When I was a child, a family member was diagnosed with ADHD, and upon learning about it I thought “hey, maybe I have that too”. The thing is, this was in the late 90’s and the response I got was “You’re such a well behaved kid. You don’t yell and run around and get in trouble, so you can’t have it. Besides - girls don’t get ADHD.” It wasn’t until I was 30 years old that I again learned more about it and brought it up with a doctor who then agreed - yep, it sounded like I had ADHD, and furthermore, I was a pretty classic presentation for the way it manifests in many girls, which is inattention more so that hyperactivity.
Over the last couple of years I’ve learned in which ways I struggle from this in my day to day life, and have been trying (and failing and trying again) to compensate for and overcome them. Recently though, I thought it would be interesting to examine the ways ADHD interferes with my career as an artist, as well as some strategies I’ve developed to combat them.
I understand the irony of writing a long article about ADHD when the people who might read it struggle with attention. Therefore, it’s broken up with lots of numbered lists to ease the brain. TLDR - The struggle is real, even for artists, but there are ways to cope. 
Along for the ride? Let’s read!
For as much of my life as I can remember I’ve struggled to focus, keep on track, learn, memorize things, absorb information, and stay organized. I got solid B’s and C’s throughout primary school despite working really hard on things while I watched my peers get perfect grades. I thought (and in all honesty still think because childhood messages are hard to break) that I was just stupid and incompetent. 
ADHD is a chemical imbalance of dopamine which interferes with all the ‘executive functions’ we’re supposed to perform in our daily lives. Things like taking in and processing information, focusing on a task, making informed decisions, mood regulation, motivation, remembering things, being able to plan and organize, and so much more. So let's break down some of the DSM criteria for the inattention of ADHD. A lot of the official terminology overlaps on multiple points, so I’m going to simplify and paraphrase here.
1. Often failing to pay close attention to details and making careless mistakes. 
The easiest example I can think of here is a mistake I have made so many times it isn’t funny. When applying a mat to a piece of finished art for framing, I have messed up more times than I can count. Let’s say I have a drawing that is 8x10” in size, and I want to put it in a mat with a 2” border. I simply cut a mat that is 10x12” right? No! A border goes all around an image so I have to account for 2” on every side making it 12x14”. This is such a careless and stupid thing I have done so many times even though I know I’ve done it so many times. Furthermore, mat boards are not cheap so this is a super frustrating mistake to make even once, not to mention repeatedly.
2. Often having trouble holding attention to tasks, loses focus, doesn’t follow through, and is side tracked. 
This happens most in the sense of “shiny thing syndrome” where I am frequently starting new paintings/projects but having trouble completing them in favor of starting yet another new painting/project. Sometimes it’s that I got bored of the first piece, but more often than not I just get more excited for the next one. Yet, at other times, I will have an idea but find myself staring at a blank page feeling too overwhelmed and not knowing where to begin. I also tend to get distracted by non-art-making things in these times and will find myself opting to pay bills, do chores, or repair things around the house. It starts with needing to grab something from the garage in order to work on my painting and progresses to sweeping the garage while I’m out there, which progresses into organizing tools and hardware, which progresses into organizing other parts of the house, and at this point I forgot that I set out to paint or why I originally went into the garage. 
3. Often does not seem to listen when spoken directly to. 
This one doesn’t seem to affect me much professionally, but only as I don’t have a lot of in-person communications. However, I definitely find myself reading and re-reading a simple email like 15 times to get the point. 
4. Often has trouble organizing tasks and activities, and avoids tasks that require sustained mental effort. 
This is a big one. Doing things that involve planning feel impossible and excruciating. For instance, organizing my work to be hung in a gallery setting where I need to select pieces, be in communication with the curator, frame said pieces, create an inventory and price list, create labels for each piece, work out a contract, install the work (while measuring, spacing, and planning), and making sure every piece remains accounted for feels like a HUUUUGE challenge. I inevitably make a mistake unless I write out a check list and reread it like 30 times as I go. Often though this all seems so overwhelming that I don’t know where to start, wind up procrastinating, and then have to rush to do it all anyways at the last minute (where honestly I’m less likely to catch a mistake should there be any). Time management is a huge problem. I’ve cut it within a day of a deadline on multiple occasions due to the overwhelm. So I either procrastinate and work under pressure, or I cope by overcompensating and do something weeks in advance and am filled with anxiety until I do. There is no healthy middle ground. Longer time frame projects are a nightmare too as I can’t just push them out quickly and they need planning (and my attention and motivation to keep coming back to).
5. Is forgetful in daily activities and often loses things necessary for tasks and activities. 
Oh yeah. Big time. I never know where I’ve left my supplies (especially when I have attempted to organize myself), nor do I often know where my finished work is. “Oh jeez, someone wants to buy this piece - is it hanging in my house? Is it in my flat file? Buried away somewhere? Hanging in that coffee shop? The fuck if I know!” It’s not just physical things either. I lose digital files, emails, instructions because I don’t keep them organized and “put them away” wrong. It also doesn’t help to simply search for something when you title things like I do - ‘contract_draft_6_revised_9_final_final_FINAL.docx’ and there are fifteen other files with similar names. Also, if I start to work on something and then minimize/close it and walk away for a while, there’s a huge chance I’ll just completely forget that I was working on it and not finish it. Or worse, I’ll forget, think I finished it, and later come to realize - much to my horror - that I haven’t. This is like drafting up a long ass email and feeling intense relief to be done with it only to realize you never hit “send.”
The following two ADHD traits are not in the DSM, but they’re so well known and accepted that I’m going to throw them on here too.
6. Can be impulsive in actions and decisions.
This one affects me artistically when I think “I’ve got this” and jump into finalizing a piece without doing color studies or giving a second thought to things like “if this is going to be printed in a black and white magazine...maybe I should take that into consideration from the start since I won’t be able to rely on color.” Sometimes I get so focused on wanting to see the final product that I rush through some critical planning stages, much to the detriment of the piece. I also buy art supplies impulsively that I don’t really need (made worse by my poor organization and not knowing that I already have 6 pads of this specialty paper tucked away somewhere). I’ll also impulsively commit to things. “Ooh, the opportunity to sell at a market on Labor Day weekend? Sign me up!” only to later realise I already have 3 conflicting commitments that weekend…
7. Can hyperfocus.
This one seems antithetical to ADHD, but it exists nonetheless. This is where I find myself so in the zone that I can work for six hours straight, forgetting that I have a corporeal body that needs to eat, drink, use the toilet, and stretch. I’ve actually found myself so in the flow state of things that I’ll be sitting in an awkward position and feeling pain in my back, but telling myself “I’ll move in a minute after I finish this thing” but that minute turns into 2 hours and I wind up with a raging sore back. I may forget I have other commitments or things that need to be done because in these moments, nothing else seems to exist aside from the task at hand. I’ve produced some of my best pieces of art in these states, as well as written some of my best blog posts and powered through huge projects. I’ve also come out of them dazed, exhausted, dehydrated, and even incredibly sunburnt on a couple of occasions when painting outdoors. 
So now onto some strategies I’ve adopted (but often need to remind myself to use):
1. Break down complicated tasks into smaller ones.

It’s crucial for me to actually write this out. An example could be taking “Prepare for gallery show” to:

- List out pieces to show

- Locate pieces

- Write down all dimensions of pieces

- Get frames

- Frame pieces

- Create an inventory and price list

- Create wall tags

- Print inventory, price list, and tags

- Cut tags

- Gather hanging supplies (nails, hammer, measuring tape, level, step stool)

- Put everything in one location

Honestly this list could be broken down even more, but it just goes to show how it can make big scary things a little less daunting.
2. Double check my work. 
When in doubt, ask someone else to check it and/or take a break and then double check it with a new perspective.
3. Utilize the law of momentum. 
When something feels dreadful and I don’t feel motivated to work on it, sometimes it’s helpful to just start. I’ll tell myself “I just have to work on my taxes for 10 minutes, then I can stop”, and by the time 10 minutes has passed I usually feel like it’s not so terrible and I might as well keep going with it.
4. Reminders to myself.
Alarms, emails to myself, and in dire circumstances - sticky notes on myself. Okay, hear me out because this one seems silly. If I’m doing a bunch of things and I REALLY need to remember to stay on track - sometimes I’ll write it on a sticky note and literally stick it to myself until it’s done. I NEED to email that client back TODAY, but I also have to go to the bathroom really badly. Well - write “email client” and stick it on my forehead. It’s easy to forget things, and it’s easy to tune things out, but it’s not so easy to tune out or forget a piece of paper stuck to your body. This one I actually learned doing cognitive rehab for brain injury and is super helpful for things like “turn off the stove” while cooking, but it can be applied to all sorts of things.
5. Break it down and paraphrase.
Whenever I communicate with a client, I try to avoid saying “okay, can do”, and instead paraphrase so there is no room for error. “Gotcha - I will have this done by Monday at 8am MST”.
6. A digital filing cabinet.
I know I know. Sometimes it’s easier to name something “zxdhfgjhjkl.psd” but it will really make your life easier to name it properly and put it in a folder. I’ve had to learn to name things carefully, use folders and subfolders, and keep copies of everything. If I think I’m done with an original photoshop file and just need a jpeg I’m kidding myself. Save two copies and distinguish them as such. Additionally, things like receipts for business expenses are great to name by the date and subject eg “7-19-21_Hobby Lobby_Paint” because when that receipt is eventually needed, life is SOOOO much easier. BTW - I also proactively scan and sort all art receipts within a couple days of purchase since receipt paper tends to break down and become illegible before tax time. Finally, another thing I like to have in my digital filing cabinet are inventories of my available work. This saves time when someone says “Hey, I like that painting of the bird with the hat on your Instagram...can I buy it?” This way I immediately know whether I have it or have sold it, where it is, how big it is, and have a price to give them. I can see making an inventory of supplies as well if you’re the sort of artist who stocks up in bulk or buys wholesale.
7. “Let me get back to you.”
Is a lifesaver of a phrase when it comes to beating impulsivity. It’s easy to want to commit to things on the spot or to blurt out a price quote without really thinking about it because the moment was anxiety provoking, but “let me get back to you” is awesome. It gives me time to really consider things, and is also an opportunity for me to follow up and network because if a person sees me once and I answer their questions - we’re maybe done. However, if I say “let me get back to you” there’s immediately a channel for a second or possibly more conversations.
8. Take Breaks.
Even if I don’t want to, I make myself take a break. If I know I’m in hyperfocus mode I may set a timer for 30 or 60 minutes that says “drink some water you silly bitch” or something to that effect.
It’s frustrating to live life feeling like your brain is broken and functioning (or malfunctioning) below its potential, but just know that there are workarounds, treatments, and therapies to help. Also, don’t ever let anyone tell you that giRLs dOn’T hAvE AdHD…*insert eyeroll here*

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