ADHD acceptance; nobody's problem but my own?
October 13, 2012 7:57 AM   Subscribe

I've just been diagnosed with ADHD, and have started an initial stimulant-based management plan. I'm in my mid-forties, and work in a very traditional industry and come from a not-very-accepting Old World culture. How open do I need to be with colleagues and friends that I'm doing this?

I'm a mid-career engineering manager in a power company in Canada. I've always been very distractable; every report card from age 6 onwards used the words lazy, careless, and untidy, often in the same sentence as clever, fluent and friendly. I've kind of retracted into an eccentric introvert persona, which worked, up to a point. My job is to come up with creative solutions to unusual power generation problems. I'm good at it (as far as someone from my culture would ever admit), until projects dive into details. It was becoming a problem that I could start projects, but not carry them through to construction.

I came to realize about a year ago that not everyone lived in a constant churn of unfinished thoughts. A friend with ADHD was visiting, and they described how found finishing tasks was hard because, halfway through, the most important idea in the world would appear and they'd wind up hours later with the original task unfinished. Everyone else in the room was saying how odd that must feel, except me, who was agreeing strongly.

After being referred to a psychiatrist and having tests and tests and tests, I was diagnosed as having an attention-deficit problem, and started on a low dose of Vyvanse a few days ago. I can now focus and complete tasks without 30 minute forays into obscure corners of the web. I can listen to more than the first two tracks of an album. I can take an active part in phone calls. The change is amazing and so welcome.

Thing is, my colleagues have started noticing that something has changed. I don't really work in a place that I could openly admit to seeking psychiatric assistance. I see that the way I think is an asset, and being able to apply it better now is in everyone's best interests. What, if anything, can I say?

My parents and siblings back in the Old Country might be a problem, too. Where I'm from, the only acceptable medication is alcohol. I hinted to my father that I was thinking of getting tests for ADHD, and he responded with an uncharacteristically steely, “There's nothing wrong with any of us.” and changed the subject. Do I even need to let my family know? My partner is exceptionally supportive, which is good.

Throwaway e-mail for questions or offline suggestions:
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What, if anything, can I say?

"Yes, thanks for noticing, I've been working on project management with renewed focus lately and I think it's starting to pay off."
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:59 AM on October 13, 2012 [15 favorites]

ADHD is brain chemistry, not behavior choice. I'm very vocal about it, but I work in a business where everyone claims to have something (show biz). You don't have to say anything to anyone, but since it's a genetically linked trait (and NOT WRONG!) I guess you can always mention it to younger family members who exhibit the same traits. I doubt your work colleagues are going to say anything, but if they do, say you're exercising and eating right or something equally bland.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:10 AM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

What, if anything, can I say?

"Thank you for noticing. I'm feeling really productive."

Seriously, say no more than this or some variation of acknowledgement. Treating or not treating and decisions about how you do that are a personal health matter. They are not anyone's business by default, any more than any other medication is. Sure, you can decide to tell people, but you don't have to and in your situation, sharing sounds like it isn't going to net you anything good.

Also be aware that there is an initial phase with succesful ADHD that is like the initial phase of getting clean or getting sober or being saved through Jesus or falling in love or discovering tantric orgasms: you feel AWESOME and you want to share this AMAZING thing with EVERYONE so they can all feel this way / see the light / balance their chi / get saved. It's normal and okay and it's a trip but it passes. Resist the urge to over-share for the moment.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:18 AM on October 13, 2012 [11 favorites]

Even if your workplace was VERY accepting of psychiatry I wouldn't admit to taking medication to improve my job performance. What happens six months from now when you decide the side effects aren't worth it and your colleagues want you to continue taking it? Better to be vague and say you're reading a book about focusing.
posted by acidic at 9:21 AM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Thanks. I realized recently that my organizational issues have been holding me back, so I've been working to find better solutions."

The medication alone isn't making you a better employee. The medication is helping you to work very hard in a way that is more productive and efficient, and that makes you a better employee. You can give yourself credit for taking the steps (both in seeking medical help and in doing the actual work) to fix the problem without lying or revealing confidential medical information that is none of anyone's business.
posted by decathecting at 9:24 AM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

A word of warning. If you ever start feeling that people are talking about you behind your back, are out to get you, etc. Tell your doctor immediately. I know nothing about Vyvanse, but I know someone who was on Adderall who got extremely paranoid about a year or so after they started taking it.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 9:55 AM on October 13, 2012

Yeah, I would keep the actual cause private. Go read Getting Things Done and say that your new-school-year-resolution this year was to work on your productivity and project management skills.

It's not that it's not acceptable to have ADHD, but it's not as if your treatment won't work unless everyone knows. Tell your dad that Getting Things Done is a great book and he should check it out.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:29 AM on October 13, 2012

Disclosing medical or psych information at work has very little, if any, upside. You're overvaluing this information, and it looks like you should probably also forget about your family as far as this issue is concerned.
posted by rhizome at 12:09 PM on October 13, 2012

You don't need to tell anyone. I can't see a reason to tell anyone at your office.

ADHD tends to run in families, many of the traits you identified as symptoms of your ADHD may be something other family members experienced, so accepting your diagnosis might mean they have to admit something is "wrong" with themselves, or forced to admit this was an issue that they failed to address with you as a child. This could be a part of your family's resistance to accepting your diagnosis.

As for your friends, it depends on your relationship with your friends, and if you discuss such things. You're under no obligation to tell anyone anything. However, if you tell people you read Getting Things Done, you should actually read the book--if your coworkers take notice of your positive changes and decide to read the book too and want to discuss it with you, you will be prepared!
posted by inertia at 12:30 PM on October 13, 2012

Conservative workplace means you absolutely never share any of that information, because as other people mentioned, there is absolutely no upside to it at all. People get extremely judgmental when it comes to this sort of thing.

If your workplace does drug testing and it comes up, just say you've started treatment for sleep apnea / narcolepsy.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 12:42 PM on October 13, 2012

I could easily have written this exact - I mean exact - question a couple of years ago.

As others have already said, there is no reason to talk to anyone at work about your health issues - mental or otherwise - or what you're doing to address them.

If anyone comments on any change in your personality, the correct is response is something like: "Really? I think I've always been like this. But thanks. Anyway, going back to the work issue we were intently focused on resolving..." Sotto voce: "Maybe this will help me finally get that promotion I've always deserved."

I would also echo the comment that initial euphoria that comes with realizing whats been wrong all these years and seeing what it feels like when it goes away - that feeling of suddenly swimming through water rather than jello - really does wear off. I try (with varying degrees of success) to think of medication as removing barriers to solving problems rather than actually solving them. They won't always work as well as they do now. They are not a silver bullet. They are a necessary condition but not a sufficient one.

I also tried talking to my old world parents about these kinds of things at various times and got nowhere. Worse than nowhere. Eventually I decided that I didn't need them to understand why I felt bad or why I was feeling better in order to feel better, and that a discussion about the moral implications of daily medication for diabetes or blood pressure versus daily medication for depression or ADHD was not good for either my depression or my father's blood pressure.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 7:32 AM on October 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

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