Divergent Thinking

So far, 2024 has already been one of the more significant ADHD resource years since diagnosis. Between ADDitude magazine and podcast, the ADHD Women’s Wellness podcast, and now the incredible How to ADHD book by Jessica McCabe, things are feeling more hopeful and less mysterious than ever.

There are a lot of phases involved with accepting ADHD. On one hand, it’s a profound relief to have a name for what you’re going through. There’s reassurance in that and a sense of potential belonging where before, there was just isolation, confusion, and chronic disappointment. On the other hand, getting a lifelong title doesn’t feel great. It’s confirmation that things have been and will always be harder. There’s initial denial to work through on the path to acceptance and, eventually, advocating.

There are still unfortunate stigmas around ADHD to the point where being open about it initially was not an easy decision. It was the right decision for me, but I would never blame someone for keeping this a secret. Ultimately, I don’t want to be ashamed of something that actually makes up a substantial portion of my personality and directly contributes to my ability to do my job well and parent well, though differently. Divergent thinking can sometimes be a beautiful benefit, and these resources have enabled this clarity for me. It takes all kinds to contribute to well-rounded families, teams, and communities, and the ADHD brain is part of this unique, successful equation.

In considering the benefits of divergent thinking, curiosity and creativity are among the first things that come to mind. The unrelenting urge to further explore a random element leads to important questions and then important answers and revelations. Even on an individual level, it’s very nurturing for the mind and body to allow this unstructured wondering. These non-typical thought patterns and tendencies produce results generally perceived as more creative.

Reactions to the word excitable” are interesting. I’m not sure when it became acceptable to shun those with lots of enthusiasm, but I find it to be by far one of the most unique and powerful aspects of many ADHD personalities. Being genuinely, thoroughly excited about something, anything, is seemingly as rare as ever. It’s infectious in the best way. It’s motivating and can produce incredible products, incredible art, and incredible alternative thinking around a problem.

Unique thought patterns, in general, can be such an untapped, unacknowledged gift. One interesting experiment referenced in a recent podcast was based on the productivity of two groups of kids, one where the group included a kid with ADHD. As expected, the group with the ADHD kid got more off track, but what wasn’t expected was that this group got more correct answers. This is an essential insight into advocating for a shift in what we value and what being productive” even means. The kids with ADHD are not inherently wrong; it’s the society built around them that is falsely framing them to be.

Energy comes in abundance with ADHD–either in mind, body, or both. We punish kids who exhibit too much energy, and we harshly judge adults with unusual amounts. People half-jokingly wonder out loud what drugs we are on, and damaging words like too much” are thrown around. There are literally no limits to what this energy can achieve when harnessed and attached to a positive goal. And yet, those with this energy are berated because other people can’t imagine how it’s possible and seemingly feel threatened by it. It’s too often associated with behavioral issues with no regard for what these minds need.

Hyper-focus is a perfect follow-up to energy, but it is the one I’m most conflicted about including here. I find it to be among the best and worst parts. Like many ADHDers, I have mixed experiences with hyper-focus. Sometimes, it feels like the stars have aligned. Like this is what I was born to do. I’ll focus on a project, feel more alive than ever, and produce something that’s incredible, that I’m proud of, and is celebrated by others. Nothing else matters in this moment–like living in a tunnel.

But, even when something good comes out of it, living like nothing else matters has consequences. There are always other responsibilities that need attention, there is water to drink and sleep to be had. It’s all about understanding how to do it responsibly and in a controlled, deliberate way through creating cues, fighting distraction with distraction, establishing time cutoffs, and leaving breadcrumbs to find a way back. It’s hard and takes practice, and it is something I am still slowly learning how to do, but I have made significant progress. The ADHD mind has no trouble focusing when interested and I’ve found that just having this insight is invaluable.

While divergent minds can be extraordinary and offer the unique insight and empathy that we need as a society, they can also cause a life of pain and struggle. It’s a potential gift, and unlocking this gift depends on the individual’s ability to let go of shame and guilt, let go of trying to be someone they are not, and lean into these potential strengths that are right there going unacknowledged–leaning into who we are instead of fighting it.

This is especially difficult for groups of people who have been told we are wrong, weird, a lot,” and flaky. There’s no room for strengths when you’re told that who you are is a weakness. But as Dr. Hallowell, a psychiatrist and ADHD advocate, points out, we don’t metabolize our strengths but need to in order to see them.

Knowing how to kick off such an enormous undertaking can feel impossible. It’s a journey, and the first chapter of How to ADHD is an excellent start in holding your head a bit higher, understanding that you have value, rewiring your brain to be less cruel to yourself, understanding why you think the way you do and that you’re not alone. Anything is possible when we let go of what we should be and embrace who we are. And as a society, we need to better understand that no one is good at everything, and diversity in thinking benefits us all, unlocking solutions that are impossible otherwise. It takes us all working together to achieve greatness.

I’m excited to raise a kid in a space of empathy and empowerment versus how many of us were brought up. I’m excited to break the cycle. I’m excited to go finish the latest episode of ADHD Experts on my walk.

See you tomorrow over breakfast.

February 24, 2024

A tiny project byJoni Trythall inspired by friends at Wiggle Work.