Last night, the Ann Arbor ADHD Support Group had a panel discussion titled “ADHD Awareness Month Panel “What’s it like to be twice-exceptional?” I was one of the four people on the panel. Matthew was the moderator. The other panelists were Terry Matlen and Geri Markel who are ADHD coaches, and Doug Harris (who I met at the Detroit ADDA Conference and is now a member of the group).
It was an enjoyable and educational night. Matt had a great format and an excellent list of questions. We each took a few minutes to introduce ourselves, then Matt asked his questions. The audience had several chances to question us and to make comments on what we’d said.
Matt asked good, open-ended questions. I remember the tone if not the exact wording: “when did you first hear about being twice-exceptional?” “when did you realize you were?” “what is your proudest accomplishment?” “what advice would you offer the folks in the audience?”
I’d never heard the term before, but Doug in particular commented that it’s uncomfortable to self-identify as “exceptional”. I agree completely, it’s a term I avoid and even now, writing this, it feels odd. I think it’s because I think the word is problematic. Everyone is exceptional at something, so the question is more of “how do you find out what you are exceptional at?” and “what do you do with that knowledge?”
I don’t think that’s being particularly humble or self-effacing. I think it’s a simple fact. Everyone I’ve met (so far, and I’ve met a lot of people) has something they’re great at. I don’t expect that to change. But some of them don’t recognize it, Or they’ve never had a chance to develop that side of themselves, for any of a hundred reasons. Insecurity. Lack of encouragement. Judgement of others. Etc, etc, etc.
I tried to focus my comments on self-esteem and relationship issues. These are my strongest connections to the subject and where I feel I have the most life-knowledge.
When Matt asked the question “what accomplishments are you most proud of?” I could only come up with two. The Amy CD and the fact that I now consciously enjoy making music. Later, I thought of others that probably should have qualified, but these bubbled to the top of the list. Terry’s comments about her paintings being accepted in galleries (so the gallery must not have very high standards…) rally rang true as her comment (which I’ve made before) about feeling that “if I can do it, anyone can do it. It must not be that special.” I’ve said that a million times over the years. I’m saying it less, but that was a long road.
One person asked me a question about picking and choosing projects. I said something to the effect “when I have a thousand projects, I can’t choose which one to start with.” She asked if this was more of a time-management problem or an executive function problem. I told her I didn’t experience it that way at all. My analogy was that it’s like answering “which is your favorite child?” I can’t. And when choosing among tasks (record Wonder Drug, finish the script for the next ADD show, pay the bills, move the laundry from the washer to the dryer, etc, etc, etc) I have the same feeling. “If I pick one of these, I’m turning my back on the others.” As if these tasks has feelings and personalities.
Maybe not exactly that, but the feeling that attacking one of my tasks shows that it’s more important than the others, that if I work on my music, it’s a rejection of my writing. Or if I go out back and tune up my scooter, it’s time I should have been spending with Jean. It’s paralyzing. It makes no sense and it’s paralyzing. I am able to get past it (deadlines help!), but it still happens sometimes. Since starting medication, it happens less, but when I get too many things on my plate, it can come back.
The SCRUM approach helps a lot. (I keep meaning to write that up, but I haven’t yet. Someday…) I have about 20 pages with 16-20 post-it notes each that represent things that are in the FREEZER! another 20 pages are on the Back Burner, 5 or 6 pages are on the Front Burner and 3 or 4 tasks are on my “do it now” page. Letting these hundreds of things fade into the background helps immeasurably! They used to all sit right at the front of my consciousness – every last item on my to-do list had the same priority. Prioritizing tasks and taking on only what you can accomplish in a given amount of time is core to the SCRUM methodology and it’s worked (for me) for ADHD management.
Back to the panel. I wanted to mention too that it felt like a very good balance between theory and practice – between what we know about this condition and our actual lived experience. Each of us had stories to tell (Geri’s from people she’s worked with, the rest of us from our own experience) and we were honest and direct. I’m a big fan of peer group counseling as an adjunct to professional counseling. They both bring a lot of value. Hearing real-life examples of things we’ve read about is powerful. That’s probably my attraction to storytelling and Playback – they bring real life to us, they give people a chance to tell their stories. That helps them/us value their/our own experience instead of only looking outside of ourselves to answers.
Matt’s time management was wonderful too. He kept things moving along but never feeling rushed. We broke a few minutes before 9:00p, right on schedule.
This is a great group of people and I’m looking forward to our next meetings.