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“The Rules of Conversation Mystify My ADHD Brain. But I’ll Keep Talking.”

“I’ve worried about overstepping the rules of conversation and etiquette for much of my life. I have spent two decades filtering what I said to be as concise and meaningful as possible. My diligence in speaking has made me an effective speaker when needed, but at what cost? That’s what I’ve been asking myself lately.”

Keep talking. That’s what I’m telling myself these days.

Engaging in conversation involves following a slew of socially defined rules that have long puzzled my ADHD mind: listen to and process what is being said; think of what I want to say next (while still listening); say what I wanted to say before I forget; repeat. Interrupting is rude. Looking bored is poor etiquette. Being loud or visibly excited is “too much.”

In this pandemic era, Zoom has eased these rules somewhat, but I still worry about stepping beyond the delicate, ever-shifting boundaries of socially acceptable conversational practices.

I’ve worried about overstepping the rules of conversation, in fact, for much of my life. I have spent two decades filtering what I said to be as concise and meaningful as possible, and I did so by painstakingly monitoring my speech: Have I talked for too long? How many more ums, long pauses, and tangents do I have left before people judge me? Did I inadvertently speak over or interrupt anyone?

My diligence in speaking has made me an effective speaker when needed, but at what cost? That’s what I’ve been asking myself lately.

[Click to Read: ADHD Makes It Difficult to Concentrate on Conversations]

For a long time, I believed that people only wanted to hear what I had to say when it was useful and well-said. During conversations, I’d see-saw back and forth between not talking at all, because I didn’t know what to say or when to say it, and talking while holding tightly to my train of thought, dearly hoping that my point wouldn’t derail into a tangent or disappear entirely and leave me looking like a fool.

With a trusted few, the way I talk is so different. I let myself talk loudly and long, unintentionally interrupt out of sheer excitement, loop back to what I have forgotten. I can say what I really want to say, whether profound or hilariously random, and I know it will all be okay.

But I can’t be with my inner circle all the time. Outside that circle, I have suppressed the “atypical” parts of me, only letting out “socially acceptable” drips of quirkiness. I hid the real me, and nobody knew what I was really going through. I was alone with my mind’s storms of excitement, confusion, and anxiety. Getting support for this chaos earlier than I did would’ve been helpful, but how could anybody have known that I might’ve needed help when I was a master at concealing my inner experience?

They couldn’t know — not if I stayed silent about my unique inner workings. Even now, people can’t know what’s going on inside me unless I say or show it.

[Read: Is Your ADHD Causing Social Slip-Ups?]

So, I tell myself to keep talking, even when I trip over my words, and even when I’d rather not for fear of seeming too excited, scattered, or talkative. Because the more I talk as my real self, the more opportunities I give others to know and support me.

Each time someone responds with kindness and acceptance, the shame that has built up inside me softens a bit. It becomes a little more okay to be the real me — the fast talker who sometimes can’t find the right word in time and ends up saying “spinny clothes-washing box” for “laundry machine.” Even an articulate speaker can have trouble finding the right words, and maybe that’s okay.

I’m slowly learning that there’s nothing wrong with being genuinely me, ADHD talkativeness, tangents, confusion, and all. I’m learning that it’s okay to be multifaceted: articulate at times and utterly nonsensical at others. There’s a time and place both for meaning and for fun, and maybe I can have the best of both worlds. Maybe this world can be a brighter place if I let all of me be in it.

Rules of Conversation & Etiquette: Next Steps


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2 Comments & Reviews

  1. I relate to this so much. I have a very quirky, creative way of approaching each person I encounter, always trying to get the most out of our interaction. It’s never in a manipulative way, or as in a way to gain something, but it should be meaningful. But sometimes I have to let that go. Sometimes the interaction isn’t going to amount to making a new best friend or networking opportunity. Ultimately, we need to communicate for our basic needs. And if it boils down to not wanting to feel alone, or needing to relate to another, don’t compromise yourself to fit the idea built up in your mind of what you think others will judge you on. Even if they do judge you, which is only human nature, what does it really matter? As long as you are being true to your intentions, it shouldn’t feel like failure. When we need to be accepted, it means we haven’t forgiven ourselves for being a certain way. So forgive and let it be. ✌🏼

  2. What does it matter? WHAT DOES IT MATTER? Listen up. In a work environment if you let your ADD or ADHD problem get out of control your bosses will be appalled and add your name to their secret list of layoff candidates. In case you haven’t heard, some 30 MILLION Americans have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Duhhhh!

    In social situations I have often been quickly eliminated from all possible chances of building friendships. I have trained myself pretty well from interrupting others but I find it hard to resist interjecting a different topic when it’s my turn to talk because I’m afraid I’ll forget what I want to say.

    So take it from a guy who has been a student in the school of hard knocks for 60+ years. Disguise it, hide it but NEVER admit it. Few people in either the workplace or in social situations will cut you any slack. They’ll just write you off as eccentric, a social moron and all ****ed up.

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