Once considered a childhood condition, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) has become a much more common diagnosis in adults. This is post TWO of a series in which I cover misconceptions about ADHD, some of its challenges, plus advantages it gives those of us who have it.
Sometimes when I tell people I have ADHD, I get this response: “I think everybody’s getting more ADHD these days.” When I hear that, I always feel a slight sense of frustration and/or annoyance.
Because this response is based on the misconceptions I covered in my last post on the topic—misconceptions like
- ADHD just means you have trouble paying attention or that you lose things,
- ADHD describes people who are fidgety,
- It’s an excuse for being irresponsible or disorganized, and
- People with ADHD are just lazy, or they need to try harder.
As I covered in my previous post on the topic, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, or ADHD, is a misnomer; ADHD is not an attention deficit, or at least not completely—it’s an attention difference.
With that in mind, some frustrations that people with ADHD face are
- Rejection Dysphoria/Guilt Complex (covered in the last post)
- Recognizing only two timeframes—“now” and “not now”
- Difficulty with neatness, organization, and prioritizing
- Two sides of the attention coin—lack of focus/hyperfocus
- Social awkwardness/emotional regulation
Sound like overwhelming obstacles? It can feel that way. I’ll cover two more of these in this post: timeframe issues and neatness/organization/prioritization, which are all related. But to keep it from feeling “too much,” I’ll also start on the list of superpowers with one of my favorites: the ability to empathize with all sides of an issue.
Challenge: Timeframe Issues
Everything fell into place when I learned the following: for the person with ADHD, only two time periods exist—“now” and “not now.” This is called time blindness.
As a solopreneur and even before, when planning my college path and getting career coaching, questions like these would befuddle me:
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- What’s your 10-year plan?
- What’s your vision for your business?
Those of us with ADHD don’t experience time the same way as neurotypical people. We live in the moment. That has its benefits, but in a world obsessed with planning and visualizing, it can make us feel like outsiders.
Once I understood this about my ADHD brain, I felt some relief: that is why I can cheerfully push off some unwanted task till “later” at times while at other times, knowing I have a project to complete in six weeks, I panic and try to get it all done RIGHT NOW.
For me—as with many ADHDers—timeframe #2, “not now,” is full of possibilities. So anything that doesn’t feel manageable at this moment might become so later.
On the other hand, if there is a deadline in six weeks, it’s hard for my brain to “get” that I could break the task down and do some today, some tomorrow, some next week, and so on. My brain only knows, “THIS MUST BE DONE,” and since “now” is the only real moment, I try to do it all NOW.
Now, we ADHDers are not stupid. Our intellect, our logic, our conscious thoughts accept that we can do a little each day to get it all done. Or on the flip side, that constantly pushing a task off till later means it may never get done. Still, it’s hard to feel that.
For example, for term papers in college, I would plot out my timeline: Thursday, research at the library; next Tuesday, make an outline; the following week write the first draft; etc. Still, my brain would sneak these thoughts in: is that really enough time? What if something comes up? I could just work on it today instead of working out.
As an adult, I’ve learned to think about time passing more. It still gets to me, though.
I’ll look at the time and think, Fifteen minutes till I have to leave to meet that client. So I’ll brush my teeth, touch up my make-up, fill my water bottle, all the while thinking, I’ve got fifteen minutes. Then I check the time again, and Shoot! I’m running five minutes late! Time was passing while I was getting ready, but my brain was stuck on, “I have fifteen minutes right now.”
Challenge: Struggles with Neatness, Organization, and Prioritization
Remember I told you that the brain of someone with ADHD is different than that of a neurotypical person?
One way that shows up is with something called “executive function.” This has to do with a part of the brain that organizes and prioritizes information—and anything else. (It’s also related to the sense of time, emotional regulation, and several other ADHD challenges, but we’ll get to those separately.)
As a young adult, I struggled to sort through the growing pile of mail I was receiving: ads, coupons, credit card offers—what was I supposed to do with all of this? Some of it went straight to the trash, but some of it—I’d never eaten at the restaurant before, but I might someday, right? This was my first house—maybe I’d need a free roof inspection sometime!
Mail would pile up, becoming a collection point for other items: bills I actually DID need to pay, notebooks and journals, spare keys, gift cards, the little bag from the dentist with the new toothbrush—all stuff I wasn’t sure what to do with.
Now, of course, I have figured out—mostly—what to do with all the junk mail. But the problem with prioritization hasn’t gone away. Anything new takes me forever to figure out where to place it, what to do with it. Sure, everyone struggles from time to time knowing how to classify something. Yet for those of us with ADHD, the issue is magnified several times over. And that leads to decision fatigue much more quickly than for the average person, which in turn, can lead to giving up.
This prioritization/organization problem can become a neatness problem exacerbated by another symptom common to many people with ADHD—poor fine motor skills. To this day, getting clothes to sit neatly on a hanger is a huge chore for me. I do it, but it seems to take me much more effort than, say, my husband or my mom.
I have come to realize that this seems to have triggered an avoidance issue in me. Tasks that require finer motor skills—cleaning the kitchen, dusting, hanging up clothes, repairing jewelry—are things that I tend to put off.
How to deal with all of this?
- To deal with regular tasks like sorting the mail, create systems and routines that are flexible OR that you change from time to time (to avoid getting bored).
- For tasks that require fine motor skills, like folding and putting away clothes, develop a system that works for YOU. For example, for socks, have bins for two or three different kinds. Don’t bother trying to fold them perfectly. Just toss them in the bin for that style of sock, and then pull out two when you need them.
- Swap those chores with another household member for chores that don’t require fine motor skills. In our house, I sweep and mop the floors; my husband does the dusting.
- Find someone in your life to turn to who will help you sort things in a way that works for you.
- Therapists and life coaches are a great place to start.
Superpower: Seeing All Sides of an Issue
If all this sounds pessimistic, remember—for every challenge, there’s a benefit.
For me, this difficulty in prioritizing or organizing things has turned out to be a hidden superpower! From childhood to now, well into my middle-age, I have had great friendships—with people who can’t stand each other. Not prioritizing one person’s viewpoint over another has meant that I get along with a wider range of people!
This has also translated into things like politics and other perspectives on life. Even when I don’t agree with someone, I can see their point. My brain will follow one path of logic on a topic as easily as a different one.
How do I use this superpower? I try to help people understand each other. This has led to me working in fields where I’m teaching, doing language interpreting or translating, and now, ghostwriting! I do well with those things, because it’s not just about transferring the words or information; it’s about bridging two perspectives.
Now, this superpower may look different for each ADHDer depending on their gifts or talents. Still, I believe ADHDers have this superpower of seeing the value in all sides of an issue. They just need to figure out how to express it through their other gifts.
In Sum . . . .
In a world created by neurotypical people, staying organized, being on time, and making decisions can wear us ADHDers out. Yet that is only ONE side to a complex, multi-faceted story. ADHD also gives us understanding, empathy, and the ability to see a bigger, more diverse picture.
Till now, I’ve covered:
- Misconceptions about ADHD
- Three challenges ADHD presents (guilt complex/rejection dysphoria, time blindness, and organization/prioritization), and
- One superpower—the ability to see all sides of an issue.
Next month, I’ll cover the final two challenges: lack of focus/hyperfocus and social awkwardness/emotional regulation. I’ll also show how one of those things can also be a superpower: hyperfocus!
Here’s the link to Part III! Please let me know if you’d like to see blogs on any certain topic.