Life with ADHD

On February 11, 1985 at 2:00am I sat in a jail cell in Birmingham, Michigan. The wait for my dad to pick me up felt like eternity. I was 15 years old. At the time, smashing three floors of signs and stealing the metal die cut “EXIT” squares, in the apartment building that we just attended a party at, seemed like a great idea. And then, what seemed like a better idea was to take those metal signs and whip them at cars in the underground garage. What a perfect way to spend the waning hours of February 11, 1985. Unfortunately, the police would ultimately disagree.  

A stupid night fueled by impulsivity along with a few other personality traits. This behavior would follow me, in phases, throughout my childhood and into my twenties.

I recall it was around kindergarten that my teachers started throwing up red flags on my behavior in school.  Not necessarily that I was a deviant, but rather had a hard time concentrating and focusing. Always fidgeting or squirming and easily distracted. It wasn’t long before my parents reacted and took me to a psychologist.  And, I believe the diagnosis was something in the line of what we call ADHD today, but back then they had not coined that term. 

In fact, ADHD dates back to 1902, when a British pediatrician named Sir George Still described a group of children who displayed symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, which he believed to be a medical condition.  However, it wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s that ADHD became more widely recognized as a distinct disorder. In 1980, the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) included ADD, as it was known then a diagnostic category, and in 1987, the American Medical Association officially recognized ADHD as a medical condition.

As a result of that visit with the psychiatrist, I was put on Ritlin. The effects were very, very noticeable, to the point that I was like a zombie. I believe that back then, they didn’t really have a grasp of the dosing regimen and if they had, I believe my parents would have continued its use.  I wanted no part of the pharmaceutical solution then, and still don’t. As a result, I have spent the last 30 years practicing techniques that help to manage my proclivity for impulsivity and hyperactivity.

I do not like the labeling game, calling ADHD a “neurodevelopmental disorder” negates the attributes and gifts that have enriched my life for over 50 years.

For all the time I have had difficulty sitting quietly without “stimming” as my wife calls it and paying attention, whether it was in a classroom or conference room, I have also been able to percolate ideas and innovative thoughts at a pace that exceed most others. For every one of these difficulties associated with ADHD:

  1. I have difficulty paying attention to details or making careless mistakes in schoolwork, work, or other activities.
  2. I have difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities.
  3. I have trouble organizing tasks and activities.
  4. I am easily distracted by extraneous stimuli.
  5. I am forgetful in daily activities.
  6. I dislike tasks that require sustained mental effort.

There are also many gifts:

  1. I am highly creative and have a unique perspective on the world. I am able to generate new and innovative ideas and think outside the box.
  2. Although I struggle with attention in some situations, I am also able to hyperfocus on activities that I find interesting or enjoyable. This intense focus has led to high levels of productivity and achievement.
  3. I have high levels of energy and enthusiasm, which is contagious and inspiring to others.
  4. I am spontaneous and enjoy taking risks, which has led to new experiences and opportunities.
  5. I am highly empathetic and emotional and have formed strong emotional connections with many people.

This is why I made the decision early on, to never treat the difficulties of ADHD with pharmaceutical solutions. I felt it would debilitate all the positive attributes. As a result of this choice, I have had to find alternative ways of management. And here are some of the most highly effective:

  1. Any form of meditation, even once a day, can help calm the mind and body.  Meditation is defined within a broad category and includes everything from Transcendental and Visualization to Binaural Beat and Hemi-Sync to some of my favorites like Walking and Sound and Bathing.  Meditation is simply any activity that is able to help clear your mind to put you in the present moment.
  2. Any form of physical activity from walking and running to ANY sport or hobby that gets you moving and expending energy.  This includes working out, Yoga, Martial Arts, boxing, Tai Chi and Qigong.
  3. Any type of Body Work from Massage and Shiatsu to Reflexology and Rolfing to Reiki and Stretching to Acupressure and Breathwork.
  4. Doodling has been shown to help reduce stress and increase focus (click the link to read a study done by Harvard Health Publishing).  I have incorporated doodling into my meetings as a way of staying present and focused – and it really helps.  It sounds counterintuitive, but I am really able to stay focused on the subject matter of meetings while I am doodling. The doodling keeps my mind from wandering.
  5. Taking a 10-20-minute nap can do wonders to calm your system down and reset.
  6. Schedule all your daily meetings or activities.  Keeping track of these events on Outlook or any other scheduling program is imperative to overcome your forgetfulness.

Medication free I graduated from college and Law School, passed the Michigan Bar Exam and have owned and operated a number of businesses. Along the way, these were just a few of the techniques that I utilized to manage my ADHD.  Over the years it has gotten easier because I am able to identify those triggers that heighten my ADHD. With that said, it still takes an almost daily commitment to managing the impulsivity, inattention and hyperactivity. The beauty is that, if you are committed to non-pharmaceutical management, the gifts, for me, surely outweigh the difficulties. 

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