I’ve been told to ‘wear life like a loose coat’. That’s a great sentiment for someone who tends to get hung up on things, and over-think, as I do. But as I have a tendency to examine and speculate, and I have that wonderful curious nature so many ADHDers have, I’ve preferred to live by the motto ‘treat your actions like a science experiment.’ I used to equate these two sayings, in that they both recommend detachment. For lateral thinkers like me detachment is sound advice.
Lately, however, I’ve been considering another aspect of the science experiment idea – that of patience and adherence to scientific rigor. People with Self-Regulation deficits aren’t typically thought of as patient. Impulsivity, emotional dysregulation, and lack of inhibition are regulatory deficits that result in our making premature changes to variables that are supposed to be held constant. Or sometimes we just tire of (or forget) the experiment. Understanding that these deficits are not willful, but rather neurological, is important. Without this understand we can feel a great deal of shame.
I’ve never read anything about patience and ADHD, and I think I know why. It was drilled into me that ‘patience is a virtue’ all of my childhood. I don’t need to explain the implications of my repeatedly NOT being patient. I propose that reframing patience as a skill, rather than a virtue, works better for us. Skills can be developed and honed. So how can we purposefully, intentionally practice the skill of patience?
I don’t have as difficult a time waiting if I’m prepared for the wait. When I know something is going to take 30 minutes, I can do something else for 30 minutes instead of sitting around . I can be prepared. I can arrive early so I’m the first in line. If I’m standing in line, I can share my discomfort with someone else I don’t know. I can play a game, or people watch, or listen. The better prepared I am with things to do the better I and the people around me feel. I can try to accept my situation for the comfort of those around me when I think about how I want to show up in the situation. The situation may require I do something I’m not comfortable doing, like waiting in line, but that’s not really a function of patience, its more a function of anxiety and lack of acceptance. Alone in my house it wouldn’t be as difficult to wait.
Impatience is exasperated by time-blindness. Like most people with ADHD I can be bad at judging time, and get frustrated. Mostly, that happens when I’m not prepared with an alternative interest-grabber, or when I misjudge how much time has gone by. There I am, tapping my fingers, shifting my feet, sighing and rolling my eyes because only five minutes have gone by. Ugh.
Patience is even more difficult to practice when I’m NOT expecting a delay. ADHDers don’t transition well as a rule, and having something unexpected happen that makes me wait (or threatens a negative outcome, like not getting what I want) is unnerving at best. Worrying and negative thoughts arise, along with an outgrowth of uncomfortable emotions like fear or anger. I get stuck. (CBT is great for dealing with those Automatic Negative Thoughts, what Dr. Daniel Amen refers to as ‘ANTS’.) Boredom and time-blindness compound transition issues, because its harder to prepare alternative interest-grabbers when I’m emotionally dysregulated already and I can’t tap into my strengths.
Yet, with the challenges of ADHD come gifts. We are lateral thinkers, and can come up with alternatives and ideas that dissolve boredom. We have a wonderful curiosity about things, and can point that curiosity at what’s happening instead of judging it. We can think deeply about things, which helps with challenging negative thoughts. We are imaginative and can rewrite our narratives in stunning and colorful detail. Our interests are myriad and abundant, so being prepared with an arsenal of interesting ideas gives us a great head-start. We are resilient, and can take bad situations and make them opportunities for acceptance and gratitude. We have suffered ridicule and teasing, so we can be compassionate and just with others. We are tragically, hopelessly, and humorously flawed individuals who other people just want to like. And most of us have a wonderful sense of irony and humor about it all that is contagious. Most importantly, we have a community. For every disordered symptom of ADHD we have an antidote… within our community, and within ourselves.
Impatience is an unintentional, automatic reaction that comes easily to us. So patience is an intentional choice. Its the choice to use the gifts we already have.
Hey, maybe choice is the real virtue!