Stop forcing yourself to be normal and embrace the random of ADHD

TL;DR (Am I the only one who thinks that these should be at the top?) It seems most readings on how to deal with ADHD symptoms focus on strategies to make us conform to the way “normal” people function. I think there needs to be more of a focus on how ADHDers function in their own way and how we can use that to be extra productive.

In my latest therapy session, I found myself saying these words:

“I latched on to studying ADHD because I knew that my brain worked differently from other people. I figured that if I could learn how I can harness that different way of thinking, then I could use those strengths to solve all or most of my problems. Then it wouldn’t matter if all my furniture was on the ceiling or not, if it meant my house stayed clean, I would just become the quirky guy with furniture on his ceiling!”

You see, I have a huge problem with keeping my living and work space clean. For the most part it’s no problem for me. I know where everything is for the most part, and I’m comfortable working and living in that environment. It only becomes a problem when company comes by. I’m afraid they will be disgusted by my low standards of living and not want to associate with me, but that’s a different topic.

See, just about any research you do online for how to conquer your mess/clutter when you have ADHD seems to point to a single solution. Start small, simplify your task, and work in short bursts. This works for the most part. It allows you to tackle the mess, and get to a clean house. The problem is that the house never stays clean and before you know it we are tackling the mess again in short simple bursts.

That’s when we try and tackle the repetition problem by setting up ways to keep up with the maintenance. We put up checklists, set schedules, and attempt at making these smaller cleanups into new habits for ourselves. Essentially we are trying to force ourselves into behaving like any “normal” person would.

I first stumbled upon this behavior when I was living in my previous apartment. When I woke up in the morning I would walk over a pile of dirty laundry on the floor in the hall. I had a laundry hamper, but it was in my bedroom. The problem was that I didn’t feel like walking through my apartment half or fully naked to my room to place my dirty clothes in the hamper, so they just lived in the hallway until I did laundry. This, however, created a messy look in my apartment, and my cat had a random unfortunate tendency to think that it was an alternative to her litter box. I needed a simple and powerful solution.

That was when I thought to myself “If that’s where I’m throwing my laundry, then that must be where the laundry goes!” So I moved my hamper to fit my behavior. I had to eventually get a skinnier and taller hamper to make room in the hall, but the change had a great effect! I am now describing this behavior as “Embracing the Random”.

Fast forward to today. One of my posts on Reddit prompted a comment from someone in the community. It lead me to this article (We’re Driven by Attention — Not Lacking It) and the one linked inside about the idea of an Interest Driven Nervous System. In it was an interesting sentence that got me thinking:

“As he puts it (consequences be damned), [ADHDers] are only motivated if something is Novel, Interesting, Challenging, or Urgent.”

I considered that if that were true, I could use those attributes to make a priority system for my todo lists. At work I have been having trouble tackling my list of things todo because priorities kept shifting, and I wasn’t interested in certain projects, and I kept hitting road blocks in the projects I liked. Essentially I was being buried by my todo list at work and was anxiety locked, not knowing where to start. So I got to work on my new system instead, thinking that I would end up with something like Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix.

What I did find was very interesting. These four attributes have specific properties that affect my behavior. Interesting things will catch my eye and cause me to pay attention to them. These will be things that look abnormal, behave in a way that’s new to me, or are presented to me as a problem I could fix. These interesting things, upon further inspection, will usually lead me to something Novel. These will be things like a new way of thinking that I could learn from, or a simple game to get me better at something I want to be better at. Now, Challenges are different. I define those as something that gets in the way of normal function. In that case, Challenges are the road blocks in our tasks and projects, and the more challenging something is, the more frustrating it gets, and we ADHDers lose interest. So the “Challenge Value” negates the “Interesting Value” of a task. UNLESS the task is urgent. Urgency to a task will overwrite our ability to lose interest, because something of importance is at stake. Therefore the More urgent it is, the more we will dedicate time to it whether we want to or not.

Since I have a background in web design, I ended up thinking of this as program code. Here is what that looks like in psuedocode for those of you who have any interest:

i = Interesting
n = Novel
c = Challenging
u = Urgent

function ADHD {
	For (i = value; i >= 0 ; i--) {
		Do {
			If (taskCompleted) {
				return victorious
			} else if (i <= 0) {
				return defeated
		} while ((n - c) > 0 || u > 0)

function Work (N) {
	if ((N * random) > 50%) {
	If ((brickWall * random) > 50%) {

So… What does this all mean for tackling my todo list. Well, to start off, I took my list and started organizing it in the order of tasks I find most interesting. I also looked at the projects that had the most urgency value and moved them closer to the top. They didn’t get to the top at first despite them being urgent, but that’s because they depended on a few of the non urgent tasks (but more interesting) tasks above them. I think this worked in my favor, because it allowed me to work on more interesting tasks and make progress before I had to move to less interesting projects thereby boarding the “productivity train”. This small change in tactics, allowed me to get more work done in the past few days than I had in a while.

I still have a lot of work to do on this idea, but the progress I have made really helps to drive my point home. If we start using methods that support our ADHD behaviors instead of forcing us to behave the way “normal” people do, I think we will make far more comfortable progress and help WAY more people.

Embrace The Random



Harness My ADHD Mutant Powers

For a few weeks now, I have been seeing a therapist. I had to acknowledge that I am too unhappy and too stressed out to not ask for help. It was a decision I had been meaning to make for quite a while, but I was too distracted to make it worthwhile. I think I chose the perfect moment to help myself out, and even better, I also think I found the perfect Therapist.

d573c712af754b0808032c93b7924e87At first it seemed like all our time together was just going to be me venting my frustrations onto a stranger before saying “See you next week!” only to come back to do it all over again. Every session I felt like I had to convey the frustrations of the past week while at the same time trying to pass on the information of a lifetime of frustration that had been building up and building up. Our Sessions always seemed to end too early. I could have spent years constantly talking to him and trying to make him understand why I was there. After many extra long sessions of me pouring out all of my frustrations on to this poor guy (seriously, the life of a therapist must be hard), he finally stopped me to shine some light on the deep darkness of my mind.

A big part of my sessions were me talking about my ADHD-I. I have never been what I have come to understand is “properly diagnosed” but a psychiatrist did run me through a DSM5 questionnaire that said I was right on the border because I didn’t answer positive for any hyperactivity. He even prescribed me some medication that I still take because my other doctor and I decided that it was helping me. This plus me reading up on ADHD and watching countless videos online has lead me to believe that if I were “properly diagnosed” I would test positive for ADHD Inattentive type.

My Therapist heard all of this and came up with an idea. He listened to me for a while on our latest session but stopped me after a bit. His idea was simple and he conveyed it in a way that played on my natural geeky tendencies. He said that I was constantly focused on all of the problems that were plaguing me due to the way my brain works. He said that I know everything I need to know about my ADHD and how it can not only hurt me, but help me too. He said to try breaking free my focus on the negative and refocus it on the positive. What positive traits do ADHD individuals have and how can you harness them like a mutant power?

marvel_charactersOnce he started drawing similarities of my ADHD to that of the X-men, I realized that I was just like any new superhero coming to terms with his or her powers. In Spiderman, Peter Parker is bit by a radioactive spider and given spider powers. Now, unlike me, Peter knew exactly what his new abilities were and how he got them. He also saw the immediate benefits of them. This, for me, was a longer and more confusing journey. I didn’t know why I thought the way I did. It was a problem in middle school all the way up to the day when I discovered ADD, after that, it finally had a name and I was able to research and test myself to see if I fit that mould. Unfortunately, what I didn’t realize is that all Superheroes must come to terms with the negative aspects of their powers. For Peter, he learned that if he didn’t use his powers, his life and the lives of those around him would fall to tragedy. He also learned that telling anyone about his powers could put them in danger. Peter felt a great loss due to the death of his uncle and the alienation of friends and family.

This is a scene you see in every superhero movie. Hell, you see it in every movie where “The Hero’s Journey” takes place. In Spiderman, It’s the scene of Uncle Ben’s Funeral. In X-Men,  It’s the scene where Rogue’s boyfriend is having a seizure on her bed. The Avengers, Bruce Banner passionately talks about his attempted suicide. Lord of the Rings, Frodo sees the effect that the One Ring has on Bilbo. Harry Potter, always getting locked in his “room” for doing magic. Matrix, Neo faints when he realizes the truth of his existence and what his life will be from now on. Frozen, Elsa hurts her sister and locks herself away. Kung Fu Panda, He becomes the dragon warrior but is saddened to find that nobody likes or accepts him. Finding Nemo, Marlin is saddened to find that the only fish willing or able to help him has short term memory loss. I could go on and on.

The interesting thing about these scenes are what happens right after them. Someone who is a little more experienced in this “new world” the hero has stepped into, enters the scene to lend a helping hand. This help usually comes in the form of showing the hero the positives of their new abilities. This person refocuses their thoughts and says “hey, you’re still human so mistakes will happen, but look at the good you can and could do!” In Spiderman, Aunt May reminds Peter that his uncle knew he would grow up to do great things. X-men, Iceman reminds Rogue of the beauty their powers can bring. Avengers, Hulks power can be an immense force in battle when harnessed. Lord of the Rings, Sam constantly reminds Frodo what they are trying to save. Harry Potter, Hagrid brings Harry to a world where magic is accepted and taught to be controlled. Matrix, Neo learns the benefits of tapping into his brain like a computer. Frozen, Elsa is able to build amazingly beautiful structures in a matter of seconds. Kung Fu Panda, Master Shifu shows Po that his passion of food can be transferred to Kung Fu. And finally, in Finding Nemo, Dory shows Marlin that if you persevere through the bad and don’t let it scare you, the world will open up to amazing experiences and lessons.

icemanblowsMy therapist looked at me drowning in all the negativity that my ADHD has seemingly caused me and reminded me that, if properly channeled, my abilities could help me to do amazing things. He told me to focus on all the times where I was being a functional human being. Focus on all the times my thoughts were working exactly how I wanted them to. I need to analyze those moments and discover why I functioning so well. Think of all the times I was hyper-focusing and what caused it. Treat my ADHD as a super power. Learn the physics about my abilities. How do they work? What causes them? What stops them? How can I get the most benefits with the least drawbacks?

That is what this Blog entry is all about. I am taking the first steps towards honing my mutant powers. I am starting my training montage. Step 1: Hyper-focusing. This is a common ADHD trait and I aim to find out how it works. The following blog entry will be all about it.

PS: This song is relevant. Kirby Crackle – The Day My Powers Arrived (YouTube)