Changing The Stigma of ADHD

For Kim and I, it can be a bit unnerving giving video content over to someone else to edit.

It’s led to some nervousness for both of us this year, as we have been contestants on The Amazing Race, a CBS travel adventure show where partners race around the world for a million dollars. Since it’s CBS’s show, they can do whatever they want with the material that they get when the cameras are rolling. We don’t get to sign off on it like in our own content.

I have been pleasantly surprised, however, with the amount of time they have given to our specific mental health issues. 

ADHD & Anxiety Struggles

When Kim took an INSANELY BRAVE leap off a dam in Switzerland, they openly showed her struggles with anxiety and helped the viewer better understand the condition. For me, a recurring storyline has been my ADHD, both the good and the bad. I have had plenty of hyperactive reactions, and I even spazzed out and stared at a clue for 20 minutes without realizing that it was a clue. (The picture below says it all.)

Photo: Michele Crowe/CBS ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

 

In the post-race interviews I talked about “hyperfocus” – an ADHD trait which can be a real pain in many situations, like when you are fixated on TV or video games. However, in situations where hyperfocus is turned to something constructive, it can be a real superpower.  

Harnessing The Good

I first noticed it years ago when I was editing or writing music in my attic office. There were times I would be so deep into a segment of a video or the chorus of a song, I would look down at my fingers and see a burrito on a plate and I’d have no idea where it came from. Kim had come up and dropped it right in front of my face and I had no idea. (Pro tip: If you have ADHD like me, try to find a partner who not only puts up with it, but also nurtures it.)  

But, on The Amazing Race my hyperfocus seems to be more obvious than ever before. Away from the dozens of daily distractions, we had one job: perform optimally when Phil said “GO!”  In this vacuum, I feel like ADHD became a real advantage…as long as I wasn’t losing everything I owned along the way (again, THANK YOU, KIM!)

Photo: Courtesy of CBS Entertainment/CBS ©2022 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 

In the episode you saw last week, Kim and I were fortunate enough to win a leg of The Amazing Race (and some money) thanks in part to my ability to hyperfocus. There was an important challenge at the end of the leg which required every team to listen to a priest give a 15 minute lecture about 10 saints. We then had to answer 5 questions by selecting 5 pictures (chosen from a group of 20 very similar looking pictures). The challenge tested our memory, both auditory and visual, and it tested our ability to remain focused for 15 minutes of information.

My dad is a preacher and I have heard about a thousand 15 minute sermons. I have never made it through a single one without spacing out, thinking about something else, then coming back to earth and wondering what the heck he is talking about – and my Dad was a much more engaging orator than this guy. BUT this week, I managed to pass the test on the first read-through, something that no other team was able to do. I didn’t space out, in fact it was quite the opposite: I hyperfocused. I remembered everything.

Changing The Stigma

The leg victory seems to have struck a nerve as we have gotten quite a bit of positive correspondence from people who have the same type of brain I have. People are thanking me for accentuating the positive side of their condition, and asking me how I managed to harness the “superpower” that so many of them have. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me, every single letter. Here are three things I want everyone who wrote to know:

  1. We MUST do a better job accentuating the positive side of ADHD, because (and this is a hill I will die on) the name ADHD really sucks and it needs to be changed. Imagine being a kid and being hit with that title. It stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. That’s three really negative words in a row: Deficit. Hyperactivity. Disorder.  (Way to kick us while we are down!) Many other disorders have had name changes to eliminate negative connotations but ADHD remains. When you have it, every time you hear the name, you are reminded of three negative things that you are. I mentioned that it must be tough as a kid, but it also stinks hearing it as an adult. So I decided to brainstorm with a friend for a new name. (I am sure that in the end doctors will do a better job with this.) As a musical person I came up with the nickname “Staccato” to describe my brain. Musicians use the term to describe sharp, short notes that can sometimes be all over the place but are full of energy and usually very upbeat. Mozart was a master of staccato, as was Ella Fitzgerald, and more recently, just about every rap artist alive. My brain is Staccato.
  2. Engaging hyperfocus at the right time only works when you legitimately care about something. You can’t fake it. There was $1,000,000 on the line when I took that test with the priest. If that guy was telling me that story next to me on an airplane I would have failed miserably. A million dollars is not a carrot you can dangle in real life. Sometimes, we have to make ourselves care to make this work. For me, I make tasks (no matter how mundane they may seem) a challenge like in The Amazing Race. For example, I make a checklist, sometimes even written out, and if I get to the end of it I’ve won the challenge. It also helps when I acknowledge that no matter how mundane a task is to me personally, it often means a lot to someone I love (Kim likes it when I do dishes.) That’s another reason to care. ADHD people love to please others, we just need to remind ourselves sometimes that we are doing it with the little things.
  3. Your loved ones can give you grace and forgiveness for your condition, but you can’t use it as a constant excuse. True story: This weekend our family took a quick vacation. I left my carry-on bag with all of my clothes and toiletries in the terminal and flew to Florida with nothing. All of these things are understandable given the fact that I have trouble with my executive functioning. My wife and family were very forgiving when I spent an extra hour with lost and found, and when I had to miss the start of our vacation to go to Target to buy new clothes. But I really needed to acknowledge their patience and show my gratitude. Also, when something like that happens, I can’t say, “Womp womp, ADHD, let’s move on.” I have a responsibility to figure out how to try and avoid the same mistake in the future. I will never get on a plane again without asking myself, maybe even out loud, “Do I have everything I brought to the airport?”

Just Like Spiderman

ADHD takes work. It’s work that others don’t have to do because it comes to them naturally.  That may bum you out a bit, extra work is no fun. But, ADHD is also a superpower – you just have to figure out how to harness it like every other superhero you know. 

Spiderman was really terrible at using his web shooters at first.

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