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“Forgiveness Is the Most Precious Gift a Friend Can Give.”

“The experience gave me a rare glimpse at things people with ADHD often struggle to see: How it actually feels to deal with us when we’re being difficult.”

Aerial view of couple on roof of camper van on seaside at sunset. Oleh_Slobodeniuk/Getty Images
Aerial view of a couple on the roof of camper van on seaside at sunset. Oleh_Slobodeniuk/Getty Images

The most difficult thing about having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) isn’t the procrastination, time blindness, or disorganization. It’s when my rare chaotic moments spill out and affect my loved ones. It’s letting down other people or offending them without realizing it or meaning to, and then being haunted by their reactions when they misunderstand my intentions. It’s not knowing how to make it better, so relying on their kindness and forgiveness — again.

I recently went on a trip with someone who has ADHD but is unmedicated. He’s great, but during the trip I finally saw why people find my less charming ADHD traits frustrating.

When Impulsivity Impedes on Others

We were driving my new campervan to a party, and there was a bottle of whiskey in the cab. My mate was bored, so he asked if he could drink some. I said no. I didn’t want to explain the smell of alcohol if I got pulled over. I was also more likely to get pulled over because he was waving the bottle around the cab. Plus, the chances that he would spill some liquor across my new seats seemed high as we drove down country lanes.

But because he was nervous about the party, he laughed it off, said “it’s fiiiine,” then opened the bottle anyway and took a few swigs whenever he thought I wasn’t looking, smiling cheekily because he knew I’d told him explicitly not to do it. When I told him to stop, he told me “it’s fiiiine” again, pointed his index finger at me, and took another swig.

“Being naughty” is a typical ADHD behavior. Usually it is fine — almost fun — and in some situations people with ADHD are secretly adored for their exploits. But when people are stressed, and we continue to act without reading the room, or see how our impulsive actions and persistence come across (basically appearing to dismiss the thoughts and feelings of others), it causes real problems.

[Use This Free Handout: Get a Grip on Tough Emotions]

Perceived Disrespect Triggered My ADHD Emotions

I felt disrespected because I was clear yet ignored — having that drink mattered more to him than how I felt about it. Even though his behavior put me at risk, I felt like the killjoy.

I resisted the urge to throw him, along with the bottle, out of my van. Lucky for him, the whiskey was expensive, and his seatbelt was buckled. Though I may have slammed on the brakes when he took his third swig.

After we parked, I snatched the bottle, took a big swig myself and unleashed my pent-up fury. I told him (and most of the campsite in the process) exactly why I was so angry. For a moment, my little eruption felt good.

Then I saw the horror, shame, and genuine remorse in his eyes, hidden behind his awkward naughty grin.

I became disappointed and embarrassed at myself because, for the first time, I could see how it must feel for people to deal with me when I’m being manic or inconsiderate.

[Read This: “Dash of Patience, Smidgen of Honesty: A Recipe for Friendship”]

I knew my anger upset him, even though he initially tried to laugh it off. Then he retreated in shame, the same way I do sometimes.

Being a Good Friend Is More Important Than Being Right

He could have just given me five minutes, found me a beer or said he was “sorry,” but because of his embarrassment he didn’t. Instead he avoided me. He also didn’t try to make it up to me, admitting later that he felt RSD (rejection sensitive dysphoria) and became overwhelmed with the feeling that he had let me down.

I get it. I’ve been in that hole many times. So, I did what I hope someone will do for me when I’m in a similar position: I went to the van, grabbed two glasses and the bottle he hid under the seat, poured him one, gave him a manly shoulder hug, said “cheers” and some other not-for-print words, and let him apologize.

I realized it was more important to make it clear, verbally and through my immediate actions, that I care more about his feelings than I do about being right. Yes, I was mad at him, but in retrospect the experience gave me a rare glimpse at things people with ADHD often struggle to see: How it actually feels to deal with us when we’re being difficult, and why some people find people with ADHD hard to handle.

I came to the same conclusion about my friend that the people who love me say about me: “He can be a bit much sometimes, but he has a heart of gold and he always means well. He’s a good person and I don’t know why, but I love him.”

At his core, my friend is loyal, kind, generous, lovely, and outrageously fun — outbursts and all.

I don’t remember what happened the rest of that night, but I think we wound up swimming because some idiot left my soaking wet muddy jeans on my now-ruined seats.

RSD and ADHD: Next Steps

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