“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.
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.
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
- Download: 8 Ways to Get Better at Small Talk
- Read: How to Focus on the Conversation
- Advice: Conversational Difficulties for ADHD Adults
- eBook: The Art (& Hard Work) of Making Adult Friends
Thank you for reading ADDitude. To support our mission of providing ADHD education and support, please consider subscribing. Your readership and support help make our content and outreach possible. Thank you.
Updated on February 5, 2021