The Imagination in ADHD

I have ADHD.  That means I have one hell of an imagination.  But is having a potent imagination a blessing or a curse?  Centuries ago Samuel Johnson, who had one hell of an imagination himself and also fit the profile of ADHD, wrote about “that hunger of imagination which preys incessantly upon life, and must always be appeased by some employment.”

Our imagination is hungry, we who have the condition so misleadingly called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD.)  I say misleadingly because the last thing we suffer from is a deficit of attention.  To the contrary, we possess an abundance of attention.  Our challenge always is to control it.

The most difficult part of our mind to control is our imagination.

Hungry?  It’s ravenous.  It must be fed. It knows no feeding schedule, but when it feels the need, it lets us know.   If we can then find employment, to use Johnson’s word, for our imagination in some pleasant or constructive project, scheme, or other undertaking, then our imagination becomes our ally, even proof of our genius, our originality, our way of changing the world even.  When suitably employed in creating something of value to us or to others, then we give thanks to our genes and our Creator for this gift called imagination we did nothing to earn but can never abandon.

However, when we cannot find suitable employment for this hungry faculty over which we have so little control, why then it turns on us with a ferocity others can’t understand. It sets about:

  • devouring us,
  • ripping away at our self regard, our
  • feeling of security in the world, our
  • confidence in a bountiful future, and our
  • actual grip on reality, on our own sanity.

What happens when our imagination is not fed?

When not fed by some suitable employment, our imagination turns into an:

  • untamed and vicious beast, an
  • an ugly, salivating monster,
  • our worst enemy, made all the worse and far, far more dangerous by being of us, in us, and always with us.

We can to nothing to dispose of it or rip it out of our minds.  To quiet it we sometimes turn to drugs, alcohol, or compulsive behaviors like gambling, spending, or sexual escapades.  It is the rapacious hunger of imagination, unable to find suitable employment, that turns so many of us who have ADHD into addicts and compulsive people of all kinds.

But is also that hungry, never-satisfied imagination that turns so many of us into:

  • artists,
  • inventors,
  • discoverers,
  • builders, and
  • creators of all stripes and types.

It is that hunger of imagination that drives the man with ADHD always onward in the lifelong search for something “commensurate to his capacity for wonder”.

Were our capacity for wonder not so great, were we not so predisposed to imagine greater than what ordinary life offers up, we would not be driven all but mad by our need to fill that capacity for wonder–to create the perfect song, or swing, or double helix, or arc, or love, or empire.  Had we punier, less intrusive imaginations, we could relax.  But because we can envision the ideal, because we can imagine perfect love, perfect symmetry, perfect prose, or perfect beauty of any kind, then we can never rest easy until we create it.

Which, of course, means we can never rest easy.

So, tell me, does this hell of an imagination create heaven, or hell?  Is it a blessing or a curse?  If you ask me, it’s both.  I have no choice but to live with it, allow it its shabby stall in my mind, feed it best as I can, and try to stay on the sane side of life as it works its way with me.

Watch Dr. Hallowell’s YouTube video on Tapping Into Your Imagination

If you wonder if you have ADHD, click here to learn about the symptoms of ADHD.