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Dr. Hallowell's Blog

ADHD is not a Disorder – It’s as a Trait

Even though the country seems preoccupied by presidential politics, there are other topics we can turn to, should turn to, and want to turn to.  That’s one of the great beauties of living in this country and of being human, really.  We can turn to, focus on, talk about, and get involved with whatever we want to.  Even though various forces try to control and manipulate us, we are, or at least can be, free.

And that’s what I want to talk about in this note.  Freedom.  I’ve been thinking about freedom a lot these days.  Since I am embarking on a new book about ADHD (to come out in 2019, likely), I’ve been thinking about the essential qualities of this condition.  In the new book I am going to recast ADHD not as a disorder but as a trait, composed of a vast array of elements, some helpful, some harmful.  I’ve been trying to distill my thinking so when I start writing I can be as concise and sharp as I can possibly be.

At the very core of ADHD (a term I want to replace with a more accurate term in the new book…if you have any suggestions, please email me, drhallowell@gmail.com) beats a desire to be free.

We people who have this condition demand, crave, and thrive on freedom.  We bristle at being told what to do.  We resist requirements and often find an alternative way to get to where we are going.  We are pathfinders, not path followers.

We are often entrepreneurs.  I’ve worked with, treated, and studied entrepreneurs for decades.  The most defining characteristic of an entrepreneur is a desire to be free.  Ask an entrepreneur what he or she values most and you will likely get one word for an answer: freedom.

Just as freedom is the value our country was founded upon, along with equality, freedom is the value that entrepreneurs protect most jealously and use to greatest advantage.  Being free, an entrepreneur can roam far and wide, change goals in mid-sentence, overturn convention with a flick of the wrist, and produce the most amazing results when least expected.  Like people who have ADHD, entrepreneurs are unpredictable, unprogrammable, and unforgettable!

But we have to be careful with our freedom.  We can get carried away, doing everything “our way,” resisting advice, scorning regulations and directions, defying authority, and going off on the wings of our latest ideas.  This can lead to disaster.

As much as I love having ADHD myself and being an entrepreneur myself, I also have learned to love advice, to love structure, to thrive on following certain directions, and succeed best with an advisor who can keep me in line.

My latest example is working with the editor of the book I’m just completing.  It is a memoir entitled, “Because I Come from a Crazy Family: The Making of One Psychiatrist”.  It will come out early next year.  My editor, Nancy Miller at Bloomsbury Press, is a dream-come-true.

When I handed in the book it was 149,000 words, which is WAY too long.  While she loved what I had written, she told me it would have to be cut.  I knew that.  She managed to cut some 35,000 words without my weeping.  Indeed, I was most grateful.  had I insisted on my freedom to write as much as I wanted to, the book would have suffered.  I took Nancy’s direction with gratitude.  She improved my book enormously.

This is a hard lesson for many of us with ADHD to learn, as well as for entrepreneurs to learn.  We love, cherish, and need our freedom, but to use our freedom best well, we also need guidance, structure, and supervision from the right people.

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