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“A Lifetime of Apologizing — and Lying — to Cover My ADHD Tracks”

“It might not be fair to call this an ADHD trait, but the truth is I have lied habitually to cover my dysfunctional working memory. Here’s the problem: I am a terrible liar. Also, when any conflict arises, I don’t try to solve it but automatically jump into a script developed subliminally to prevent me internalizing more shame.”

Man and dog walking on grass near a beach

It was a Monday, and I woke up predictably — which is to say late and grumpy. Oversleeping was the precursor to an epic morning scramble to organize my day — always a foggy stumble before the Elvanse kicks in.

I dropped off the lad at school and then took my hound dog for a good walk in the warren, an isolated beach in my hometown. Its landscape, hidden by forested walks, are open to beautiful coastal views. Its environment — different on each visit — is shaped by harsh and unforgiving weather. Time moves strangely there; not the greatest thing for someone who routinely moves two ticks behind everyone else.

Our walk this particular Monday was not unlike others. My puppy was running around terrorizing other dogs with her joy. On the route back, however, I glimpsed something interesting in the soft exposed chalk. This area — rich with ammonite species, bivalves, and other geological marvels — is no stranger to treasure hunters. Sometimes we go down as a family armed with geological hammers, snacks, and enthusiasm to dig and smash rocks looking for treasures. I knew I had to bolt home for my university Zoom workshops starting soon, but I could not help digging into the clay. I found something. I took my bounty to the water’s edge to clean and examine it. And just like that I was fully committed — locked into hyperfocus and losing myself in my own imagination. Life soon aggressed, though, and I got a reminder about the Zoom workshop on my phone.

I scrambled up the muddy path back to civilization, adults, clocks, and rules. Back at home, I haphazardly collected my art materials, notebooks, and medication for the day. I logged into Zoom looking disheveled and greeted my peers, who were just beginning to dig into the subject matter.

I apologized for being late, then was just about to jump into my usual defensive script and white lies about my transgression. But then I stopped. I changed the habit of a lifetime by being completely honest and saying, “I was late because I spent a good part of the morning looking for fossils in the chalk.” I said this without any fear of being persecuted or ridiculed for a change. It felt great.

[Click to Read: 10 Things I Wish the World Knew About ADHD]

I have spent years of my life apologizing for being late. Late homework. Late trains. Late presents. I’ve never been able to tame time. I was even late in life getting diagnosed with my ADHD, even later with my dyspraxia. Things do feel lighter now, though.

My ADHD diagnosis helped me erect boundaries, secure medication that aids my daily organization, and find the motivation to pursue a career as an Arts Psychotherapist. Therapy gives me space to explore past trauma and work through any issues caused by my undiagnosed disorders. In combination, these factors calm the hornets that have historically resided in my head all day long. My ADHD diagnosis makes space and enables me to live in the present. It helps guide me through the day — with a little help from technology, Post-It notes, and countless neurodiverse hacks.

Admittedly, my study group comprises lovely, empathetic people in the craft. The facilitator responded totally without judgment by saying, “That is one of the best excuses for being late I’ve ever heard.”

My truth does not carry the same heft elsewhere. Over the years, I have had a variety of jobs. Some I have clung onto by my fingernails; others I left due to issues caused by my disorders. The ones I maintained almost always involved lying. It might not be fair to call this an ADHD trait, but I have lied habitually to cover my dysfunctional working memory. Maybe I knew, at my core even at a young age, that it was not my fault so lying seemed okay and the habit took shape. Here’s the problem: I am a terrible liar. Also, when any conflict arises, I don’t try to solve it but automatically jump into a script developed subliminally to prevent me internalizing more shame.

[Read: Neutralize Chronic Shame by Understanding Its Source]

My words are not authentic, and this becomes a problem at work and in life. It often feels the outside world was not built for us. Society caters to the neurotypical. My brain will always find creative ways to self-sabotage my routines. The center will not hold, and me turning around and saying I was late because of my hyperfocus won’t always cut it. This may compel me to lie again.

I am painfully aware that time-management skills are important when it comes to therapy. Sessions need to be considered and well organized to support ongoing client needs. I am hopeful that my love of the craft see me through. I also see this as potentially a rich opportunity to embrace my diagnosis and bring it into my profession. If I cannot accept myself, how can I help others?

With most new professional relationships, I am honest about my disorders so that there is context when the inevitable blip happens. Most therapy actually begins with a client contract, which both parties sign. It sets a construct for future treatment, describing and mapping out expectations. Most likely I will begin to incorporate my ADHD into this contract.

Next Monday, I will get a chance to fail and heal all over again. Depending on tide times, I might stop by the warren and may well get distracted again for fossils, dreaming, and playing — because playing is important. It’s part of healthy childhood development and a skill that life hammers out of us. Donald Winnicott once said, “It is in playing and only in playing that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self.”

So If you see me digging into the wet chalk on the Kent coast, I’m not only looking for fossils but deep in discovering myself.

Power of Play with ADHD: Next Steps

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3 Comments & Reviews

  1. Hi,

    Wow, you have just described what I do with detail.
    Although not diagnosed I have all the traits of ADD. I tend to hyperfocus and mismanage important deadlines and have to make special routines to ensure I meet any sort of deadline. To others I am sure it sometimes appears as being rude or careless, and I have often thought that social environments where time or organization is important I tend to mismanage and I am nearly positive it appears as if I am being nonchalant and uncaring. Its not.
    I cant count the amount of times I have had to run out the door with a deadline, even when it was an important one. The level of adrenaline and probably cortisol at that moment is probably quite high. I am always booking things last minute. My friends laugh at it. Is Joe coming…? Yeah put him down. He will be there.

    I do know however that I have over the years gravitated to a position in a career that lends itself to being flexible timewise. Likewise I have had some very considerate employers over the years who have perhaps given leeway in their approach to my tardiness. It maybe that hyperfocusing in ones career, in a field that they enjoy, helps one perform so well that these indiscretions are overlooked perhaps.

    The white lying I tend to steer clear of as I can’t lie to save my bacon. I believe this more so from when I was younger. My father would always pick it apart. I learn’t I suppose to just own up and take the consequences at home and school. The downside to this was dealing with the perceived rejection and injustices at the time. My school years were hard. But I still had good memories.

    Now that I am older I tend to treasure some of my perceived ADD traits. I love hyperfocusing. It can be a brilliant tool in many ways that I wish others who do not have ADD/ADHD could possess. Its great. I also have a strong ability to visualize where others can’t and they remark on it. I quite often can see a spark of an idea again that seems to be missed by others. I love problem solving. Quite often as a child and learning this trait you can often be seen by others as a know it all, or geeky. The knock back can be taken as a perceived rejection. I have learnt to ignore this, and carry on. Don’t get me wrong, if I am wrong I will also learn and adapt. But I confidently hold a position until I learn otherwise. I think children with ADD/ADHD should be feed with information/education that feels good to them. There is no one proper way to learn something. We are unique. So you are correct the approach to I guess most of us would be think creative, but not just as art. More to the point think of positive creativity as a tool.

    Anyhow thanks for article. It was a great read, and I am glad I am not the only one out there with the same traits 🙂


  2. Thank you so, so much for sharing your story! This has been my life all my life! Losing jobs, holding on by my fingernails, switching positions, etc. I was just diagnosed with ADHD last year at the age of 62. It was then that I was able to look back and say, that’s why this happened. And yes I too have lied so as to not feel ashamed. Wow!!! You have no idea how you have encouraged me. I have one goal that I want to achieve before I leave this earth and that is to finish my degree!

  3. Growing up with a very strong emphasis on The Ten Commandments, I became very good at giving an excuse without it being an actual lie. One day I realized I lie to myself all. the. time. even though I am very aware of the truth.

    I was diagnosed after age 50 and have realized how ADD was so present in my younger life. I would have never been tested because I was excellent at masking it to fit in. Co-workers and family are amazed when I share my diagnoses. (Still a pro at the miserable masking!)

    This article is so spot on! I often think people are following me around and writing about me. It has been so comforting to know I am not alone.

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