ADD: A Different Kind of Wiring

Too many people feel shame about having ADD, in my observations and opinion. It reminds me of reactions people had about getting any sort of mental health therapy 15 and 30 years ago; there was a real taboo about it. Frankly, I don’t understand the reaction to either situation. Anytime we have a body part that needs help in healing, help in repairing itself, help in working better, it’s prudent to act. Now, to be clear, ADD is not an issue of the mind in the usual sense. ADD is a neurological issue — a condition of the nervous system — which includes your brain.

You aren’t broken if you have ADD. You are gifted and may need to tune your mindset to look at your situation more positively so that you can start appreciating your ADD-related strengths. Yes, there are some weaknesses too, but there are strategies to cope with, or even overcome, those. The wiring of people with ADD is, well, different. Good to know. With the right mindset you’ll see those strengths as your superpowers, not anything to be ashamed of. Many people through history are admired for their ADD strengths and you can be one of them, if you choose to be.

Since we became a sedentary people with farming, and then the industrial revolution, people wired for more sedentary, detail-oriented, and repetitive work and learning situations have become more acceptable in society. And more prevalent. That means the people wired for more active, generalist-oriented, and variable work and learning situations are considered the “odd man out”, difficult, and even at times undesirable.

It’s that person wired for the more active working and learning lifestyle, though, who often create new things. It’s the musicians and artists, entrepreneurs, scientists, and athletes and actors who make our lives better, thanks to their ADD. Do you find yourself thriving on variety, activity, and creativity? That’s where your superpowers exist. That’s what makes you special.

About fifteen percent of the population fits into this category, though there are lots more people with ADD-like symptoms out there. The System is geared toward the eighty-five percent though, making life harder and less satisfying for the others.

What I love about knowing that ADD is a neurological issue is that it means there’s a lot I can do on my own to reduce its affect on me.

What is different about the wiring in ADD people? Fewer dopamine receptors. That translates to a higher need for more dopamine than non-ADD people get in the normal course of their day. You can’t take dopamine, a neurotransmitter that sends signals between parts of our brain, in a pill — you have to work for it. When you flood your brain with dopamine, your executive function, which is controlled by the prefrontal cortex, makes better decisions. When you have abundant dopamine you focus better, learn more easily, and stay motivated the task at hand.

It’s that regular lower levels of dopamine that make people with ADD different. We naturally seek stimulation to raise our levels of dopamine. The stimulation can be external or internal. Restlessness is the result of stimulation seeking. That restlessness makes ADDers more prone to risk-taking and leads to more inventiveness and creativity.

That external stimulation that ADDers seek to raise their dopamine levels not only comes in handy when you want to take risks (like starting a new business or go sky diving) or be creative, but it also leaves you open to the excess stimulation present in today’s world. Flashing lights on ads and video games, your tablet and computer, the internet, and even the notification beeps from your devices all plug into that native situation of having lower dopamine levels.

Lower levels of dopamine impair your ability to focus, concentrate, and stay motivated. Some specific symptoms of low dopamine include hyperactivity, impulsivity, distractibility, feeling overwhelmed, lack of focus, and low motivation or lethargy. There are three healthy habits you can adopt to boost your dopamine: caffeine (coffee, green tea, and yerba mate – just be careful you don’t fry your adrenals on the coffee), exercise, and healthy eating. There are also five habits you could have that aggravate your lower dopamine levels: drug abuse, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, stress, and long periods of hyper-stimulation.

ADDers are wired for addiction, too. Addictions like to food, gambling, video games, and exercise. And that’s just for starters. This is one challenge to overcome so it doesn’t overcome you and ruin your health and your life. Knowledge is power, so know this is something to pay attention to.

It tickles me that the same things that keep an ADDer healthy keep a non-ADDer healthy. That means you don’t necessarily stick out from the crowd. What might make you stick out is that for best results it’s more important for an ADDer to avoid sugar and the chemicals prevalent in processed foods like preservatives and colors. I anticipate that “natural flavors” belong on that list too.

Curious about what this different wiring can do for you, once you learn how to keep it sparked to your advantage? It gives you superpowers others mostly can only dream of. It can give you an entrepreneurial edge, innovating, and a talent for seeing the big picture and connecting dots others don’t even see! You can be more adaptive and resourceful, adventurous, and imaginative.

Life is good with ADD — when you focus on your strengths, keep your dopamine levels up, and clear your hurdles so that you can quit struggling and thrive. ADD is a spectrum of symptoms and intensities. At one end you, and the people in your life, hardly know you have something different going on. At the other end it takes meds to help you manage your symptoms so you can see and build on your strengths and to get past those hurdles.

The one thing I haven’t resolved around ADD is the term. You see it called ADD and ADHD. Disorder is what the last D stands for. That’s probably where some of the sense of shame comes from, for those who feel that about having this syndrome. I’ve also seen it referred to as Intention Inhibition Syndrome and the Hunter-type. Lots of people are looking for a more positive name for this syndrome.

Being an ADDer can be absolutely wonderful. Embrace your different wiring and create a vibrant life for yourself.

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