Embracing My ADD

How one family therapist learned to navigate the world with her ADD-ish brain.

Susan Stiffelman • Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
susan stiffelman image

I fondly refer to it as my “ADD-ishness.” Back when I was a kid, it got me to call people named “Singh” out of the telephone book so I could practice my Hindi with someone—while stuck in Kansas where there were few Indians. Later in life, it motivated me to rent my house out for two-and-a-half months and take my 15-year-old son to Uganda, Tanzania, Australia and New Zealand to get him out of California and participate in our global citizenship. It has made my life rich, varied, interesting and spontaneous.
And it’s also made it challenging.
We all live somewhere on the spectrum of having attention issues. Who among us wouldn’t confess to wandering into the kitchen to fetch stamps for the bills we just paid, only to end up rearranging the silverwear drawer. Throw in the gift of being female and all bets are off. We are wired to multi-task; the baby could be bitten by a wandering coyote if we focused too intently on grinding the maize.
But for some of us, our brains idle on hyper-drive, yanking us from one shiny object to another, making it difficult for us to tend to the ordinary and mundane.
I inherited one of those brains. Not too extreme a version, mind you, and with all kinds of perks, but with its share of challenges.
Here is what I have discovered as I’ve learned to navigate the world with my ADD-ish brain and have coached lots of others to do the same.
First, having this kind of brain is a blessing. It’s cool. It makes life interesting—it makes us interesting. We bring playfulness, sensitivity, spontaneity and all kinds of creativity to whatever we do. (Unless we’re in a bad mood, overwhelmed, or exhausted, then, well, we're like everyone else.)
We see things outside the box, and bring a perspectives to situations that more conventional minds do not have. And we’re usually very smart, and really nice. (I know that is at least true in my own case, but I politefully digress.)
AND, we can be terrible when it comes to taking care of boring things, like balancing the checkbook, keeping track of time when we’re immersed in something we enjoy, or remembering where the stamps actually are once we’ve managed to get ourselves to sit down and pay those bills.
The biggest help for me came in several forms. The first was neurofeedback. In the hands of a great practitioner, this brain training is a powerful tool for helping regulate the brain.
The next best strategy was my beloved planner pad. It is my boss, my assistant, and the steering wheel to my day. My planner pad tells me (in soft whispers) what I should be doing at any given time, and helps me stay the course when I have specific obligations.
Finally, the biggest help for my ADD-ishness has come in the form of profound self-acceptance and love. I have made peace with my flaws, including the difficulties I have with doing one thing from beginning to end. Many of the articles I write (although interestingly enough, not this one) are done in bits and pieces, interrupted with trips to the kitchen to make a smoothie, walks with the dog or five minutes of TV time. I just work better when I don’t feel I have to sit and do one thing forever, which is how it feels when it’s something I don’t particularly want to do or something that feels hard.
I love who I am, and more importantly, I like who I am. I have pretty much fallen in love with myself. Sounds pretty weird or new agey, but it’s true. And that includes my quirkiness, my sensitive nature and my sometimes wild horse of a brain.
In the world we all grew up in, left brain skills like logical thinking, sequential organization and linear processing have been important. But according to Daniel Pink, the author of A Whole New Mind—the right brained skills of problem solving, storytelling and empathy are going to be essential to our success going forward.

I embrace my ADD-ishness and invite you to do the same. Even if it does mean a few adjustments and modifications to manage the little things. With support, coaching and a few strategies, it can contribute to a wonderful life.


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First Published Wed, 2011-06-01 11:11

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