The Imagination in ADHD

I have ADHD.  That means I have one hell of an imagination.  But is having a potent imagination a blessing or a curse?  Centuries ago Samuel Johnson, who had one hell of an imagination himself and also fit the profile of ADHD, wrote about “that hunger of imagination which preys incessantly upon life, and must always be appeased by some employment.”

Our imagination is hungry, we who have the condition so misleadingly called ADHD.  I say misleadingly because the last thing we suffer from is a deficit of attention.  To the contrary, we possess an abundance of attention.  Our challenge always is to control it.

The most difficult part of our mind to control is our imagination.

Hungry?  It’s ravenous.  It must be fed. It knows no feeding schedule, but when it feels the need, it lets us know.   If we can then find employment, to use Johnson’s word, for our imagination in some pleasant or constructive project, scheme, or other undertaking, then our imagination becomes our ally, even proof of our genius, our originality, our way of changing the world even.  When suitably employed in creating something of value to us or to others, then we give thanks to our genes and our Creator for this gift called imagination we did nothing to earn but can never abandon.

However, when we cannot find suitable employment for this hungry faculty over which we have so little control, why then it turns on us with a ferocity others can’t understand. It sets about:

  • devouring us,
  • ripping away at our self regard, our
  • feeling of security in the world, our
  • confidence in a bountiful future, and our
  • actual grip on reality, on our own sanity.

What happens when our imagination is not fed?

When not fed by some suitable employment, our imagination turns into an:

  • untamed and vicious beast, an
  • an ugly, salivating monster,
  • our worst enemy, made all the worse and far, far more dangerous by being of us, in us, and always with us.

We can to nothing to dispose of it or rip it out of our minds.  To quiet it we sometimes turn to drugs, alcohol, or compulsive behaviors like gambling, spending, or sexual escapades.  It is the rapacious hunger of imagination, unable to find suitable employment, that turns so many of us who have ADHD into addicts and compulsive people of all kinds.

But is also that hungry, never-satisfied imagination that turns so many of us into:

  • artists,
  • inventors,
  • discoverers,
  • builders, and
  • creators of all stripes and types.

It is that hunger of imagination that drives the man with ADHD always onward in the lifelong search for something “commensurate to his capacity for wonder”.

Were our capacity for wonder not so great, were we not so predisposed to imagine greater than what ordinary life offers up, we would not be driven all but mad by our need to fill that capacity for wonder–to create the perfect song, or swing, or double helix, or arc, or love, or empire.  Had we punier, less intrusive imaginations, we could relax.  But because we can envision the ideal, because we can imagine perfect love, perfect symmetry, perfect prose, or perfect beauty of any kind, then we can never rest easy until we create it.

Which, of course, means we can never rest easy.

So, tell me, does this hell of an imagination create heaven, or hell?  Is it a blessing or a curse?  If you ask me, it’s both.  I have no choice but to live with it, allow it its shabby stall in my mind, feed it best as I can, and try to stay on the sane side of life as it works its way with me.

Watch Dr. Hallowell’s YouTube video on Tapping Into Your Imagination

If you wonder if you have ADHD, click here to learn about the symptoms of ADHD.

Secret Ingredient to Stoke Immune System

What is the secret ingredient to stoke your immune system during this stressful time, or DTST? (During This Stressful Time is a phrase we use so often now I think it deserves its own abbreviation, DTST.)

One of the best steps you can take is to bolster your immune system. It’s your body’s internal defense system. Combined with the inflammatory response, the immune response comes to our rescue every day, 24/7.

Well, DTST, we need our immune system to be in tip-top, best-possible fighting shape. This is obviously a premier, super high, gotta do it priority. Keeping your defenses up against invading microbes has never been more important.

But. . . how do you do it? 

You can probably guess some items on the list already. Eat lots of fruits and veggies. Get regular exercise and good sleep. Don’t smoke. Drink alcohol only in moderation. De-stress.

But there is one magic ingredient that usually doesn’t make the list. I call it a “secret” ingredient because, even though there is a ton of evidence to prove its value—in fact it may be more powerful than all those other steps—it might as well be secret because most people don’t use it nearly enough nor do they know about its titanic healing and life-prolonging powers.

Even better, this ingredient is free and infinite in supply. Plus, it’s fun to use! 

What is this magic factor that’s fun, free, infinite in supply, and incredibly good for you?

In its most concentrated form we call it love. As it spreads out, I call it connection. The force of connection—from love to friendship to a relationship with a song or a cause—the force of connection does us more good, and spares us more ill, than any single force in the universe.

Connection—to people, pets (I adore dogs, but if you’re a cat person, that’s fine), places, ideas, objets d’art, the past, certain activities—connection to anything or anyone you care deeply about, that force does you more good than you likely know. Far more good. It enriches and actually lengthens your life. It provides you with a special satisfaction, with what Aristotle called eudaimon, literally “good spirit”, but much richer than that short term can impart. Aristotle deemed eudaimon as the highest good for human beings, the deepest satisfaction and fulfillment, what Maslow would call self-actualization, the most harmonious and joyful state a person can achieve.

And it all depends upon connection.

Not focusing on yourself, but on the connections your self can make outside of yourself. These are the connections and this is the force that, among other benefits, strengthens your immune system big time.

Since it’s free, fun, good for you, and easy to find, use it. Get and give massive doses of it every day. Even in quarantine or isolation, you do not need to be disconnected or lonely. Being lonely is bad for you. But you can cure loneliness with a:

  • phone call,
  • book,
  • piece of music,
  • dog (the best!),
  • email,
  • text,
  • trip down memory lane,
  • daydream,
  • fantasy

All you have to do is connect outside of yourself to anything, as long as you care deeply about it. Caring mildly is good too, just not as potent as caring deeply. Yes, the effect is dose-dependent, so if you want the really big bang for your connection buck, make it a connection you care deeply about.

This is the secret, the most magical ingredient we have to bolster immune function

And while you’re connecting, don’t forget the best foods*—citrus of all kinds; red bell peppers; Greek yogurt; almonds; broccoli; ginger; garlic’ turmeric; green tea; papaya; spinach; berries; as well as special mushrooms (all available in powder form on Amazon) like Reishi; Lions Mane; Turkey Tail (don’t you love these names?); and cordyceps; as well as shellfish, for the zinc. And of course, exercise, meditate, pray, and sleep well.

But, above all, use copious amounts of the secret ingredient that should no more be secret DTST, connection. Connection, and its mother, love, drive the very best in life. The vast sea of connections beckons like a beautiful, infinite, shimmering pool. Jump in, have fun, and live long. And these days, stave off those nasty bugs with a super-charged immune system!

Warm wishes,

Edward (Ned) Hallowell, M.D.

If you want to learn more about living a connected life, read Dr. Hallowell’s book: Connect

or watch his YouTube video on The Power of Vitamin Connect

*Disclaimer: These foods may be helpful in building your immune system, but they DO NOT prevent or protect you from COVID-19.  Here is a link to the CDC guidelines on How to Protect yourself.

Figuring Out A System

Dear Friends,

That’s what we’re all doing now in the corona era, isn’t it?, figuring out a system. Trying to take care of ourselves while making sure our loved ones are taking care of themselves or being well taken care of, wherever they may be. Applying for a loan. Asking landlords for temporary rent reduction. Trying to stay sane and not buy out the store on toilet paper.

Here’s my update from the front.

We’re all on the front, so no matter where you are or where I am, we’re all engaging on the front in this war against an enemy we can’t even see. We’re all trying to figure out a system that works for us and our group, whatever that group, team, family, business, or community may be.

How are you doing on your front? Are you home? Alone? With kids? With dog (I hope!)? I’m still coming into my office, but “seeing” all my patients via phone, face time, or Zoom. Pretty soon I will stop coming into the office altogether and work entirely from home once we figure out a system for how to manage the logistics of scheduling, writing prescriptions, communicating with each other, billing, and making what-if-this-happens contingency plans.

How about this freakin’ contingency? Was the corona virus on anyone’s list of contingencies to plan for last Thanksgiving? It’s like the old joke, How do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans.

Time to Give Thanks

But this is a time to thank God for lots of things, for the Internet, social media, the telephone, and television to name a few. As much as we complain about how these devices preoccupy our children and us, during this crisis they are true life-savers. One piece of advice though: do not over-dose on news. It can poison your system, not as badly as the virus, but it just is not good for you to O.D. on negative energy, which is what too much news does.

But we do need facts, hence some access to news is essential. Then, based on the news, we figure out a plan, a proverbial system.

Here are some tips on figuring out a plan:

  • Consult with others.
  • Be open to all suggestions.
  • Get creative.
  • Prioritize what matters most.

Financial Concerns

In terms of prioritizing, next to our health, the biggest worry most of us share is financial. Whatever out jobs might be, we’re all trying to figure this one out, not just for ourselves, but the people we care about as well as our businesses. My work as a writer can be done anywhere, thank goodness.

But my work as a doctor, and the work all the clinicians who work in my office do, depend upon contact with our patients. Fortunately, 90% of this contact can be gained off-site, remotely, so we’re “figuring out a system” for how to do that most efficiently, but also with the warmth we believe is so important in our work. Right now I am saying, Thank God for Zoom.

Always do what my mother and likely yours taught me and you and look for the blessings.

You are much more productive, useful, and energetic if you stoke up on positive energy. Yes, we are living in a crisis, facing potential disaster, the world temporarily falling into shambles. But we are not without power, resources, and wit. If we keep those wits about us, we will, every day, solve one problem after another and come up with, you got it, a system!

Your system will not appear instantly. It will evolve day by day, minute by minute. We’re forced to grope in the dark these days, bearing with the inner churning uncertainty creates, looking for whatever flashlights or matches we can find to light our way. But the lights are there, paltry though they may be, and every inch of progress we can make makes us feel better, more confident. And feeling more confident—whether the feeling matches up with reality or not—is a super-power these days.

Build Confidence and Maintain a Positive Attitude

Confidence—informed confidence, not ignorant bravado—works wonders in times of crisis and distress. Hand-wringing, moping, and foretelling doom is not only counterproductive, it is bad for you in myriad ways.

So, to build confidence and maintain a positive attitude in these ominous and upsetting times, try the following

  • reach for each other, from a distance;
  • stay in touch with your friends and people you love;
  • call people often, just to buck each other up and hopefully laugh;
  • bake a cake or cook up some goody you really like;
  • remember, we’re all in this together;
  • call whomever you call to get a loan or get food or inquire about a new
  • mortgage now that rates are so low;
  • find humor wherever you can; it’s impossible to worry and laugh at the same time
  • start a new project you can do at home, like start that novel or memoir you’ve been meaning to write or at long last straighten up the basement or attic or both!;
  • read entertaining books of all kinds;
  • don’t read or watch upsetting stuff;
  • watch your favorite movies on TV;
  • try popcorn; it’s a good, low-cal comfort anti-anxiety food
  • play with your dog if you’re lucky enough to have one; if you don’t, remember dogs you’ve known and loved, and if there aren’t any, get a box of Kleenex and read Old Yeller; or rent on Amazon to watch.
  • most people are going to be kinder these days, believe it or not; try to be one of those
  • lend a hand where you can; it is a proven fact that in giving we receive
  • stay in touch

I can promise you, better days await. But, and I can promise you this as well, we can find hidden treasures and make unexpected gains during this time, especially if we buck each other up.

Warm regards,

Edward (Ned) Hallowell, M.D.

Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Coronavirus: Myth vs. Fact

How the Hallowell Centers Can Help You: We are all concerned about safety with COVID-19, which is why The Hallowell Centers are closely monitoring the current situation regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19.) We will remain open, but all sessions will be conducted remotely.

Fortunately, psychiatry does not usually require the professional and the client to meet in-person. To that end, we want you to know at our offices in Boston MetroWestNew York City and San Francisco, are geared up and ready to offer remote sessions to anyone who wants them. READ MORE HERE!

Need help managing your mental health during these uncertain times? Even if you are not a regular client or patient of ours and you’d simply like to have an appointment to check up on your mental health during these stressful times, our clinicians are here to help. Just reach out to the any of The Hallowell Centers  to set up an appointment.

Working From Home? If you don’t want the Coronavirus to Infect Your Productivity, then CoreCoaching is the antidote! Learn more HERE.

Looking for strategies on parenting your ADHD child? Learn how our NYC Parenting Coaches can help you HERE.

Dr. Hallowell Recommends:

During these trying, uncertain times, Dr. Hallowell’s book: Worry: Hope and Help for a Common Condition, is filled with practical solutions, anecdotes, and insightful guidance on how to manage worry.

Need help managing your stress during these tumultuous times? Then listen to Dr. Hallowell’s podcast on Reducing Anxiety.

Navigate TechnologyDo you have a love/hate relationship with the way your kids use technology? Then, the Digital Sanity Summit 2020: Navigating Technology in the Modern World of Parenting  was created just for you.
This FREE online event, March 30 – April 3, 2020, brings together Dr. Hallowell and the most recognized thought-leaders from around the globe in the field of ‘Technology and Parenting,’ guiding you to help children and teens — and adults of all ages — develop lasting, healthy technology awareness and habits. Reserve Your FREE Spot NOW!

If you think the “right help” for ADHD begins and ends with medication about, read Dr. Hallowell’s blog post on Busting ADHD Myths on Medication!

Are you struggling with reading or poor attention? Looking for a non-medication treatment for ADHD, learn more about the Zing Performance Program.

Disclosure: I may be an affiliate for products recommended and may earn a commission if you purchase.

Entering Sadness

I left church today, bid my wife, Sue, farewell as she headed off to a brunch, while I headed to Whole Foods to buy flowers (we buy flowers for our hallway table every Sunday when we’re in town), and started walking to my car. It was a chilly but sunny day in Cambridge, MA. We’ve been going to Christ Church Cambridge, an Episcopal church, since our first child, Lucy, was born in 1989. The service almost always puts me in a reflective, positive mood. But not today.

Entering Sadness

I could feel it the moment I said goodbye to Sue. A chill of sadness was gathering around me. This was not good news because, aside from the discomfort of feeling the sadness, I had a book to work on and the free hours of a Sunday afternoon were precious to me.

But first, I did the shopping. I picked out four bunches of 20 daffodils, 80 daffodils in all, because they were on sale for $4 a bunch, and because they looked so un-sad, so happy, so full of yellow promise. 80 daffodils may sound like a lot, but because at least half had not yet opened, it didn’t look like that many. I probably should have bought twice as many, because daffodils push a special button in me, reminding me of D.C. in spring when my sister was falling in love there with the man she married. But I settled for 80.

Then I pushed my cart down different aisles, picking out the ingredients with which I’d make my crock-pot dinner Tuesday; I make dinner Tuesdays because Sue works late that night. I picked out four cans of beans—red kidney; black; great northern; and pinto—along with a green pepper, a zucchini, two cans of diced tomatoes, one can of tomato paste, and a head of garlic, as well as a dozen eggs and a bag of coffee beans. The eggs and coffee were not for my recipe; we just needed them. And we had the rest of the ingredients for my vegetarian chili already at home. We’re not vegetarians, but we try to eat healthy, at least most of the time.

When I got home, I found my 27-year old son, Jack, working on repairing our front porch. He’s a carpenter, and I was most grateful to find him doing this, which we’d been hoping he’d do for some time. Jack and I greeted, in the usual minimalist male fashion, while I went inside to put the daffodils in vases and unpack the rest of the groceries.

Trying to Write

Once all that was completed, I tried to sit down and write. I said “tried” because I couldn’t. I’m a pretty disciplined writer, a more-or-less believer in what Samuel Johnson said: “Any person can write if he will set himself to it doggedly enough.” But I wasn’t able to be dogged enough. The words just wouldn’t come. Even though I’d had a few ideas in church and had jotted them down, I just could not bring myself to sit down at my laptop and write.

It was that sadness I’d felt after church rushing in. Or maybe I was entering into the sadness. Either way, we met, and entwined. Not the way lovers entwine, more the way you entwine with a spell or a fever. It comes over you and try as you might, you can’t get rid of it.

I had to lie down. We have a large, comfortable couch in our living room, the upholstery rather torn up by the dogs we’ve had over the years, but to my eyes that only makes it more inviting. So the couch took me in and gave me a place to lie with my sadness.

I don’t know why I was sad.

I can always find reasons—I should lose weight, spend less money, finish my book, complete this project or that, or deeper reasons, like what have I not done that I ought to have done or what have I done that I ought not to have done, or the obvious reasons that come with being human and getting older, the death of friends and loved ones, the feelings of my own aging now that I am 70—but today no one reason stood out. The sadness just took me over without tentacles of reason.

I closed my eyes and hoped to sleep. No such luck. I thought of calling my best friends, but I didn’t want to burden them (the exact opposite of what I urge my patients to do; call your friends, I say; never worry alone). I let my mind wander, and simply let the sadness have its way, as I had no choice.

It was not the excruciating sadness of depression or suicidal despair. But neither was it fun. It was keeping me from doing work I needed to do. It was causing me to look bad in my own eyes. I should be able to shake this, I said to myself, as I lay there, unable to shake it.

Feeling the Sadness Subside

By the time Sue got home, I was back at my laptop, giving writing another try. But once again, I couldn’t do it. Sue said, “Honey, you’re probably just tired. Why don’t you take a rest?” This is one of the many reasons I love Sue. Always armed with sympathy and an apt solution. I tried to nap but I couldn’t sleep. However, lying on my bed, I felt the sadness begin to subside, like a fever breaking. I began to have ideas again as to what to write. I still didn’t feel like I could do the writing, but the confidence started to return that the time would come, before too long, when I would be able to do it.

Such is sadness for me. I enter it, or it overcomes me, fairly often. I am never far from it. Even when I am at my happiest—and I am in general a positive, upbeat man—I am also aware that sadness is usually just around the bend. Most of the time it does not prevent me from doing my work, as it did this afternoon. But when I do get working, the sadness subsides.

It’s not depression. But it’s more than “ordinary sadness,” or at least I think it is, based upon others’ accounts of ordinary sadness as well as my own experience of such sadness.

I write about it here in case any of you experience the same thing. My advice is see this sadness for what it is: a passing state of mind, a temporary fever. And to take Sue’s advice. Don’t fight it. Take a rest. And don’t mistake it for a permanent state.

After all, this is still Sunday, and here I am writing this piece. The sadness subsided enough for me to be able to write now. It is in the nature of moods: like the weather, they change.

Resources:

If you’re sad, worried or not feeling quite right, remember to “Never Worry Alone” and read my blog post on “What To Do When You’re Not Having A Very Okay Day.”

If you feeling depressed, it’s important to remember that you are not alone! There is a tremendous community to support and help you.  Below are a few links to Mental Health Resources, depending upon your needs:

How Do We Do It?

Since the last time I wrote to you all in this space, three events have dominated the news: Trump’s impeachment and trial; Kobe Bryant’s sudden death, along with his daughter and seven others; and the coronavirus outbreak.

One question that trio of events brings to my mind is: how do we do it? How do we cope with life? How do we manage, when each day holds the possibility of more terrible news.

Imagine, first, the impeachment and trial of our President. That alone could bring us all to the edge, regardless of our political leanings. We’ve gotta wonder, what is happening to our country?

Then, one of the superstars in our sports world if not the world in general, a man millions of children and adults looked up to, admired, took hope from, and felt immense pride in having seen or cheered, suddenly dies in a helicopter accident along with his daughter and friends. That stunned us, as it hit the news on a Sunday afternoon. It came so totally out of nowhere, a Nowhere we all fear whenever we stop and think. After all, Nowhere could hit us any day.

Gathering momentum all the while was the news of a new deadly virus, which is dangerously easy to spread, coming to life in China and beginning its dissemination, infecting and possibly killing who knows how many, in how many ways, in how many countries, and for how long. Panicked, millions of people even in the United States bought masks, while greedy opportunists stockpiled them.

And these are just the stories we all know of, national and international news, enormously distressing events we try to piece together each in our own ways, but also as a national and international community. Add to them the private stories each of us lives with; or the local stories on:

  • family tragedies and miseries;
  • the house down the street where we know something terrible is amiss but we don’t know how to help or if even help would be welcomed;
  • or the people who are in the ambulance whose siren is screaming outside right now, or will be soon;
  • there’s a mother who lost her teenage son to an accidental overdose,
  • a wife who lost her beloved husband way too soon to a heart attack while he was out jogging,
  • and the homeless woman who’s just trying to find food while preserving some shred of dignity.

Samuel Johnson wrote, “We live in a world that is bursting with sin and sorrow.” He also wrote “Life is everywhere a state in which there is much to be endured and little to be enjoyed.

Enough. I know. Of course, I don’t mean to be a total downer. I know, I know. We all need to look on the bright side, because, for sure, there is a bright side if we look hard enough.

But I do wonder, how do we manage?

Life keeps going on, the regular radio shows talk to us while we commute, the regular TV shows entertain us after dinner, we have our routines that propel us from get-up to go-to-sleep, and we find a way not to slip into too dark of a place.

Still, how do we do it? Selective denial? Jack Daniels? The right diversion? Prayer, meditation, travel, and the gym?

Those of you who read this column know by now where I am headed. You know I tout one solution over all others. And it is a solution we need now more than ever.

The Solution We Need Now

It is the solution that’s found in one another. And the solution found in connection. It’s also the solution whose essence is love, but whose ordinary existence is “How’s by you?” It’s free, connection is; it’s infinite in supply; and yet you’d think it was rare as spun gold as seldom as people turn to it.

Now more than ever. Reach out. Try, try, try not to judge one another. Try, try, try to move past the angry thought and roost instead in a place of forgiveness, humility, forbearance, and joy.

And roost with others. Invite over a friend. Make a lunch date with that person you haven’t seen. Speak well of someone for no reason other than you like that person.

When the News Is Bad

When the news is bad—and every day has always had bad news; Samuel Johnson, after all, lived in the 1700’s and look how bad he saw things to be, so we’re no worse off than people have always been—remember that you—we—do have each other.

We do, we really do, have someone we can go out and rag on life with; someone we can grab a beer with or maybe go dancing; someone who makes us laugh, even when skies are gray.

And we have dogs. For heaven’s sake, get a dog. And every day, do what I do and make a little gratitude list, if you don’t think it’s too hokey. And don’t think it’s too hokey. Don’t be one of those people Samuel Johnson said were “too refined ever to be pleased.” (Yes, I do have a thing for Samuel Johnson. More on that if you’d like in another column; just let me know.)

So when hope seems hard to come by, and you can’t figure out the why’s of all the bad stuff that happens, let alone the how-to-deal-with-its, just remember you have me and I have you and together—yes, world, together—we can keep each other on this side of despair.

Better yet, we can pave brand new paths toward joy.

 

 

Dr. Hallowell on Attending A Teachers Service

On a sunny, unseasonably balmy Saturday in January I found myself sitting in a back pew of an Episcopal church in Exeter, New Hampshire. I had made the hour-or-so drive from my home outside Boston to Exeter to attend the memorial service of a man who had died a few weeks before at the age of 97. His name was David Coffin. I attended the school he taught at for decades, the Phillips Exeter Academy. He was the pre-eminent teacher of high-school level Classics in the entire country, or so said those in the know.

Mr. Coffin, “Mister” is how we addressed our teachers when I was at Exeter, never taught me. Although I did take Latin, I was never lucky enough to have the great Mr. Coffin looking over my shoulder as I attempted a translation.

Why then, you might ask, would I steal time from a precious Saturday afternoon to honor a man who never directly had me in his sway? I felt the answer to that question as I sat in the back pew listening to the organ prelude as the people filed in, filling up the church to capacity.

Feeling Immense Gratitude

I felt, sitting there, immense gratitude toward Mr. Coffin for all that he did for so many of us students, for devoting his prodigious talents to the development of young minds and young lives. When I knew him—I attended the Academy as it’s called—from 1964 to 1968 he was a swarthy, trim handsome man. He was a mountain climber and a tennis player, as well as a scholar of the first order. When I’d see Mr. Coffin walking the corridors of the Academy Building, I’d feel the combination of fear and awe such teachers—and Exeter had quite a few—inspire in young students like me.

Now 70 years old, I sat, listening to the organ, looking around at the people who’d come, including my 9th grade math teacher, Walter Burgin. He has as accomplished a mind as David Coffin, and made math as simple as pie. I would not have gone to medical school were it not for the confidence Mr. Burgin instilled in me by making math so accessible. That’s what these great teachers did; they drew us in without our even noticing how much they were getting us to prove to ourselves we could do.

I sat there, feeling gratitude to Mr. Coffin, now deceased, and to Mr. Burgin, very much alive, and to this great school that had so fortuitously come into my life, changing me forever. I went on to Harvard after Exeter, and while Harvard was a fine place to go to college, my years at Exeter shaped me more radically than any four years of my life ever have.

Sentimental Alums

I went back to honor all that, and for the minutes I sat in the church I basked in the feeling of gratitude and love. Fred Tremallo, my 12th. grade English teacher at Exeter, who changed my life more than any teacher before or since, told us never to become one of those sentimental alums who come back and sugar coat the years we spent at Exeter, forgetting the pain and angst all of us felt there some of the time.

But I’d grown so old that by the Saturday of Mr. Coffin’s service I even felt gratitude for the pain and angst. Also attending the service was another English teacher, David Weber, who’d helped me edit my last book, as well as a former Dean and history teacher, Jack Hearny, who’s still leading seminars, trips, and gatherings long after he’s retired. In fact, his favor that day was to transport to the memorial service the imperious but well-loved Jackie Thomas, wife of another deceased Latin teacher, David Thomas, who actually did teach me.

No, Fred, I will not be one of those sentimental alums. But there is a ripeness to the fruit age which imparts, an advanced taste that surpasses sentiment and taps into the subtle juices youth simply lacks the palate to appreciate.

Savoring the moment

Sitting there, I got to savor those juices for a while. Also while sitting there I got to see my past, and sense my death one day, while celebrating the life of a man who just did die, amongst those who knew him well and loved him dearly.

Finally, sitting there I gave thanks to whatever force it was that allowed me to happen upon the notice of David Coffin’s death, the announcement of the memorial service, and to get into my car that balmy Saturday and drive back up to my old school.

How did I know that it would mean so much to me?

I didn’t. And that’s just the point. We do important things governed by tides and winds we don’t understand, and yet obey.

My hope for all of you is that such a tide or wind brings you to a place you find as enormously important and poignant as I found that service for Mr. Coffin to be.

Edward “Ned” Hallowell

Festivity

Today I received in the snail mail a Christmas card from a family I hadn’t heard from in ages. I don’t believe they’d sent me Christmas cards in a while, but, with my ADHD, they may well have, only I didn’t manage to take note of them. I knew them pretty well when I knew them, well enough for them to take my sons and me skeet and pistol shooting, an exciting first for all three of us.

The family, which in addition to a mom and a dad, boasts no less than five of what were boys when I knew them, now all men. It—they—are one of the most wonderful families I’ve ever met. I lost touch with them in the way people inadvertently lose touch with people, by mistake, too much to keep up with, a relationship that receded, into memory as relationships not tended to, do.

But the Christmas card brought it all back as if we’d just put away the pistols and were piling into the car, all together. On the card there was a resplendent photo from the wedding of one of the boys, now a man. Gathered all together in one brilliant and jubilant shot were 17 people: mom, dad, the five sons, and the bride, four additional women, be they wives of the men or girlfriends I couldn’t tell. But they’d been prolific, as five children also populated the photo, ranging from what appeared to be about five years old to what seemed five months.

They were all beautiful, in the best sense of that word, full of beauty, both inner as well as outer. I am not being polite when I say that mom and dad looked exactly as I remember them, not having aged a day. All their children and grandchildren and daughters-in-law, all their flowers, formal attire, and gorgeous gowns and dresses popped out of the card like an organ peal of love.

“Festivity”

When I looked at the card, the word that came to my mind was “festivity”. What a festive event that wedding must have been. What a festival of all-things-good that family has turned life into, not only for them, but for their friends, their businesses, their community, their schools, and just about everyone they touch.

I kicked myself for having lost touch with them, and as I noticed the return address on the card, I determined to write to them asap. Of course, I don’t know what’s been going on with them in the years since I knew them, what difficulties they may have faced, what losses endured, what sadness, what grief. But, knowing them, they have turned whatever hardship into connection, generosity, and growth.

“Silent Night”

As Christmas draws nigh, I thought of “Silent Night,” the venerable carol we all know and sing, at least those of us who celebrate Christmas, but I also thought of the literal silent night, the night that descends upon the people who have:

  • no family,
  • who have nary a friend,
  • who have no Christmas goose or plum pudding or
  • anything that matters much at all.

I thought of that silent night, what I could do to make it better for all of those people. I’m sure you who read this newsletter often have the same thought, how can we include in our share those who have little.

What Can We Do To Make It Better For All People

Short of grand gestures—like practicing the radical philanthropy prophets like Jesus prescribed—we can do, well, we can do what we can do. I don’t know about you, but I always fall pitifully short of that bar. There is so much more that I could do. I don’t want to beat myself up for not doing it—that won’t help anyone—but I want to prod myself this year maybe into doing a bit more.

For some reason seeing that family I’d lost touch with, seeing them on that card in full festivity, so to speak, gave me a shot of love, big hypodermic to get me off my butt and reaching out. Because that’s the least I can do, and when I do that, more follows, almost always.

My Wish For All Of You

My wish for all of you is that you find festivity in this season, that you reach out, that you all follow whatever spirit moves you to a place closer to love in the silent night that surrounds us all.

Edward (Ned) Hallowell, M.D.

Celebrating Neurodiversity, ADHD and Dyslexia

Recently I had the great pleasure of attending a conference in Liverpool, England sponsored by the ADHD Foundation, Britain’s leading organization dedicated to neurodiversity, which of course includes ADHD and dyslexia, both of which I have myself.

I was thrilled to see the enormous progress the Brits have made on this front. Not too long ago the “moral model” still prevailed there, in which children and adults who had ADHD were told to try harder, be more disciplined, and basically to suck it up.

Now, under the dynamic leadership of Tony Lloyd and the great team he’s put together, the foundation offers screening, testing, and treatment, as well as massive public education, symbolized by the Umbrella campaign. Children wrote their strengths onto umbrellas—red, blue, orange, green and purple umbrellas—and the symbol caught on so well that in Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport in London there is a section where you can see dozens of these colorful umbrellas hanging from the rafters, celebrating the progress and joy created by the ADHD Foundation and all the participants who’ve joined in.

It’s a beautiful sight, bright colors, bearing bright messages of hope, progress, and a new era in helping the neurodiverse population in the U.K. These (we) are the people who have changed the world for the better since the dawn of time. DaVinci seems to have had it, as do Mozart and Thomas Edison. We neurodiverse people are the ones who come up with the game changing ideas and the ideas that take the world to its next level. For too long we’ve been misunderstood and stigmatized.

But the new era is upon us at last.

At last this group of the world’s population is finding understanding and credit, validation and well-deserved admiration from the rest of the population who, for centuries, did not appreciate the amazing gifts wrapped inside the minds of this diverse group.

It was wonderful to look up and see these multi-colored umbrellas, hanging like Mary Poppins’ favorite form of transport should do, symbolizing triumph, joy, freedom and creativity for all the world to share.

Freedom at last for the tens of millions who’ve been shackled by misunderstanding, ignorance, and stigma for centuries. Freedom at last to give all that we have to give, to develop all that we can develop, and to share with the rest of the world the immense and unpredictable fruits of our diverse, creative brains.

Hooray for Tony Lloyd and his merry band of freedom-fighters in the U.K., liberators all, benefactors of the civilization that gave us Parliament and Shakespeare, the greatest literature the world has known and an enduring form of government tailored, fittingly enough, to preserve freedom.

Hooray for their great work, and hooray for this world, so in need of good news, that the day is come at last where hidden gifts get recognized, unwrapped, developed and put on grand display.

Just go to Terminal 5 at Heathrow, look skyward, and get ready to fly.

 

The Pennies Are Everywhere!

The other day one of my patients was talking about her father, who died in 1981. “He started college in 1929, and we all know what happened that year. So college came to a sudden end for my father. He became incredibly tight with money from then on, to the point of putting locks on the rotary phones and picking up pennies when he saw them on the sidewalk as if he’s just struck gold.”

This patient, whom I’ll call Sarah, was raised Jewish but now follows a non-traditional spiritual path. She has strong spiritual views, but they do not fit any standard faith or religion. But she delighted in telling me how often she sees pennies all over the place, ever since her father died. “The pennies are everywhere,” she said, with an elated giggle, her red curly hair bouncing, belying her 60 years of age. “It didn’t take me long to realize it was my dad sending me those pennies, letting me know he was watching over me from the other dimension.” She sat back with a wide smile of satisfaction on her face.

As some of you who read this newsletter know, I, myself, believe in God. I’m an Episcopalian. But I’m not doctrinaire. I like the prayer that goes, “Lord, please help me always to search for the truth, but spare me the company of those who have found it.”

My version is that God is Love.

Where you find love, there you find God. Where there is no love, God is absent. Today’s world is painfully short on love. It seems that love is a really tough sell. Why people reject it beats me. Because there’s nothing better. And without it, we wither.

It’s there for the taking, love is. As Sarah said, the pennies are everywhere. Love is all around, if we will but reach out and give it, reach out and receive it, if we will but come out of hiding. Don’t hold back.

Pat a dog. Smile at the check-out lady. Help the mom with the crying baby. Forgive a friend you know you want to make up with. Think of three things you’re grateful for. Say “Thank you” to two people today and say “I’m sorry” to one. Stop and talk to the panhandler, whether or not you chose to give him money. Go a day without reading or watching news and use that time to give others compliments.

Look for the pennies. You will find them everywhere.

A Celebration of Life

Recently my wife, Sue, and I, along with my niece, Molly, and her 11-year-old daughter, Josselyn, who dreams of becoming a star of stage and screen one day, went to see Hugh Jackman at Madison Square Garden. This is part of a five-month world tour in some thirty cities for this 50-year-old phenom who seems to get younger every year.
As we sat and watched his dazzling performance, backed up by a cast of over 150 musicians, technicians, dancers, singers, and stagehands, not to mention his beautiful wife, Deb, seated in the audience, whom he serenaded in the sweetest, most romantic moment you’ll ever see in a live performance, I had to wonder not only at the huge talent of this man—his range, from song to dance to stage to screen to drama to comedy to variety—but to the extraordinary goodness of him as well.
The theme that ran throughout the two hour show was a full-on celebration of life in all its dimensions, in all its variety, in its total and glorious diversity. Out came Keala Settle to sing a searing rendition of the song “This Is Me” which she made famous as the Bearded Lady in “The Greatest Showman.” It includes the lines, “When the sharpest words wanna cut me down, I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out, I am brave, I am bruised, I am who I’m meant to be, this is me.”
How much Hugh Jackman understands and loves all this, loves differences in people, how much he celebrates it in the show he put on that night—and night after night around the world—as well as his wish to bring all people, no matter who, together. He said, “When I was in Minnesota, they taught me a new term, LGBTQA. I said I knew about LGBTQ, but what’s the A? They said it stands for ‘Allies’. I said, Great, because I’m an ally for sure. Now we have a term that includes everybody.” But then he went on to add, But when I got to New York, they told me, “Oh, no, Hugh, the ‘A’ stands for ‘Asexual’. Well, I’m not asexual, but I am an ally for sure!”
Hugh is an ally indeed, an ally of us all, a man who, along with Deb, applies his tremendous talent and resources to unite people, spread understanding and good will, raise spirits, and fill people’s lives with song, laughter, and love.
He’s a friend to our cause as well, the cause of invisible differences. Those lyrics from “This Is Me” could just as easily come out of the mouth of a person who has ADHD or dyslexia as out of the mouth of a woman who has a beard or a man who’s mocked for being short, fat, or funny-looking.
As I sat there in Madison Square Garden, being moved to laughter and tears by the World’s Greatest Showman I thought to myself how wonderful it is that God gives us a Hugh Jackman to offset the guttural voices of hatred and division, of ignorance and bigotry and scorn, that God gives us a Hugh Jackman to inspire us as he tours the world tirelessly raising hope every night, lifting up the people who can’t see the stars.
As I listened to his resounding voice and marveled at the light step of his dance, I knew that this man who was once a little boy in Australia watching Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly on TV, had been plucked up by the spirits that look out for us all and sent on a mission, a special World Tour, in which he was to put to rout the evil-scaled demons and dragons that kill people’s dreams and replace them instead with this shining star, this astonishing Knight in Red Circus who cast a spell upon us all, from little Josselyn sitting next to me, her mouth agape and her eyes as open as her heart, to the entire hurting and waiting world, if it would only listen.