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  • Nora Buckley

Creativity and ADHD

Are those of us with ADHD more creative than others? It appears that this may be the case.

A recent article in Scientific American states that two core symptoms of ADHD, inattention and impulsiveness, suggest a connection with creativity. Inattention often leads to mind wandering, or the drifting of thoughts, which can lead to new, useful and creative ideas. Impulsiveness can make us more willing to take risks, and dare to approach new ideas without fear.

In my early years I did not think of myself as particularly creative. I learned “creative solutions” from my parents, immigrants with neither the mindset nor the means to purchase what they could make, or replace what they could fix. My father could fix just about anything, though his means were unconventional. He could sharpen pencils expertly with a knife, as I discovered one homework night when I could not find my pencil sharpener. My mother could knit and crochet and sew. She knit sweaters, scarves, and socks, and she knew how to darn socks, a tedious task that she stopped when I was around four and asked wouldn’t it be easier to purchase new socks. She made slipcovers for our furniture, and kept all the scraps of material to use to make potholders or doll clothes or patchwork pillows.

My mother never thought of these creations as anything other than making do with what one had, and she would be very surprised that similar potholders made of “grandma’s scraps” are now sold on Etsy by an artist from upstate New York who specializes in fiber art, Maria Wulf of Maria creates quilts and wall hangings and all manner of fiber art, and was creative enough to realize, as my mother did, that the fabric scraps made perfect potholders.

Perhaps the definition of “creativity” depends on the times and the circumstances. When my daughter was around six years old and decided that she really wanted a four-poster bed instead of her relatively new platform bed, I channeled my parents and turned that platform bed into a functional four-poster with an electric screwdriver, saw, and eight 2x2’s, painted white, with a lacy filmy piece of material over the top. My daughter was pleased and so was I, and several friends called it creative. Like my mother, I just felt I had met a need. I did not recognize my own creativity. (Nor was I then aware that I have ADHD!)

Fast forward thirty-odd years, the same daughter made a fairy garden for her children, and I was entranced with the idea. I found a sale at the local arts and craft store and in short order I had created a beautiful fairy garden, incorporating small plants and miniatures I already had, as well as some bits and pieces from my previous dollhouse creations. Before I knew it, I had created a second fairy garden with a Halloween theme, and I was actually starting on a Winter-themed fairy garden when I forced myself to stop, acknowledging at last that the ADHD impulsivity aided by what was doubtless real creativity could lead me down a rabbit hole of far more creations than necessary.

I find myself dreading my own need to downsize, as I am noticing more and more that as things break or become inconvenient, my default is to find a creative solution utilizing something I already have. I will miss my various stashes of yarn, ribbon, miniatures, fabric scraps, pots for plant-cuttings, unfinished needlework projects, and so very many other things, when I have to whittle them down.

In Additude Magazine, Diane O’Reilly writes that stifling creativity has a damaging impact on the ADHD brain. The same ADHD traits that make us disorganized and unfocused also make us divergent thinkers. Our wide lens of attention, willingness to take risks, and ability to make less than obvious connections, are all essential traits that make up the neurology of the creative mind. However, many of us have spent our lives attempting to fit into a world which loves efficiency and productivity, stifling our creative side and leaving us drained and depleted. She quotes Bene Brown, who in her book The Gift of Imperfection, says “People think creativity is self-indulgent; they don’t think it is productive enough. I say ‘Unused creativity is not benign’ And what I really mean is, that when people sit on that creativity or deny it, it festers, it metastasizes into resentment, grief, and heartbreak”.

Diane suggests that we all embrace our natural creativity in ways big or small. I myself am heartened that the throw-away society we have lived in for so long is making a turn towards sustainability and reusing, repurposing, and recycling. I hope this trend will encourage us to unleash our creativity even more, thus increasing our motivation, life satisfaction, and joy.

As for me, I just read an article indicating that silk is an excellent material for covid-19 masks, and I am off to find my silk scarves to repurpose them as masks!

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