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“Here’s What Happened When I Revealed My ADHD on LinkedIn”

“My company championed diversity in the workplace. But did that inclusivity also apply to neurodiversity? Would my hidden ADHD diagnosis be embraced as well? There was only one way to find out.”

I was 11 when I learned I had ADHD and a learning disability. My mom broke the news to me after school. Her look of concern unsettled me. “Robby, we believe you have a learning disability and ADHD,” she said in a serious tone. Then everything went silent. For a little while, I felt the world was crashing in around me, and I began to cry.

At school, I knew kids who had disabilities, and I didn’t want to be that kid. At that moment with Mom, I went from being a carefree, normal (whatever that means) kid to one who struggled in school, who acted out, who tried too hard to be funny, and who compensated in other ways to manage this thing called ADHD.

Now that I was officially diagnosed with ADHD, there was no going back. In some ways, the diagnosis was a relief. It explained a lot of things, like why I couldn’t stay seated for long periods of time. Or, why it felt normal to jump from subject to subject, but following my non-linear train of thought seemed to leave others struggling. It also explained why reading was so difficult — the words got all jumbled. Staring at the page always confused me more than intrigued me.

The mandates and schedules at school confused me, too. As a neurodiverse individual, the traditional K-12 school system didn’t work well for me. I felt like a foreigner living in a culture with no ability to assimilate.

During high school, my parents hired the ADHD coach Jodi Sleeper Triplett, who is a pioneer in the neurodiverse and ADHD communities. Meeting with Jodi helped me put things into perspective and gave me coping mechanisms for my ADHD. My thoughts became more organized, the words on the page less jumbled. But my inability to sit for long periods was still a problem as my brain and body seemed to run in tandem.

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After high school, I enrolled in a four-year college far from my family and failed miserably during the first semester. Back at home, I gave community college a try and, thanks in part to my strong Christian faith, I found my groove.

In the fall of 2004, I felt better prepared to attend college away from home, so I transferred to the University of Hawaii (UH) at Manoa. Jodi helped me throughout this time and I started making leaps academically. Once after a difficult exam, a supportive professor suggested I seek help on campus at the Kokua Program for students with disabilities. Ann Ito, the head of the department, was blind. Her disability was somehow comforting and made me feel I was in the right company. She helped me get the extra help I needed to succeed. Where K-12 didn’t make sense, college seemed the perfect fit.

Being a Young Adult with ADHD

After graduating from college, I worked hard at hiding my ADHD-related challenges. I didn’t want anyone to know that I am neurodiverse. I really just wanted to be like everyone else. I kept my ADHD hidden, never claiming it on work-related forms or job applications.

Two years ago, I landed at a financial services company called State Street in the Global Inclusion Workforce Development Team. My boss, Richard Curtis, has a history of supporting workplace diversity. He is a founding member of Work Without Limits and serves on the Board of Directors at the Carroll Center for the Blind as well as Operation ABLE. On my second day at the job, Richard brought me to a career fair for the visually impaired. The experience helped me find my way back to embracing my neurodiversity.

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Today, I’m an inclusion practitioner at State Street and I work primarily with people with disabilities. I’ve always understood that a diverse workplace was one that included veterans and members of the LGBT+ community and accepted all racial, ethnic, and religious groups. My work at State Street has allowed me to dive into the world of disability through great organizations like Work Without Limits and Partners for Youth with Disabilities (PYD). I’ve hired interns who are neurodiverse like me and feel inspired by the talent I see.

Neurodiversity in the Workplace: Going Public with My ADHD Diagnosis

Over the summer, I was invited to attend a Disability:IN conference in Chicago, where State Street was recognized for its work to include people with disabilities in business on a local and global scale. (The DEI Award is given to the best places to work for disability inclusion.) Leading up to the conference I found myself wrestling with the question of whether I should speak out and tell my story about growing up as a neurodiverse kid with ADHD.

The satisfying work I do has made me realize that my ADHD is truly my strength. ADHD gives me the ability to think through a myriad topics and jump from project to project with more agility than my neurotypical peers. I enjoy having lots of different tasks and I love constant change. I realize now that I’m also a strategic thinker who often sits outside of the box with my ideas and resolutions.

Attending the conference reminded me that I do not need to live in the shadows any longer; I should celebrate who I am and what I bring to the table. I decided then to share my story on LinkedIn and it was another positive experience: 193 “likes” and 33 positive comments.

So, to my colleagues and partners, I’m happy to share that I’m neurodiverse and have ADHD. Some may describe it as a disability, but I call it my abilities.

To those who don’t know me, “Hi, my name is Rob Surratt and I have ADHD.

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6 Comments & Reviews

  1. It’s a rare company that accepts and tolerates any sort of mental illness. I have had this ADD $#!+ and also BP2 since I was 6 years old and it has caused me many disasters in my business and social life. I got fired at least once because of this. Take it from someone who has BTDT, publicly revealing this to your boss will sign the death warrant on your career. And to add to the sting you will be ostracized and marginalized by your coworkers. To admit my condition at my workplace will wreck the good reputation that I have worked so hard to build over the years.

    I revealed to one of my neighbors that I have both ADD and BP2. Big mistake! He used to be friendly and cordial but now wants nothing to do with me. And, dig this: both he and his wife are psychiatrists!!

    If you need help, get help. There is no cure for this embarrassing condition. Read ADDitide for their wise counsel and excellent advice on how to compensate for and hide this affliction. So, keep a lid on it. Don’t be stupid and don’t be reckless. YOU WILL REGRET IT.

  2. ADHD is nothing that anyone should have to be ashamed of. It is not an “embarrassing condition” nor is it something that should ever be considered an “affliction” in any sense of the word.
    As a teenager with ADHD, I can tell you firsthand how painful it is when you trust someone with the knowledge of your diagnosis, and then experience rejection because of it. To me though, my ADHD is a God-given gift. My ability to hyperfocus gives me an immense amount of patience for tasks that would drive most people crazy. Being distractible means I can come up with creative solutions for mundane issues. And my hypersensitivity and high empathy mean I can see a two-faced person a mile away. ADHD is a gift, something to be proud of. Thank you, Mr Surratt, for a great article.

  3. Yeah, for me it HAS been an embarrassing condition. Nothing good has happened to me because of it. This is no ****ing gift! Back in my terrible high school years I was the male class nerd and it was a miserable existence. My classmates thought I was eccentric but if my condition were to be publicly known my life would have been impossible; I would have had to transfer to a different school under an assumed name.

    College was tough. It took the average student 4 years but it took me 4 1/2 years to earn a BS in Mechanical Engineering. Professors assigned homework that they said would take only one hour but it usually took me twice as long. I was willing to stay up beyond midnight because I wanted a STEM education. Yes I have an above average IQ and have had a successful career as an engineer. I am the go-to guy for certain product lines but I’m not about to risk my hard won reputation by revealing a secret that would launch a whispering campaign, so get real.

    What if somebody has incurable gonorhea? Huh? HUH? Would anyone with any common sense wear a t-shirt that proclaims “I have gonorhea!” Uh, I didn’t think so.

  4. I want to add to my post above. From what I’ve seen there are very few lines of work and employers who will be understand and accepting anyone who has an mental illness problem. Maybe non-profit/charity organizations? Medicine? Education?

    I have always worked at for-profit high tech companies and I know WTF I’m talking about. These companies do not tolerate incompetence, mistakes, missed deadlines or any kind of mealy-mouth dissembling about mental illness problems. Their focus is solely on the bottom line.

    Because of ADD it was so hard to get my engineering degree but I had enough motivation and determination to do it. I have worked for over 40 years as an engineer and by dint of hard work I have gotten somewhere in this world. I am no PoS. I am high-functioning and have earned some respect by now.

    I’ve always known I’ve had a problem with being able to concentrate on whatever I was reading, especially deep technical stuff. Just last year at age 59 I was formally diagnosed with a double whammy of BP2 and ADD. Now I know the name of this honky mo-fo that’s been dwelling inside my own brain like a terrorist sleeper cell agent. I’m struggling to accept it but I don’t think I can. And this experience has left me feeling ashamed, insulted, bitter and angry, angry.

    There’s no cure for it. I am struggling to live with it. My goals are more modest. I very much appreciate ADDitude’s advice on how to recognize and squelch it before I do something stupid, although that is a work in progress. And I always appreciate advice on how to hide it; I’ve been doing that all my life. If I can accomplish these two goals I will be at peace with it.

    So, my advice is if you need help, get help. (I am seeing a mental health professional). Read ADDitude for their sympathetic ear and good advice. And don’t out yourself unless you want to sign the death warrant on your own career.

  5. I don’t usually reply to comments on my comments (yep, that looks just as confusing typed out as it did in my head. Oh well!), but I am going to respond to this one.

    ADDSecret, it sounds like you have had a bad experience with telling others about your diagnosis. My original post was from before I got my first job. Now that I am part of the workforce, as well as being an essential worker during the pandemic, I understand better where you are coming from. There are definitely people out there who will criticize you very harshly for having a diagnosis that makes it harder for you to pay attention. I have been blessed with an awesome team of coworkers (not just blowing smoke!), and almost all of them have been extremely supportive of my abilities.

    However, there are several (mostly older) coworkers who have not been as gracious. After I told them about my
    ADHD, there were several people that began to treat me as though I was a child, and as though I did not know how to do my job. That may not be the same as the way that your coworkers treated you, but the loss of respect was still hurtful.

    On the whole, though, I would say that many of my coworkers actually gained respect after hearing that I had ADHD and still worked very hard. My ADHD is somewhat beneficial in a faster-paced and physically involved job like mine, and I would like to think that my team members notice and appreciate that about me.

    I’m sorry that your experience has been different from mine.I know from experience that living in that kind of anger and bitterness is painful. I will pray for you to find peace, and that your coworkers will learn to appreciate the incredible qualities of a team mate with ADHD.

  6. Dear Tornadosiren87,
    Thank you for your cordial and considered response. You are very articulate and write well. You are very fortunate to have coworkers and who are accepting of ADHD.

    I am a guy in his pre-geezer years. Not to brag, but I believe that my best attribute is my IQ, which is a few points shy of Mensa qualification. I have a STEM education, an engineering degree. I am proud of it and worked damned hard to earn it. I have these things IN SPITE OF, NOT BECAUSE OF ADD.

    I have 40+ years of experience in the electrical power industry. I’ve worked for some 6 or 7 companies. In EVERY school and workplace there is always a bunch of jealous @$$holes who will weaponize an ADD confession. These are the same people who think that COVID is a hoax and that vaccines are dangerous. You will never be able to convince them otherwise.

    A sensible person will not tell his peers and colleagues how much he is being paid. A sensible person will not regale his friends and neighbors with details of his intimate life. So why take a chance and reveal your private health information, especially when no law requires you to? It’s no one else’s business.

    Peace be with you.

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