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June 29, 2014 12:00 PM   Subscribe

Mefites with ADHD, how do you cope with the social and professional problems caused by this condition?

It seems like a lot of advice for adult ADHDers is geared towards things like not losing your keys and remembering to pay bills, go to sleep, eat, etc. Which I get, all of that stuff is important. But at least for me, the greatest impact ADHD seems to have on my life is in the form of constant fires at work, and inability to relax and be myself around people for fear of inadvertently blurting out something hurtful or nonsensical.

I have, after many years of struggle, finally come up with a system at work that allows me to keep my head above water most of the time, but life being life there are frequently variables thrown into the mix that my "system" did not account for, and which lead to chaos. And there are the usual ADHD problems of spacing out during meetings, being excruciatingly bored with and/or lazy about things, and of course showing up to work with my hair still wet from the shower, mismatched socks, food stains on my shirt, etc.

I feel like all of my work problems might be excusable if I had some great talent that made me indispensable, but I'm just a regular schmoe. I also have the inattentive subtype of ADHD, which means I am timid and unlikely to become a superstar CEO or whatever.

My problems with people mainly stem from the fact that I don't trust myself to not spout gibberish or offensive things when I open my mouth. I might have something in my head that seems perfectly intelligent, but something gets lost in translation. I've dealt with this by being quiet but nonverbally enthusiastic (nodding, smiling, etc.) but people do still comment on how quiet I am. And occasionally, certain insensitive types point out how weird I am.

All of which combines to mean that I have almost no professional or interpersonal confidence. I have coasted in some areas of my life on having a measure of book smarts, but I lack the kind of ditzy charm that might let me get away with all of this flakiness otherwise. I would like to change careers as well as make new friends, but after decades of disaster I'm tired of putting myself out there.

Things I've tried include: many drugs and drug combos, therapy, healthy diet, exercise. Honestly, the healthy diet and exercise have helped more than the drugs or therapy ever did. I seem to be intolerant of stimulant medication, in that it makes me feel great until it leaves my system and I turn into a sobbing failure pile. Meditation makes me go nuts. I hate it. (I get that the point is to power through it but augh, I hate it so much.)

I have read every book on ADHD that I can get my hands on, but so many of them seem to get stuck at the "Put your keys in a bowl when you get home!" type advice. Has anyone here had any luck at successfully dealing with some of the more abstract or overarching problems caused by ADHD?
posted by Sockrates to Human Relations (7 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
I have severe ADHD but also do well in school (mostly cause I can do things on my own time). I have also been successful in some work setting but underwhelming in others. This is what I recommend:

1) I looks like you don't believe it but the way you organize yourself at home really affects you at work. If you can't find your clothes in the morning you'll be late for work, if you can figure out where you put your insurance card, sooner or later you'll get sick. At the end of the day, regardless of whether you think is important or not taking care of the little details is a must.

2) Find careers that do not rely on being detail oriented. Sales maybe one of them I am not sure what others. Alternatively, do things you like even if they are detail oriented, that way you can use your ADHD to hyperfocus.

3) Take your pills. Especially when it comes to doing repetitive boring work.

4) Keep a calendar. One of those things we think we shouldn't do but WE HAVE TO.

My short answer is that living a balance lifestyle outside of work, exercising, meditating and keeping things organized at home will affect your well being at work if you apply those same directives to your work-life.
posted by The1andonly at 12:25 PM on June 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't have any advice on ADHD but I do have advice on taking long-term medication: it should not be allowed to leave your system. Take it on a very strict schedule or you wind up with the results you describe above.
posted by Koko at 1:45 PM on June 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I could have written your question for years, and I agree with The1andonly. I think the reason there's so much "key in a bowl" advice for ADHD is because doing those sorts of things also serves the purpose of clearing headspace (and then building confidence) for the more abstract challenges. It doesn't happen right away, though, and that's where I think a lot of Internet "I started taking Adderall and it fixed EVERYTHING!" anecdotage can be misleading. If you're living one level of organization at home and one at work, definitely consider integrating a little.

I also hate meditation. I don't, however, hate my hobbies. I consider one of them my daily meditation, and it's a priority. That's helped a lot.

If you're good at writing (this post suggests you are) and you don't already, consider taking copious notes at work most of the time. Not to refer to again, necessarily, but to process the information you're getting, so that you're more engaged. Also, it can help you plan what you want to say slightly in advance. It's key-in-a-bowl advice, but if it works for you and you stick with it, there will be results, results build confidence (which ADHDers need, SO much), confidence helps with looking for a new job, and so on.

I imagine you have, but just in case: If you've been trying immediate-release stimulants, extended release ones may work better. And different manufacturers, especially of generics, can yield different results.

(On preview: Stimulants do NOT operate in the same way as most antidepressants. People who take stimulants can have the "crash" result, even if they are vigilant.)
posted by gnomeloaf at 1:52 PM on June 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm pretty successful at handling my ADD because I work at a job that requires a lot of multi-tasking, is very stimulating and as a freelancer, I'm always looking for the next gig, which keeps me on my toes. I don't think I'd do very well at a standard job in an office.
Having said that, I take my meds, eat right, get exercise, and make lists, calendars, and all the usual hacks. I am pretty quick to tell my neurologist if the meds stop working or have a strange side effect--I've had them changed/dosage increased twice in 15 years. I don't meditate.
And, to be brutally honest, I don't much worry about blurting out something. F*ck 'em if they can't take a joke. I will try to be charming and explain that once something enters my head, it usually comes out my mouth. I suppose some people might think I'm strange, but it's not a big worry in my life.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:11 PM on June 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I channeled my bizarrities into humor. Like, I literally say whatever comes to mind except I say it with a slightly ironic tone. Turns out that it's often funny. It works for me. Your mileage may vary.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:42 PM on June 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

First, a super-practical tip I learned in a fundraising job ages ago: when you're talking to someone, wait until they're done speaking, then wait a beat, THEN respond. This has helped me keep from interrupting people, and also seems to help me be more thoughtful with my responses.

As a fellow inattentive-type ADHDer, I actually think your biggest issue here is your lack of confidence. Which I totally get: ADHD can be a confidence-killer. A lifetime of falling below people's expectations for you and of having people look at you funny for the way your ADHD brain works can do that.

Have you talked to a therapist? Sorry, I know that's such cliche advice, but some sort of CBT might be really helpful for reality-testing your social anxiety. It might be that the things you blurt out are less weird/inappropriate and more offbeat - which can actually be quite useful in a professional setting.

If your current field is not a great fit for that (ie, something where conformity and getting niggly details right is more important than creativity and problem-solving) then, yeah, a career change might be the best thing for you. I personally am so grateful that I fell into a field full of weird, passionate, creative people, where my odd ADHD brain is as often a blessing as it is a curse. I've worked in more quiet, conservative places and felt a lot more out of step.

As for the work crises, oh man, do I feel you. I've been off my meds for about a month because I moved and don't have a new doc yet (because ADHD) and I've been struggling with this to the extent that my boss has started noticing. It sucks!

But honestly, I think something that's really important for ADHDers is to recognize that things will go to shit sometimes and be ready to just deal with it, course-correct, and move on when they do.

For example, I have a system that I use to keep track of my work*, but to be honest, I'm not great about sticking to it. I remember complaining to an ADHD friend about how no to-do system worked for me because I couldn't stick with it for more than a few days and he was like "So, do it for those few days. And then when you realize you've stopped doing it, start doing it again." So ridiculously simple, but it makes so much sense.

So in the old days, if my boss had called me out about my ADHD ways, I probably would have freaked out and felt awful and hopeless about it. But this time, I just freaked out for a few minutes, then put it in perspective: pretty much nobody is a perfect employee. We all have our weaknesses and foibles. This is something I need to work on, but it doesn't invalidate all the other good work I do. Again, if you're unable right now to believe that for yourself, therapy may be helpful.

* In case you're curious, my "system" is ridiculously simple, which is what (mostly) works for me: a notebook on my desk, where I try to write down every to-do on one page for the day. I've tried other things, but this is what I am able to stick with the longest and come back to when I've forgotten for a while.
posted by lunasol at 3:34 PM on June 29, 2014 [15 favorites]

Also a inactive adhder type and I totally agree with lunasol's suggestions: if you've stopped doing something, say for instance, a to-do system, take notice (that's the kicker sometimes) and start again where you left off.

Over the past year, I've started a series of practices that have been helpful to me:

-Writing in several notebooks with different functions: one is for to-do/scheduling/planning and others are for my free-floating ideas (I carry around smaller sizes when I'm on the go) and journaling. For me, the most important thing to do is to reflect on what I produced throughout the week. I transfer the larger concepts onto a master document.

-It was useful to realize that sometimes especially in large groups of social interaction, no one is actually listening to each other while they talk. How are your interactions in smaller groups?

-To prevent from crazy multitasking/multi-tabing, I keep my daily to-do lists simple but specific--once I accomplish my goals, I do something rewarding (planning my trip to Iceland, etc.). I also try to limit the usage of devices by turning off the vibrating function when I'm working.

-For me, a suggestion that I learned here has been extremely helpful: I spend a few minutes before going to bed preparing for the next day (laying out tomorrow's clothes, etc). It cuts down on the stress!

Best of luck to you.
posted by wallawallasweet at 1:25 AM on June 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

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