“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.
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.