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Post Office-itis: Dealing with Government Authority Makes Me Anxious, Sweaty, and Scared

What does going to the post office to mail a package or get a passport fill me with anxiety and dread? If you have ADHD, you’ll understand.

“I’m a bad fake uncle,” D said. “I’m sorry I haven’t mailed Blaise’s present yet. It’s just that I get watching TV and I forget, or then I don’t have the money, or something like that.”

“You have ADHD,” I said.

“I know,” he said. “But…”

“It’s hard for me to get to the post office. I have three kids to haul there. Then I have to pack everything up, and address it, and make sure everything’s going to the right place, and wait in line, and deal with an unpleasant bureaucracy that makes me a temporary Tea Partier every time I enter the building.”

There’s something about ADHD that makes dealing with government offices, like the post office, an unimaginable drag. No one likes the Social Security Administration, but a person with ADHD will put off the trip for as long as humanly possible before you have to call your Congressman for help.

There’s the fear, first. Every person with ADHD knows how difficult it is to get official papers in order. First, we have to find the official papers, which are never in the place we thought we put them. Then we have to inspect them one, two, three times, and half the time, something’s missing. We have to go in search of the missing document, all the time living in terror it’s not there.

[Paper Management 101]

This all presumes we’re not distracted by the contents of the drawers we’re opening, the baby pictures we find, or the old dog collars we’ve stuffed somewhere.

Finally, presuming everything is there, it’s probably somehow wrinkled or torn or jotted on, and you imagine those neurotypical people parading in with their perfect folders of pristine documents, all ready to do business. You know you’ll just toss yours on the front seat of your car, and clutch them in your sweating hands while you wait.

And wait. And wait. And wait. And you know what people with ADHD don’t do well? Wait. Luckily the advent of the smartphone has helped alleviate some of the eye-twitching, need-to-get-up-and-shake-your-limbs boredom. But if you’re low on batteries (you probably are, because you always forget to plug in your phone), you’re left staring at Most Wanted posters and PSAs about how washing your hands prevents flu.

When they finally call your name, you shoot upward in relief and terror. Have you done everything right? Walking out, clutching the document you need, plus all the documents you brought, is one of the best feelings in the ADHD world. You feel like you need a stiff drink. This is the trouble with people with ADHD and government offices.

Imagine the post office through ADHD eyes – or don’t, because you’ve lived it. You have to find the thing you have to mail, and it has to be in good condition. Then you need to find a box to fit it, or decide to buy a box at the post office, because who has a proper box? You need to pull up your phone, or your address book, grandma, and type or write down the address on a piece of paper, in the proper third-grade format. You will wonder if you need the extra four-digit zip code, freak out, look it up, be unable to find it, and decide you don’t need it after all. You’re already hyperventilating and you haven’t left the house.

[Hate to Wait? Here’s Help]

So you show up at the PO clutching labels and whatever you need to mail. But the post office is crafty. They know you don’t have a box, so they sell boxes. You select one, insert your item, and try to seal it up. Then you realize you aren’t allowed to fold shut the flaps. Oh, no. You have to tape them. You don’t have tape. The postman has tape, but he won’t give it to you. You’re hyperventilating for real this time. He points to the display of mailing supplies, and you have to pay five dollars for tape, three bucks for a box, and postage.

Finally, you stumble when they ask if you have anything fragile, liquid, or perishable. They’re going to think you’re a terrorist.

People with ADHD don’t have it easy when it comes to interfacing with the government. Think about the hell of getting a passport. You have to collect the documents, with all the attendant difficulties and worries (will they still accept my birth certificate if it’s a little stained?), which involves finding your Social Security card, which is never in the same place as your birth certificate, and are you sure you have one anyway? If not, you’re back to square one.

You go to the dreaded post office, who deals with this stuff, and sit in a chair and wait. And wait. And wait. They take your picture, which is horrible and looks nothing like you. You worry you’ll be mistaken for a terrorist so you ask them to take it over again. And again. And finally you decide to live with it. You present your documents for inspection, as if this is Soviet Russia, and finally you have your passport. You practically run out the door, terrified they’ll take it away before you can roar out of the parking lot. Hope you remembered your supporting documents. You probably have to go back for them.

It sounds like anxiety more than ADHD. But people don’t realize that things neurotypical people find normal and easy, we find daunting and horrible. That especially includes dealing with documents and authority. We forget things. We’ve spent our lives being yelled at and told we aren’t good enough – by authority figures. It’s no fun.

So, yes, D, we forgive you for not making it to the post office since Blaise’s birthday. I understand. It’s daunting and difficult to deal with government entities that are run badlly. Just try to mail his present before Christmas.

[Self-Test: Do I Have an Anxiety Disorder?]