One of the more positive aspects about having ADHD for me is the continuous flow of new and creative ideas. Unfortunately for many with ADHD, including myself, many ideas remain ideas, due to various factors such as difficulty organising and planning projects appropriately, frustration, and perhaps an inability to sustain the long term focus needed to bring a project to life. I’ve heard many people with ADHD sharing great ideas that if implemented correctly could certainly be successful but the ideas more often fade into nothing after weeks or months leaving behind a sense of failure and depression. In this post I will attempt to examine why people with ADHD seem to be very creative yet often fail to follow their ideas through. Using my own experience my hope is that others with ADHD can relate and perhaps understand themselves a little better and overcome some of the barriers and perhaps learn to bring their ideas to life.
The widely held understanding of ADHD from the scientific community is that there are abnormalities in the prefrontal cortex of the brain in those with ADHD. The Neurotransmitters which release dopamine and noradrenaline appear to be impaired in this area of the brain that controls emotional responses, behaviour, judgement and Attention.
Due to these differences in the pre-frontal cortex a person who has ADHD often will have great difficulty regulating their attention an impulses and will often appear hyperactive or extremely fidgety. Rather than being described as a deficit, meaning a lack of, ADHD has also been defined as a dysregulation of the management system. This may explain why sometimes there appears to be no attention what so ever and other times there is hyper-focus which although sometimes can be a positive, if you are in the zone you get things done, more often the hyper-focus can be an unproductive quality. For example playing GTA 5 rather than doing homework that needs to be in by tomorrow, a child with ADHD may find it more difficult to prioritise and focus appropriately due to being unable to regulate their management system.
So what has this got to do with creativity? From my own experience growing up as a child with ADHD, when my brain switched off in the classroom due to a lack of stimulation or a boring Feckin teacher, my brain would create its own stimuli. I would drift off into a world of my own and my imagination would take over. Although I was physically present within the classroom my mind was usually elsewhere. I often felt stupid and frustrated because I couldn’t concentrate on algebra for instance. Looking back I was extremely creative in my imagination as a coping mechanism to get me through the boring school environment. Although I was unable to sustain concentration on certain subjects my mind was always active and thinking new ideas. In my imagination I could run wild whilst being confined to a bloody seat. It was all well and good until I had to sit an exam or answer a question on what the teacher had just been talking about. My point is, perhaps the brain of those with ADHD compensates for their lack of attention during mundane tasks allowing the person to develop a more innovative and creative type of brain.
Every now and again a thought or a new idea will pop into my mind. I’ve actually had one in the last few weeks that I’m quite precious about and that can be a problem in itself. I don’t always have the necessary skills to bring my ideas to life and if you are overly precious or cautious, you could potentially fail to connect with the right people that could bring the idea to the next level.
I mentioned earlier that people with ADHD experience difficulty organising and planning projects appropriately, so again having a clear and realistic understanding of your strengths and weaknesses will allow you to identify possible partners with the skills you are lacking and help implement the ideas to become a reality.
In my own experience in the initial stages of an AHA moment there is usually an adrenalin rush or perhaps dopamine and noradrenaline rush were all of a sudden you have deep focus and even organisation skills. The idea feels like the best idea in the whole wide world. You can’t think of anything else. You sit up nights on end working and without realising you can actually plan and deliver during this time. For me it’s very useful to identify these patterns and behaviours.
Then comes the dreaded decrease in activity, suddenly the new project feels like the stupidest idea in the world. Perhaps you’ve told the wrong person about the idea or they fail to see your vision. Alongside a life time of difficulties due to having ADHD the mind starts to doubt. ‘Why did I start this’ ‘It is so stupid’ I’ve heard many people saying ‘all of a sudden I can’t even look at the project’ which is quite sad considering the effort and sleepless nights invested in these projects. I’ve known people to spend their life savings on their ideas to the despair of loving partners, who perhaps have also seen these patterns before. Once the dip in the initial excitement appears the ability to focus and implement the work decreases often leaving a sense of humiliation and depression. Then before you know it another idea pops into the mind and away you go again. The ADHDer often moves from one idea to the next, perhaps just to feel again what it is like to be able to focus. The repeating of this pattern leaves a feeling of uselessness as well as lots of unfinished projects that are worthless.
I have learned from previous experiences to recognise and almost expect the dip in energy and by doing so better prepare for it. If there is a sudden feeling of negativity towards the work you’ve invested in it may be useful to take a step back and revaluate in a few weeks to see how you feel. I recognise that not all ideas or good and sometimes the negatively comes from the realisation that the idea is silly, a few weeks away can help clarify if it is or not and prevent you investing anymore unnecessary time. Having supportive people around you with your best interests at heart can also help you clarify and give you the extra nudge when needed.
I am sure that there are those that will argue that people with ADHD are no more creative, good for you. The aim of this blog is to try and help those who can relate to the common problems that many with ADHD experience. By understanding ourselves a little better perhaps we can overcome some of the barriers we face. In my experience working with Adult ADHD NI I’ve met many unique and creative people and I’ve seen how a little support and encouragement can transform lives. Perhaps the bursts of creativity and innovative ideas that people with ADHD experience is the brain trying to experience deep focus and the organisation skills they are lacking, unfortunately it never remains.
Niall now offers One to One support for people affected by ADHD support through Skype. If you wish to avail of this support service please contact Adult ADHD NI by Email – Niaadhd@gmail.com