Dear friends, colleagues, students, employers, creditors, family, editors, medical providers, yoga instructors, Facebook friends, WordPress readers, and auto mechanics:
I have ADHD. It’s a real thing. It’s hard because most of the world doesn’t. Our society is built on steady, goal-directed effort and my brain does not work that way. I will be a valuable person to interact with for a time, and then I will probably disappear. I’m trying to fix that. It’s hard. I lived for 40 years without knowing what was wrong, and it’s going to take some time to undo my bad habits and poor choices and the negative feelings that have grown up around them.
I am not asking to be excused or pitied. The life I have now is what I signed up for. No one twisted my arm and said I had to take a teaching job, and I am fully aware, dear creditors, that one has to pay back what one has borrowed. I want to be held accountable for my actions. That actually helps me improve. Also, don’t tell me I’m brave. I am not. If I were, I would not have this problem in the first place. Though it is tempting, I do not think martyring myself will be healthy. I want to be praised for my true talents and accomplishments, and bravery is not up there. False flattery is a short-term fix that I’m trying to wean myself from.
The only thing I want is some way to explain my strangeness.
When I don’t do something I said I would do, I most likely did not forget about it. I do forget about tasks, but usually just minor ones. No, usually something happened to get in the way of my getting started or following through and I couldn’t do it. I can guarantee it’s on a list or in a pile somewhere close by.
Motivation is tied to desire, but it is a complex interaction. If you’ve ever tried and failed to quit smoking or stick to a diet you know what I mean.
I want to be the teacher that returns emails within 24 hours, for example. I think that’s an important and reasonable standard for my work. Sometimes I can do it. Sometimes I can’t. Even when I can’t, I think about it all the time. It’s not that I’m living this carefree life, trying to get away with doing as little work as possible, laughing all the way to the bank (my bank statement generally makes me want to stick my head under a pillow). I greatly prefer being able to do my work, and the things I do to avoid it do not make me happy or satisfied. I imagine my habits are similar to a maintenance alcoholic’s drinking; avoidance is a sort of self-medication. It might help in the short term but it creates more problems in the long term.
Like every person, my interests and enthusiasm for projects and activities change all the time. However, unlike the average person, it is really hard for me to work on something that does not have an intrinsic attraction or immediate deadline. When things get difficult or uncertain, my attention moves on to something else. My waning attention does not mean I don’t value something in the long term. There’s just some minor hurdle that my brain’s turned into a wall. Whatever hypothetical task we’re talking about now, I was interested and motivated to do it before and I will be again. I’m just on a down cycle right now.
There are some things that are not going to change. I have trouble recalling names and numbers, for example. Can’t help it. Remembering someone’s name has little to do with how important that person is to me. Sometimes I can’t even remember my own phone number. The hardest thing of all for me to do is sustain regular effort over the long term. I can do that sometimes and it will seem as easy as breathing, but sometimes answering my email is harder than eight hours of digging ditches.
I want you to understand that if I disappear on you, it’s most often not something that you did. When I disappear, something’s going on in my life that’s causing me to get stuck. It often has nothing to do with you. In fact, sometimes, the more I value a person or a project the harder it is to get over my block. I’m working on changing that, and I am making good progress, but I have setbacks too.
One thing that helps is persistence on your end. I know, that seems unfair, but kind reminders and contact helps me enormously. Face time helps too. If we can work together somehow, I’ll do much better work. If I have to slog things out alone, I’ll get into trouble. I think I’m the only person I know who likes long meetings.
And honesty helps too. If you tell me what you like and what you don’t, in the long run I like that better than guessing at what people are thinking. Although it is very difficult for me to hear criticism when I’m in a funk, it proves valuable in the end. (Apologies to my wife in that department.) You have to have an abundance of patience to work with me. I’m fortunate to have many people around me with such patience. Especially my wife.
I write all this because it is hard to understand for a person without ADHD to understand. Even people with ADHD have trouble understanding and thus explaining themselves. I did not understand my habits for nearly 40 years; I’m used to hiding and covering for my deficits. I don’t expect the world to change for me. I’m finding a way to work in the world. Understanding my habits is not yet enough for me to overcome my challenges yet, but I’m on the way.
If I disappeared on you, all of the above is the real explanation. I can usually conjure a believable excuse which has some basis in reality, such as I was sick, my kids were sick, or the internet was down. Those things happen often enough.
But the real answer: I got into a funk, a freeze, a down cycle. I’ll be back soon.