My husband manages a team of Insurance Claim Representatives for Traveler’s Insurance. In this role, he must write and administer bi-annual Progress Updates for each employee. Having a gifted writer as a spouse, he often enlists my help in previewing, editing, and revising the documents. Every time I read and edit a Progress Update, he asks me the same question when I’m done, “What did you find?” Every time he asks this question, my snark usurps good sense, and I bitterly resist providing an answer. The last time this happened, in my defense, I argued that my personality is different from his. The editing process is so second nature to me that I am unable to remember the changes I made, nor am I able to recall the content well enough to offer feedback. Of course, this triggered a fight–because–who wouldn’t want to hear feedback after a review of their work?! Don’t I always insist on hearing his opinion after he’s read a chapter I’ve drafted?! The fact is, he is completely correct. Everyone wants feedback, and it is completely reasonable for us to expect it after someone reads our work.
What I did not recognize in myself, in the middle of July, was that my lack of memory concerning my revisions, edits, and the overall content of my husband’s work was not merely a personality quirk. Rather, my inability to recall the information I just read, revised, and edited—moments earlier–is a hallmark symptom of ADHD. People with ADHD suffer with impaired or delayed executive function. According to ADDitude Magazine Online, executive functions “refer to the cognitive and mental abilities that help people get things done. They direct actions, control behavior, and motivate us to achieve our goals and prepare for future events.” Further, “When a person’s executive functions fail, he has trouble analyzing, planning, organizing, scheduling, and completing tasks. People with an executive function deficit commonly lack the ability to handle frustration, start and finish tasks, recall and follow multi-step directions, stay on track, self monitor, and balance tasks (like sports and work demands).”
People with ADHD suffer with six areas of executive function, and the anecdote above illustrates my personal struggles with Attention Management, Information Management, and Action Management. People who struggle with Attention Management find that they are “easily bored, easily distracted,” they “must be interested to sustain focus,” and they have “difficulty determining what is important to pay attention to” (Parenting ADHD, Now!) Because of the technical content of employee Progress Updates, I find it difficult to retain the information contained within, especially with regard to what is most important to discuss with my husband afterwards.
Those who struggle with Information Management are “challenged in actively holding one piece of information in mind while working on another.” Likewise, they are forgetful–yet another reason why I cannot retain the information I’ve read within my husband’s Progress Updates.
Finally, those who struggle with Action Management find themselves easily distracted and they suffer with “working memory challenges.” My working memory cannot hold the information within those gosh darned Progress Updates, which is why I struggle to summarize what I’ve revised. It’s why I struggle to remember the content in order to give appropriate oral feedback regarding what I have read.
As I am learning more about ADHD, I realize I have struggled with these areas of executive function my entire life. I just assumed, as most do, that I was lazy if disinterested, or else incapable of comprehending technical content. In school, I performed exceptionally in all of the humanities, but my coursework in math and science suffered intolerably. During my year of law school, I could not concentrate in class, and when I read cases for homework, my brain was entirely elsewhere. Yet, now, I read and comprehend—without any trouble—theoretical philosophy, theology, and psychoanalytic texts. These are incredibly complex concepts, and I understand them without undue effort. Thus, what I assumed was an intellectual deficiency has always been that of attention.
This knowledge is incredibly empowering. For starters, I now accept and appreciate my extraordinary creativity and intellectual aptitude. At the same time, I am aware of my personal limits, and with proper tools—information and strategies—I can adapt to life’s demands, increase productivity, empathize with my husband’s frustration in the face of my disability, and support both of my children, who have inherited these challenges, along with the sparkling exuberance–the creative flair–that comes along with the trials.
For more information on ADHD, see the ADDitude website.
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