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Living with ADHD

          You know that feeling when you walk into a room and you know you had a specific reason for going in there, but for the life of you, you can't remember the name of your fourth grade teacher who had a dress with the same colors as the carpet in here, but a completely different pattern with little red flowers that always reminded you of the bandana your grandmother put on her dog who bit you every time you tried to pet it, but you kept trying to pet it anyway, which should have taught you the hard lesson that not everyone you like will like you in the same way, but you were thick-headed enough to make a fool of yourself over and over again for that first great love of your life, whose name escapes you at the moment, but you'll never forget that amazing dinner you had together when you discovered how much you love foie gras, even though you know how cruel it is, but you didn't know it then, and as hard as you may try, some things just can't be undone, and isn't it better that way, really, because life is all about experiences, anyway and even the bad ones are wonderful in their own... THERE'S that screwdriver!

          Living with severe ADHD forced me to realize at a very young age that I shouldn’t trust my memory. Most people with ADHD have some memory challenges – and some of us are significantly more challenged than others. I never could memorize the “what’s” “where’s” and “when’s”… To learn anything, I had to understand the “how’s” and “why’s”.
          I compulsively took things apart to figure out how they worked. I couldn’t always put them back together the way they were designed – but I did develop a knack for rebuilding them in better ways… At least I thought they were better – my father didn’t always agree.
 
          I became obsessed with all things mechanical, physical, tactile… I loved working with my hands, and still do. As a kid, my dream was to own a junkyard, so I could spend all my days tinkering and building things. (To be honest, I’d STILL love that!)
          I absolutely treasure handmade things. Everything made by hand carries a piece of the builder with it. They’re haunted, in a sense – and that makes them so much more valuable to me.

          So, yeah... It makes perfect sense that I got into IT, right?

          Well... Another thing that’s fairly common among people living with ADHD is habitual patterns. On the surface, these patterns bear a resemblance to OCD rituals, but there’s an important difference between them – rationality. A primary marker for OCD rituals is that they’re irrational. ADHD habitual patterns, on the other hand, are supremely rational – rational to a fault, some might say. People living with ADHD have consciously and purposefully developed these patterns. (Keys… Pills… Wallet… Mandala… NOW I can leave the house!)
          When these patterns are fully engrained as habits, you condition yourself to experience a physical and emotional response when the pattern is not performed – or it's performed incorrectly. I'm both Pavlov and his dog.

          Of course, there is the critical balance between habit and process. Habits, useful though they may be, force people into stagnant modes of action. Rote habits assume static systems, which run into direct conflict with mindfulness. Processes need to be designed with flexibility and attention toward the dynamic nature of reality and life.
          When you have limited control over the order and state of your mind, you tend to find ways to exercise control over the order and state of your life and surroundings. Where living with ADHD has revealed itself most of all in the struggle for order in my life is through systems and processes.
          Organization is not just a preference for me – it’s very much a survival strategy.
          In May of 2016, I posted the following on Facebook:


“Those of you who love someone living with severe ADHD, please try to understand why organization, processes, systems and consistency are so critical to many of us for our mental health, peace of mind, and ability to function in life. It's actually fairly simple. For many of us, all the aspects of our environment that we can exercise some degree of control over, collectively serve as a life-sized, dynamically-evolving to-do list. The things that are out of place, out of order, outside of expectations: Those are the things that need to be remembered, addressed, completed... Without the organization, processes and systems in place, we are, quite literally, hopelessly lost in our own world and life. That's a state nobody can function well in, and something I would never wish on anyone.”


          Everything I do – and I mean EVERYTHING – is executed and managed through processes that are all part of larger system, and I’m constantly analyzing and refining all the systems in my life, to improve how they all work together.

          When I was about seven years old, I watched the movie “Cheaper by the Dozen”. It was based on the lives of Frank Gilbreth and Lillian Moller Gilbreth. They were visionaries, pioneers and leaders in many workforce & production efficiency fields: “Occupational Psychology”, “Scientific Management”, “Time & Motion Studies”, “Ergonomics”, the list goes on… In short, they were “Efficiency Experts” – this was the first time I had heard the term.
          In one scene, Lillian was using a stopwatch to time Frank as he buttoned up his shirt – or maybe it was his vest, I can’t remember which. Then, he unbuttoned it, and she timed how long it took him to button it again, this time from the top-down – to see which was more efficient.
          My seven-year-old heart jumped for joy. I found my people!
          I thought: “People will actually PAY me for this?!?!” I instantly knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.
          To be fair, I also decided I wanted to be at least two dozen other things, over the years (including a junk man, of course) – but in every job I did have, the Efficiency Expert in me took over...

          I was working at a Pizza Hut in North Carolina, and came in on my day off to completely tear down and reorganize the entire kitchen, along with the food prep and storage areas, to make it more efficient.
          I was a waiter! I didn’t even work in the kitchen at all, but the lack of efficient, effective organization grated on me daily. It deeply offended my sensibilities to see it operating the way it was.
          Systems and Process Engineering is not what I do, it’s who I am.

          I think it’s important to note why I say I “live with ADHD” rather than “suffer from ADHD”. I can clearly trace a whole host of ways living with it has shaped me into the person I am today – classifying it as an ailment or affliction would mean I’m somehow damaged – or less than I could or should be. I like myself far too much for that.
          To be sure, some people do suffer from ADHD but, in my view, you make a choice – whether or not you consciously choose – to either suffer from it, or learn to live with it.
          ADHD is just one aspect of the rich, complex, beautiful tapestry of Craig Wilkey.

          In fact, I very much see ADHD as a gift. But, like most every gift, it comes at a cost…
          I was usually the smartest kid in my class, yet usually had the worst grades – until I eventually dropped out of high school.
          I have a fierce passion for learning new things, so I have a real depth of knowledge on very few things.
          I learn extraordinarily quickly, and learn well, which makes me highly adaptable – but I get bored very easily, which makes me frequently discontented with my work.
          I’m great at coming up with innovative ideas and novel solutions to problems, but I rarely follow through on any of them.

          So, that’s the short story of how an underachieving, card-carrying Luddite of a scatterbrain with a ninth-grade education ended up with a successful career in a field where most of my peers have advanced degrees in esoteric information sciences.

          ADHD is not a disorder, unless you let it be.

May 11, 2017, 11:07:47 am

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