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“Twice Challenged: I Have ADHD and Social Deficit Disorder”

People don’t give me a chance before they toss me aside as too weird, too spacey, too something—all because I have ADHD, because I’m not neurotypical, and I am socially challenged.

I was always weird. I know now it was because of attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), but I was diagnosed as an adult, so the true reasons behind my social deficits slipped past my parents and teachers. I was constantly blurting things out, speaking out of turn. I cringe remembering some of the things I yelled out in second, third, and fourth grades. I couldn’t follow a conversation; I never knew when it was my turn to talk. Ever since I can remember, I’ve always found myself thinking it was my turn to speak, then speaking, and finding myself being spoken over by whomever I’m talking to until I shut up in confusion and shame. This still happens regularly; conversational turns continue to elude me.

I’m prone to disrupting the conversation with random thoughts. Someone will finish telling me something important, and instead of uttering the expected social responses, I talk about whatever unrelated thing is pressing on my mind, demanding I tell everyone about it. This is off-putting. It’s against the social contract. It makes me seem callous and strange.

Pleasantries don’t come automatically. When someone walks up to me, I say “Hi,” but when they ask how I am, I don’t say, “Fine, how are you?” I tend to launch into a truthful answer about what’s going on in my life, and forget to wend my way back to inquiring about their day. Or I remember to ask, but very abruptly and oddly.

I’m too energetic for some people, who don’t appreciate that I may not follow through on ideas. I’m too spacey for others, who don’t appreciate that I may not follow through on plans.

I am very unpopular.

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It’s painful, this unpopularity. People don’t give me a chance before they’re tossing me aside as too weird, too spacey, too something — all because I have ADHD, because I’m not neurotypical. I can tell them this. I can say, “Sorry I did x or y, I have ADHD and that makes it difficult to z.” But they generally see it as an excuse I’m using, or just another symptom of my weirdness. We’re trying hard to embrace people with differences, including brain differences. But ADHD looks too much like weirdness or “rude” behavior to gain much traction in the sympathy department.

Moreover, because I was never helped with my social skills as a child, I bear the psychic wounds that come from bullying and peer rejection. Ask me how many friends I have from grade school, middle school, or high school, and I’ll laugh. I am envious of people who keep in touch with their kindergarten BFF, or who speak fondly of their still-tight gang of middle-school pals. My social skills deficit has robbed me of that, and instead given me a raging case of clinical anxiety. I can’t wake up in the morning without taking two benzos. I have a paralyzing terror, at times, that my co-workers hate me even though they are some of the kindest, most wonderful women to walk the earth. I am still periodically convinced they think I’m stupid.

I do have a few friends. They tend to be the outsiders, like me. The girl who looks like she walked straight out of a sorority house and raises praying mantises — she’s my buddy. So is the woman who clear-cuts kayaking trails with a chainsaw for fun. But mostly, my friends have ADHD, too. My husband has ADHD. The man of honor at my wedding, one of my best friends for life, has ADHD. So does my poet friend, who’s actually good. So does the mother of my ADHD son’s best friend, who also has ADHD. And the list goes on and on. These are the people who get me. They are the people who overlook my issues. The people who don’t hold it against me when I space-out mid-conversation, or get suddenly bored, or jump in with a, “Hey, how about …”

My social issues suck. They’re crippling. I’ve tried to find an ADHD coach to work with me, but they’re all about organization and less about social interaction. So I muddle along as best I can. I try to be charming. I try to be considerate. I try, desperately, to put the other person first. But I can do it only for so long. I have ADHD, after all. And eventually it pops out. All I can do is pray that the other person has the grace to go with it. As I do, every single day, and have, always, my entire life.

[Is Your ADHD Causing Social Slip-Ups?]

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  1. I can relate. I am diagnosed with ad/hd and social anxiety disorder. The social anxiety symptoms have been controlled for a while now with Venlafaxine. But, I also went through my school years believing that everyone thought I was stupid, ugly, worthless and anytime I had to even speak to someone, my body would freeze up, my mind would go blank and words would just come out. Then, I would spend so much time going over what words had come out of my mouth, knowing that it was dumb and that I was smarter than that. This wasn’t really me. I knew I was smart and could be fun around my family, but I just couldn’t help the tense thoughts that came over me every second I was in public, exposed. I did everything I could not to be noticed, but the behavior in itself came across as weird, odd. I don’t think that I would have made it without medication. I remember all too well how it felt all those years, but today I can be who I was meant to be. 12 years later, although I could talk to people and didn’t have the social anxiety like before, I was still having issues functioning like a normal adult. The symptoms of not managing time, not being able to sit still and listen to someone else talk, not keeping up with housework, mental fatigue from trying so hard just to think about an important task and forgetting appointments blew up after I had my kids. I had managed when it was just me, but I felt like I was spinning more and more out of control with each day. I couldn’t handle anything, I would get so easily overwhelmed and shut down. It was just too hard. It would always end with going back to hyper-focus on the one thing my brain would let me do-get on the internet. Finding out I have ad/hd was a shock, really. So much time wasted that I could have done better, if only I had known. But, I am happy now for once in my life. Better late than never, I suppose.

  2. Thank you so much for writing this article. 29 and wondering why I’ve been a freak my whole life, why I am so behind in so many things, why I can’t even follow through with a single conversation, why can’t I keep friends like others do. I simply thought I was worth less, that my jumbled thoughts and words were weird and needed to stay inside.
    I just started researching ADHD today and I am blown away by the amount of material and surprised that these issues I have struggled with (whether social or vocational) are normal. Thank you.

  3. My 12-year-old son fits this description exactly. As if middle school didn’t suck enough all by itself, he gets to go through it saying all the “wrong” stuff. He’s learned what’s expected and unexpected behavior, and how blurting out weird, random statements makes people uncomfortable. He says he doesn’t care, but he complains that he has no friends and he’s being treated for depression. When he’s bored, he climbs a fence, tells a joke, or just dances to the dubstep music inside his head. Does anyone really benefit from social skills training? Could he feel less rejected and alone if he learned to behave in more expected and acceptable ways? Or should I embrace him for the awesome kid he is and stop trying to change him? I’d like to know if other parents struggle with that.

  4. But you do have friends. Other than my husband, I don’t have any friends. But Friends are also tiring to me. All the friends I’ve had in the past I’ve sort of burnt out. I would always have 1 friend who I was attached at the hip too. I wasn’t clingy per say, I just wanted to hang out with them all the time, and we’d have lots of fun, but it would keep them from hanging out with other friends. I think they would just get burnt out or something. I guess I at least had a few friends while in school, and I can make work friends. I just don’t want to hang out with just anyone, but when I find some one who I feel I can be myself with, then I want to hang out with them all the time. Now that I’m older, and I have a husband and child, giving them attention is enough for me. I really relish my alone time, and don’t really want to spend it with some one else trying to make conversation and stuff. Unless I met some one I could just, “be” around and we could go to thrift stores. That would be fun. I miss my very best friend Andy, we always had so much fun, and he was always up for what ever wacky idea I had that day. Whether is was a drive to Madison just to walk around, a photo shoot down town, trying to draw anime characters, write music, or walk around Walmart at 3am, he just got me, losing that friendship hurt the most, it really was like a death. But I still love him, and remember all our times together and smile, and I’m thankful. Honestly, he was more accepting of me than I was of him most of the time, and I’m sure the reason things came to a sudden and surprising end, had been building up for him. But thank you Andy, thank you for loving me for me <3

  5. Sounds like there may be some high functioning adult autism going on as well. Used to be called Asperger’s Syndrome. It is now all under the umbrella term ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) in DSM V since 2013.

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