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Mindful : April 2016
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 6 million kids between four and 17 years old have been diagnosed. 1in9youth diagnosed with ADHD significantly more prone than men to anxiety, depression, and suicide attempts. Rowley has strong memories of being a distractible “social butterfly” as a child. “My first-grade teacher once tied me to my chair with my belt,” she said, although she added that “it was in the nicest possible way. I really liked that teacher.” It wasn’t until she turned 42 that she ended up getting her diagnosis. “ People kept telling me I seemed depressed,” she says. As it turned out, she was struggling not only with ADHD but with chronic physical health problems that recently led to a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. She tried stimulants, but found, paradoxically, that they made her feel sleepy. She could never seem to figure out a helpful dose. But earlier this year, she first tried mindfulness, and has become a devotee. As she wrote in an email: Relationships can become healthier when individuals hold their tongues periodically! I per- sonally loved the first few times I heard my own voice inside my head calmly say, “ Wow. Look at that...you’re pausing right now. You’re not going to react right back...you’re going to gently respond in a moment. Woot! Woot!” (Folks with ADHD often have to have their own personal celebrations!). Rowley now enthusiastically rec- ommends mindfulness training to her coaching clients, although she cau- tions them that it’s not inherently an ADHD-friendly approach. “I don’t say that because it’s impossible to sit still and clear your mind,” she said. “I say that because there has to be routine and you have to practice, and if you don’t, you won’t get anything out of it. So it’s really good to have a buddy or be in a class to keep you motivated.” Her other advice to clients: “I tell them it’s not a luxury to smell the roses. It’s a treatment.” As awareness of ADHD expands and the number of adults diagnosed increases, there’s a bright side for the “neurotypicals.” Given that daily distractions and stress are also becoming more com- mon, amid the fiercest bombardment of cognitive stimuli we humans have ever experienced, you might think of us folk born with clinical-grade distraction as our era’s coal-mine canaries. While we struggle with a biologically rooted handicap, we may simply be just a little further out on a continuum on which everyone else is now moving. The savviest of us are becoming pioneers for remedies, including mindfulness, that are sure to have increasing universal appeal. My own journey with mindfulness has been one of fits and starts. Over the past decade, I’ve spent hundreds of hours trying, and usually failing, to sit and quiet my mind, and hundreds more in yoga classes, which are much easier to bear, despite how much I still watch the clock. As part of my initial research into possible treatments for ADHD, I even spent five days at a silent retreat at the Spirit Rock Meditation Center, just up the road from where I live—and even though I did it “lite,” taking notes throughout, skipping several meditation sessions to hike, and finding far too many excuses to talk to the staff—it was one of the most powerfully beautiful experiences I’ve had. In the spirit of self-compassion, I’m trying not to judge myself harshly for all the times I’ve fallen off the mind- fulness wagon, or for all the little tricks I’ve used to make my practice easier. I remember hearing the med- itation teacher B. Alan Wallace say that counting the breath is like using “training wheels.” I think of that phrase almost every time I count—and then I usually think: that’s better than no wheels at all. These days, my newest mindfulness crutch is one of the many commercial iPhone apps now on the market, and I must say it’s so far working quite well. I’ve managed to stick to a routine in which I wrap myself in a blanket first thing when I wake up and listen to the narrator on headphones for 20 min- utes. Again, it may be training wheels, but they’re still better than none at all. At this writing I’m on Day 23—and counting. ● Katherine Ellison is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist and author of three books on ADHD, most recently including ADHD: What Everyone Needs to Know, written with Stephen Hinshaw, vice-chair for psychology at the University of California, San Francisco, and published in 2015 by Oxford University Press. Boys with ADHD tend to be more hyperactive and impulsive, and naturally attract more attention. Girls, with some exceptions, are more day-dreamy. They can slip under the radar, accumulating a buildup of mistakes, failures, injuries, accidents, and self-slights. April 2016 mindful 43