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Building a good life with ADHD.

Tag: Wes Crenshaw

“When…” “If only…” & our quest for Somewhere Else

“I feel like you’re always waiting for something,” a high school boyfriend once told me, “and then you can be happy. But when that thing comes, you’re not happy, you’re just waiting for something else.”

Knowing me, I probably tried to argue with him.

I eventually forgot his comment, only to have it brought to the surface as I read Dr. Wes Crenshaw’s I Always Want to Be Where I’m Not“You were born with a great fondness for Somewhere Else,” Crenshaw’s words called to me, “that glorious place, person, thing, or idea that’s anywhere but here.”

Somewhere Else

Nearly 15 years post-boyfriend, as a far more self-aware ADHD adult, the words felt stark, painful, and true.

This “great fondness for Somewhere Else” really is something we’re born with, though, isn’t it? In the struggle to be content, mindful, even present in any given moment, many of us come to realize, this feeling isn’t about Here. Or You. Or Somewhere Else. Happiness, fulfillment, and love are states that we cultivate in ourselves, not feelings that come to us when we’ve finally arrived Somewhere Else.

Fred Rogers — yes, Mister Rogers — expressed his thoughts on love in a way that really speaks to me:  “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun, like ‘struggle’. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”

What would it mean to apply this to loving ourselves, our partners, our homes, our lives?

For all the stereotypes (many of them true) about ADHD’ers questing for pleasure and instant gratification,  satisfying the now without regard for long-term consequences, some may be surprised that being happy in the moment doesn’t come naturally for us.

In fact, as ADHD expert Gina Pera writes in Is It You, Me, or Adult ADD?“ADHD often confers a degree of neurologically based irritability, moodiness, hypersensitivity, or outright anger.” In other words, we’re not as much fun as you think we are, and we’re not having as much fun, either.

That’s (in part) because learning to achieve love and happiness in the long term takes a lot of sustained focus and effort. We know others seem to have it, but we don’t know how to get it. Before I sought treatment for my ADHD, I didn’t have a clue what that sustained focus and effort even felt like.

Learning what that work feels like and strengthening the mental muscles that allow us to do it is critical to long-term well-being. Otherwise, we’re just waiting for the right circumstance to come along — or roaming the world in search of it — so we can finally sit down, take a deep breath, and be happy.

Somewhere Else is a dangerous place, mostly because if we keeping looking for it and wishing for it, we’ll never get there. Somewhere Else is Here. We just need to stick around long enough to learn to really, deeply love it.

I’ll leave you with these words from zenhabits writer Leo Babuta:

Many of us can point to external conditions that get in the way of being present (some problem on our minds), or that get in the way of being happy and content. But actually, the things that are stopping us are all inside us. We can’t let go of problems and be present. We are frustrated with ourselves, with others, with our situation, with the way the world is, and we can’t let go of wishing they were different.

The obstacles are inside us.

And so, can’t we let them go?

And can’t the time for happiness be right this moment?


Is it ADHD?

is it ADHDIt’s not uncommon for people to tell me, you know, I love your blog, and it makes me think I may have ADHD.

Believe it or not, I enjoy hearing this feedback. I write for an ADHD audience, but I hope the parenting, organization, and other life strategies I discuss will help everyone.

But how do you know if you have ADHD? Taken individually, all of the core symptoms sound relatable. However, if your symptoms cropped up recently or have come and gone over time, it’s probably not ADHD.

In Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?, Gina Pera writes, “an ADHD diagnosis requires more than a symptom or two. Otherwise, everyone would have ADHD! It requires both a certain number of symptoms and significant impairment — for example, in the area of career, money, education, or relationships.”

Isn’t there a test?

Still confused? Several websites offer online self-tests. Though these questionnaires all have their weaknesses and you should never take the results as a clinical diagnosis, they may point you in the right direction. Here are a few to try:

  1. Amen Clinics ADHD Type Test
    This test attempts to suss out which of Daniel Amen’s seven ADHD subtypes describe you. The questions may connect some strange dots in your life and get you thinking about the lesser-known symptoms of adult ADHD. Amen’s book, Healing ADD, is definitely worth a read for a more comprehensive understanding, but the website alone should provide some insight into whether your case (and treatment) will be straightforward or difficult.
  2. Psychology Today ADHD/Attention Deficit Disorder Test
    Doesn’t touch on many relationship and emotional issues, which the Amen Clinics test does much better, but it does provide situational questions. These may be easier to answer than evaluating a blanket-statement description like “procrastinates often” or “easily distracted.”
  3. Adult Attention Deficit Disorder Center of Maryland Online Screening Test
    Perhaps the least in-depth, this test is based pretty strictly on the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria. That gives you a good idea of what a clinician might ask you at a first meeting, but don’t expect to shed light into any dark corners here. Test claims you can get a lot of information from Section A alone, but I recommend doing Section B also. While the questions are rudimentary, you’ll probably know by the end whether you need to schedule a professional consultation.

How to learn more about your brain.

While online self-tests are certainly appealing if you’re looking for a quick, easy answer, there are precious few of those in the world of adult ADHD. You’ll learn far more by reading a good book by a knowledgeable professional.

For more insight than I can possibly provide here, I recommend checking out some books about ADHD.

Here are the most approachable, high-impact, easy-to-read books I’ve found. All are available in audio format in case you’re one of the many ADHD’ers who don’t enjoy reading.

  1. I Always Want to be Where I’m Not by Wes Crenshaw
    Dr. Crenshaw’s book is especially handy for the under-30 crowd. We gain a lot of responsibility in our mid-20s: often marriage, household management, financial independence, and a self-structured professional life. This can be a time of great suffering for ADHD adults, and Crenshaw’s case studies will hit home for many.
  2. Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.? by Gina Pera
    This book was written for partners of ADHD adults, but I’ve loaned it to several ADHD’ers who’ve found it positively enlightening. Unlike many ADHD books, Pera focuses on ADHD’s impact on our closest personal relationships.
  3. Your Brain at Work by David Rock
    Okay, this one’s not about ADHD, but it gives a great primer on the neuroscience of focus, self-supervision, and success in the face of your brain’s natural limitations. You’ll learn several handy techniques for practicing mindfulness, recharging, and managing your brain’s supply of dopamine (a neurotransmitter critical to motivation and often lacking in people with ADHD).

How about you? What are your favorite resources? Where did you find your biggest a-ha moments?


Book Review: I Always Want to Be Where I’m Not

cover: I Always Want to be Where I'm Not by Wes CrenshawA lot of people I meet just don’t get ADHD — I’m talking spouses, parents, even the ADHD’ers themselves.

If you really, truly want to get it, read Dr. Wes Crenshaw‘s I Always Want to be Where I’m Not: Successful Living with ADD & ADHD. Dr. Crenshaw targets ADHD’ers ages 15-30 — though all ages will benefit — as he outlines his “13 principles” for successful living. But don’t mistake it for a mere collection of handy tips: a diverse selection of case studies help get to the heart of what life is like for people with ADHD.

While reading these case studies — one of which opens each chapter — I found myself both laughing and crying. I was impressed by Dr. Crenshaw’s ability to capture how this complex disorder really feels for those who struggle with it. This, coupled with his deep knowledge of his subject — gleaned from his own parenting journey and decades of experience in his professional practice — makes his book a must-read if you love someone with ADHD.

Each chapter stands on its own and includes an “is this chapter for me?” checklist at the beginning. Every ADHD person is unique and you’ll find some more useful than others, especially if you’re over the target age range. However, don’t skip the final two chapters: a medication crash course and a “where are they now?” review of the case studies.

While most books about neurological or mental health conditions contain case studies, this was the first time I encountered such a follow-up at the end. I’m surprised more authors don’t structure their books this way. Seeing the result of each case study’s choose-your-own-adventure journey reinforced the importance of choosing the right (i.e. hard) path over the easy one, developing good habits and coping strategies, and finding a medication regimen that works for you.

Speaking of meds, would-be readers should know Dr. Crenshaw is strongly and unapologetically pro-medication. He contends (and I agree) that medication is a critical tool to implement his 13 principles and become a successful, content, independent adult. Critics may dismiss this viewpoint out of hand, but if you have any feelings at all on the subject, read this book. Dr. Crenshaw’s deep care and concern for his clients is evident on every page. Even if you end up agreeing to disagree, his compassionate and well-reasoned approach deserves an open mind.

For those feeling lost, frustrated, intimidated, or curious about ADHD meds, Dr. Crenshaw provides insights that will empower you to seek out the right provider, not just the right prescription, to get yourself into a good place.

Of course, covering 13 principles and the many shades of a grossly misunderstood disorder makes I Always Want to be Where I’m Not an overview, not an instruction manual. Dr. Crenshaw is equipping you to converse intelligently with your loved ones and your doctor. He’s not providing an alternative to seeking proper treatment and support for your ADHD. This is far from the last book you’ll ever need, especially if you fall outside the 15-30 target age range.

Overall, I Always Want to be Where I’m Not is a fast and easy read that tackles a lot of not-so-easy topics. I never found it too negative, condescending, or dry, and it appealed to the heart as much as the mind. It won’t deliver a wealth of practical tips to cure your life’s organizational woes — you’re better off with something like Getting Things Done or ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life for that — but it will give you (and those who love you) a much deeper understanding of who you are and why. I’d argue that’s a great place to start.


Don’t know what to do next? Try AmeriCorps.

Okay, ADHD people, think back to a time when you felt lost and unsure what to do next. While everyone else was following a logical path through life’s milestones — college, employment, thesis defense, marriage, kids, home ownership — you felt like nothing fit.

Maybe you’re there right now.


photo source:

I was there just before I completed my bachelor’s degree. Despite having spent four years studying fine arts, I knew I couldn’t make it in the art world. Successful artists are focused and driven, willing to toil thanklessly for years before anyone notices them. They stick with one medium until they master it. They’re adept networkers who remember to carry their portfolio and business cards, and they leverage social connections into opportunities to show and sell their work.

Not ideal for someone with ADHD.

And yet, I didn’t want to go chasing a paycheck at some “boring office job,” either.

Fortunately, someone told me about AmeriCorps.

I’m in the middle of reading Dr. Wes Crenshaw‘s I Always Want to Be Where I’m Not (review forthcoming), and I was delighted to see him recommend AmeriCorps to young ADHD’ers who need a break before moving on to college or career.

Every year, AmeriCorps places thousands of volunteers into full-time service with non-profits, public agencies, schools, and other change-making organizations.

But don’t be fooled: this is no standard volunteer gig. My program, AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), provided a modest living allowance in exchange for a one-year, full-time commitment. I had to apply and interview for my position just like any job. Once I was “hired,” I joined the staff of a respected non-profit organization.

During my year of service, I immersed myself in work that was inspiring, challenging, exciting, and often overwhelming. VISTA work happens on the front lines, building capacity in communities that need it most. We weren’t permitted to spend any significant time on administrative, busy-work tasks, so I poured my energy into actually doing.

As I cut my teeth in the non-profit world, I learned what kind of work I enjoyed and what I couldn’t stand. I thought about different career paths and carefully weighed the pros and cons of going back to school.

I did all of this in an engaging environment with no long-term commitment. While I ended up taking a full-time job with my host organization, my fellow VISTA members dispersed all over the country (and world) after our service ended. Some enrolled in graduate school, some used the connections they’d made during their service year to get jobs in town, some applied for Fulbright scholarships, and one even started a successful business selling snacks.

As Dr. Crenshaw points out in his book, ADHD teens and young adults often mature a few years behind their peers. This makes them more likely to benefit from taking time off after high school or college.

acw2008_posterFinding a time-bound, altruistic, and productive way to spend that time off can remove social stigma from these breaks and prepare you for your next step. Not only that, serving a program with a lofty mission like “eradicating poverty in the United States” will help you feel good about your choices, even if they take you off the beaten track.

Every year, more than 75,000 people serve in AmeriCorps programs. If you’re not sure where to go next, try searching for some of your interests on the AmeriCorps website. A great opportunity could be waiting for you!


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