True confessions time. I have attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. To my friends and family, I am sure this does not come as much of a surprise. I am 46 and grew up in a place (Texas, then New Jersey) and a time (the 1970’s and 1980’s) where ADHD wasn’t as well-known as it is now. Basically, I grew up undiagnosed until well into adulthood. This is why I like working with kids and families dealing with adhd…it’s something with which I’m intimately familiar with. Today, I describe a recent event in my life where my adhd brain got the better of me. I’m hoping this will both amuse and educate you guys about what it’s like to live with this condition.
Let’s set the wayback machine for two weeks ago. My fiancée and I were out shopping, running some wedding errands, etc. Truth be told, I’m not huge shopping fan so my interest level wasn’t at 100% (though getting these errands done was important). Furthermore, I’d not slept well the night before and was not my best mentally. I could tell it was a bad adhd day. My mind was bouncing from thought to thought like an overly eager and friendly Labrador retriever. What I’m saying is from an attention management perspective, I was nowhere near the top of my game.
During our outing, it occurred to us we should eat food. We decided to treat ourselves by stopping in a Jake’s Wayback Burger. For those of you not in the know, this place sells incredibly great burgers and awesome shakes. They’re a little pricey, but very tasty. Inside, my labrador mind immediately noticed the cool posters in the place. Each poster represented a decade (from the 30’s to the 80’s) and I found that I had to put a lot of effort and energy to keep my eyes from wandering from my fiancée (who is a lovely woman) to studying the posters.
To make matters worse, the two guys at the table next to us were having a loud, weird and interesting conversation. Near as I can tell, one guy was starting some sort go video game start up. He actually said “we’re going to be the next Nintendo.” He was selling hard to someone who appeared to be associated with some sort of community access cable channel. They were talking very loudly and the selling was hard. My fiancée and I both were giving each other silent looks regarding what we were both hearing. We weren’t sure if it was a business meeting or a date. Anyway, this was another thing drawing my attention away from my fiancée and our conversation.
The proverbial camel breaking straw came partway through our meal when from behind me, someone in the kitchen yelled something to someone else in the kitchen. I had no idea what they said. I was caught utterly and completely by surprise. That it happened behind me in my blind spot didn’t help. Immediately, my attention was pulled behind me. The Labrador in my head went “HUH??!?!” I was powerless to stop it for a good couple of seconds.
The result was that I totally didn’t hear what my fiancée said. As she is an intelligent and observant woman, she totally noticed my attention shift and knew in that moment I didn’t hear her. I knew that she knew I wasn’t paying attention. The Labrador tucked his tail between his legs and started to whimper. I felt terrible because it was clear her feelings were hurt. This wedding stuff is important and its important I be a part of it. In that moment, even though I’m totally invested in the wedding and the planning, that’s not how it looked. Once again, I let someone I cared about down and there was nothing I could have done to avoid it. Somedays, this adhd thing really sucks.
She called me out on my lack of attention. I tried to be cool about it at first, but ultimately had to own up to the fact that I missed some of what she said. Explaining what happened and apologizing, I did the only thing I could do. Ask her to repeat herself. As her feelings were hurt, she did not want to at first.
We talked some more about what adhd is like for me. I suspect many of you have had similar conversations with parents, partners and friends. The neurotypical folks in our lives don’t understand the struggle of how easily our attention gets split. They don’t see all the ways we must compensate for adhd mind. They do, however, see the frequent lapses in attention. When it gets personalized, they get hurt…we in turn, often get defensive.
If you love someone with adhd, understand these important points:
- ADHD is forever. Don’t confuse an apparent lack of symptoms for a lack of ADHD. Your loved one has probably learned to cope better.
- Coping skills only go so far. Lack of sleep, environmental attention grabbers, etc. impact our ability to attend. If stressors exceed coping, our attention will go bye bye. Don’t take that personally. Not to be cliché, but it’s not you, its us.
- Know that we really want to pay better attention and most of us are trying really hard to stay engaged and attentive.
- Help us by calling us out on our lack of attention to get us to re-attend. But do so without judgment or ire. We may need the help, but the other stuff just gets us resentful and defensive.
For those of you, like me, who have adhd, try the following:
- Be aware of how good or bad your attention might be. Be honest with your loved ones about when you might be struggling. Help them understand. Help them to help you.
- Be honest with yourself when your attention is weak and try to implement appropriate coping skills.
- When things go awry, don’t personalize it or get down on yourself. Apologize, reset, refocus. It’s ok.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We tend to be the kind of people that don’t ask for help or assistance. We’re often tired of being “failures”. Failure only happens when you don’t get the support you need. Doing yourself will ultimately end in the failure you’re trying to avoid.
I hope you found this article helpful. Please share this with everyone you know. Spread the positivity!
If you would like to work with me on dealing with your adhd symptoms or the adhd symptoms of a loved one, then call 484-693-0582 or go to www.erikyoungcounseling.com to schedule a consultation.
©Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC