ADHD tends to make every aspect of life that much more challenging. Because attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) impairs the executive functions of the brain, individuals struggle with processing information, paying attention and prioritizing tasks. Naturally, this affects them at work and at home.
People with ADHD also often struggle with relationships and a sinking self-esteem. Fortunately, ADHD is treatable. And many people are able to lead fulfilling, productive lives.
In fact, most of the psychotherapists I interview for my articles on ADHD have the disorder. So in addition to helping others with ADHD succeed, these experts live with the same symptoms and types of challenges on a daily basis.
It’s why we wanted to know the biggest and most important lesson they’ve learned in managing their own ADHD. Below you’ll find their insight.
Accepting the Disorder
“For me, the biggest lesson I have learned in managing my ADHD is to accept that it is how I was born into this world,” said Roberto Olivardia, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and clinical instructor in the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
“It is my wiring. I feel fortunate that we have a name for it and that there is a field of study that helps me understand my brain better.”
Olivardia believes that the biggest problems associated with ADHD occur when people aren’t able to accept they have the disorder.
Realizing It’s A Daily Process
Psychotherapist Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D, NCC, has learned that managing her ADHD consists of small daily steps. “[O]ne of the biggest lessons, whether it applies to staying organized or doing projects, is that it is a lot easier to work on something every day than try to do it all at once.”
For instance, Sarkis, author of several books on ADHD, spends 15 minutes a day putting things away. She also follows this mantra: “leave a room in better shape than when you walked in.”
Not Letting ADHD Define You
For psychotherapist Terry Matlen, ACSW, the biggest lesson has been not letting ADHD define who she is. “I am a woman who happens to have ADHD.” She also focuses on her many strengths, instead of her challenges.
Another lesson Matlen has learned is to give herself permission to get help. “For example, many women [and] adults with ADHD think that having a cleaning crew or babysitter is a luxury. I see it as an accommodation for my ADHD.”
When her kids were younger, Matlen hired sitters to give her the opportunity to recharge. “[This] led me to become a better mother.”
Appreciating the Seriousness
Over the years Kim Kensington, PsyD, a psychologist and coach who specializes in adults with ADHD, has realized the power of ADHD. “I am still constantly humbled by my ADHD.”
In other words, when people with ADHD run into challenges it isn’t because they’re lazy, weak or unintelligent or not trying hard enough. ADHD is a serious disorder, and it’s not surprising that certain tasks will be tougher for you because of it.
Think of it as needing to wear glasses. Without glasses, all the trying in the world won’t help you see better. Fortunately, putting on glasses will. And doing so doesn’t mean you’re less than competent.
Having compassion for yourself and your challenges is important.
Knowing Your Challenges
For Kensington, also a procrastination expert, knowing how her brain works and targeting specific concerns has been additionally helpful. “We need to outsmart the challenges by knowing them really well.”
For instance, she tends to lose track of time. So she sets a timer. She also can get stuck on where to start. So she starts wherever or calls a friend to suggest the first step.
Knowing the Importance of Tools
For Matlen, author of Survival Tips for Women with AD/HD, visual cues are key in managing her ADHD. “I write everything down in my calendar, then work off of that using a separate to-do daily sheet.”
She keeps some items visible. “My best friend is my big bulletin board, where important papers, reminders, Post-its are kept so that they are in my face, reminding me of important things.”
She also makes sure that every item has a home. “Once an item has a home, it’s much easier to put things away.”
Considering Your Variables
In managing her ADHD successfully, psychotherapist Sari Solden, LMFT, has learned to intervene early and spot her personal warning signs.
Here’s how she does it: “I mentally run through a list of variables to examine. I ask myself … ‘Is my brain functioning well — medication, sleep, hunger? Do I have enough support in the right areas? Do I have too many things scheduled on a day [or] not enough planned? Are there too many things too close together [or] not enough excitement about what I am doing?’”
If things aren’t working, Solden, also author of Women with Attention Deficit Disorder and Journeys Through ADDulthood, remixes the variables. She might reduce her workload, delegate, change up the environment, get support, remove what she doesn’t need or add what helps her focus and is engaging to her.
Managing ADHD certainly takes work. But it’s worthwhile work that helps you lead a meaningful, fulfilling life.