I first want to make a distinction: this is not about inattention as a symptom but about predominantly inattentive ADHD. Understanding and thriving with inattentive ADHD requires its own set of strategies that overlap with strategies for the general ADHD population but depart from them as well. I write and think a lot about the inattentive experience, and while it is unique for each person, I can offer some general strategies that can help to build a center and understand this experience and create a path to thrive with it. These strategies are meant to offer a starting point to living with, and beginning to thrive with inattentive ADHD.
1. Understand that you and your experience are different from that of people “with the H” in ADHD. Many of my coaching clients have said to me that
- They don’t recognize themselves in the books they have read about ADHD.
- They don’t easily relate to very hyperactive people with ADHD
- Hyperactive people may overwhelm them
The strategy here is to acknowledge and validate for yourself that neither are you that person people immediately spot with ADHD nor is your set of challenges the same.
Read about ADHD and compare yourself; acknowledge where you are the same or you are very different from what is described. The end result will be a much better awareness of your ADHD and how you work. Look at examples of our cultural understanding of ADHD and see how you fit and how you don’t.
Some ADHD experts and researchers have even proposed that “predominantly inattentive” ADHD be redefined as separate disorder. I am not here to argue the case one way or the other, and I certainly see overlap in the hyperactive and non-hyperactive (which I will get to some more later) but to point out that this suggests that your experience will indeed be very different from your hyperactive peers.
2. Understand that the inattentive experience is largely invisible to others.
As new as our limited understanding of (especially adult) ADHD is, our understanding of the inattentive side of things is that much newer and more limited. Just as people may not have picked you out as having ADHD because you are not hyper, and were not disruptive as a child in school, etc, etc, your experience and challenges are invisible and unfamiliar to other people. But this is not just because it is newer to our understanding; it is also because people can’t see what is going on inside your head. And often times, for the inattentive ADHDer, that is the only place ADHD is visible. Because of that, it is important that you get a good picture of what’s going on for you. That if other people don’t see it, or even don’t understand when you explain it, that you know what your ADHD looks like; know how it affects you; know when it feels like it is who you are and when it feels like it is getting in the way of who you are.
3. Know when your mind is “hyperactive” or “hypoactive.”
Since our experiences of ADHD are different and are tied into so many aspects of our lives, it is hard to pinpoint strategies (and struggles) in a nutshell. But one I often like to start with in people with inattentive ADHD is what I call the hyperactive mind (or on the flipside, the hypoactive mind).
Do your thoughts proliferate and travel along paths unfocused by you? To me this seems the parallel to physical hyperactivity. Know if this is something that happens to you. Know when and how it happens. Practice stepping back. Or does your mind go too slow, like you can’t get it going? The same self-knowledge is key. Some people report a hyperactive mental experience; some a hypoactive one; and some report both. The core here is lack of control of focus or attention (as in all ADHD) and this includes your internal experience.
As you build awareness you can build strategies to work with, prevent, and respond to what happens in your internal experience. It is only the beginning of thriving with inattentive ADHD, but it is a needed start.
Becca Colao, MA, ACT, SCAC, lives and coaches in Waltham, MA. She specializes in inattentive ADHD and regularly writes about it at http://www.thinkythink.com/. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.