Today's topic is one that is very near and dear to my heart. One of the biggest obstacles I've overcome in my writing journey is my struggle with ADHD. I'm so excited to start this blog series where I'll talk in depth about different aspects of ADHD and writing, how ADHD can be the ace up your sleeve or the trap door beneath your feet in any creative endeavor but especially writing.
I was first diagnosed when I was four-years-old, which as a young girl, wasn't happening very often at the time. In fact, when I was growing up the medical world was still learning a lot about ADHD. The medications at the time were high doses of stimulants, one that had to be reformulated because it was found to actually cause Tourette's syndrome in small children. One of my earliest memories of taking ADHD medication were getting a Little Debbie cake each morning before school started. At the time, I thought I was getting a cool treat, but really it was the only way my mom knew how to give me a pill since I didn't know how to swallow them yet.
Over the years, I went through more medications than I can even list. Stimulants. Non-stimulants. Fast acting. Slow release. A combination of both.
But the thing is, I wasn't sick. The world around me was.
ADHD, as we've come to understand more about the condition, isn't a problem in and of itself. The problem comes from expecting people who are neurodivergent to operate in a neurotypical world as if they don't have executive dysfunction. ADHD can be incredibly limiting if you're trying to live up to expectations that were never meant for you in the first place. On the other hand, some of the world's most creative and critical thinkers were also neurodivergent.
Because our brains are wired to see and experience the world differently, we oftentimes are insanely good problem solvers and can think outside the box better than most. Oftentimes in social situations when it seems like we're 'zoning out' it's usually because we've anticipated the punchline to the joke a couple words in, and are already thinking of new stories for the conversation. This is a beautiful thing. And it can make you an exceptional writer, if you let it.
Our brains are like supercomputers. They work hard, fast, and have multiple tabs open... all the time.
Today, we're talking about writing Essays. Not creative fiction, but structured assignments for work or school. Although I love to write, and am always bursting with creative ideas... essay writing is one of the things I struggled with the most. Why? Why is essay writing more difficult for people with ADHD?
Well, there are a few different reasons that writing essays can be problematic for people with executive dysfunction. The first thing I think about when writing an essay is decision fatigue.
Picking a topic is truly one of the worst things about essay writing. When you get your assignment to write an essay you usually get a list of topics to choose from or EVEN WORSE your boss or teacher could be cruel enough to say write about anything. Remember those multiple tabs I talked about a few lines up? Imagine infinite tabs leading to infinite black hole google searches. Yeah, that's what my brain does when I have to pick my own topic.
Cruel, unusual punishment in 12 pt. Roman font, double-spaced, in MLA format.
I've wasted so much time on assignments over the years agonizing over topic choice. So, now what do I do to combat this, you ask? I make it fun. Either I do a topic draft, or mortal combat style determine which topic could beat the others in a back alley fight (which is super fun to imagine depending on the subject btw), flip a coin, or pull a topic from a hat. Making the decision tactile, silly, or just plain interesting keeps me from overanalyzing each option, so I never freeze up. The beauty of it is, once the topic is chosen... it's done. I can get down to the real work of creating the essay.
Here comes our next obstacle: research, resources, and structure.
If structure was a person, it'd be a person attempting to murder me with a death laser in a creepy lair. My arch nemesis... who I sometimes flirt with.
Let's be honest, people with ADHD absolutely hate structure. It's almost a universal fact. Only, we don't really. In fact, structure is really good for us. What we really hate is that we're bad at implementing structure into our own lives. When it's forced on us, like regular work or school hours, we thrive. Our bodies get into a routine and then our brains know what to expect too. But implementing it ourselves can be really difficult. Why wouldn't it? We're constantly thinking about how to break the rules.
Don't lie. You're constantly thinking about how to break the rules.
When researching the topic, it's easy to start straying into other areas of research. Why? Well, because it's how we're programmed. We wander and consume knowledge, constantly trying to see a problem or topic from all angles. This isn't good for staying on task when researching something specific, but it's part of what makes us great problem-solvers and pretty great debaters too. (Or maybe I'm just argumentative?)
So how do you keep yourself on task? There's no real easy answer to this one I'm afraid. I still struggle with this and have to set timers to 'checkpoint' if I'm still on task or not when I'm working. I think being aware that this can be a problem is the first step. Then you just try to catch yourself when you're doing it and keep plugging ahead. If any of you have better tips on how to keep yourself from wandering down an alternate research-hole... I'm all ears. Comment below.
So, do people with ADHD struggle to write essays?
Short answer, I think most of us do. But, we also love a challenge and are capable of anything. Do we have to learn a few tips and tricks on how to work with our brains instead of against them? Of course. But that hasn't stopped any of us before, and it certainly won't stop any of us now. ADHD is a complicated, creative, beautiful part of who I am. One that I fought against for many years of my life, but I've learned to love the chaotic, quirky, formidable part of my brain. If you're reading this and also have ADD, ADHD, OCD, ODD, Autism, or any other neurodivergent disorder, I hope you love that part of yourself too. After all, it's what makes you... you.