Imagine being able to work happy and fast for 18 hours straight without complaint, as long as you have a new and rewarding task to complete every few minutes.
That’s my brain.
When I worked high-intensity catering gigs, my legs would give out before my focus would, and I became an asset to the small business I worked for as a result.
If you can give me a dish to serve, a drink to pour, a guest to guide to the bathroom, a box to pack, a smashed glass to clean, something, something, something, all the time, I’m good.
The only problem: once I’m on, I can’t stop working or continue one task for too long, or I turn off.
And once I’m off, it’s a train wreck. The simplest tasks are met with more resistance than I can rationalise.
I’ll get frustrated at myself for not wanting to do the thing I’m avoiding doing, start doing it, then start something else, which I’ll also be resistant to doing… And it cycles. Which sucks.
I’m diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), but keep in mind that an attention deficit diagnosis is far from black or white.
There’s a huge spectrum, and no two of us display exactly the same cocktail of inattentive, hyperactive, or impulsive behaviours.
Also, almost everyone not diagnosed with an attention deficit disorder will illicit some of the behaviours which are key signposts of an attention deficit diagnosis.
Everybody loses their keys, fidgets, or shows up late from time to time.
But not everybody gets so wrapped up in a project that they regularly forget to eat for three days even though they fully intended on cooking, and were really looking forward the (now inedible) salmon they bought themselves a week and a half ago, which they also forgot to freeze four days ago.
People with ADD/ADHD just experience this stuff more regularly, and more severely.
My brain has worked this way for as long a I can remember, but didn’t consider the possibility that I even could be on the spectrum until I was into my adulthood. I was lucky to be a bright kid, and I could always hyperfocus in tests and exams, so nobody really noticed.
It wasn’t until I was unintentionally domineering a conversation with a new friend at a bar, completely bombarding him with all the things I had going on, when he gently and respectfully asked if I was on the ADD spectrum.
He meant no offence (although I caught myself wanting to take some), so I brushed it off and continued to revel in how busy I was.
Or I thought I brushed it off – it ached like a thorn in my head for weeks, which I continued to dismiss.
After all, I knew what ADHD looked like. I knew hyper kids who couldn’t sit still, did poorly at school, who acted out, these were the kids who bullied me.
I, like most of the people around me, falsely associated ADHD with disrespectful, troubled kids.
If I hadn’t, I might have been able to find better ways to organise my life at a much earlier age. I probably wouldn’t have been messing with polyphasic sleep schedules to get through high school.
By no means do I blame myself for these assumptions. Attention deficit is not something that the majority of people are well informed on. The stigma surrounding the condition is thick.
To muddy matters further, I grew up in one of those typically misinformed, ‘big-pharma is the root of all evil and want to numb everyone’s personalities with poisonous drugs,’ households.
While I’d separated myself from those views on an intellectual level, I certainly hadn’t done so emotionally.
I didn’t realise it until later on, but I had a hardwired distrust of psychoactive medication, as well as anyone involved in the production, distribution, or advocacy for it.
Still, the thorn continued to ache and I needed to pick it out. So I started reading.
I vividly remember going through a grief cycle the first time I read a symptoms list.
I cried sitting at my computer.
I always just thought that either this was something everyone experienced, or I just wasn’t smart, or organised, or dedicated enough.
This turned out not to be true, and my first response was shame.
The more I read, the more certain I became, until I booked an appointment with my GP.
A year or two down the line, I feel incredible. I’ve managed to put systems in place to maximise the blessings of my ADHD, while avoiding my distractive triggers and shitty impulsive cycles.
Becoming aware of my ADHD allowed me to take control of it.
I’ve lost more than 10 kilograms. I’ve been more productive than I’ve ever been. I’m starting things, and finishing them. I’m reading – something I hadn’t been able to do consistently since my early teenage years. I get up at ungodly hours of the morning, often to exercise (what?).
I have many content creators to thank for helping me to reframe the way I think about ADHD, and I’d love to share just a couple.
The first, and most motivating, voice I encountered in this space was Peter Shankman. Peter is the author of Faster Than Normal: Turbocharge Your Focus, Productivity, and Success with the Secrets of the ADHD Brain. Which is full of Dad jokes, but is a really accessible read which I recommend highly.
This book convinced me that ADHD was a blessing, not a curse.
His podcast, also called Faster Than Normal, is great place to start if you want to know more about what ADHD looks/sounds/feels like from professionals in the field, or successful people who manage their ADHD in interesting ways.
My favourite episode is this one, where he interviews Seth Godin (the inspiration for this blog) about his own ADD.
Seth brings up the famous Hunter vs Farmer analogy, which is popular in marketing circles, but also perfectly describes the difference in natural intensity and focus between ADHD and non ADHD folks. You can read Seth’s thoughts on this in his blog post, Hunters and Farmers.