I’m sure you are asking yourself why anyone would make a statement such as ADHD is not a disability. But I don’t see it as a disability, but more of a gift. Before you start calling me a bunch of (not so nice) names, let me give you a little bit of history about myself.
A Little Bit about Me
Let me begin by saying, no, I’m not nuts. But I do know a thing or two about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. And yes, I do realize disorder is right there in the name. I have ADHD, 2 out of 3 of my kids have ADHD, and my boyfriend has ADHD, along with most of my family members.
Growing up with, and around it, you get used to it I guess. I never got in trouble in school. But I was also pretty active. I participated in organized sports for as long as I can remember. I also spent a lot of time playing outside. Very little time was spent watching TV or reading books. To this day I don’t do much of either one of those things.
Raising Three Boys
Two of my three boys have ADHD. It was noticeable at a very young age with my oldest son (Kodie). He got into everything. To say he had no attention span is an understatement. At this point in my life I had no knowledge of ADHD, or any other disability for that matter. I really didn’t know what to do about it other than keeping him really busy.
When Kodie was two, I enrolled him in soccer through his pre-school. All three of my boys have been in sports since they were two or three years old. This was the only thing I knew to do that was helpful. The more energy they used up, the less hyper they were… well, sort of.
No matter what I did, they still had way too much energy. But at least it was tolerable. I knew if they had too much down time they would make me miserable.
On the up side, my middle son is the one who does not have ADHD. He was by far my easiest. So I did have a bit of a break I guess.
Trouble in School
Around first grade, Kodie started getting into trouble at school. Nothing big. Talking out of turn. Talking in the hallways, or other areas they were required to stay quiet. I started getting notes sent home from his teachers. He went to a Catholic school, so these types of behaviors weren’t tolerated. Of course by this time I started learning more about what ADHD was and that it even existed to begin with.
I scheduled an appointment to meet with a behavioral specialist for Kodie, in hopes of better understanding what I was dealing with. He went through the full testing procedure for ADHD and was given a formal diagnosis.
Of course this diagnosis also came with a recommendation for putting him on medication, which I did. He was on a very low dose, but it was enough to get him to control his impulses. This lasted for two years until Kodie decided he didn’t want to take them anymore. My family is sort of against medication so I was all for it. If there is an alternative solution, I’ll take it, every time. He started working on controlling his impulses and was able to get completely off the medication before starting fourth grade.
ADHD in Adults and Women
By the time my third son (Tony) came along, I was very familiar with what ADHD looked like in young boys. But I still had no idea it was something adults or women dealt with. I always thought it was limited to little boys. That girls didn’t have it, neither did adults. I figured at some point my boys would outgrow it and chill out a little. Boy was I wrong!
I discovered the reality of adults and women having ADHD by accident. I was talking with a fellow artist, whom I met online, about going to school. We were both entertaining the idea of going to college while raising a family and working. Not to mention being in our 30’s.
I was sharing my concerns with her about going to school. I didn’t do well in high school and I have a terrible habit of starting things and not finishing. My biggest fear was quitting school before I got my degree.
That Life Changing Moment
What she said to me changed my life. She said, “You know you have ADHD, right?”. Of course I thought she was crazy at the time. But then she sent me a link to a questionnaire, which had close to 100 questions. I completed the questionnaire and at that moment realized I did in fact have ADHD. I wish I still had the link. I’ve looked for it several times and can’t seem to locate it. The questionnaire not only evaluated whether or not a person is considered to have ADHD, but it also brought some things to light. Things that are not what we think about as being related to ADHD.
Characteristics that are Typical of People with ADHD
One of the questions asked about a sensitivity to smells. My sense of smell is so acute, my boyfriend often refers to me as a blood hound. Most of the time it’s annoying, but it comes in handy when I’m trying to find someone at work. I can literally follow their scent and locate them.
It also talked about forgetfulness. Which is common with a lot of people, but not to the extent that it is with someone who has ADHD. If I don’t capture the important things that pop into my head, they’ll be gone forever.
Talking out of turn. This one goes along with the forgetfulness. Even as an adult, I’ll interrupt someone to say something that pops into my head. Yes, I know it’s rude. But if I don’t say it I’ll lose it forever. I like to believe I’ve learned some tactfulness over the years though.
The reason I don’t read is because I can’t remember what I read anyway. My mind starts to drift off onto other topics. Or I’ll start getting sleepy. Same thing with watching TV. If I try to watch a movie, I may as well call it nap time.
There are many other common characteristics. Too many to mention here. Many of which people don’t associate with ADHD.
I know, I’ve pointed out a lot of negatives about having ADHD. But there are things that can be done to minimize the impact. For me, knowing and understanding the disorder made all the difference in the world. You can’t let it hold you back from being everything you know you are capable of being.
There are also a lot of positive characteristics with the disorder. And just like there are ways to minimize the negative, there are also ways to maximize the impact of the positive.
One of the positive characteristics is that there are no shortage of ideas. My brain never stops working. It’s not always usable information, but it can be, if I pay attention to what’s going on in my head. This is something my boyfriend really struggles with. But we are working on ways for him to unclutter his brain and not get overwhelmed by everything that’s going on in his head at any given moment.
List, Journals, and Organizers
One of the ways we deal with this struggle of so many thoughts and ideas is with the use of daily planners and lists. I am, without a doubt, a list person. I have so many lists, I need a list of all my lists. In some ways this helps me feel in control and organized. But in other ways, it feels like complete chaos.
Several years ago I came across an organizer on some social media site (can’t recall which one) that seemed interesting. It’s called a Passion Planner and was something a bit different from your typical planner.
Using a planner was new to me and has its own set of challenges, for sure. But like with anything, the goal is to improve just a little bit each day. Baby steps! Developing a system is a process in itself, and that’s ok. Just keep moving forward.
Writing everything down has made a huge impact in my life. I spend 13 hours out of every day at work. A good portion of that time is spent walking and I do a lot of thinking while in transit. In fact, I do my clearest thinking when I’m walking around.
There are a couple of things I’ve started doing to use this to my benefit.
- When I need to clear my head, and make sense of my thoughts, I take a walk. But I don’t just set out on a walk. I establish a purpose first. What do I want to accomplish by the time I get back to my desk?
- I take notes as I’m walking. Sometimes it’s on paper and sometimes on my phone. I have learned that if I don’t write it down, I’ll forget.
It actually took me a bit of time to start making notes. I kept telling myself I’d remember. After all, I’m an intelligent, educated woman. How hard is it to remember a really good idea for 15 minutes? Turns out it’s impossible. I had to let go of that little piece of pride, and do what works. And what works is writing things down.
This is the biggest reason for having so many lists. I’m afraid of forgetting things so I write everything down. But since I lack organizational skills (and sorting skills) I have too many lists. By the way, lacking organizing and sorting skills is another common characteristic of people with ADHD.
But the point of writing stuff down is to utilize all of my thoughts. And I’m managing to do that, despite all my various lists.
The Challenges of Living with ADHD
Obviously there are always going to be challenges when living with ADHD. And in most cases there are probably more challenges than there are benefits. The question is, what are you going to do with those benefits? How can you make sure the good outweighs the bad? Keep (or start) finding ways to get more structure and organization. Get all those great ideas of your head out and make something wonderful with them.
The next step for me is to start a bullet journal. I have never heard of this until just recently and I’m intrigued by the opportunities it presents. Maybe I can get all of my lists into one place. I’ll share my progress and pages with you as I develop my strategy. And if you have any tips for me and our readers, please share them in the comments.
ADHD and Art
So what does any of this have to do with creating artwork? Quite a bit actually. For starters, one of the things I have noticed is that a lot of creative type individuals have ADHD. I don’t know the science behind this. Maybe it has something to do with how our brains are wired. Left brain vs. right brain. I don’t really know. What I do know is that creativity and ADHD often go hand in hand.
Because of this, I’m going to assume that many of my readers will share the same struggles. And the one thing I know for a fact is that when you are struggling with something, knowing you’re not alone can make all the difference in the world.
So why do I say ADHD is actually a gift? I say this because for someone who likes to be creative, all the ideas are amazing. Once I get that first idea, the rest start coming out like an avalanche. I only wish I had time to do something with all of them!
I’m interested in so many different things, there is always something to explore. Sometimes I feel a bit “all over the place”, but I’m never wondering what I could draw. I often wonder what to draw first. But I’m never at a loss for an idea. I’d much rather have too many ideas than not enough.
Bringing it All Together
So what do we do with all of this information? For starters, understand what is holding you back and don’t be ashamed or embarrassed by it. Confront your own issues and struggles.
Find a way to capture all of your wonderful ideas. This will mean something different for everybody. I have a book for sketches to capture my ideas for different works of art. I also have an Excel file that I makes notes in so I won’t forget important thoughts or ideas. As mentioned earlier, I also use my phone to keep notes (which are later transferred to my file). I bring it all together in my planner where I organize and prioritize my thoughts.
Don’t overthink things. Don’t worry too much about what to focus on next. Pick something and go with it. If you spend too much time trying to decide the perfect next move, this will usually result in nothing being done. It’s far better to do the wrong thing first, than to do nothing at all. And it’s one more thing that can be checked off of your list.
The biggest struggle, in my opinion, is how to “harness” all of the ideas and thoughts. And then to make sense and something productive out of it all. But we learn by trial and error and that’s ok. Just keep making progress. Keep making today better than yesterday and tomorrow better than today.
I’d Love to Hear from You
What are you struggling with?
Have you done anything to harness your ADHD?
What strategies have you developed over time to help you organize your thoughts and your life?
How do you maximize your creativity?
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