Life with ADHD is a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week-adventure!! If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with ADHD, then you know how challenging it can be at times. Unfortunately, most of our focus is on the “negative aspects and problems” of ADHD and rarely are the strengths or positive qualities of ADHD appreciated or celebrated!!
These amazing attributes are the other side of the coin so to speak. These are the assets, personal talents, strengths, genius of ADHD that enrich our world. They include such attributes as: out-of-the-box-thinking, creativity, innovative thinking, humor, musically intuitive, perseverance, adventurous, intelligent, charming, great problem solver, willing to take risks, curiosity, imaginative, tenacious, resilient, unique…just to name a few. Here are some of my favorites and real life stories and examples of these positive attributes of ADHD.
“The most successful people are those who are good at Plan B.” ~ James Yorke
Innovative, according to the dictionary, means using or showing new methods or ideas. People with ADHD are definitely “innovative!” Over the years some of my favorite clients have been young adults preparing to transition to college or out on their own for the first time. I will never forget the ingenuity of one of these students for how he used to get out of bed and to class in the mornings!
Like many people in college, waking up and getting out of bed for morning classes was a nightmare. Setting alarms often failed. Having someone physically shake him out of bed was never a sure thing. So one ADHD college student came up with a very innovative way of making sure he got out of bed and didn’t miss any of his morning classes.
Each night as he was getting ready for bed, he would go through the same routine. He would prepare the coffee to automatically go off in the morning and then set the alarm by his bed. However, experience had shown him that the alarm by his bed would seldom be enough to get him on his feet. To solve this problem, he made sure that as he readied himself for bed each night, he set the timer on the coffee pot to go off exactly five minutes after his alarm. His fail-proof innovation? The smell of coffee you’re thinking…nope.
When he made the coffee the night before, he made sure that the coffee carafe was not under the coffee maker! If he didn’t get up shortly after his bedside alarm went off, the morning coffee would end up all over the floor! According to him it never failed…that’s innovative!
“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” ~ Andre Gide
In general, adventurers are in their element when they are discovering something new or experiencing something different. When my son with ADHD was young, he was always the one who had to be out front when we were hiking along the trail. Or the first to wade outside of the “safe” zone into unexplored waters in Australia when everyone else noticed the “beware of blue bottle jelly fish” warning sign. He was also the first to try things like sushi, enjoy the treasures of rock hounding and sign up for the Navy to “see the world”.
I am not surprised that adventurous people such as Columbus, Lewis and Clark and other explorers are now thought to have had an ADHD brain style. Who else but a person with ADHD would embark on an adventure where the end result is uncertain, perhaps even dangerous? The risk of death was high and each day unpredictable with possibilities of falling off the edges of the world, encountering strange beasts and never returning to your homeland and loved ones. People with this awesome quality of adventurous spirit know that with great risk comes great reward and people with ADHD are almost always at the front of the line when it comes to seeing adventure as a great opportunity when it might leave others dead in their tracks.
“There are painters who transform the sun to a yellow spot, but there are others who with the help of their art and their intelligence transform a yellow spot into the sun.” ~ Pablo Picasso
A third favorite positive ADHD quality of mine is intelligence. Statistically, most people with ADHD have a higher than average IQ. Unfortunately, this innate intelligence does not always perform well on standardized tests or in the current academic structures, so this intelligence is overlooked or missed entirely. The difference is that the intelligence of a person with ADHD often cannot be measured by their GPA, standardized test scores, whether they turn their homework in, or their academic standing. Rather, persons with ADHD show their intelligence in such areas as:
- An aptitude in math, English, writing, sports, computers, performing or visual arts, nature, etc.
- Creative and productive thinking that generate new ideas and solutions and inventions
- Having a great sense of humor because they often see connections to ideas or concepts others miss
- The ability to become submerged (hyper focused) on a task that is innately interesting to them
- An innate sense of curiosity
It’s important to remember to include these other areas of intelligence when judging the “potential” of people with ADHD.
Everyone’s brain and ADHD are a bit different. We all have gifts and talents. With ADHD they might just look different…and that is not a bad thing. When we can appreciate these awesome ADHD qualities in ourselves and appreciate and honor these strengths in others…that is happiness.
- “ADHD medications aren’t natural.”
- “I only want to use natural ways to manage my ADHD symptoms.”
- “I don’t want to put anything unnatural into my body.”
These are just some of the familiar comments I hear during or following one of my presentations about ADHD medications. In our world where more and more things come out of a bag or a factory, it makes sense that we are trying to balance this with as much “natural” in our lives as possible.
I like to think that “natural” has become the new black. “Natural” has become very fashionable. I myself have been on an “all-natural” whole food diet for the past several months aimed at decreasing inflammatory arthritis that had been causing nasty pain in my back. I will admit, this natural approach has been the only thing that has relieved the pain and I admit liking to be, at least for once, trendy.
So, while I completely get it when we prefer “natural” and not wanting to put anything in or on our bodies that would be harmful, I must challenge the application of this practice and those who argue they won’t use ADHD medications because they aren’t “natural”. Because if we hold true to using only “natural” solutions, we’d have to toss out many of the ways we manage health challenges and deficits.
Consider these… Glasses aren’t “natural”. Insulin isn’t “natural”. Chemotherapy isn’t “natural”. Cold medication isn’t “natural”. Tylenol isn’t “natural”. Sexual enhancers aren’t “natural”. Inhalers for asthma aren’t “natural”.
I think you get the point. But, while some “unnatural” medical treatments seem to be accepted, the debate rages on with a great degree of passion about the “unnaturalness” (aka harmfulness) of ADHD medications.
Because I tend to get a little passionate about things I really care about, I wanted to be clear and check my own biases. So, I looked up the word “natural” in the online Merriam-Webster dictionary and found this:
Natural: existing in nature and not made or caused by people.
To me this means that unless it comes off of a plant (think green and growing) and not out of a plant (think concrete and artificial), it is not “natural”.
A plastic bottle with herbal or nutritional supplements, even when it is wrapped in a soothing label that has the words “nature”, or “organic” or “living” or “natural” does not mean that it is not man made. The very nature of the plastic container reveals its true “nature”. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself…pun intended) Ironically, most of the plastic bottles these “natural” supplements are marketed in are larger than any month’s supply of ADHD medication filled by my pharmacy. And it’s pretty safe to guess that these empty “natural” bottles are taking up their fair share of space in landfills. It seems to me to be a huge double standard. Natural does not come in a plastic bottle. Period. It just doesn’t.
Just as interesting to me in this “natural” (good) verses “unnatural” (harmful) debate is the actual capsule most “natural” herbal and nutritional supplements come in. Have you ever considered what they are made of? Again, I let my fingers do the walking and found numerous articles that had even me, a pretty tough gutted, raised on meat and potatoes gal, a bit queasy.
The most common form these “natural” supplements come in is the gelatin capsule. It is made from collagen taken from animal connective tissue, mostly from bones and skin of cows and pigs. In the process of making the gelatin capsule there is a pretreatment stage done usually with acetic acid. It’s been awhile, but I definitely remembered that anytime my high school chemistry teacher mentioned “acid”, it was followed by quick review of lab safety procedures as we were handed out gloves and protective goggles. Just saying.
Because the gelatin capsule is not appropriate for vegetarians or people not wanting to consume animal byproducts, there is a capsule available made from fish gelatin. In fact this is the type of capsule being used to encapsulate many of the fish oil supplements now. With this capsule, the skin, bones and fins of farmed fish are mostly used. The good news is that this might be a better choice for those with dietary restrictions. The bad news is that these capsules being made using farmed fish usually contain a higher level of toxins.
And don’t get me started on the lack of regulation or testing of these supplements! We become our own pharmacist or naturopath when we combine a little bit of this and a little bit of that supplement to decrease ADHD symptoms. Everything you put in your body reacts with something else you put in your body. Natural doesn’t mean “safe”; it doesn’t mean “take as much as you want” or take any combination from the plethora of supplement options, alphabetized from A-Beta-Carotene to Zyzyphus jujube on the store shelves.
I am not sure why it is with ADHD medications that the significant benefits gained from taking the medication are tossed out and ignored in light of all the other medical treatments that have a similar benefit ratio. Perhaps it is that there is seldom an opportunity for us to really see the entire picture. To be able to have the unbiased information needed to make the choice for ourselves.
Studies have shown that ADHD medications are 70-80% effective for children (Barbaresi, WJ et al., 2006) and in adults it definitely levels the playing field (Biederman, J., & Spencer, T., 2002). And for those concerned about the long term consequences of ADHD medication and addiction, current longitudinal research is showing that those students diagnosed and treated for their ADHD are significantly less likely to develop addictive behavior as adults. Although “unnatural”, the benefits of ADHD medication seem pretty clear.
Please understand, I am not against “natural” management of ADHD. In fact I wrote a blog about the best “natural” ways to manage your ADHD: The Five Best Natural Ways to Manage Adult ADHD. A multi-modal approach using a variety of strategies is important in the successful management of ADHD symptoms. And I know different things work for different people. However, we need to be fair.
ADHD medications may not be “natural”, but the benefits are clear. Nutritional and herbal supplements may have benefits…but they are not “natural” either. Why do we keep pretending they are? So if one “unnatural” solution is acceptable (supplements), why can’t we view ADHD medication as a reasonable possibly, dare I say, relatively safe strategy? Why do we continue to condemn and fear ADHD medications when they are regulated and prescribed by highly trained professionals? And how is it that the unregulated, over the counter herbal supplements continue to be “safe”?
The bottom line?
Our lives these days are blessed by options. Finding the right medication or alternative treatment that has significant positive benefits balanced with the least amount of negative side effects at the lowest dose is always the goal. Always.
There is still much work to be done in the fight towards ADHD awareness. There still rages the debate at a very basic level if ADHD is “real”. Unfortunately this leaves so many people with ADHD doubting themselves as they continue to struggle alone. Instead of arguing about what is “natural” or not, perhaps our energy could be focused on what “works” so we all can succeed.
Okay, rant over.
Natural? Unnatural? What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Albert Einstein once said…”Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
For instance, have you been trying the same strategies to get out the door on time, but constantly arrive late? Are you struggling to organize your day at work or home only to lose (errr…forget) important pieces of the puzzle? Do you find yourself losing your temper with your children, spouse or other important people in your life and end the day feeling frustrated?
And at the end of it all, do you feel just a little bit like you are going crazy?
Einstein had it right…insanity is repeating the same thing and hoping this time, things will be different.
But we aren’t crazy. When we keep doing the same thing, hoping the results will be different, it may be that we keep trying to solve our challenges using our weaknesses, rather than tapping into and applying our ADHD gifts.
For instance, one of the many gifts of an ADHD brain is the ability to be creative, but sometimes we get so stuck hyperfocusing on our failures that we fail to think outside the box to solve the problem.
Or often, we hit a “tipping point” and the old strategies don’t work anymore. We are suddenly struggling in areas of our lives where we usually find success.
What would it be like to pause, tap into that creative problem solving and ask…what can I do to fix this or what can I do differently?
The next time you find yourself in a situation where all your previous strategies aren’t working, try taking these steps:
- Stop and pause. Ask yourself: What is really the problem? For instance, continually having problems getting to work on time can be the result of many things. Is it that you are having a hard time organizing yourself to get out the door? Are you not allowing enough time to do everything you want to do to get out the door? Are you late because you don’t allow enough time for the drive? Are there new distractions or obstacles that pop up preventing you getting to work on time? Believe it or not, all these different situations require different solutions.
- Tap into your creativity. Creativity is just not for artists!!! Creativity is the use of the imagination for original ideas…and most of us with ADHD have this strength in abundance! So, try some creative, imaginative or even magical thinking to solve the problem. For instance ask yourself: If I had no restrictions (or even a magical wand), what could I do to get to work on time? Eliminate the ‘can’t, wouldn’t or shouldn’t work’ thinking. Get grandiose with some of your ideas. Chances are the “new solution” is in there somewhere.
- Now take action. What would be the next step you could take to put some of those strategies into reality? And then, what would be the next step after that? What can you do right now, today? Yes, you can’t slow down time, but you might be able to do something the night before to give yourself more time in the morning?
Finally (because I love a good quote to keep me inspired), perhaps consider this: Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is not noise, trouble or work. It means to be in the midst of things and still be calm in your heart. ~ Anonymous
I’d love to hear how you use your creativity in your problem solving!!! Let me know by responding to the post or emailing me at .