73: A Twice-Exceptional Life

Twice-Exceptional Life with Doug Harris | ADHD reWired

with Doug Harris

This week’s guest is Doug Harris.  Doug was a part of the second ADHD reWired Coaching and Accountability Group.  Through that group, Eric came to know Doug as a person with a gift for distilling the essence of situations into bite-size synopses encapsulated with humor.  He also came to know Doug as not-your-average-Mensa man.  In this episode, Doug explains the concept of twice-exceptional and describes his frustrations, his free-range thinking, and his future in the ADHD coaching community.

The Many Shades of Doug Harris

Having a “why not” mindset has allowed Doug to harness some of his ADHD impulsivity and live as a creative risk taker.  He’s had some pretty unique life experiences—from being an extra in several films (such as Harold and Kumar 3-D Christmas and The Double) to posing nude for life drawing classes.  He’s gone to nudist colonies, ridden a unicycle, and performed in musicals. He does things that don’t come natural to him and he gives himself credit for being able to step out of his comfort zone.  It’s an adrenaline rush, but it also satisfied the existential part of him that drives him to want to experience different things.

The Diagnosis and the Decade Lost

Doug was diagnosed with ADHD in 1998 through what he called, “the usual route.” He said, he “got it from his kids.”  The more he learned what his kids had, the more he learned what he had.

Following his diagnosis, Doug connected with psychotherapist Dr. Sari Solden, an internationally known expert on the strengths and struggles of ADHD, and he attended a few Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA) conferences.  Things were going well, but other stuff came up that diverted his focus from his ADHD.  After what Doug called his “lost decade,” his self-exploration was brought back to life when the national ADDA conference was locally held.  He made some great connections and learned about ADHD coaching.  He has since completed his training with The ADD Coach Academy (ADDCA) and is now building his practice as an ADHD coach.

Radical Acceptance

The “lost decade” wasn’t a total loss.  The lessons learned during that time have propelled Doug to a place of “radical acceptance of his ADHD.”   Doug explained radical acceptance as meaning he is no longer trying to fit into the neurotypical world.  Radical acceptance allows him to embrace who he is as a person with ADHD.

Radical acceptance gave Doug permission to live a life that uses his strengths, instead of spending so much of his life trying to improve his challenges. He has realized that he can’t just make little tiny tweaks to the neurotypical way of doing things and expect that his ADHD brain will be able to compensate.  Often, the neurotypical way simply takes too much effort, doesn’t yield the best results, and isn’t fun.  He knows that he can’t just do something because it’s something that’s supposed to be done.  He knows that things that take multiple steps to complete are hard for him.  He knows that he has to activate his brain in certain ways in order to get it to do some stuff.  To outsiders, those ways may seem self-indulgent, but he knows that that doesn’t matter.

Activating Genius

What really activates Doug’s brain the most is human contact and having great conversations.  When his brain is activated and he’s in that zone, he feels alive. That person, he says, is awesome.   He just wishes he could be that person more than a few hours a week.

Doug is considered twice-exceptional.  He delivered a presentation on twice exceptionality at a Mensa conference about a year ago. Twice exceptional (or 2E) typically means having a high IQ or being creatively gifted and having something else outside of the norm, such as a learning disability or ADHD.  Twice exceptionality can be frustrating, as there are some parts of your brain that work extremely well, yet they don’t align with the parts that don’t work well.  To Doug, having a high IQ means that he’s had higher bars that he has missed.

Twice Exceptional: High IQ and ADHD

It’s estimated that 85% of people with ADHD aren’t diagnosed.  (Check out Alan Brown’s 2012 San Diego TedX Talk, Undiagnosed in Millions, Do You Have It?).  Often, people with dual exceptionalities are not diagnosed properly.  The 2E ADHD population misses many of the “first world ADHD problems” because they can “get by.”  Outsiders may thing they are doing things just fine.    “I don’t want to be doing fine; I want to be doing spectacular,” Doug shared.  It’s frustrating to have moments of really spectacular thoughts on a really irregular basis.

Prior to his ADHD diagnosis, Doug felt like he disappointed others who had expectations of him because of his high IQ.  The idea of what his potential looked like was forced on him by others.  It took time for him to realize that it wasn’t really his true potential, not based on what he now knows about himself and his particular strengths are.  He still has as high of potential as people originally thought, but it just looks different.

Parts-in-Progress

Doug is working on improving his ability to capture ideas.  As he wittingly said, “He has not captured sufficiently the idea that he needs to capture things.”  He is able to come up with some great ideas and nuggets of wisdom, but doesn’t always remember them later.  He’s getting better at pausing during conversations to write some things down, rather than planning on remembering them later.

Doug is also working on improving his filters.  Right now, he says he doesn’t have a filter; he has a gate.  It’s either gate open or gate closed.  There’s been “train wreck” moments when the gate’s been open and words spilled out in all sorts of directions.

Eric shared that he’s had many train wrecks over the years. For example, he used to not wear a watch. Now, he is aware that he is totally time blind, so he always has a watch on and timers around him and pads to write stuff down on.  Sometimes, he pauses to about how much of what he does now are actually skills and habits that he’s built over time, and that he is still building every day.  When he looks back, he is amazed at how far he’s come.  Having awareness of the parts-in-progress is key.

Emotions and Your Future Self

ADHD is a developmental disorder.  One of the areas of delay is in emotions.  This can really be confusing as a twice-exceptional student, with delayed emotions and advanced intellect.  It becomes easy to over rely on your brain and lose touch of the ability to use your feelings to find out what matters to you.

Some people are able to connect with their future selves and use that to guide their behavior toward that goal.  They see their future selves as extensions of their current selves.  They are emotionally connected to that future version of themselves and that motivates them to do things that they may not want to do otherwise.  For Doug and many with ADHD, future selves look like strangers.  The future has always been an oasis his heart doesn’t connect to it. So there’s no passion. And your head can’t make passion.  Yet passion is an emotion.  Emotions drive our executive functions.

Intrinsic Motivation and The Free-Range Thinker

Doug has learned that he is a free-range thinker.  He resists the idea of structure and focus.  He feels like some of that takes away from his authenticity, even though he knows that structure and focus can help him.  Doug said a lot of times he’ll hear the phrase “perfection is the enemy of done,” and he will think that “done is the enemy of perfection.”  Doug likes the idea of perfect, but he interprets differently.  Many of the things he does are arbitrary, so whether he does or doesn’t do them doesn’t really matter, but if he does something well, then that matters.  With Doug, mattering, not accomplishing, provides intrinsic motivation to act.  Making people happy also provides motivation.  When were into something, we can do it and it’s awesome, but when we’re not into it, it’s very hard to get the brain activated.

ADHD Coaching and Community

Being an ADHD coach really speaks to him.  Connecting with others activates his brain. Through coaching, he is also learning that he has instincts that he just didn’t know.  It’s emotionally powerful to be connecting with people in his heart in ways he hadn’t thought possible.  Doug enjoys the intimacy of coaching and the authenticity from being able to connect with clients.  He also loves being able to offer different perspectives, which can be especially helpful for those who are stuck or who discount or dismiss their accomplishments.

The ADHD community is qualitatively different from other groups.  Many of your experiences are normalized when you look at others who are going through the same things as you   It’s comforting for Doug to be working with colleagues and clients who are like him in many ways.  People understand him.  He doesn’t have to explain himself all the time.   Being involved in ADHD conferences, support groups, and communities are similarly rewarding.  It’s incredibly refreshing to be able to be yourself and to know that you in great company of others being their genuine selves.

Both Eric and Doug have been moved to tears at conferences.  Eric recalls how powerful his first CHADD conference was. He learned so much about himself as a person with ADHD, including realizing exactly how hard he works at stuff.  It’s exhausting sometimes.   Doug recalls the first time hearing about executive functions.  He was at a conference listening to Dr. Tom Brown.  It was the first time ADHD really made sense.  Terms like attention, hyperactivity, and distraction were too abstract, but hearing about the specific aspects of executive functions really struck a chord.  After the session, Doug thought of a little dog who’s doing his best, yet everyone thought he was screwing up.  He cried for that little dog.

Emotional Flooding

Doug compared himself to a small company, where there is a brilliant chief executive officer, but everyone else on staff sucks.  His executive functions are like that support staff.   It’s so frustrating that these ideas are in his head and the potential is there, but they just can’t get done.

Many of Eric’s clients who have ADHD and very high IQs experience a lot of emotional flooding when the executive functions are really being pushed.  Having a high IQ provides for really high capacity bandwidth for some types of information processing, but with ADHD, information bottlenecks when it has to go through the executive functions, and the brain kind of shuts down.

Failing Forward

Failing is a form of self-education.  We may fail at a specific task or objective, but that doesn’t make us failures.  There are always things that we learn when we go through a way of doing something that doesn’t work.   It’s important to remember that if you’re failing, it means you’re trying.  People with ADHD are really good at trying things, in part because of the impulsivity aspect of ADHD.   It makes sense, then, that those who try more, fail more.   Doug has tried things that he really has no business doing, but that “why not” attitude pushed him forward, and sometimes he surprised himself.  Reframing failure as learning experiences that can be used going forward can be powerful.

Many people with ADHD experience a lot of negative thoughts about themselves.  Eric suggests his clients use self-talk to combat some of those thoughts.  Still, for many people, there’s comfort in the negativity because it is at least familiar, even though it’s not good.  Shame researcher Brené Brown has done a lot of work in this area.  Her videos, Ted Talks, books, and presentations are highly recommended.

The Bonus Round
What would your great invention be?

What’s the most unbelievable thing you’ve ever done?
Can you give a recipe for something?
What’s your favorite thing to make?
If you could coach a celebrity, who would it be?
If you could do any kind of role in a movie, what would it be?
If I was to rewrite my Intro, would it be?

Products, websites, etc. mentioned:

Other information:

  • Eric has set September 14th as the start date of the Fall 2015 session of the ADHD reWired Coaching and Accountability Group. If you are interested in reserving a spot in the group, visit coachingrewired.com.

  • Eric is collecting videos describing people’s experiences with CHADD. If you are currently involved with CHADD, record a video however you wish (horizontally, please!) of you describing your relationship to ADHD and what CHADD does for you. Send it to Eric via Facebook, Twitter, or email here: [email protected].

  • Help CHADD, an ADHD organization dedicated to improving the lives of those with ADHD through useful research and support, by donating to their fundraising campaign here: gofundme.com/oneof15m.

  • Visit erictivers.com/audible for Carolyn D’Argenio’s list of her top Audible.com audio-book picks, complete with preview links.

  • Connect with people virtually using Eric’s favorite video conferencing and connectivity platform, Zoom, by visiting erictivers.com/zoom – the basic service is totally free.

  • If you want you hear your question or comment on a future episode, go to erictivers.com/adhdrewired and look for the comment form, or click on the yellow button for either “Be a Guest” or “Record your question”.

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  • http://www.chadd.org/

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