests were unfair and too challenging and that the class was far too demanding. But to me, I recalled points that needed to be covered in each essay. I would quickly jot them down on scratch paper and then begin the process of answering the questions. It was as if the book was open in front of me. The answers just flowed naturally. For once, I wasn’t the student that was sweating at the back of the class, lagging. It was like being in a Zen state where time nearly stood still and my thoughts were clear and concise. It was just a matter of transcribing my logic to the paper. Finally, not everything was a struggle!
When you’ve got ADD, regardless if you’re a child, teen or adult, the misconception is that you’re simply unable to focus on anything. This statement is the farthest from the truth. Many people with ADD/ADHD can focus for long periods of time but only on specific things they might enjoy or find interest in. The other misconception is that if you’ve got ADD/ADHD you’re unable to remember things and that you can’t sit still. Finally, the biggest misconception is that you’re not able to attain the same level of success as a “normal” person. But, I’ve met plenty of doctors, lawyers, business owners and working professionals that have dealt with ADD/ADHD all their lives. The key is to not allow the label to define you or use it as an excuse, a crutch even, but as a tool to understand your strengths and weaknesses. Clutter and confusion comes naturally to those with ADD, so those with this condition can take positive steps by organizing themselves and their lives through simplicity. I try to do this as often as possible. I am constantly de-cluttering, organizing and keeping my space free of excess and unnecessary accumulated piles of junk that I likely don’t need.
One of my favorite activities is to box up whatever random items are cluttering my life, load the car and travel down to the local Salvation Army or Goodwill. Better yet, there’s nothing like taking a gigantic garbage bag and literally, tossing in items I no longer need or want and giving them to people who can actually use them. By keeping my life simple and clutter-free, it’s easier to focus.
According to the article “The Joy of Less” in a recent issue of TIME magazine, Americans possess more “stuff” than any other society. The article also points out that Americans aren’t reproducing as quickly as other countries. In fact, our children only account for 3.1 percent of the population. Yet the U.S. buys more than 40 percent of toys available on the global market. This equates to a glut of more stuff that clutters our children’s rooms, the backyard and the garage or spills out of closets. Personally, I find much of this stuff is actually crap they absolutely don’t need.
This is especially for someone who is diagnosed with ADD, regardless of their age. Recent statistics claim that approximately 11 percent of children ages 4-17 and 4 percent of adults are diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, though these numbers are potentially higher due to unreported cases or misdiagnoses.
All of us should strive to remove most, if not, all distractions from our work and living spaces to end the disorder as well as to identify the environment that is the most conducive to our personalities. For example, I’ll turn on classical music if I truly need to focus on a topic I am writing about. But for other tasks such as video editing, I prefer TV reality shows airing in the background. Why? Because the show’s structure is very easy to follow, it’s almost meditative white noise that helps inspire my concentration and creativity. I often glean from the shows ideas on editing and constructing scenes as well as new topics to research for documentary ideas or stories.
Others may need to work in libraries or in utter silence. Not me. I like busy, noisy places. Coffee shops are also fun places to work in, with music playing in the background and the din of conversations between other customers or even the staff. I know my weaknesses, so I found the methods that work best for me and my way too fast moving brain that is always thinking (and overthinking, and thinking some more). I need certain environmental stimuli to help make sense of what’s going on around me.
I, like most people with ADD, need to be stimulated more often than the average person. Short breaks help because I am quite compulsive and might try to work non-stop for 12 hours. It’s important to know your threshold for how much of one given task is enough for one day, or even for a few hours. My biggest challenge is a feeling of dread at the thought or perception that I’ve not accomplished enough.
I like to use a dry erase board to write down thoughts and get them out of my head and into an organized list. Again, I’m de-cluttering. It’s helpful to visually see my goals. But I try not to overwhelm myself or overdo it. Because, as I wrote in a previous post, sometimes I can sabotage myself by creating an unrealistic or even impossible list of goal or a time frame to accomplish them. It’s better to set realistic goals and simplified lists that you know you can tackle. Otherwise, the complexity might spark procrastination.
The Bottom Line:
Having a diagnosis, condition or “special need” can work in your favor if you know and regularly practice what works for you and what doesn’t. You can’t find solutions without knowing what the problem is. This is true if you have ADD or simply know and love someone who has it. It’s never a bad thing to know your strengths and weaknesses. Once you know what you’re working with you can learn how to manage it by finding healthy solutions that makes your personal and professional life easier. Find what works for you and your brain and your “system,” whatever that might be, and stick to the routine. Do not overcomplicate things. Instead, simplify.