Thanks for the AD/HD!

A diagnosis of AD/HD comes with a lot of can’t s and bad-at s: can’t sit still, bad at getting places on time, can’t focus, bad at finishing projects, and so on. But it comes with plenty of strengths. Sometimes a weakness in one context is a strength in a different context. An example of a deficit of executive functioning in some ADDers is difficulty following recipes or building furniture from a kit with instructions. Grasping the relationship between one step and the next can come slowly, and the experience of having to go step by step can be excruciating. But give these same ADDers a box of Legos and—stand back! Mansions, whole city blocks, Model T’s, cruise ships, flying saucers, crop circles, dinosaurs.… All of a sudden what was a deficit in relating one piece to the next becomes a talent for putting pieces together in unexpected ways.

I sometimes describe the experience of AD/HD thinking as a mental landscape of pools. Thoughts and images sit in pools in the minds of us ADDers, but these pools don’t connect with each other automatically. When we’re kids our mother can march us to the threshold of the disaster area that is our room, and when she says, “Okay, get started, and soon I’ll come help you,” we look at her quizzically and ask, “Get started with what?” We didn’t see a mess, we saw clothes and games and paper and a hockey stick and pillows and cards and legos on the floor. A mess was only one of the many possible ways of seeing the room. We have to intentionally connect the dots, irrigate between the pools, create canals. This requires more effort than if we had a mental matrix of streams and rivers which flowed from one place to the next in a definite from-upstream-to-downstream order. On the other hand, we can link our pools any way we want. We can also see many of them simultaneously; ADDers can be great synthesists, intuitively grasping complex holistic pictures very quickly.

David Giwerc and Barbara Luther, Master Certified Coaches at the ADD Coach Academy, note that “ADHD can… be a strength and gift in the right context.” They have come up with this top ten list of reasons they love their AD/HD coaching clients:

  • They think and function outside the box, which makes them interesting and fun.
  • They are incredibly creative, non-linear thinkers and love to brainstorm.
  • They usually have high energy and enthusiasm.
  • They are quick and spontaneous, often living in flow rather than in the artificial structure of minutes and hours.
  • They make intuitive leaps and connections that make for very interesting ideas and projects to work on within coaching.
  • They absolutely thrive in partnerships.  They can be quite charismatic and empathetic, and they are truly appreciative of a thinking/listening partner.
  • They are usually very bright and interested in many things, so they can be fascinating to talk with.
  • They can concentrate intensely on things they care about, and they usually work well to deadlines they’ve committed to.
  • They may thrive in chaos and change, and they may be very good at juggling multiple tasks at once.
  • They work hard, are adventurous, and are often quite driven.

The deficits in “Attention Deficit” are contextual. This is not to say that the deficits are illusory. (If they were, I would have finished this post hours before 2:00 this morning.) But they tend to be deficits in the context of time-sensitive, linear, pre-defined task-oriented situations. In other contexts which prioritize cognitive feeling, intuition, creativity, imagination, analysis, synthesis, idealism, and the kind of moral sensitivity that revolts at soulless bean counting, executive management deficits can metamorphose into salt-of-the-earth gifts.

And for these gifts, I invite you to join me in giving thanks. May your Thanksgiving be joyful this week on—whatever day it’s on.


Implex and Complex

Brain teaser: what’s the opposite of “complex”?

“Simple,” right? Perhaps. But one could argue that “simple” represents a lack of complexity, not its polar opposite. I propose a different answer: the opposite of complex is implex (or maybe it’s the inverse—so sue me).

For example, a building is a complex, built brick by brick. But a human is an implex: an individual being that has many inner dimensions. Whereas complexes tend to be artificially constructed, an implex is a whole which has the unique capacity to unfold like a flower, like a brilliant plan, like an exquisite idea. Whereas a complex is an organized aggregation of separate components, an implex is a single whole entity that contains within itself many things that can be identified as parts but which are not separable from the whole. A complex consists of parts and synthesizes a whole. An implex consists wholly in itself and can (if plumbed) be analyzed into parts.

Nowadays we typically have trouble imagining an implex, and here’s why. First, we don’t normally think of anything as either an implex or a complex, unless those words are used in the name of a thing, as in an “office complex”; and there are no such current phrases that I know of that include the word “implex.” So, to ask the question whether something—say, a poem—is an implex or a complex, we have to stop and think about the thing (the poem) in question. If we are cognitively able to make the distinction between an implex and a complex, then when we start thinking about it, we are apt to think about it analytically, which is the predominant mode of scientific and philosophical thinking. Well, the word “analysis” means a disassembling of something to examine its component parts (Greek ana + lysis). Thus, the default mode of analytical thinking is to regard anything—a poem, a human body, a song—as constituted of separable parts, and therefore as a complex. Analytical thinking reveals to us that everything is made of parts, right?—even the atom is composed of subatomic particles.

But this is an error in our thinking. We know that we will be able to discover parts within virtually any whole. And so, as Henri Bortoft often notes (in his book The Wholeness of Nature), we start at the end of our thinking process (with our finished thought) rather than the beginning, and assume that all wholes are built up from parts. While this is certainly true of a Chevy Corvette, it is not true of a human baby. The only way to get at a human baby’s parts is to open it up—and since babies are not subject to psychoanalysis, this would require vivisection. But, one might argue, a single baby is a complex of multiple biological processes. While this is, quantitatively speaking, true, this view artificially carves a baby’s physiology into discrete processes. But the blood, the heart, the brain, the finger muscles and the vocal chords of a baby are all inseparably implexed in a whole. The whole human being is not constructed from parts in the manner of the “replicants” imagined by Philip K. Dick in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (made into the film Blade Runner). Rather, the whole organism evolves, just as Darwin observed. A baby is a single entity, not a team entity. It is not legion, it is whole. The notion that human beings are constructed of numerous organs, bones, and so on is literally science fiction. Only a pervasive intellectual habit—this insistence that anything we can carve up must be piecemeal by nature, and therefore everything is the sum of its parts rather than being an existential whole (which implies that mysterious thing identity)—only this stubborn habit stands in the way of our perceiving the obvious.

A daisy plant

Thus the word “part” itself may express these two distinct and contrapuntal senses: on the one hand of being inseparably part of a whole, as in being part of a family, or part of a plant (say, one flower); and on the other hand of being an isolable piece of a construction,

A daisy chain

as in being part (i.e. a member) of a chain gang, or one component part of a daisy chain.

An implex can unfold into a complex. How? How can a human baby unfold? Contemplate this: a fertilized egg can become a fully formed human being, and that human life can become a biography. What stories from your life stand out and say something about who you are? When you have lived a long life, what is the relationship of any one of your many experiences—a bar mitzvah, the moment of falling in love with a lifelong partner, the birth of a child, the death of a parent—to the whole of your life? If you write your autobiography, in which sense is each chapter a part of the whole book?


  1. Your unconscious mind is clearly an implex, because to your conscious awareness your unconscious is and remains monolithic until it is dredged with the aid of a highly paid professional. In other words, your unconscious is a whole which can be plumbed and analyzed. But what about your conscious mind? Are your conscious thoughts one whole interweaving implex, or a complex of separate ideas? Can thoughts be separated from each other? If so, how?

  2. Try to discern the moment when an experience, which is an inseparable part of your whole life, can become an isolable part of your constructed biography.


Go Fish in
Streams of Consciousness:

absenceacceptanceaccomplishmentADHDaimsanalysisannotationanxietyAPAappearanceappleappreciationargumentartistaskingattachmentattentionawarenessBatmanbeingblank mindblissboatboring!brainstormingbraverycandlescenter of gravitychoicechoosing collegecognitioncommunicationcompassionconclusionconfidenceconsciousnessconversationcreative writingcreativitydawdlingdiagnosisdoorsdramadreamdrinkingecologyemotionenergyessaysessentialevidenceexamexcitementexecutive functionexerciseexperienceexpositionfailurefearfeelingfightfigurationflowfootballfrederick douglassfreewritinggamegedankenexperimentgesturegetting startedgoalgrammarhappinesshealinghearthonorhopehumanideasimaginationimagination_exerciseimplexinnovationinspirationinstinctinterestjubileekinestheticknifeknowledgelogicloudlovemagicmanagemasterymeaningmechanicsmedicationmeditationmetacognitionmilitarymindmistakesMLAmothermotivationmountainnontraditional collegenote-takingnotesorganizeout-of-the-boxparticipationpartspassionpatiencepeak-experiencepedagogyperseverancepersistencephysicalizeplanplayingplaywrightingplotpoetrypositive pointingpre-writingpreferenceprepositionpresenceprioritiesprocessprocrastinationprofessorsproofreadingputteringquestionsreadingrealityreflectionrelationshiprelaxationrepresentationreservesresourcesresponseresponsibilityrevisingsanctuaryself-actualizationself-assessmentself-relianceseptembershort storysocratic methodsoulspacestorystrengthsstressstudyingsuccesssummariessynthesistalkingtasksteachingtechniquetest anxietytest-takingThanksgivingthemethesisthinkingtimetolerancetomorrowtreetrusttruthunderstandingveteransvisualizationvoicewaldorfwelcomewholewillwillpowerwomenwordsworkingwriter's blockwritingyearningyesterday