Saturday, June 13, 2015

Book Review: The ADHD Advantage

Recently, I was asked to review Dale Archer's new book, The ADHD Advantage. This is Archer's second self-help book on mental health and takes a novel approach in guiding those who have received or those who care for one who has received an ADHD diagnosis.

Archer's credentials include a background and career in psychiatry and first-hand experience as an ADHD patient. I wanted to read and review this book because I've come to realize there is a clear pattern of ADD (ie ADHD without the hyperactive component) behavior over my life so far. Frequent notations from teachers on reports cards about talking less and listening more? Check. Trouble following through with tasks that don't excite me and constantly procrastinating? Check. Hyperfocused for hours on tasks that do excite me to the exclusion of eating or getting out of my chair? Check. Easily bored? Check. Problems with remembering things? Check. Check. Check.

So I settled in to read The ADHD Advantage and prepared myself to take notes on his solid techniques to improve self-discipline, stop procrastinating, improve memory, etc. Only, that wasn't the focus of the book. Instead, this lauded expert in ADHD focuses on why those with ADHD struggle in the ways that we do (spoiler: less Dopamine receptors makes us deprived of pleasure and excitement and leads us to thrill seeking, poor executive functioning, and a penchant for impulsive behaviors) and why we should accept ourselves as we are instead of trying to conform to the norm with medication or browbeating. He (accurately) points out how each negative of ADHD has a complementary positive. For example, inability to focus for long stretches on dull activities = improved abilities in multi-tasking when needed. Thrill seeking instincts = less risk adverse and more successful in entrepreneurship. Repeated procrastination that leads to failures = greater resiliency. Repeated procrastination that leads to success just before final deadlines = honed skill of working under extreme pressure.

So, run with your ADHD strengths. That's Archer's key takeaway. Stop trying so hard to become more self-disciplined when it's counter to our specific neurological makeup as ADHD types. He implies that the only way to fully conform ADHD brains to the norm is through medication (such as stimulants) and doing so robs the world of the gifts ADHD labeled patients bring to their work and their communities (plus stimulants have destructive side effects). And, according to Archer, any solution that doesn't rely on medication cannot address the underlying Dopamine receptor issue and will often lead patients to browbeat themselves into being more disciplined in one area (such as work), which will only trigger acting out recklessly in other, more dangerous areas (such as sexual behavior) to continue self-medicating via thrill-seeking.

Use the strengths of ADHD for the benefit of myself and others, and be careful not to position myself in ways that the deficits of the condition could really hurt me or others (i.e. don't choose a job or lifestyle that requires extended focus on dull tasks or where procrastination could endanger lives)...that's how to proceed? Admittedly, it sounds good. Giving up this lifelong struggle (mostly outright failure!) to be a paragon of self-discipline sounds so freeing. But it almost sounds too good to be true; an easy out. We are taught that a dedication to self-discipline is a character issue; it's a moral imperative we aren't allowed to give up on because it's too hard, because it's not for us, or because it's not how our brains are wired. I feel shame and guilt when I see myself fail at self-discipline or executive functioning tasks and I'm not sure I can step away from the societal conditioning that I MUST KEEP TRYING.

I'll keep pondering it and perhaps radical self-acceptance might eventually be something I can get behind.

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