Did ADHD Cost Me My Job?

I'll always wonder if my symptoms of attention deficit and anxiety led to my layoff. I'll never know.
ADHD & the City | posted by Jane D. | Wednesday December 31st - 3:01pm
Filed Under: ADHD Career Paths
Jane D.

It never really hurts when you are first hit by something. I remember when I slid down the stairs and my foot smashed into the concrete sea wall. I saw blood, but did not the feel the pain nor see the purple-colored bruise until a day later. I remember when my fist ran into a jellyfish during an ocean swim last summer. There was initial shock, but the welts did not surface for hours.

And that is how it feels losing a job so suddenly, being part of what corporate America calls The Layoff. To the company, I am a number, a salary, a title, an age, a gender. To me, a job was a status, security, a purpose, friendships, and for the adult with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD/ADD), it was also health insurance for counseling, therapy, and stimulant medication. Without the structure of a job, I am thrown into an Alice and Wonderland whirlwind.

The shock of the news has now been replaced by pain and disbelief. Maybe it came after a barrage of calls I placed to literally anyone and everyone I knew. I had an image of those poor, helpless people stuck on the roof of the World Trade Center, waving frantically at the ant-sized people below. "Help, help, please, this isn't happening!" The people below are helpless, as well.

A fellow ADD/ADHD friend of mine suggested that I find work in her babysitter/nanny network. Sorry I don't want to teach rich people’s kids and feed them caviar. What about dog walking? She asked. Haha, very funny. I love looking at dogs, but the thought of cleaning up after them made me want to vomit. I did not go to an Ivy League school to make baby formula or walk dogs, but I entertained it for a day as a novelty.

What scared me most was the silence and void, and this blank palette called time. I need structure and consistency and now I was being thrown out to the open sea to swim in a place without lanes. From where I floated, the waves were getting bigger, but I sensed that the worst was yet to come.

Until last week, I could walk into work and savor the routine. Then suddenly it hit me when I saw others attend a makeshift holiday party. It hit me as I stared at a pile of paper on the HR woman's desk, waiting to be filled out and signed. It hit me when I hugged the boss and said goodbye. I would not see her again.

Outside the first snow of the winter was falling, and I thought about how sweet 2007 was, how the ex-boyfriend and I tackled the ski trails and retreated to our cabin afterward. I was clearly living in the past.

Up until the announcement, I thought I was strong, courageous, and cheerful—an empty façade—and then just like that, the dam burst. A friend cancelled dinner with me because of the weather, and I'd discovered that I was no longer able to not take these things seriously. Things were so raw. And the tears came down, first one drop and then faster and faster. I stuck my head under the desk, pretending to clean up when in fact I couldn't control myself.

I have gotten several reactions from people when I tell them the news. Almost everyone says they are really sorry, because it happened right before Christmas. Some people stop the conversation short and say that they will call back, that we will have coffee, and they never do. Others go into action mode and tell me what they think I should do: File for unemployment, move home, and be that 33-year-old who mooches off her parents well into middle age. A lot of people say, you'll be fine, you're talented, you'll land on your feet again. A few others avoid me like the plague.

I appreciate their kindness. Any connection is welcome. My mind inevitably drifts back to the reality of what has happened, and how hard it would be to return to the road to normalcy. I don't want to move to Dubai or India or some strange place like Alaska. I don't want to be a sales clerk at a department store. Why was this so personal? Was it the money, was it that I had put my heart into this job and got nothing in return? Perhaps it was because I had always wondered how much ADD/ADHD and anxiety played a role. Might I have not failed and lasted longer, I don't know.

Today it was clear that all had collapsed, as I couldn't stop crying. My godmother told me to try new things, you don't have a mortgage or a family. I joked that I might baby-sit in the meantime. She paused. "Sell your wisdoms, not your labor, do not sell yourself short. You are a survivor." I am sick of being a survivor.

Outside, the tourists flock to the Rockefeller tree, the ball at Times Square. The department store windows are all lit up, while I try to surface from darkness. My heart goes out to the street sweeper, the man in a suit and tie babbling to himself, and the homeless person who sleeps in the same subway corner night after night.

A week ago I had been thinking of the kind of furniture I would buy for my new place, the type of bed, the sort of decor, and now I was left with nothing but uncertainty.

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