February 16, 2019

How My ADHD Changed My Life**

by David Giwerc, Master Certified Coach, Founder & President, ADD Coach Academy.

David Giwerc

When I was diagnosed with ADHD, at age 38, I realized the signs were there all along. But there was no name for it then — “it” being my limitless energy, exceptional strengths in certain areas and seemingly insurmountable challenges of attention, interest and inhibition in others. My mother said I was a very active child from birth.
That’s a bit of an understatement.

As a toddler, I couldn’t slow down long enough to sleep. I was so hyperactive that in the middle of the night I hopped on my tricycle and peddled to the kitchen to drink the glass of milk Mom left for me on the lowest shelf of the fridge. My Energizer bunny-like energy was great on the playground, but at school, my abundant energy and propensity to bore easily were a constant challenge. I struggled to sustain my attention in the classroom. I’d get restless and squirm, unable to sit still. I’d seek any stimulation to get my brain going so I could focus on the teacher’s presentation. I’d blurt things out, shoot my hand into the air at inappropriate times or fidget loudly in my seat — I literally could not sit still. My hyperactive energy had no outlet. I practically lived in the principal’s office, and eventually my parents were asked to take me out of the school permanently. By age six, I’d been kicked out of two nursery schools and a kindergarten.

Even my way of watching television was so… unusual, my parents couldn’t keep a functioning sofa in the living room. While watching television, I would rock back and forth on our couch with such violent force that by age seven, I had broken two couches. To prevent the demise of future family sofas, my grandmother bought me a very expensive and sturdy rocking chair. She hoped the rocking chair would provide me with enough motion to calm me down so I could sustain focus on whatever I wanted to watch on TV (and save the poor sofas). Her idea worked! (I still have the same rocking chair at home, and when I need to think through issues or process important events, I retreat to that chair. Fifteen minutes of rocking usually gives me clarity.)

Despite the scrapes I got myself into, I always felt very loved at home. I knew I was different, but I was never made to feel bad about my tremendous levels of physical energy or my inability to sit still. I didn’t know why or what it was, but I knew intuitively I had a different way of thinking about and seeing the world.

I spent hours in my bedroom, imagining different scenarios for my life. I would have wild daydreams like being in the backcourt with Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe of the New York Knicks, fighting with Bruce Lee or being one of the von Trapp kids in The Sound of Music.

I owe my confidence to the people who supported me no matter what, always searching for creative solutions to my challenges — even though no one had yet identified the ADHD that was the culprit behind many of my impairments. My grandmother never focused on my weaknesses and refused to let me feel sorry for myself. She emphasized my strengths and acknowledged me every day for the things I did naturally well. My third grade teacher didn’t judge my excess energy, she helped me get focused in the morning: She let me exercise for 30 minutes straight before I sat down for class, helping me expend and channel my energy. And my parents stood by me through all the challenges, never judging or blaming me. They never pressured me to meet others standards. Miraculously, they didn’t punish me when I destroyed our living room sofas or when I talked nonstop or sang constantly. Despite my challenges of attention and excess energy, which often led to impulsive decisions or reactions, I knew that no matter what I did “wrong” outside my home, I would always be loved and listened to as a human being on par with everyone else.

But I was often my own worst enemy. Though I excelled in certain areas, especially sports, I dwelt on my failures, struggles and challenges instead of celebrating my strengths. My own recriminations plagued me throughout my life until I was diagnosed with ADHD at age 38. It wasn’t until I had the diagnosis in hand that realized I wasn’t inferior; I wasn’t broken after all. I was unique.

The world, however, created a pervasive belief that I needed to focus on my weaknesses to meet their standards. I had a strong belief — a dominant program — that the path to success was in identifying what I did not do well and working to strengthen those weaknesses. This programmed belief so consumed me that I actually worked on my weaknesses at the expense of what I already did well. Of course, this only exacerbated the challenges of my ADHD. Things I don’t do well don’t ignite the parts of my brain that actually can help me pay attention. The harder I worked in my areas of weakness, the more my brain shut down. Soon I’d be immobilized — at work, at home, throughout my life.

My ADHD diagnosis changed my life. Once I put a name to my problems of attention, interest and hyperactivity, I was free to explore new ways of living and being in the world, ways that supported my unique brain wiring.

I decided to become an educated expert. I would work to make sense of the invisible challenges of ADHD. I’d demystify them for myself and for other people who did not understand them — which was most people, at least back then. Even as recently as the 1990s, there was a poor perception about, and a weak understanding of, ADHD. There were too few facts and little science showing what ADHD really is, and how it can impair a person’s quality of life. It quickly became clear to me that there were countless people with ADHD — diagnosed and undiagnosed —needlessly suffering because the challenges of ADHD were invisible to them. After my own journey of discovery and understanding with my own ADHD, I wanted to share my discoveries with everyone and anyone who would listen.

Since I founded the ADD Coach Academy in 1998, I have supported thousands of people as they discover their unique brand of ADHD, take responsibility for transforming their lives from despair to hope and give themselves permission to proceed in creating a life of passion, purpose and possibility. My experience has consistently been that people with ADHD have tremendous strengths that are buried and concealed. These hidden strengths must be set free so all of us may contribute to the world the gifts we were born to share.

**This story was excerpted and edited with the permission of David Giwerc from the introduction to his groundbreaking book, Permission to Proceed: The Keys to Creating a Life of Passion, Purpose and Possibility for Adults with ADHD, pages xi-xiv, http://addca.com/adhd-coach-training/Permission-To-Proceed/

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