ADHD at Work

Fired No More!

Treatment for adult ADHD has given me the wisdom to work at jobs I can handle — and to avoid those I can’t.

Woman with ADHD carrying box of things out of office after being fired
Woman with ADHD carrying box of things out of office after being fired

Shortly after my 55th birthday, I was fired from a job after only two weeks. This came as no surprise. Since college, I had been sacked countless times.

In addition to a dud career, my accomplishments included two divorces, heaps of debt, and self-loathing that alternated with the secret belief that I’d be a superstar if only I could figure out how.

Flat broke and with a family to support, I badly needed a job. But I knew that as soon as I found one, I would lose it for the usual reasons: talking too much, ignoring instructions, and missing deadlines. I recognized these behaviors, but could not control them. Trying harder proved fruitless. I always failed.

But it wasn’t really that simple. I had performed well at some jobs and poorly in others, but could not see the reasons why. Given constant supervision, sharply defined goals, and short deadlines, I did fine, but complicated processes defeated me every time.

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Why didn’t I stick to the jobs I could handle? I always needed money, and complex jobs pay better than simple ones. And my superstar delusions encouraged me to go after jobs that were beyond my abilities.

Breaking the Job-Loss Cycle

I was determined to find the right job, and keep it, but how? I asked the advice of a friend who is a research psychologist. She directed me to an ADHD specialist.

The specialist was thorough. I had four sessions of testing and interviews over two weeks, and I underwent a complete physical, as well as eye and hearing exams. He interviewed my wife and two friends by phone. Finally, he diagnosed my problem as ADHD, complicated by a mood disorder. He referred me to a psychiatrist for treatment.

The trial-and-error search for the right combination of meds was a grind. Roughly every other week, I visited the psychiatrist for talk therapy and to get prescriptions for different drugs and dosages. I took each new set of pills and reported how I felt, though I didn’t yet know how I was supposed to feel.

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But still no job. We lived on loans and credit cards. Seeking a remedy for this elusive ailment felt like fighting a hurricane with witchcraft. At first the talk therapy seemed pointless, but I came to see that I wasn’t bad or nutty or misunderstood. I just couldn’t think clearly.

We finally found an effective combination of stimulant and antidepressant. I woke up one morning, swallowed the latest pills, and I knew that the doctor had written the right script. I picked up a newspaper and understood the article I was reading with uncanny clarity. My first thought was that I had attained that brilliance I’d hoped for, but, within hours, I realized I wasn’t brilliant. I was normal.

My family noticed that my bad behaviors went away when I was medicated. I never miss my midday meds when at work, but at home I sometimes forget, and my wife says, “Take a pill!” She prefers that I stay silent in the morning until my wake-up pills have taken effect.

Knowing My Limitations

Not long after the meds started working, I found a job that matched my abilities and became a valued employee. Our company was bought by a big corporation and relocated to another city, which meant moving my family and receiving dot-com stock. After working for the new owners for a while, I retired. Unwise investments depleted our nest egg (managing money is not one of my strengths), and I missed the discipline of work, so I found a freelance gig. It led to the job I have today.

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Even with my meds, there are things I can’t manage, so I avoid them. I can’t give a speech, play board or card games, cook, or negotiate. I used to say I found chess boring. Actually, I’d love to be able to play. I’ve tried hard to learn it, but it won’t go into my brain. I can live with that.

Anyone with ADD/ADHD who doesn’t seek treatment is making a terrible mistake. I’m certain that, with determination, anyone can make headway against the condition. Dismissing treatment is as misguided as refusing to wear glasses or to eat sensibly. But, some say, medication puts chemicals in your head. Indeed it does. There are already chemicals in your head, and they’re out of balance. It’s OK to straighten them out.