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4 Reasons Why My ADHD Brain Rejects Zoom

“Studying our co-workers in their native environments is fascinating. We laugh as pets and children wiggle onto laps during Zoom calls. We admire home décor. We ask about exotic fish. Oh, wait. I’m still in a meeting. What did the guy from marketing just say?”

As the pandemic emptied schools and offices last March, a country founded on freedom was reduced to two action items. The first was to quarantine. The second? Meet up via Zoom.

It only took a few weeks for Zoom to become a household verb. Parents scrambled to connect kids with their teachers on the web conferencing platform. Office meetings — once held in bare rooms with limited distractions — were now multimedia affairs with kids and pets as a backdrop. Paying attention in a virtual meeting ignoring all of life’s noise became a challenge for everyone. But for those with ADHD, the Brady Bunch-esque grids of meeting attendees continue to pulverize us with visual over-stimulation.

I am incredibly grateful for Zoom. I was able to virtually interview for my job during the April 2020 surge and bond with my new team. I don’t think Zoom is as awkward for most people as it is for me. But here are the four main challenges I face… and the silver lining of each.

1. Visual distractions are everywhere.

People are fascinating. Many adults with ADHD — including me — function like social anthropologists and hyperfocus on new stimuli. Studying our co-workers in their native environments is captivating. We laugh as pets and children wiggle onto laps during Zoom calls. We admire home décor. We ask about exotic fish. We admire virtual backgrounds. I almost lost it when a cat walked across the desk of a coworker with an outer space background. Cats in space? I have to take a picture. Oh, wait. I’m still in a meeting. What did the guy from marketing just say?

I need to pay attention. But it’s impossible not to sleuth out other backgrounds. It’s like an Easter egg hunt — except everyone else is listening to the meeting and I am hunting for eggs. For the most part, people with ADHD don’t do well with auditory learning or cues. We are visual. Unless a presentation is shared on screen, my mind wanders.

[Read This Next: Where Focus, Fatigue, and Fidgeting Meet]

Silver lining: Noticing personal touches is a way to connect with my team in an authentic way. And with the host’s permission, I can record meetings for later reference. Recording in-person meetings would be too difficult (and creepy) to do in real life.

2. I have to sit still.

I get fidgety. It’s usually about 10 minutes into a Zoom call when I start craving the distraction of a snack. I switch my video off and dash downstairs to the pantry and then back upstairs with my headphones still in my ears. I know I’m on mute. But what if people can hear me chewing my lemon Luna bar? I develop Zoomuteaphobia, a self-classified condition marked by paranoia that the mute button will fail.

Silver lining: I splurged on a balance ball chair. Now I can wiggle around and strengthen my core at the same time.

3. Everyone is staring at me.

As I update my team members on a project, my brain is on edge as 10 faces stare blankly at me. Cue my rejection sensitive dysphoria — that sour sidecar of ADHD. Are they waiting for me to fail as I stumble through my words? Of course not. I joined one of the most supportive and kind teams with which I’ve ever worked.

[Additional Reading: “How I Learned to Love Slack”]

Still, I imagine what their thoughts could be. How many times is she going to say “um?” Why does she grimace every time someone asks her a question?  In reality, my team is not waiting for me to mess up. They are keeping up with email on the side or studying other meeting attendees in the gallery view. Or they’re distracted like me, shooing cats from keyboards or eating their own lemon Luna bars.

Silver lining: I switch away from the gallery view to focus only on the person speaking. Maintaining eye contact through a computer feels more comfortable than the intensity triggered by in-person eye contact. Plus, humans will meet in person again one day. I’m sharpening my skills to come back stronger than before.

4. Conversations can be awkward.

It happens on almost every call. I begin to talk at the same time as someone else. It’s awkward. But the polar opposite — silence — is worse. I can identify at least two times I asked a question or delivered an update in a meeting, only to be met with blank stares. Sometimes blank stares are caused by frozen internet connections – but sometimes they are not. It’s hard to be okay with that.

Silver lining: While reviewing the meetings I (hopefully) recorded, I listen carefully to dialogue from colleagues whose conversational styles I admire.

5. Pushing Forward

Virtual meetings will remain a staple even as the pandemic clears. Though I feel like a talking head on TV, I realize no one expects me to speak like a professional broadcaster. I don’t have to be sorry for making nervous gestures. As my mentors assure me, it’s okay to say “I don’t know the answer to that, but I’ll find out and get back to you.”

Zoom can be awkward, yes. Zoom also keeps us safe and cozy in our homes. It helps many of us continue working, attending virtual school, and visiting with family. The universe made a point of this literally just as I finished this last paragraph. A good friend texted; her husband tested positive for COVID-19. He was likely infected by his boss at work. I’m reminded how lucky I am to be physically distanced from my own team at work. We’re all safer because of Zoom and other web conferencing apps. For me, the safety and connection offered via Zoom is worth these ADHD-specific challenges a million times over.

Zoom and the ADHD Brain: Next Steps

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