We live in a society where many behaviours and natural variations of human experience are pathologized, so it was refreshing for me to come across an Opinion piece by Richard Friedman in the New York Times (November 16, 2014) that spoke of the benefits of ADD/ADHD.
As someone who has ADHD I am intimately aware of the positive and negative aspects of my particular brain and nervous system, and have learned to not just manage them, but intentionally structure my life in ways that I can thrive. Friedman speaks to ADHD not as an illness but rather as a “set of behavioral traits that don’t match the expectations of our contemporary culture”.
My main takeaway from the article is that the brains of people with ADD/ADHD “have sluggish and underfed brain reward circuits” that are “hardwired for novelty seeking” and without appropriate stimulation, much of “everyday life feels routine and under stimulating”. It is this lack of stimulation in our world that creates many of the stereotypical problems, issues, and behaviours people with ADD/ADHD struggle with.
Knowing this, the goal I have for myself and clients, with (or without) ADD/ADHD is to actively build a life that capitalizes on their particular traits and ways of being in the world. People with ADD/ADHD often complain of a short attention span, impatience, restlessness, and the need for stimulation and novelty, so rather than struggling to manage these traits, finding ways to deeply engage them.
An example of this is my choice of career as a counsellor – a profession that many wouldn’t necessarily see as compatible given the stereotypes associated with ADD/ADHD, the counselling process, and counsellors in general. For me, being a counsellor is an ideal profession because it calls me to deeply engage with people through relationship which piques my interest and curiosity. It’s a given that there is a high degree of novelty as no two clients or sessions are the same – this fulfills many of the needs listed above which in turn antidote my struggles with ADHD.
When I think of myself and my clients with ADD/ADHD, it is this need to engage and be engaged with people and the world around us that is essential for life, and if truly engaged, many of the stereotypical behaviours associated are reduced or vanish altogether.
I see engagement as different than simple distraction, because engagement involves a deeper sense of presence, participation, and a back and forth relationship whether it be between people or a person and their environment. In a larger sense, being deeply engaged creates a level of presence and organisation in the body and brain that doesn’t happen with simple distraction or completing tasks which we find mundane or lack appropriate stimulation.
As I said before, the goal for people with ADD/ADHD, including me, is to create a life with as much time spent in engaging environments and relationships, participating in engaging things. If this is taken to heart, choices about education, work, relationships and life in general become clearer, and more time and energy can be used to live life, rather than simply manage symptoms, environments, and relationships that don’t really work.