Shiva, one of the primary deities of Hinduism, is described as the “destroyer and transformer” – and my ADHD experience has played that role in every aspect of my life (see my post about ADHD and listening to Bruce Springsteen on my 50th birthday for more ). But the word Shiva, has its roots in the concepts of “pervasiveness” and “embodiment of grace”. This, too, is part of my ADHD experience. ADHD has been Shiva in my life and career.
Throughout my career, I have wandered between employee, entrepreneur and consultant. It has not been a clear or direct path. In my personal life, I have had relationships that are terrible and wonderful. I am lucky enough to have found a wonderful partner who tolerates the friction that ADHD brings. She and I have built a life together that celebrates its success through the love we shower on our children and the support we give to one another. But ADHD is always there – everywhere I go, my engine of transformation leads me.
ADHD is the driving force in me becoming an entrepreneur. ADHD is the lightning bolt of crystal-clear solutions jumping into my brain fully-formed. These beautiful pictures that appear in my head are full of color and light. They are pure energy. They make sense. They are the transformer. They are coalesced and whole. It is the full connectedness of the idea that gives me the gumption to start a company, act on a vision, to know that I can solve this problem.
These gorgeous, pulsing perfect solutions in my head do make perfect sense in the moment. But as you follow the vision, the fully engaged perfection of the solution is like an impressionist painting. From afar, all of the pieces make sense. But as one dives into the guts of the idea, the vision disintegrates into colored blobs that wriggle, squirm and dart miraculously from one place to another. These electrons chase you with the promise of that single moment of perfect clarity, but remain ephemeral.
ADHD – The Transformer
The drive to do, the need for action makes the perfect idea-fueled concepts of motion and space a salve to the ADHD brain. In some way, the genius of ADHD seems uniquely American. In a country that rose from rebellion, and then followed its self-proclaimed manifest destiny, the urge to go and do and follow an ephemeral idea in many ways describes the genesis and endurance of the American mythology of self-determinism. In my younger days, I was fully captured by a poet, Charles Olson. In his essay on the nature and mechanics of poetry, Projective Verse, says that a poem “…always, always one perception must must must MOVE, INSTANTER, ON ANOTHER!” For my ADHD brain, these shockingly clear ideas, these perceptions always move, instanter, towards the root of the problem that I want to solve.
The transformation happens as I chase the ideas from pictures to the electrons of its parts, to the mechanics of the thing to the action of doing. The entrepreneurial zeal continues as long as in each phase, in each deeper level of “instanter”, I get the endorphin boost that comes with the electric vision of these pictures in my mind. Now, to be fair, these marvelously clear insights that I have only seem perfect. They capture my imagination and I imbue them with the qualities of whole and complete. As I get closer to the idea, and it devolves, again, into the wriggling spermatozoa of impressionistic dots, I need to get the next jolt of the imperfect perfect vision. If I don’t get the next hit, if I never find the next rush, if I don’t find the next instanter, then the picture falls apart.
But when I can follow the insights, the endorphin rush, the electric visions of color, I create. I carve stories of the future from these crystal clear visions. I create relationships with customers and employees through the shared vision of possibilities. These images that appear like flickering neon are the spark that turn the primordial soup of problems into solutions. These images in my head feed my family, they create profit for my customers and create opportunities for my employees. They are Shiva, the transformer who takes the now and moves it instanter.
ADHD – The Destroyer
There are hundreds of days when the brilliant billboard of the perfect idea does not appear. As I dive into my fully-formed abstract world of geometric shapes that solve, into the world of colors of such amplitude that I can barely hear, and the crystalline images of the perfect idea start to reveal their organic imperfections, I start to sift and sort in a frenzied way looking for the next higher-resolution image.
When the next shock of understanding, the next needle-sharp bolt of insight, the INSTANTER doesn’t magically appear, I panic. Not externally, or even consciously, but my brain starts yelling for the next. It doesn’t matter what the next is, I just need the next. The trough that swallows my brain when the idea devolves, when it turns into colored blobs of paint rather than an Inness landscape, is a place of disconnected greys and browns. It has none of the beauty of vermillion and saffron that captivate my mind’s eye in my seemingly perfect solutions.
It is here, in this landscape of trudgery, where I cannot regularly find the energy to solve problems. I have no fuel, no instanter, no kinetic energy to expose a solution. In my ADHD experience, I fall into this monochromatic valley often. And it is here, where Shiva the destroyer emerges.
Let me explain this place to you a little better. It is the moment when the rollercoaster starts to slow. It is when your parents give you the 2-minute warning and you know that your time in the bouncy house is over. It is that moment when your total emotional and physical connection to your partner is interrupted by a ringing phone and the moment is lost. It is the silence that follows the last note of your favorite song. It is a place of disappointment. It is a place of frustration. It is a place of emptiness.
The world of business and families and work and responsibilities is a truly wonderful place. Relationships that sustain and processes that can support growth happen in the everyday. But the Shiva of ADHD, the now without the next, is a world that feels alone. When the reverie of abstract perfection and the instanter ends, the low-endorphin world of everyday seems harsh and isolating. In those moments, the ADHD brain is angry. It isn’t getting what it needs. Rather than solving the tedium, rather than making a commitment to working on the hard parts, ADHD can lead you on a chase.
The chase for the instanter, the need for the next jolt of kinetic thought can allow you to neglect details. In your business, it can be paperwork, or billing, or planning. These functional necessities are the machinery that drive the operations of a business. Creating a report for a client, or diving into the arcane details of healthcare coverage for your small business can feel as if they trap you in the valley of grey and brown. Or at home, paying bills, child care logistics, home maintenance, or simply pulling your head away from whatever is interesting right now to hear and listen to the story of your partner’s day can be daunting. It feels better to ignore the tedium of detail than to dive in deeply. Unless your are pulled into the details by the light of one of your lightning-infused crystalline visions, the details are detritus of some long-ago shipwreck. They are meaningless bits of information and responsibility from which it is impossible to create order. They are shapeless, amorphous handfuls of clay that hold no possibility of becoming something beautiful and intriguing.
This is Shiva the destroyer. This is ADHD creating chaos and destroying connections with the people who support you (customers, employees, families, loved ones…). The destruction of inattention, the despair of disconnectedness, is the flip side of your ADHD kinetic instanter.
The ADHD brain wants to move and experience. It is hungry for the next. Next is the enemy of now. Next is not a future now, it is a place that is always NOT HERE. ADHD the destroyer is never able to feel free of the constraints of the here and now. ADHD the destroyer pulls you away from your responsibilities and your connections. ADHD the destroyer leverages the pain and frustration of what you feel as boredom. But ADHD the destroyer actually disconnects you from that which sustains you. ADHD tells you that you are bored and restless, and that somewhere else there is the promise of true engagement. That is a lie. ADHD makes you feel alone. You are alone in that moment of unattached frustration. There is no one else the trough of grey.
ADHD – The Kinetic Sustainer (aka The Embodiment of Grace)
These two worlds, the endorphin-filled world of perfect ideas and the world of near-painful faux boredom, can swirl around each other rapidly. It is the never ending dance between enthrall and despair that can be so mysterious to the non-ADHD observer. It can cycle in a month, or a day, or a minute, or a second. It is the engine that makes the ADHD go. It is the two stars that circle around each other faster and faster as they collapse into one another. ADHD is the oscillation before fusion.
In some ways, it makes sense. The kinesis that is ADHD demands motion of body, spirit and thought. It makes perfect sense to me that ADHD has its own perpetual motion, its own vibration, its own music on which it feeds. As you dive from the imperfect heights of emotional and intellectual reverie to an imagined valley of disconnected isolation, you undoubtedly create a kinetic energy as you transfer from a high potential energy state to a lower one. The momentum of that release, like an orbit around your life, takes you from high to low and powers you again to a state of engagement with your life, mind and spirit.
But there is a secret that is has taken me a long time to learn, and that I can never remember fully in the moment. When you are in the grey valley, it is never for long. Your intrinsic need for kinetic motion or thought will pull you out of the dark – and in my experience, it always does. In the moment, the the valley of grey hurts, and then you are flooded with relief that the beautiful distant perfection of instanter is hurtling closer and closer to you. But it is in this transition, ADHD Shiva gives you the grace to extend the beautiful ribbons of mental and emotional connectedness, those parts of you and your experience that truly add the color to the brilliant shapes in your mind. It is in that transition, that you can reconnect with your passion and your nourishment, you touch again the ideas and the people that help you create the energy to rekindle your light.
For those of you who struggle with your ADHD, remember that it destroys and transforms. That is a cycle that is so old, the chaos that is so necessary that you will never tame it fully. (Take your meds – that helps.) But remember in the transformation and destruction driven by your biological need for the instanter, there is a beautiful moment of grace, where you are in the perfect moment of stasis. You are neither transforming or destroying, but in that moment, you have blossomed, fully. You can remember details of your cathedral-sized idea, you are fully present in your life. You do love fully, and feel love fully. You are at the pinnacle of your powers and creativeness because you are present. This is when you create and build and succeed. Because you are on a never-ending journey from reverie to disconnect, when you feel the moment, celebrate it fully. It will come again, because you create that moment. When you recognize the grace of your transition, the power that it creates, you can learn to feel the moment of stasis coming and you can slow your transition. It is in controlling your journey from transformer to destroyer that you can create a life and business that is powerful, engaged and fulfilling. I get closer and closer every day.
This entire diatribe might be a beautiful titian-colored construct of insight, or it could be an honest account of the pervasiveness of ADHD’s transformation, destruction and grace. I’ll let you know the next time I pass through the valley.