Setbacks Only Slow Progress, They Don't Stop It

When you have adult ADHD and dyslexia, public speaking can be extremely challenging.
ADHD Acceptance Blog | posted by Ben T.

All I had to do was read from the piece of paper in my hand during a group presentation. As I began to speak I noticed that the words on the page were swirling around on the paper as if Harry Potter had cast a spell on them.

Ben T.

I am back on deployment again, and my ship has set sail for South America and the Caribbean. For the last three weeks, I have slowly been getting back in the swing of things back at sea. Other than a minor ADHD setback I had last night, things have been going really well. I have worked hard and have been able to get a lot done.

Since reporting to my current command, I have had my share of ups and downs. My demeanor tends to be such that it doesn't always inspire confidence in my superiors. I can only speculate, but I am pretty sure my boss’s initial impression of me wasn’t so hot. From the time I reported to the ship, I have done my best to improve my boss’s opinion through hard work and dedication. I know it’s paid off because it’s been a while since my boss has bothered me about something I forgot to do because of my ADHD. I guess I should elaborate on the minor setback I referred to in the first paragraph, but first I would like to preface this by giving you a little background information about me:

I have always struggled with public speaking. I can remember the first time I had a meltdown in front of a large group of people in 7th grade biology. All I had to do was read from the piece of paper in my hand during a group presentation. As I began to speak I noticed that the words on the page were swirling around on the paper as if Harry Potter had cast a spell on them. I tried to mutter the words I could make out, but the gods of ADHD and Dyslexia proved they were in control. I eventually gave up and looked down at the ground, ashamed of my failure.

Over the years, there have been many times I turned red with embarrassment as I struggled to overcome my greatest fear. And each time is just as embarrassing as that first time in 7th grade biology. I set a precedent that day that I have worked to change ever since.

But, among these failures, I have also had my successes.

An example of one of these successes was at a varsity sports dinner my senior year of high school. I was the captain of the wrestling team and it was tradition for the captain to give a speech to recognize the coaches and their hard work. This was something I had been dreading since I attended one of my brother’s varsity dinners when I was still in middle school. I was good at wrestling even then, and I knew there was a very real chance I would have to make this speech one day. Well the prophecy came true, and with the help of my father, I prepared a speech to read to the crowd.

The speech started off badly. I fumbled over my words to the point that I had to stop and say “excuse me, let me try that again.” To my pleasant surprise that got me a few laughs from the crowd. I started over and was almost all the way through my speech when I became emotional and even shed a few tears. But even so, I managed to finish.

At this point you may be thinking, “How could that speech have been a success?”

Well, once I finished and looked up, everyone in the conference room was standing and clapping for me. My coaches and teammates got out of their seats to pat me on the back and give me one-armed man-hugs. My head coach even had tears in his eyes. The basketball coach later told my mom that in the 20 years he had been coaching, he had never seen a standing ovation at any of the varsity dinners. He even said it was one of the best speeches he had ever heard.

This goes to show that at times, even our weaknesses can be strengths if we persevere. Anyway, I probably should get back to that minor setback I was talking about earlier.

Last night I had been conducting the nightly brief, which I have done about 10 times in the last two weeks. I usually do OK (compared to past public speaking incidents); but this was not one of those times. I tried to adlib instead of reading word-for-word from the slides, and my mind started to swirl just like it did in 7th grade. Long story short: my boss ended up interrupting my brief to save me from any further embarrassment. Later that evening he asked me if I was all right and seemed genuinely concerned.

I sometimes let small ADHD setbacks like these throw me off-balance in a way that hinders my performance at work. My confidence takes a beating, and I start to doubt myself. But this is something I know about myself, and the first step to changing this downward spiral of self-doubt is admitting there is a problem. The problem is letting these lies attack my confidence or even letting them win.

Although I may be lacking in some areas of my work life (especially public speaking), when all is said and done I do pretty well.

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