"You’re Not ADD (Part 4): You’re A Fine Girl"

They say attention deficit is invisible in girls, and now I understand why: we work our butts off to appear normal.
My personal opinion, as my readers have surmised by now, is that ADHD is a brain type but not necessarily a disorder. I believe that, by choosing the right attitude, we can overcome our challenges and figure out how to live with our limitations. Or better yet, get our mysterious minds to work in our favor. I know that because I managed mine so well that even I couldn't tell I had it!
It’s not a disorder when your life has some order...
— Kristen Caven
As a child, I had grownups demanding and directing my focus. On my own, I had to learn ways to work with my quirks. I never in a million years imagined I had ADHD. I wasn’t hyperactive; I was happy. Having to come back inside three times before I was truly ready leave the house was normal in my family. I thought all young adults had chaotic lives — jobs that didn’t work out, moving 10 times in 3 years, romances in the double-digits.
They say ADHD is invisible in girls, and now I understand why. We care what people think about us and work our butts off to appear normal. We gather support from our friends and try to solve our problems. We focus constantly on self-improvement, and apply our anxiety to managing our symptoms.
I created a lifestyle that leveraged my chimerical focus. My freelance art and design business provided plenty of stimulation in short-term, one-on-one situations, where I could use my problem solving skills brilliantly and hyperfocus beautifully, working under pressure on a kaleidoscope of projects. As a new mom, I could move mountains during nap times.
But when I had problems, they were certainly ADHD problems. I’d put a positive spin on the lost days, the stupid mistakes, or the despair now known as RSD — but they are a fact. Therapists and coaches always helped, but the troubles always returned.
When I’d be tested for ADHD, which happened several times over the years, I tried to be honest. If I’d had a good week, I’d answer no to questions like “I take on so many commitments that I can’t keep up,” “I can’t get things done unless there’s an absolute deadline,” “I have trouble keeping my attention focused when working,” and “I am forgetful in my daily activities” — even though the answer on another week might be TOTALLY!
My husband was no help, either. On the quizzes, he’d compare me to my other family members, next to whom I seemed incredibly sane and stable. And they never asked the million-dollar question, “Do you and your spouse fight constantly over the things she sort of forgot to tell you and the way she can never quite finish folding the laundry?"
So over and over I heard the answer: You’re too functional to have ADHD.
And for years, I agreed. Because I had the good sense to idiot-proof my life with spare keys. Because I had friends who, when I was in a mood and jerked them around, would forgive me. Because I remembered that bright days were always around the corner from bad days. Without a clock to punch, I could always take the extra time I needed to do the job right.
But I could never get the help I really needed.


"You’re Not ADD (Part 3): You’re Artistic"

The ADHD brain is disorganized by nature. Any structure I've imposed on mine has come through my creativity.

Do you fidget? No, but I doodle in the margins of everything. Are you driven by a motor? No, I’m driven by my insatiable quest for Beauty. Do you daydream a lot? Um, yeah, duh. I'm using my imagination...
I was never bored, since my mother kept me supplied with pencils, crayons and notebooks — all the medicine I ever needed.
— Kristen Caven
When the therapist interviewed my mother to see whether I’d had ADD as a child, mom resisted. She was loath to define me — or any child — pathologically. She had always played up my strengths — and thus my messiness, my inconsistencies, and my “elsewhere-ness,” were simply seen as by-products of my creative nature.
In Driven to Distraction, Dr. Hallowell talks about how, lacking an inner structure, a mind with ADHD needs to structure itself around something. How grateful I was thatmy mother welcomed me and encouraged me to structure my mind around creativity! I was never bored, since she kept me supplied with pencils, crayons and notebooks — all the medicine I ever needed. The impenetrable bedroom was a work-around. I developed my talents and work always came easily. Someone always needed a sketch for something or other. "What is creativity," asks Hallowell, "but impulsivity gone right?"
Approaching/wading through midlife, however, I was feeling inwardly burdened by my creative nature. My schedule was packed with social events involving costumes, my files were bursting with unfinished sketches and drawings, my house was cluttered with interesting things that needed dusting, and my computer was filling up with unpublished novels. I could barely juggle my twenty clients, all of which wanted a different slice of my graphic design and writing and drawing and designing and creative consulting talents, with all of the volunteer work I wanted to do. On the ADHD screening, however, I showed up as stable, having owned the same business for 20 years and being a pillar of the community.
Searching for connections one day, I found a wonderful article by organization coach Ariane Benefit about my Meyers-Briggs personality profile, the rare borderline ENTP/ENFP.
In Is it ADHD or Creative Personality Type?, she writes, "Creative personality type refers to people who thrive on growth, change and novelty, and tend to get bored with anything that is too repetitive or that stays the same for too long. They also:
  • prefer exploring new ways of doing things,
  • take more risks than the average person,
  • challenge the status quo,
  • want to try new things,
  • delight in solving problems,
  • prefer to research and continuously learn new things over implementing routines."
Doesn’t that sound familiar? Doesn’t it sound a little like the Interest Driven Mind? Or ADHD? The huge number of successful celebrities who are comfortable with a little creative chaos tells you there might just be a connection between the two. I guess it’s whether or not you can stand by your strengths, grow your intelligence, and have a purpose. Without clear goals and a guiding structure, creativity can be cancerous, growing in every direction and taking over every room in the house. It becomes, to quote F. Scott Fitzgerald on the second page of The Great Gatsby, “that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of ‘creative temperament.’" Distractible, Impulsive, and Hyperactive.
Distractibility is a fact of life — there is always a new and interesting idea. Impulsivity is energy — to act on my ideas. And hyperactivity, well, that will help me go the distance. I call these extra voices in my head my muses. By doodling in the margins, I give them something to do so that I can make some forward progress on my best intentions. It’s the power of creativity.