Talking About ADHD

“I’m Not Hiding My ADHD Anymore”

I have a brain difference, and I’m not ashamed. I’d rather be known for what I actually am — as the woman with ADHD, fidget spinner and all — than as the dumb blonde of my childhood.

Flashlights shining a light on the reality of living with ADHD
flashlights shining spotlights

I finally got sick of the stares. I got sick of the eyerolls. I got sick of the sighs, the glances, the shouldn’t-she-know-better looks. I had long ago accepted them as part of my life as an adult with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD). My mind doesn’t work the way that regular people’s do. I’m too busy thinking to remember my kid’s backpack. If my phone whirs, I’m too easily sucked in to have a conversation. Don’t bother telling me your name, or your kids’ names, or their ages, or where you live, because I will forget as soon as you walk away. I talk too loud. I forget appointments unless they are written down in my planner and triple-checked the day before.

Living with My ADHD

This is OK. It causes some hiccups in life, but I’ve learned to compensate. What I’ve never learned to deal with, though, from the time I was an undiagnosed kid, were other people’s reactions to my ADHD. They’re dismissive. Derisive. They think I’m stupid or, worse, incompetent. I can still hear the chorus of “Lizzie is a dumb blonde.” If you don’t know that I have adult ADHD, I look like a walking stereotype: a space cadet, an uncaring idiot, a phone-obsessed Millennial. ADHD means compensating for so many things.

If I had a visible disability, everyone would understand that I need some space, some slack, some grace. It’s hard for me to make friends, and when I do, my friends often joke about my problems. You’d never joke about a person with another kind of brain difference. But other issues have pretty ribbons. Instead of a bumper sticker, I have what looks like a kid’s disorder — something kids grow out of. They don’t know about adult ADHD. And, I realized, they don’t know that I have it.

So I decided to stop hiding it. ADHD is a disability, a brain difference — an invisible one. If I want the accommodations I need, I have to reach out and get them myself. When we send our kids to college, we tell them to be proactive in seeking out help. “They can’t help you if they don’t know you need it!” we say. I needed to take that advice myself.

So I didn’t hide it when I met my co-teacher in our homeschool co-op. I told her that I had ADHD, and it would be hard for me to remember the kids’ names. They would need name-tags for several weeks. I also said that she had to watch out for me hyperfocusing on art projects or the Play-Doh. She laughed. I told her that I wasn’t joking. She said she’d be glad to help.

[So This Is What “Normal” Feels Like?]

Later, while hanging out with a friend, my phone pinged to announce a work email. I quickly set to typing. Then, because it’s so hard to put my phone down once I pick it up, I flipped over to Facebook. I love Facebook. Love it like a drug, like something mainlined. The flickering posts, the call and response that others call information overload — they relax me. I realized what I was doing and stopped. I set my phone down, difficult as it was. “I’m so sorry,” I said. “I fell into Facebook. My ADHD means that once I get onto my phone, it’s hard to put it down. I promise I’m not trying to be rude. It’s a brain difference thing.” She smiled and nodded. What could have become a resentful encounter became a chance for her to get to know me better.

“Stop!” I said to another friend, who was yammering away about my pet-sitting for her. “I don’t have my planner with me. I have to write this down in my planner, or I won’t remember.” She started to giggle. “One of those with the planners, huh?” she said. “I used to be like that.” I shook my head. “No,” I said. “I have ADHD. Without the planner, I don’t know where I have to be when. I don’t remember some things as well as regular people.” She nodded, suddenly understanding.

Then there’s the fidget spinner. Like many 10-year-old boys, I have a fidget spinner. However, unlike them, I use it for its original purpose: therapy. When I sit at the park and play with my spinner, I watch my kids and interact with them, instead of pulling out my phone or picking at my cuticles. It’s been a godsend for me. But I’ve caught other moms looking askance. One made a comment. “Borrowed that from your son, huh?” she snarked. “No,” I said. “I have ADHD. This helps me focus and keeps me from getting out my phone. You know, they were designed for people with anxiety and ADHD.” She was mortified that she’d joked about something that helps with my brain difference. “I’m so, so, so sorry,” she said.

“I Have a Brain Difference”

I have started telling people about my brain difference as soon as we’re introduced. “I have ADHD,” I say. “So it’s really, really hard for me to remember your name. I’ll ask you several times. Please don’t take it personally. It’s just the way my brain is wired.” I’ve found that when I state it plainly, people are glad to help me. I’m not asking for an excuse; I’m asking for help with something I have trouble doing on my own.

[So This Is What “Normal” Feels Like?]

Telling everyone means I have more leeway to seem “different” as I compensate. I whip out my planner to write down information, and no one thinks it’s strange. When I forget to pack something vital for lunch — a trash bag, napkins — another mom steps in with a smile instead of an eyeroll and a comment about my forgetting something once again. I’m comfortable saying, “I’m sorry, I’m blanking on your name. Please remind me, and I’ll try my best to remember this time.”

My frankness trickles down to my kids. If I’m not ashamed of my brain difference, they won’t be ashamed of theirs. I can buy my seven-year-old a planner, and he uses it to write lists. Lists to check off before he leaves the house, lists to check off before he leaves his classroom. Other kids don’t have them, but he’s OK saying that it helps him work with his ADHD.

I got sick of hiding. I’d rather be known as the woman with ADHD than as the dumb blonde of my childhood. I started telling everyone and anyone, letting the secret out. If you need help, you have to speak up. If you don’t like the way people perceive you, give them a reason to see otherwise. I’ve even made a few friends this way. And those friends don’t make a peep when my fidget spinner comes out — even if their 10-year-olds swarm around me to compare toys.

[Free Resource: The All-Time Best Books on ADHD]

16 Related Links

  1. You remind me of the coping skills i didnt have before cell phones were invented. The planner was really in vogue then but i couldnt possibly remember it and I had just stood up a very important client for lunch. Again.
    In the urgency of the moment i was making another client meeting appointment and I wasnot at my desk, not even in the building. I flubbed “can you call stella in my office and confirm I am free on that day. Of course they were more than willing and thus was born my call to confirm. Sometimes it was call me tomorrow when I am back in the office. Sometimes it was call me tomorrow when our system is back online. The important point was their reaction. Always helpful. As we age all of us will notice how people love the opportunity to help out.
    One of the neatest applications i found with this was the ability to leave a message up to 31 days in the future. So you could have your apptment message come to you a day or a week before.

  2. Thank you soooo much for writing this. I had to post it to my Twitter (talk about ADHD crack) and Facebook because you hit on a lot of my own struggles.

    When I started my current job, I asked my trainer to first do a slow overview of each process (entering orders, receiving orders, invoicing, paying invoices, etc), then to explain it again while pausing for me to write down each step and any extra notes (like WHY this thing needs to be done), and then watch me as I talked my way through it while doing it myself a couple of times. She said she didn’t mind if I just asked her questions anytime, but I explained this was how I learned. She looked at me funny, and then left me to finish creating the order myself. After I was done, she looked it over and finally understood what I was trying to explain. The more I did it, the less I needed my notes and the faster I got. All of my other trainings went the same way and she ended up impressed at how fast I learned and how few questions I had.

    This was a year before I was finally diagnosed in my adulthood as having ADHD, and always did. Looking back in the passed, the symptoms seem so clear but hindsight is always 20/20. I only got diagnosed because a lot of my coping mechanisms I created for myself over the years stopped working, and now I’m working on building new ones. 🙂

    Thank you again so much for this. My family and friends still don’t quite get it sometimes, but they will come around.

  3. Thank you, Elizabeth. (Huh. Elizabeth is my middle name. I … uh… never mind.) I tell people the same thing, that in an ADHD world everyone would wear name tags. I tell them ADHD is simply a minor inconvenience of genius. Which it is. It didn’t keep me from becoming a physician, physicist, and mathematician with expertise in whole bunches of stuff. I’m a gifted tutor in math, physics, you name it, because I use with my students the techniques I developed to compensate for the ADHD and autism I didn’t even know I had until I was 68. But I still feel bad when I can’t remember a person’s name.

    By the way, if you know any children, do not let them use calculators in school. When I taught math at the University of Nevada here in Reno, my American students’ grades were generally 30 percentage points lower than my foreign students’. My American students had never learned math at all. They’d only learned how to type on a calculator. Okay, get off the soap box, Margo.

    1. You reminded me (age 73 diagnosed at 70) of my background which did not include calculators of a client i had for Disability health and Dental benfits. It was a major international firm with a separate Canadian Benefit system, i was their go to consultant on virtually everything except pension and had been for many many years. 20 years before I had been a senior executive with AON and was involved in the pension as well .
      I was returning from their plant 120 miles away when i received a call from the negotiation team. Things had gone well enough in our session that they had started to close the pension matters and he wanted to go ahead if it was possible or doable. They were asking for past service increments as well as current service . Mercers were nowhere to be found and he wanted an answer within the hour. Many times we had this discussion before and many times I had reminded him I would have to hire an actuary which was not a solution and he would have to convince his head office to change also a non starter.
      I listened and knew enough about the hourly plan to know his idea of the “little they were asking and reality was likely to be far apart. I asked him for some pertinent info about the current liabilities and assets, the benefit and the unfunded liability at the most recent valuation and costing they had done. I told him i would call him back within the hour if i could help. While driving I did the calculations on one basis and checked them on another. And they say dont text and drive. Luckily this was an empty road and I was able to come up with several million reasons why he should not even consider the requested changes and why waiting for Mercers actuary to do a complete report was the way to go. While not exactly the same the eventual reports numbers were close enough to mine to make him glad he waited.
      ADHD and a savant like skill with numbers and 40 years in the business comes in handy. A calculator would not have helped and would have taken my eyes off the road.
      Why Was the ADHD a help? Our desire to please everybody especially good clients. At least he would forgive a few more late appearances for appointments again. Technically he was on my bill of fare for my whole day. Now he understood what that meant.

    2. I agree, Alfred! Calculators are a crutch, and if one never learns to walk (and run and jump and do somersaults, for that matter) without that crutch, you’re at a distinct disadvantage.

  4. I wish my first experience sharing my ADD had received a better reaction – I might feel more comfortable sharing more often. You have written some great suggestions that might have helped me, too. “I’m not trying to make excuses, but it is hard for me to..[whatever] so I would love your help.” I think the asking for help piece is key -otherwise it sounds like making excuses to other people. ( Like my co-worker who outright scoffed about adult ADHD, and suggested I just needed to put my keys in the same place every time. Or leave the house 5minutes earlier. All the things that come naturally to her).

  5. Great story, great tips, Elizabeth – thank you!

    I’m now in the process of looking for / getting a diagnosis – I’ve been operating on the assumption that I do have ADD for about 10 years now, but was ‘scared’ of confirming it.
    “Asking for help” is the key, I think.

    Blessings to all in our quest for answers! ~

  6. I’m so glad to hear your positive experience. I’ve found the same, prior to sharing at work I was never employed for very long & was judged as being incompetent & never given the opportunity to show the skills that I did have. By the age of 21 I was disheartened & unemployed so when I did get a job the next time, I didn’t hide the ADHD & I helped people understand that…
    – If I stare right through you I’m not being rude on purpose, I’m just day dreaming so wake me up.
    – Things take a bit longer to complete but it will be done correctly the first time if I can work through it in my own way.
    Now, 15 yrs later I’ve been able to grow & I take on many tasks the other people find impossible to master. I’m the problem solver, inventive type that people come to when they cant think outside of the square.
    These differences (if given the chance) make us a very valuable member of any team. I hope more people would share so the future generations may have less hurdles when it comes to employment.

  7. I can relate to just about everything the writer of this post shared. A friend recently posted this video (see link below) on facebook, which is about “white privilege.” I’ve been hearing a lot about white privilege lately, and about issues relating to discrimination against people of color. What I never hear about, however, is the invisible discrimination experienced by so many of us who live with ADHD everyday. People without ADHD have privileges that those of us with the disorder don’t have, and this is usually completely invisible to others. There needs to be more awareness of the unfair discrimination those of us with ADHD experience on a regular basis, which this writer articulates so well (the eye-rolls, criticism, ridicule, etc.) Being continually condemned for things you can’t help really takes a toll on you over time. Discriminating against a person because of his/her race or color is absolutely wrong, and is seen by most as being unfair, which it is. But discrimination against someone who has an invisible disability that no one understands usually is not seen as wrong, as the person being discriminated against is seen as having a character flaw.
    https://www.facebook.com/WokeFolks/videos/1014990085308007/?hc_ref=ARRp3ErGw2me6bvw6AiEPIlZ3PCl54j-3EeWCDykewwfXK-ZUIQuq33Ovxf4w2_NEVM&pnref=story

    1. OMG! The article puts a pin on everything for one, but Janae, your message about discrimination, you hit the nail! I was diagnosed a few years ago when my, then 6-7 y/o, son was diagnosed. As most everyone else does, I had coping mechanisms that helped me through life. I knew I was different & smart, but couldn’t put a pin on just what it was. Why did I do this or have trouble doing that? Now I watch my son go through elementary school with the eye rolls, criticism, & ridicule every school year…..actually any place he attends like summer camp too. His ‘invisible’ is mixed with an unofficially diagnosed ODD….which I also experienced, but not to his degree.
      This month the school had an anti-bullying rally & are participating in Red Ribbon Week this week. They are highlighting those with differences, but as noted in pretty much every message above, my son’s differences are invisible. These are the differences that are ignored by most everyone. His school knows he’s ADHD & so does daycare, but they all try to fit him in their ‘box’ and he just doesn’t fit. One of the boy’s mom’s in our cub scout pack was also venting her frustrations about how her son is being treated by others because of his invisible differences at the school, and she’s a special ed. teacher in a different school district.
      After I was called into the principals office earlier this month, to discuss a picture & message my son drew on his math schoolwork, I asked the principal if they could discuss with the school during the anti-bullying rally, that picking on the kids with these invisible differences is also bullying. Her response was that she never thought about it that way and when the company that puts on these rallies contacts her for specifics on what they’d like discussed, she’ll mention that to them and to their school counselor who visits classrooms and discusses these things with the classes. I am AMAZED that people have a hard time seeing this type of bullying. How sad & frustrating….not only for the kids, but for the parents. Of course, the schools aren’t willing to see there’s different kinds of boxes and each child requires their own special box. My son’s box has holes for his arms & legs & a big hole that he can see the world from. His box is messy and complicated most of the time, but it’s his box.
      Our family motto (and it’s just my son & I) is to let your freak flag fly baby!
      Thank you everyone for your stories, insights, & suggestions! It is so refreshing to know I am not alone & that I’m not as different as the neurotypicals are, just wired differently.

  8. I read this article and some of the comments. I’m glad so many are helped & inspired by it. For me though, It’s different. I work in a large company that is high-performing, meaning you have to be really good at what you do to do well there. I’m in a low-grade position that pays well for what it is, but it’s a wage that requires no more that a HS diploma. I have ADD [no H for me], a college degree and an MBA. “On paper”, I “should” be making $50k-$100k in this company. And they have given me ample opportunity to grow. My problem is my mental lapses, common to our crowd–missing cues, forgetting key, timely pieces of information, nailing some details & completely whiffing on others, with no awareness until it comes back to bite me. It’s embarrassing, humiliating when it’s repetitive. They’ve offered reasonable accommodations. But at the end of the day, I have to be able to do the work to keep the job.

    I’ll add that I’m above average intelligent, though certainly not a genius. [I’ve known a couple of them, & I know what it is]. I’m generally regarded as smart, nice, funny & easily likable. That with my education gives the impression that I am very capable, which I used to love. But when I inevitably fail to produce [I’ll be 50 next year], I’m judged an enigma, or worse, a scammer. I’ve unintentionally burned numerous bridges professionally. Since my diagnosis 4 years ago, I avoid circumstance where I might imply that I can excel beyond the lowest ranks. My integrity’s in the toilet right now.

    So my question to this group is, do I just concede that I’m not able to do work that pays a decent living, that supports my family of 4? Do I sort of throw in the towel, & accept that my value in the marketplace will never exceed $30k? Or do I keep searching for that something…that je ne cest qua, that I BELIEVE is out there, but have no idea if it is, or where to find it, that will provide the chance to achieve that potential I was raised to believe I have.

    Thanks.

    Steven

    1. Steven,
      How frustrating it must be to feel stuck, but please don’t give up on yourself. I am no expert, but from what I have read,our resilience is one of our ADHD superpowers. I dont feel qualified to give specific advice, but I would like to remind you that your value is not determined by the number of 0s on your check. Obviously we need to provide for our needs, but honestly the joyful and positive spirit that you bring to the workplace is true success in my book. Without getting too mushy here, maybe a good place to start might be to really define what success is to you and focus efforts there. Maybe that will mean that you dont look to “climb the corporate ladder” but rather invest your ADHD superpowers (like creativity , enthusiasm, generosity, problem solving, etc) in a volunteer effort. Or maybe you do need to move up to provide for your family and achieve your goals. Maybe there is a job in a different environment or with a slightly different focus that will be better suited for how your brain works. But please don’t give up or feel like a failure. Your were created with a purpose and if you stop trying to reach your fullest potential you will miss it.
      I truly hope all things come together for you!
      Rebekah

    2. Steven i have worked for two organizations that seem to fit the description you have given. My ADHD in one case and particularly social cluelessness worked against me more than my HS almost diploma in a job that should have required an MBA .what both companies had in common and what i ended up occupying were jobs that had measurable objectives that had little to do with our pecadillos and lots to do with actual perforamance. They were referred to measured by and rewarded aus sales jobs but were basically service and consulting jobs. Customers rewarded you based on your knowledge personability and the success of the solutions you recommended. Following one concept which was to always act in the customers best interest even if it meant recommending usome one elaes product never failed to work out for me. It also let me work in an area where support staff could eliminate a lot of our timiness problems. Scheduling and learning when your best times were and learning to say no to your worst times were the most difficult part of the job. You sound as if you might be ideally suited to that type of job. If It also gives you that freedom to schedule meeting with customers first thing in the morning. Even better.
      Best of luck no matter what you choose to do.
      At your age I had a severe health scare that made me reassess ny desire for greater earnings and realize I could be quite satisfied with the level i had reached. After recovering I spent far less time glued to my work and far more time enjoying life.

  9. Thanks for an excellent, well-written article on a point that is way too easy to overlook: the power of stating what is so. At age 62 I have been diagnosed for five years now, which was obvious in hindsight, and I am not shy about sharing that I have ADHD with people. But it hadn’t occurred to me to tell them the way you described. It seems obvious now that I’ve read it, but it’s nothing short of genius. Thank you!

  10. I wonder if we explained ourselves this way and POTUS was indeed one of us, or if we understood Jack Kennedy was one of us Would we have been brought as close to nuclear war as we were in 1962 and as we are right now. I believe some of us have part of this Brain condition that makes us ill suited for the kind of leadership that can annihilate the world during on of our all to famous flashups. The kind that send a missile into a foreign countries airbase in a flash.

Leave a Reply