“An Open Letter to the Friend I Disappointed”
If timely birthday cards, gourmet cookies, and punctual coffee dates are important to you, we might not be friends. But if loyalty, dedication, and fierce love are, I implore you to look past my faults at the woman hiding beneath.
Dear friend (potential or former) whom I disappointed,
I am sometimes inconsiderate, but never intentionally or maliciously.
I am late to important appointments. I forget important papers. My house is messy, my car is worse, and I procrastinate. I interrupt people. I don’t always wait my turns. I blurt out things best left unsaid. My attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), at times, looks a lot like bad (even selfish) behavior. But please know that my symptoms are not a choice.
Adults with ADHD are five times more likely to speed, 50% more likely to be in a serious car crash, and three times more likely to be dead by age 45. None of these is an attractive choice. We also have anxiety disorders out the wazoo — some estimates hit 50% — and half of women with ADHD have contemplated suicide.
We don’t mean to act contrary to social mores. We try, sometimes desperately, to stick to societal expectations. It’s just hard for us. Sometimes impossible.
Take being late. People with ADHD tend to experience time, as researchers Donald and Susan David found, “not as a sequence of events the way others usually do, but as a diffuse collection of events that are viscerally connected to the people, activities, and emotions that fill them.”
We struggle to put events in their proper place. We may visualize past, present, and future all as one, concurrent, flowing thing. The rest of the world sees time as linear, a distinction that proves problematic when we’re trying to make an important appointment. This different time-sense causes us to procrastinate and hyperfocus. It causes us to miss deadlines, “underestimate the time needed for tasks and trips, and do things in the wrong order.” Now do you get why we missed that PTO fundraiser or library play date?
On top of it all, we tend toward clutter and mess. Many people with ADHD also have an executive function disorder. It affects the way our brains work: They are wired for chaos, not for order. People with an EFD have trouble “organizing materials and setting schedules.” They lose things. They can’t keep track of their personal, or keep their personal areas neat. So not only do we succumb to the clutter, we also lose things — not because we’re lazy, but because of a brain disorder.
You’ve no doubt noticed our weird social interactions. Some of us talk at the wrong time. We blurt things out. We say the wrong thing at the wrong time. As kids, we did not learn to make eye contact, take jokes well, or not interrupt others because our ADHD impulsivity got in the way. Social skills training was not a thing back in the dark days of the ‘80s and ‘90s, if we were lucky enough to be diagnosed back then. So we’re left to muddle along on our own. Many ADHD coaches won’t even treat social issues. I should know, I’ve looked for one.
We act the way we do because we’re impulsive, not because we don’t care about you. We’re not trying to be rude, or trying to draw all the attention to ourselves. We just don’t know any other way to be.
I don’t want to annoy you. I also don’t want to be ostracized or belittled because I have a disorder. Think of it this way: You’d make obvious accommodations for a friend with a visible disability. You’d make accommodations for any number of invisible disabilities, too, that are better understood. Please make the same concessions for those of us with ADHD.
Give us grace. Give us space. Understand why we do the things we do. And get to know us. You’ll find that most of us make loyal, dedicated friends — the kind who care about those we love, almost to a fault. Give us a chance. We will cherish you forever for it.