"Hi. My name is Joyce. I make a lot of mistakes. But don't worry, you'll get used to it." For 30 years that was who I thought I was. Not surprisingly, my life was filled with guilt and anger.
As adults with ADHD, we make excuses, blame others, and get defensive. We hope that giving unsolicited information will make people understand and forgive our shortcomings. Here are three scenarios from my life. Do they sound familiar to you?
> I used to walk into business meetings and say, "Sorry I'm late. I had to...." Sometimes I did this two or three times a week. Or I'd say, "You'll never guess why I'm late today." Whether they wanted the explanation or not, I'd give them the long version.
Eyes rolled and conversations stopped. I knew I should stop talking, but my guilt over being late drove me to talk, as if trying to save my job. I desperately wanted to be forgiven, as if it weren't my fault.
> When a group of friends and I planned a dinner, I was asked to bring a dessert. I forgot and left it at home. "Well, what did you expect?" I asked the hostess. "You know me. I'm always forgetting. I saw the dessert on the table when I was about to leave, and some news flash came on TV and I watched it. When it was over, I ran to the car and never gave the dessert another thought. I'm such a scatterbrain."
She said, "Oh, don't worry. We have plenty of other desserts." Although I was fuming inside and felt stupid, I got through it. In my mind, I knew they were laughing at me because this wasn't the first time this had happened.
> Once, when I couldn't get my homework done in college, I used all three of these excuses.
"My computer crashed."
"I was going to print it out in the library this morning, but I forgot my flash drive."
"I had too much homework to do because I forgot that my math and biology homework were also due today."
These words are examples of calling yourself out. When ADHDers are late or forget something, we start thinking about how to cover it up, and we give the best excuse we can think of. Unfortunately, our excuses do not make people see us in a favorable light. They make us look undependable and, perhaps, uncaring.
So how do we get out of the cycle of calling ourselves out? By honestly observing our behaviors and ruthlessly evaluating them. Here is a three-step process I use:
1. Start by making a list of all the things you say that create a negative perception. Think about your choice of words. Did you tell your boss or your best friend that you are not dependable? That you are never going to change?
2. Think about what you could do differently next time. Heading into a meeting late is a terrible time to state the obvious. Enter the room, sit quietly, and get involved. If there is anyone who needs to understand why you are late, take him or her aside after the meeting. Avoid going into long explanations, or you'll be calling yourself out again.
3. Use a planner to prepare yourself for a meeting or get-together. List all the materials you'll need in the planner or the things you have to do to get to the dinner on time. The day before the meeting, put the material in a file and place it in a book bag. Set the book bag by the door, ready to go. If you're going to dinner, place the directions to the restaurant and the car keys near the door. Then, set a 15-minute timer to remind you to gather your bag of materials, planner, and pencil, or the directions, before you head to the meeting or the dinner.