by Amy Wright, MSW, LCSWA
My ADHD experience is so much more than just “inability to focus.” It is a story of pain, rejection, struggle, resilience, resourcefulness, healing, and growth.
My ADHD experience in school was years of depression. Being forced to focus on things that bored me senseless for hours on end, every day, at the crack of dawn (ADHDers are more likely to be night owls), was agony. I couldn’t bear the thought of how many years I had left of school, to the point that I wished I wasn’t alive. I coped by making art, writing fanfiction, and participating in theatre. I eventually made it through and have done so much living since then!
My ADHD experience as a waitress was coming home crying half the nights because my coworkers yelled at me every time I forgot to do something, or left something sitting out, or failed to prioritize correctly, or didn’t bring the food out soon enough, and so on. I coped through using social support, seeking advice, categorizing tasks, and persisting until I developed my rhythm and actually became pretty good at it.
My ADHD experience as a front desk administrative assistant was initially feeling so much anxiety about my job performance and coworkers’ frustration with me, that I lost my personality for a couple months and was noticeably a zombie at home. My ADHD made it very difficult to maintain short-term memory through all the interruptions, and my anxiety about my coworkers’ increasing frustration made it even harder to process information. I was placed on probation, and for that month I brought all my notes home and gave up my hobbies so I could study everything I needed to know. My studying in quiet hours gave me a good grasp on the job, and as my more senior coworkers quit, I gained confidence and skill by relying on myself. I got to a point where I was practically running the place.
My ADHD experience at that same job was being scapegoated by my coworkers, I’m guessing because I couldn’t be as sociable while also getting my work done, as well as because I was simply different and didn’t trust my perception enough to be assertive. I coped with the job by angry-walking to music during lunch breaks, posting memes all over my workspace, using social support and therapy, taking power by creatively and persistently pressuring management to support the team’s needs and initiatives, changing my phone screen to inspiring or funny quotes, and wearing bracelets that reminded me to “surrender.”
I had post-traumatic stress for well over a year after I quit that job. I started to heal once I allowed myself to define it as trauma, and further healed by surrounding myself with strong social supports, identifying and fulfilling my unmet needs, learning what causes scapegoating, becoming assertive, and appreciating my younger self for everything she did to get through that.
My ADHD experience was not trusting my perception, such that a roommate was able to gaslight, manipulate, and emotionally abuse me for a year. I coped through reaching out to supportive friends who challenged what the roommate was saying to me, changing my roommate’s name in my phone to “Expired 5 cent coupon, not even for this store,” and using the grey rock method, which took away some of her power over me. I used university resources for safety planning. When I moved out, I sent her a mic drop of a callout text on the roommate group chat, and reported her to the university, because I knew from my previous workplace trauma that the self-respect I’d gain from taking action toward justice was important to me.
My ADHD experience was frequently taking 10 minutes to get into a parking spot and still being crooked and worrying someone will leave a nasty note on my car, and also being yelled at for fender benders, because I lack spatial awareness. Now I handle it by being “one” with the car and driving confidently while also being very cautious. Sometimes my crooked parking job even helps me find my car when I forget where I parked!
I sure got yelled at a lot for my ADHD symptoms. No wonder many of us have rejection sensitive dysphoria.
Clearly, my ADHD has been a struggle. The various things I’ve done to survive that struggle, heal from it, and grow from it have brought me to a place of security and confidence in myself, self-compassion, comfort and skill with asserting my boundaries, ability to trust myself, and knowing a gazillion productivity life hacks (a few of which sometimes work for me). Everything I did to survive and thrive through my ADHD experience has molded me into my favorite version of myself.