I will preface this entire blog post by stating, I have absolutely no mental health certifications. I do, however, have years of anecdotal experience, both personal, and as a teacher/mentor/facilitator.
Throughout my life, I have had difficulty focusing on any one thing at a time. The only way I can be completely zoned in is when I am involved in the creative process, but oftentimes, even then, I drift away from the activity because something else occurs to me or catches my eye that I want to explore. Therefore, much of my time is spent chasing tangents and hatching the latest scheme.
I am of an age that ADHD, even though recognized in the late 60s, was not a popularly designated diagnosis when I was a child. Instead, they labeled kids who were “off the wall” as “hyper” and blamed it on the ingestion of too much sugar. My inattention was not physical, it was all mental, as a result, I was spared that classification. My youngest brother was not.
After learning about ADHD, as an adult, I began to seriously wonder if my “flightiness” was actually undiagnosed Attention Deficit. With those thoughts, I began to think negatively about the way my brain functions. Which then, obviously, impacted my confidence levels. I began to question my own creativity – those constant hits of inspiration became tainted with a faint hint of internal criticism.
I have worked with numerous kids who have been diagnosed. Many of whom were placed on meds so they could function in a classroom setting. This blog post is not a commentary on those medications, although, as you can imagine, I have strong feelings about them. Given my experience with internal condemnation, I can only imagine how deeply this external label has affected their self-esteem. The kids I have met often have the belief that they are in some way broken, and, in my experience, this frequently gives them an excuse for not trying – reaching, dreaming, or even hoping.
When I went to the AEROx conference, in Bethel, CT, with three DRC teens this past April, I sat in on a workshop about creative thinking. The presenter (I wish I could remember her name) had the letters ADHD, with spaces in between the letters, written on the whiteboard. She then proceeded to use that very same acronym -A D(amn) H(ighly) D(ivergent) thinker – to turn my previously held beliefs about myself completely upside down! Yes! I am “A Damn Highly Divergent thinker!”
There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with me, my brother, or the thousands of others, who may have twenty tabs open on our internet browsers, four Word documents, and three physical projects going simultaneously, with ideas zinging through our brains faster than they can be caught, all the while singing along to the (80s) music playing in the background, and who also interrupt ourselves mid-sentence, during a conversation, because another thought, which is connected by a very thin thread, hits our brain. (OK, some of that may just be me.) I also never write a list of tasks down, because when I sit down to write one, I don't remember, at that moment, what is supposed to be on the list.
We are the creators, the innovators, and the problem solvers. We only appear frenetic, scattered, unorganized, and unproductive. In reality, we can get tons accomplished with a gazillion ideas constantly on the backburner, anxiously, awaiting implementation - at a moment’s notice.
There are, obviously, a couple downsides to being a highly divergent thinker. In my case, many of those ideas get “lost” or forgotten because it is also very common to have poor working memory (which also explains my issues with spelling and grammar, as well as my inability to follow written directions). And, sometimes the current undertaking goes unfinished because I get so caught up in the excitement of the newest inspiration. I am happy to live with those “negatives” – because frankly the “buzz” I get from constantly generating new ideas – is totally addicting. I recognize how very fortunate I am to be able to embrace my idiosyncrasies and (mostly) ignore those whispers of internal (and occasional external) criticisms.
As a society, we are, however, effectively stifling these ingenious kids, who often don’t have the confidence or support to disregard the reprimands and expressions of disapproval. They are labeled and placed in a coercive environment that requires rote memorization of static facts and figures, focus on one task, and enforced physical inactivity, with no viable outlet for their originality.
Imagine, instead, if we recognized, celebrated, and honored these children for their unique genius - their gifts and brilliance, and provided an open environment where they can bounce or pace, and where they are free to explore all of their ideas with access to resources and materials, whenever inspiration hits. We would, literally, have a world filled with, highly divergent thinking, intrinsically motivated beings, who felt safe and needed, and who were excited about sharing and developing their ideas to solve community, or even, global problems.
The DRC crew will be gathering at the Center every Tuesday throughout the summer. Anyone who would like to check us out is welcome to join us. Contact Maria to learn more.
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