How To Live With The Gift of Adult ADHD

Have you ever heard a man say, “I have the gift of prostate cancer! I can’t pee straight, sh*t straight, or get an erection! This is the best gift a guy could ever have!!” Not likely you’ll hear a man say that. Instead, you’ll hear how he is figuring out how to get around the shortcomings, how to have a “normal” life without prostate cancer becoming the focus of his life. Of course, its effects are not going to completely disappear, but it doesn’t have to be the center of his existence.

I’ve done the same with my “gift of ADHD.” It is no longer the center of my existence and I feel 400% better for having done so. I can concentrate on my work because I now see my ADHD as some sort of an annoying mosquito. I swat it and it zips away for awhile. I hear its buzz as it comes closer and I duck or swat or whatever I need to do to keep it away from me. Sometimes I don’t hear its buzz, it bites me and then, after a few expletives and a chuckle, I’m back at my work. That’s it! THAT’S the secret sauce to living and thriving with your ADHD. Reduce it to the size of a mosquito and keep fly swatters around — calendars; reminders; physical exercises, etc. — so you can reduce its annoyance and get on with the other 98% of your life.

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  • Brandon

    I have tried to use the defense mechanism of trying to forget about , ignore or minimize my ADHD in the past. However, in the last six months I have stepped up my ADHD education and only am now beginning to see how broadly it has affected my life. I can no longer deny my deficits in working memory, inability to track time correctly, how hard it is to implement daily habits and how hard it is to set, achieve and REMEMBER my goals. How did I deal with that in the past? By not planning my week/month, not setting goals, giving up daily habits. All because ADHD just made those things harder, not impossible (as I believed).

    I agree with you that we need to have the awareness to see our ADHD in action and have a good laugh. You clearly have struggled for some time with ADHD and even allowed it to become part of your identity (based on your blog title). I have heard the frustration in your videos when you state that every day is a struggle (agreed!). These struggles have enabled you to find out what tools in the garage work best for your mind and now you can finally keep pace with the other cars on the racetrack. It is a journey.

    ADHD personally affects much more than 2% of my life. However, I will no longer think that I am unable to accomplish anything because of my ADHD. This belief has enabled me to become a morning person, set goals, meditate daily, work to becoming an ADHD coach, and last but not least finally USE my basket for my keys and wallet. Sure I still lose my cell phone on occasion but I laugh. The past month I have had more energy and desire than I can ever recall in my life. All because of adapting a different mindset. Thank you for sharing this insight! I enjoyed how it made me reflect back on my life.

    • Jeff

      Brandon, it’s great that you’ve been able to make such strides. It’s said that success breeds success so, each time you manage to succeed at something, even if it is only a small success, they have a cumulative effect. And don’t forget about them because, you know, that darned mosquito is going to bite you when you look the other way and looking at your past successes will make it easier to swat that annoying mosquito and get back on task.

      Of course the “2%” statement is a bit of hyperbole. ADHD effects 102% of my being. However, by completely flipping the terms of the equation, by emphasizing my goals and de-emphasizing the ADHD – by seeing it as a nuisance to be dealt with – I feel like a different human being. The ADHD is still there. That won’t change. But my focus has completely changed.

      And thank you for letting me know that what I had written has helped you. You can’t imagine (or maybe you CAN imagine) how much that inspires me to keep on writing and sharing.

    • mark heath

      I feel the same way, about understanding ADD better in the last few months…or even month, after reading Taking Charge of Adult ADHD by Russell Barkley. I’m guardedly optimistic. One of the key insights: if you’re ADD, your ability to hold a memory is akin to supporting a brick with a wet tissue. I knew my memory was unreliable, but I thought it could be improved, worked like a muscle. Turns out my memory muscle is as weak as the rest of my muscles. So here’s my new plan: never trust my brain to retain anything. Don’t waste the time, energy, frustration. When I need a memory, it needs to be outside my head, as post-it notes, lists, signs, even tattoos (an idea stolen from the movie Momento.) A memory needs to be tangible, often tactile. I feel like an ancient civilization that can only be remembered by the graphics carved into temples, vases, tablets. The civilization of Mark Heath, defined and remembered by the marks I make on the world.

      This also reminds me of something called the Memory Cathedral. I think that’s the name. I came across it in one of the Silence of the Lambs sequels. Hannibal never forgets a detail because he’s built a figurative city in his head, with vast offices, file drawers, everything in its place. I need to do the same thing, with less cannibalism, and reversed — building the cathedral outside my brain, an architecture of memory built from notepads. Mnemonic origami.

      • Gina Pera

        Wow, Mark. That makes my brain hurt, just thinking of the task.

        But you…. you could draw it.

  • Gina Pera

    Nice post, Jeff. That’s always been my philosophy, reinforced by seeing how true it is for the thousands of people with ADHD and their partners whom I have met over the years.

  • mark heath

    That’s certainly my goal, to see ADD as a flickable bug. Right now ADD could double as a B-Movie insect.

    • Jeff

      Well…you could see it as a flickable bug…however…you’ll just need a VERY LARGE fly swatter. ;)

      • mark heath

        If I can rouse myself to action, I have some Spot the Frog strips that address your suggestion.

    • Gina Pera

      haha Mark. Where are your ADD t-shirts?

      • mark heath

        Gina, I’ve been thinking about ADD shirts, but it’s taken me a long while to settle on my ADD point of view. Do I hate ADD? Do I love ADD? And by love, I’m thinking of Lenny in Of Mice and Men.

        I’ve lately come to the conclusion that ADD isn’t a curse, because the cursed rarely triumph in the stories I’ve read. They don’t even win a compromise. It’s also not a gift, because a gift is a good thing. Anything less is something else. So ADD, for me, at the moment, is a disability, and how I feel about it depends on the day: did I stick with my list, did I heed the timer, did I catch myself spacing out after 30 minutes, or did I make the catch three hours later?

        I’d love to do ADD shirts, but I’d like to say something with them, express my view that ADD is serious and deserving of black humor — it’s not a cotton candy cloud, it’s the candy unspun and stuck to your fingers. It’s the wet sugar wiped on your pant leg, and the lint it attracts. If you understand all this, it’s not so alarming. But if you don’t think of the consequences of ADD and prepare for them, you’ll find your hands and pants inexplicably sticky — you won’t remember that cotton candy melts. It’s an ADD blackout. Unlike the alcoholic version, you won’t wake up doing 80 on an unfamiliar highway, you’ll wake up at 50 and wonder how you got there, why your career is only so-so, why life is exhausting.

        Now that I’m awake, I’m trying to stay that way. Like an alcoholic, I can’t let down my guard and have a drink. I’m a recovering ADD, which means I’ll always have ADD, and the quality of my life will depend on how well I remember that.

        If I could only fit all of that on a t-shirt.

        • Gina Pera

          That’s definitely a more intellectual viewpoint. But I think you’re up to the challenge.

          Perhaps it’s a limited market: those people who think in gray areas, not black and white, and who want to walk around with these ideas plastered on their chests. But it would probably be an appreciative market. ;-)

  • Scott Hutson

    Jeff, I think you have obviously been seeing great results from adhering to logical techniques (calendars, reminders, exercise….). These similar techniques have helped me also lately. Reminders (honey-do list on my fridge) is something that requires mental and physical exercise. Both of these exercises are logical techniques that could improve quality of life for any and all people’s. ADHD is one of the things that produce the appearance of shortcomings in my life.

    I’ve been figuring out a way around “some” of my shortcomings with the HELP of friends and most importantly family that encourage me by showing patience, and understanding the reasons for my shortcomings. So I guess I can say that Family and Friends are the center of my life, because I have seen how much they (you being one Jeff) have helped me (giving me the flyswatter) to fight these pests (symptoms). Great Post Jeff!

    • Jeff

      Scott…cuts this out!! You’re making me blush! But, yeah, you are absolutely right. Friends and family go a long way in dealing with these pests.

      • Scott Hutson

        Of course I’m right Jeff! ADHD made me a genius! ;) I make notes on my calender and yesterday and today are the dates for being an ADHD genius. Tomorrow is reality day unfortunately. :(

        • Jeff

          “Tomorrow is reality day unfortunately” – That’s my unfavorite day.

          • mark heath

            Let ADD work for you. Use a page-a-day calendar. When you get to Genius Day, forget to change the calendar for the rest of your life.

          • Scott Hutson

            HaHa, good one! But seriously speaking (somewhat lol), the flyswatter metaphore, getting on with the other 98% and so on, is the “secret sauce”. As Dr. Barlkey points out in his book “Taking Charge of ADULT ADD” (as I understand it), we know it’s(the fly) gonna bite sometimes, but we can take charge of it.

            So it is what it is, but it’s not gonna be what we (I) want it to be. Just because we happen to be talented in some things and have difficultly with those talents today, thats just life. ADHD won’t make me better or worse at the things I do. It’s just annoying some days when I scew up because I didn’t plan (make note’s on my calender for example). That’s my fault. Yes ADHD fly bit me hard that day many times(50%). Tommoro I will have a flyswatter, and will scew up maybe, but maybe not. If I do it won’t be ADHD more than 2% of the time. That’s just life(as close as I can get to a normal life). Not 400% better yet, but I still have some “vices” to deal with. COUGH COUGH.

          • Gina Pera

            And Scott, when you say vices, I take you mean the Cool Whip?

          • Gina Pera

            haha Mark! I’m scanning my 2011 calendar right now, but I see no Genius Days. Darn.

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  • EA

    Thanks for saying it like it is. I am so fucking sick, tired and frustrated of hearing how my brain is version 2.0, how I’m special and gifted and blablabla (it just goes on forever).

    If I’m so blessed, how come I’m suffering inside…

    • Jeff

      Obviously I’m on your side concerning “the gift.” What’s puzzling is, why do some people insist on referring to something that can be debilitating as being a gift? I haven’t come up with an answer just yet.

      • Mark Heath

        Gift is too strong a word. And now that I think about it, I wonder if GIFT has a religious ring to it, as in blessing. Or Good Fortune. God Fortune, gift thereof. I’ll agree in this sense. If ADD is a gift, it wasn’t earned/deserved, it was given. I suspect that most people with ADD don’t deserve it.

        Slept late this morning. Brain still in dream-mode, not thinking clearly.

        If Life Hands You Lemons
        Make ADD.

        If the gift argument was centered on making the best of a disability, I’d agree with it. I think Life is a gift, but it certainly has it’s dark moments.

        • Jeff

          “I wonder if GIFT has a religious ring to it, as in blessing” – You are probably right. And…if this is the best that god can do in terms of a blessing…I’ll remain an atheist.

          • Mark Heath

            I’m an atheist, as well. If God is dispensing blessings, they’re of the mixed variety. I’d be pressed to think of a blessing that wasn’t a mixed one. That’s why I find try to find comfort in the moment. If something feels good, if a moment feels right, I might as well enjoy it. Later on I’ll likely have a headache, a stomach ache, a bill, a deficit of some sort as a consequence.

            Having forsaken the bible, my new text is “The Monkey’s Paw.”

            • Jeff

              “The Monkey’s Paw” – aka The Reality of Adult ADHD. ;)

          • Gina Pera

            Gift is very close to grift.

      • Gina Pera

        I have a theory, Jeff, but I’m too tired of repeating it.

        Summary: physiological and psychological (defensive) denial + shaky internal fortitude (also can be physiological and psychological) + marketing.

      • Jumpeight

        as to “gift” of  Adhd-not going to get into that here (you do have a bit of an army of back slapping supporters) but take alcoholism. attendance at more than a few meetings and you will encounter someone telling their story that they are glad to have the “gift” if you will, of addiction. Their awareness that their addiction brought them to a place they might (probably) would never had reached had they not been brought to their knees by substance abuse. The ability to work the steps, find a new life (next to none) become aware of spirituality (perhaps v religion) in their life, and learn a way to live that would not have been found without the depths of despair that came with the pain of addiction. This is not too terribly dissimilar to the gift of ADHD when approached in this manner is it not? Step away from an M and  it becomes a W or 3 becomes an E. simplistic-yes, but it can open the mind to possibilities that are immediately dismissed with black and white thinking. Can you see any of the traits mentioned about ADHD that could possibly be turned to an advantage? or do you dismiss altogether any traits and any positive possibilities of any of them? just curious.
        I tried watching the videos of Dr. Barkley-but his excessive negativity was just boring (actually I wanted to figure out what his problems were-hmm borderline personality? hehe-anything to get away from his tedium). I suppose I avoid depressing, bloody and scary movies for the same reason-I no longer pay money to elicit bad feelings. “surround yourself with people and things that bring you lightness of spirit” Barkley=fail. I just can’t buy into his negativity. Call me foolish, unthinking, not realistic. but I most assuredly have lightness of spirit.

        • Jeffs ADD Mind

          The real problem lies with the word “gift.” It smacks of a pseudo-religious explanation of life. That’s my problem with the use of the word in this context. ADHD, alcoholism, downs syndrome, etc., can only be “a gift” if there is someone/something doing “the giving.” That’s the very definition of the word gift. Whether we state it explicitly or not, when we use the word “gift” to describe ADHD, etc., god is still lurking there in the background, still playing the role of the invisible “gift” giver. If, like me, you are a devout atheist, then it makes no sense to use the word “gift.” It would be more logical to use the “attribute” or “characteristic.”

          • Jumpeight

            good point. to be a gift must be a giver.  hmm if one can think spiritual instead of god, can it be from the universe? nature? is that acceptable to an atheist? or just some power outside ourselves? god’s ok with me, but I get your drift re: gift.
            my point still remains regarding the positive acceptance part. once accepted, it becomes a choice how to view it and what to do with it. hanging in the negativity of it has never done me any good. it then just takes up too much space in my life. I just don’t have time for that any longer. an aside-Barkley’s revolutionary new take and definition of hyperfocus-eh? just what I’m saying. Taking an act and defining it in the utmost negative way. I rather like hyyyyyperfocus-screw Dr. B. 

            • Jeffs ADD Mind

              I would prefer to leave out the word “positive” and just go with the word “acceptance.” We can use a Popeye philosophy: I yam what I yam. That’s an acknowledgement and acceptance of one’s self. In addition, this does not carry an obligation to eat spinach if you don’t wanna. ;)
              And speaking of Popeye, see:

  • Mark Heath

    Another best-selling t-shirt: The Grift of ADD.

    • Gina Pera

      Great book title!

      • mark heath

        Write a proposal for The Grift of ADHD.

        A sample chapter or two.

        You’ll get half of your advance upfront.

        Skip town.

        • Gina Pera

          Jeff writes. Mark illustrates,

        • Jeff

          “You’ll get half of your advance upfront.” “Skip town.” – Now THAT’S a business method I can endorse! ;)

          • Gina Pera

            Yes, as Mark cleverly proposes, the grift in action!

  • max

    love this. thanks jeff. i’m 34 and about in the same place. fucking finally.

    • Jeffs ADD Mind

      ” i’m 34 and about in the same place. fucking finally.” – Heck, you beat me by almost 20 years. And welcome to the blog!

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  • DavesNotHere


    I came up with a new analogy do describe my ADD brain. I say it’s like a nuclear reactor. I’ve got all these techniques and habits working as shields and safeguards for the massive energy inside. I tap into it this massive energy and I do amazing things. Army Helicopter pilot, Aerospace Engineer, Scientist, Expert Pistol shooter, 3rd degree Japanese Archer etc…

    I think people immediately understand “nuclear reactor” as something that is very powerful and potentially dangerous. For me it gives me the mindset that I can do amazing things but I do need to be careful.

    The things I have done in my life and continue to do makes people view me as accomplished, intelligent and competent. Convincing people that I am ADD is difficult until I explain the nuclear reactor analogy. Then they REALLY understand how I get all my energy and why I emphasize structure and focus in my life.

    The ADD brain is an amazing thing and it needs to be contained, refined and tapped into carefully to reach its potential.


    • Jeffs ADD Mind

      I like the analogy!! And I’ve also been in the position where people can’t believe that I’m ADHD.

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