Inner- vs. Other-Direction

 Several decades ago in a college sociology class, I first encountered the concepts of the inner-directed person and the other-directed person. I gained the clear impression that to be inner-directed was preferable. But it was also clear to me that I was pretty far into the other-directed camp.

 Over the years, I have thought back to that moment, one of the standout incidents among my few memories of my college classes. Until quite recently, I have staunchly retained the belief that inner-directed people, people I imagined lived according to their own internal gyroscopes, unswayed by the opinions of others, were superior. They knew who they were and lived authentically, I believed.

 But recently, as I have learned more about ADHD, I have begun to ponder another way of looking at other-directedness. Rather than describing a chameleon-like person with a weak sense of identity who changes as the winds of external circumstances blow, the phrase could describe a person who is energized more by engaging with others than by engaging with his/her own thoughts. In other words, it could describe the location of a person’s energy source rather than of a person’s identity source.

 As I have begun to pay attention to this phenomenon, I see that many ADDers lose focus and energy when they are alone or without clear external direction. We, since I count myself as one of this group, can even seem depressed at times when external stimuli are lacking. Then the minute another person or interesting external stimulus arrives on the scene, the ADDers’s energy level can rise and what seemed to be depression can lift.

 I don’t actually know what the psychologists and social scientists might say about this observation, but it’s something I’m curious about. I’ll keep my eyes open for any references to it as I read and will post anything relevant in future blogs.

 Feel free to weigh in if you have thoughts!

Support in Our Communities

 People who have ADHD in their lives can feel alone without a community of support. Whether you are an adult with ADHD, a child or teen with ADHD, the parent or spouse of someone with ADHD, or even the caring friend or co-worker of someone with ADHD, it can help to talk about your experiences with people who understand your challenges because they have lived them.

 Over the past fourteen months, my husband and I have offered a monthly meeting to people in our small town. We have promoted it as a support group for adults dealing with ADHD. We have placed an announcement in the community calendar section of the county newspaper and have tacked posters onto bulletin boards around town. The posters have had tear-off tabs at the bottom with a phone number and email for contacting us.

 It has been interesting to go back to those posters after each monthly meeting and see that at least half of the tabs have been torn off. Some months nearly all of the tabs are gone. That indicates to us that there are quite a few people who have some interest in a group like ours. So far, however, only about a dozen people have made it to at least one meeting; some months Neil and I sit alone, but recently an average of three to six people including the two of us have turned out.

 Most of the people who came said they appreciated the opportunity to talk about their lives with other people who have lived with ADHD. It’s a powerful feeling to see the light of recognition in the eyes of another person who has had a similar experience to yours, especially when your own life experience has led you to feel that there was something wrong with you.

 It has been sad to see that several people did not want their names listed on a Meetup web site because they didn’t want others to know they had ADHD. They felt the weight of a stigma—probably something that has been with them most of their lives. I’m hoping that bringing people together to share experiences and strategies that work for them and resources that help, etc., will go a long way toward reducing the stigma.

 We also need to do a better job of educating people in our communities about ADHD and our different brain wiring. One purpose our posters and newspaper announcements can serve is to raise awareness of ADHD in our community and to bring it out into the open—especially as it relates to adults.

 See if your community has any meetings you might attend. CHADD chapters often host meetings. If there is nothing in your community, perhaps you can start some.

 Feel free to use this blog as a forum for sharing tips about how to get such groups going. What has worked for you? What are you going to try next? Do you have groups for teens or parents or adults or partners of ADDers or all of the above? What resources can you recommend for programs or topics? 

 Let’s bring ADHD out into the open in our communities by supporting and educating each other and by correcting the false information that continues to be published about ADHD. 

Asking Truly Curious Questions

 Why is it so hard to ask a sincerely curious question? I’ve been pondering this lately as I have become aware of how I usually ask questions.

 Let’s pretend I’m talking to my friend Mary. Here are the two most common types of questions I ask:

 An either/or question – “So, Mary, was it like this, or was it like that?”

     I wonder why I feel the need to frame a question as if there were only two possible responses. Do I think it makes me look smarter to Mary if I demonstrate that I have thought of all the possibilities? Do I feel that I must give voice to every possibility that flits through my brain before being quiet?

     I’ve been told that if I open my mouth and find myself heading down the road toward an either/or question, I can do a quick left turn and make my question a little better, a little more open-ended, by adding a third option – “or was it like something else?” At least that communicates to Mary that I understand there are more choices than the two I’ve listed.

     Or, I could just clamp my mouth shut at the end of “So, Mary, was it like this?” and wait for her response. She could respond with just yes or no – or she might generously offer more information than my closed-ended question requested.

     I wonder why I have trouble asking something humbly curious like this: “So, Mary, how was it for you?” That open-ended, direct question not only invites Mary to consider an infinite number of possibilities; it also communicates sincere interest in which of that multitude of possible responses was her actual experience.

 A statement dressed up as a question – “So, Mary, you did this and this and this, right?” Or “Mary, I understand that this is how it evolved. Is that correct?

     So, what is going on there? Perhaps there’s the same attempt to impress Mary with how much I know. Those statement/questions are also closed-ended and Mary could choose to simply answer in words of one syllable – yes or no.

     If my goal is to elicit new information from Mary and to convey to her my deep interest in her response, a better question might be: “Mary, how did it all work out for you?”

 I’ve noticed I’m not alone in being “question challenged.” Even professional interviewers ask closed-ended questions of the sort described above.  

 One interviewer I listen to regularly has chosen yet another route: not to ask any questions at all. She simply makes a statement and assumes that a question is implied in the statement. Then she stops talking and waits until her interviewee figures out that it is his/her turn to talk and that a response is expected. That often makes for a few seconds of awkward silence.

 Maybe awkward silence is what we are trying to avoid when we fill the airwaves with more words than are needed to express simple curiosity. Actually, there is nothing wrong with sitting quietly, letting an open-ended question settle down until it evokes a thoughtful response. Maybe it is a matter of being fully present in the moment with another person, feeling genuine curiosity, owning the simple but clear question we feel inspired to ask, and waiting for whatever comes in response.

I think I’m going to try that.

Experts – Pass Them On

If you are on a quest to learn more about ADHD, you’ve surely discovered that there is more material available than the average person has time to read or listen to or view. A quick search of Amazon’s site for “ADHD” today turned up just under four thousand books! How do we know how to choose? Sometimes it seems there are as many experts as there are books.

I often start with reviews and recommendations from people whose opinions I trust.  That’s a great screening tool. Many books that I order based on recommendations turn out to be quite valuable. I read parts of others with plans to return to them some day. Some I don’t connect with at all.  My wish lists are extensive.

There are several publications such as ADDitude and Attention magazines that print short articles or columns by experts on ADHD. Those articles can give you a taste of a writer’s perspective and may guide you to relevant online materials.

There are also many webinars online. Last summer I listened to one offered by ADDitude magazine. The subject was “The Secrets of the ADHD Brain: What You Need to Know About the Condition.” The speaker was Dr. William Dodson, MD, a board certified adult psychiatrist from Denver, CO, who has specialized in ADHD for twenty years. I hadn’t heard of Dr. Dodson before, but I listen to a lot of webinars and thought this one sounded like it had potential.

I tuned in, took pretty good notes, and found myself returning to them frequently. One thing Dr. Dodson said was so helpful that I put it on a 4×6 card that sits on my desk in constant view, and I refer to it often. I just checked and found that webinar is still available online here, in case you are interested. Click here for a print article on the same topic.

Today I came across an current article by Dr. Dodson on the ADDitude web site. This new article resonates with me just as strongly as last July’s webinar. This one is called “Secrets of ADHD Treatment: You have ADHD — so your treatment plan should be based on how people with attention deficit think, feel, and live.” I’ve printed it out and plan to dig into it after finishing this blog. If you are interested, click here.

So, now you have a recommendation from me for one expert who writes articles and books and presents webinars. Consider using the comment area of this blog to share your recommendations of people or sources that have helped you navigate life with ADHD. You might remember from an earlier post that if you read something with the intention of sharing it with someone else, you are much more likely to retain the material. Read it and share it. I’d love to hear your recommendations, and I’m sure others would as well. Then come back and see what others of our tribe recommend!

Life in the ADHD Science Lab

True confessions: There is suddenly a lot of activity on my blog because a colleague and I have challenged each other to create one blog entry each day for this entire week. We agreed to that challenge last Saturday, and in two days we’ll put our heads together and see what that experience was like for each of us. I am quite sure that without the challenge and agreement, I would never have written all of these posts.  

 A challenge like this might motivate lots of so-called “neurotypical” folks, but I suspect it is an even more powerful tool for those of us with ADHD. We are much more motivated by external factors as opposed to internal, so if we want to get moving, to overcome inertia, or deal with difficulty transitioning from one activity to another, a challenge from another person could be a good strategy to help us over the hump. (We don’t always need another person to challenge us. We can challenge ourselves, but we’d need to take the challenge as seriously as if we were accountable to someone else.)

 Life with ADHD is a bit like being our own living, breathing science experiment. Each of us is unique. While we can learn from what we read or hear about how other ADDers have dealt with a particular challenge, the proof is in what actually works for us. If there is an area where we would like to be behaving or thinking differently, we need to watch what we are doing and where things seem to go off the rails. If we’re not so good at noticing what is going on for ourselves (also fairly common among ADDers), we might ask a trusted friend to give us feedback on what seems to be happening.

 Based on our research, we come up with hypotheses and theories and ultimately strategies that we test in real life to see if they have the desired results. This week I have been watching myself for the effects of a challenge to write a blog post each day and post it by midnight each night. So far it’s looking like the challenge has encouraged me to do something I had not been able to do previously. If I successfully post another entry tomorrow night, it will be time to record those results in my lab/life journal so I remember that it could be an effective strategy in a future situation. 

The Routine v the Unexpected

 This evening my husband and I await the onset of yet another extreme weather event – a winter storm that might dump as much as 21” of snow on our northern Virginia home.

 As I’m noticing my excitement about the change in routine that the storm will bring, I’m thinking about how that relates to my ADHD. Many of us ADDers are easily bored. Events that break up the routine of life often break up the boredom. No wonder they are exciting! Bring them on!

 But we don’t have to be dependent on extreme weather or other random, unpredictable happenings to light the fire of our interest and energize ourselves. We can be proactive boredom busters.

 Since I know boredom is a rabbit hole for me, I’m thinking about taking some steps to intervene with myself. Here are some I’m considering: 

  • Notice when I’m feeling malaise or inertia, each time trying to become aware of the feeling earlier in the process than I did the previous time. My theory here is that if I catch it sooner, it will be easier to turn around. I’ll be testing that.
  • Notice what is going on around me when I’m bored and make a list of situations that are associated with that feeling.
  • Follow-up on the previous item by thinking of ways to intervene in predictably boring situations to make them more engaging, especially if they are things I have to do routinely, such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, record-keeping, etc.
  • Make a list of activities that are usually not boring, since when I’m feeling bored I might not be able to think of any of them. Keep that list available and engage in those activities as needed.
  • Recognize that something that is not the least bit boring today can easily move into the boring column after it becomes less novel and more familiar. Expect that, and prepare for it.
  • Keep a curious eye on how much of an impact boredom has on my life. I’d like to reduce its presence. I’m pretty sure I’ll have to be on alert to notice how it is robbing me of many thrilling aspects of life.

 One key to dealing with boredom is recognizing that sitting back and waiting for the equivalent of another big winter storm is kind of a dice toss. Waiting for something external to come along is what I’ve done a lot, but now that I understand my ADHD better, I’m thinking I need to begin taking responsibility for keeping myself energetically engaged in life. At the moment, I think I’ll wrap up this post, get out of my chair, leave my computer, and head out into my front yard to see how much snow has fallen while I’ve been writing. Watching the storm online via Doppler doesn’t measure up. 


 Yesterday, while pondering lists, I realized that a schedule is a list. For some of us with ADHD, a schedule is necessary to help us navigate our day. We’re often challenged by a very poor sense of time and difficulty getting started in the morning, and a schedule combined with alarms can help keep us on track.

 When an ADDer wakes up to a completely unstructured or unscheduled day, problems can arise. It can be hard to get moving if we don’t know where we’re headed. A big blank day with no frame or structure around it may seem like a blank canvas to an artist or a blank piece of paper to a writer. It might be a wonderful, creative opportunity. Or it might be an invitation to go back to bed!

 I’m learning that my way of structuring a day and creating a schedule might not be your way. To keep me on track, I might want a road map through the day that shows all the major destinations scheduled for specific times with all the intermediate pit stops scheduled down to the minute.

 On the other hand, such a tight schedule might seem too rigid and confining since it allows for little flexibility for impromptu events. If that is the case, I might try a schedule with a little “daylight” in it – some big scheduled appointments with some open time between them. This schedule could work well in combination with a ToDo list of tasks that could slip into the times between appointments.

 Written or printed or digital schedules are a form of externalizing. We are taking information that is likely to fly out of our awareness unless we capture it externally, and putting it in a place (or perhaps several places) where we can see it or hear it and be reminded of it.

 The type of schedule that works for me is neither extremely rigid with minute-by-minute items listed in my planner, nor so loose that my calendar shows mostly white space. I like to put my main commitments into the appropriate time slots, but I also have a list of the tasks I want to accomplish that day (like writing a blog entry) that I keep beside that schedule so I can fill in the empty spaces with productive work. What type of schedule works best for you?

 One final thought: Don’t forget to schedule some time to play! All work and no play . . .  but you know all about that.