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By William Schroeder, LPC
Curious about how to get over ADHD mistakes? Being a therapist who works with ADHD and has ADHD, I think it’s important to discuss the thing that rides shotgun for so many people with ADHD, shame. I can identify with this all too well. So let me give you a shortlist of a few highlights:
- I left my luggage at an airport and only discovered it when I reached my destination (an hour away)
- I left my passport in a hotel safe when I was traveling between countries
- Lost my wallet
- I lost my keys for a month
- I bought something impulsively that I already owned
- I went on a trip and forgot vital things like socks, a belt, toothbrush, and underwear
- I almost missed a flight due to being late
- Arrived unprepared for: tests, interviews, or meetings
- The million-plus times I have been late for things
?♂️ ? ? ?♂️ <=== sums this all up pretty well
Can people with ADHD learn from mistakes?
Absolutely. The list above describes a few of my greatest hits of the things that my inattentive ADHD has caused. It’s part of the way my brain works differently, and truth be told, it’s been a process to accept those differences, and it’s a challenge to honestly do so. For many years, the shame associated with the list above felt like wearing clothing with a lead lining, and each failure added another layer. Any reminder about the above would cause a reflexive response that was automatically negative. How can you not feel bad about the things you don’t mean to do but are somewhat predisposed to have trouble with?
So, how does an ADHD therapist do all of the above and get better?
What are the tricks?
- EMDR therapy has helped work through some of the events that were distinctly triggering. An EMDR therapist can help you to discern what to include on a treatment plan but EMDR can be very helpful in treating elements which are often tied to ADHD. It helped to let go of the past shame and allow it to be somewhat laughable that it happened (sometimes more than once). It has also helped to build in some positive resources so that my brain doesn’t reflexively always go to the negative in a challenging moment.
- Learning from struggle is essential. I can now say that I have coping systems for all of the above items (minus sometimes running late) that has helped me not repeat those issues. I have systems that make sense to me that help keep me accountable and primarily error-free! Slowing down and looking at things that you can do that make sense to you for overcoming problems is imperative. This process helps you to develop personalized compensatory strategies.
- Reinforce the positives elements. Part of rewiring your brain means you need to do work on taking in the positives of each day. An easy activity is writing down 3 positive things about each day and adding them to a journal. This helps to train our brain to focus on the positives instead of those negative mental bear traps.
- I have learned to be pretty adaptable. That shirt I bought on the trip where I left my luggage at the airport is still with me. I also learned to travel lighter and that buying things while on a trip can also be fun. I have seen parents with ADHD display incredible versatility and creative activities for their kids. Yes, they may need some compensatory strategies around certain areas of organization and planning but they have other superpowers.
- Mindfulness activities can help. An issue with ADHD can be that the mind gets busy. Take some time to scan through your feelings, think about how you want to feel, and consider how you want the rest of your day to go. It helps you to increase your awareness and live with intention. You can practice this on lots of small things like sitting outside to have breakfast, lunch, or dinner and not taking your phone with you. The opposite of this in my experience is living life in a way where we just mindlessly consume versus acting with intention.
- A fundamental element for me is diet, sleep, and exercise. It helps all of the other systems to run smoothly. Exercise gets the nervous energy out and kicks the dopamine and endorphins up. Dopamine is the feel good chemical and it’s in short supply for people with ADHD.
- Writing a letter of forgiveness. This may sound silly but some find this activity very helpful. Write a letter to yourself or even someone else that you don’t have to send and focus on letting go of the things you have historically been hard on yourself about. The goal here is to let go of some of the narratives you might have built that are negative and start working ones that are helpful in your growth.
- Make a list of your positives. So many people with ADHD are great at keeping a scorecard for themselves when it comes to the negatives but what about the positives? Do you know what you are good at? Maybe ask others what they see as your skills if you have a hard time seeing them yourself. The goal here is to help you to fight the all or nothing thinking by being curious enough to see your value.
- Find ways to reclaim your curiosity and playfulness. One of the unfortunate things about the adult world is the over reliance on structure and acting like a “professional adult.” Work to reinforce the things you really enjoy and those things tend to change over time. Do things that evoke curiosity. They
What does being a successful person with ADHD look like to you?
Am I completely better now? No, I am still a work in progress. A point of progress is most of the mistakes I have made, I have learned from and not had happen again. I can also say I have lot of things that I can safely laugh about now without feel the weight of shame. The reduction in shame is vital to treat because if we don’t work on that our reflexive (knee jerk) response can be one of defensiveness or we can quickly get overwhelmed and shut down. A goal in therapy might be to expand your ability to tolerate mistakes, learn from them, build in personalized strategies to overcome them, and reinforce your ability to focus on the things you are good at.
Having ADHD has made me a better therapist and boss as I can look at problems as bugs in the software that may need some tweaks to the code to get to work right. I should also say there are many things that my ADHD makes me uniquely good at.
- I can switch gears quickly and juggle many tasks without burning out.
- I like the variety and can single focus on my particular interest areas and learn them better than most people that do them as a day job.
- I have a ton of energy for the things I am passionate about.
- Task prioritization is challenging for me, and I do best when paired with someone who is a proficient planner.
A point of pride for me in my mid 40’s now is that my wife and I have a company that now employs over 40 people and one of the things that has helped us grow has been our different skill sets. If you are struggling, know that things can improve, and it may take some time to unlock your potential to its fullest. So be patient, adapt your strategies, and seek out support if you need it.
Photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash