For me personally, and I know this is the case for many others with ADHD, the hardest thing is actually dealing with other people’s judgement and, worse, their obvious disappointment when they realise that I’m actually a ‘bad person’. Of course I’m not, but a lot of my behaviours can make it seem that way. Even a lot of traits that aren’t that bad (being a crazy emotional romantic, having a good creative problem-solving mind) aren’t viewed in a positive light by our culture. I am essentially a Marianne Dashwood in a world where we’re all supposed to be Eleanors.
I thought it might be helpful to highlight some of the ‘problem’ behaviours. So, read these descriptions of behaviour and ask yourself to reflect on what you would think of a person who did this. I have added some statements in italics which I think represent how people view the behaviour. I have encountered some of these from other people, but many of them come from my very vocal inner critic.
- Is always late, sometimes very late, sometimes very late even when they know it’s important not to be
- Is obsessed with not being late and so gets into an anxious state and turns up way too early for stuff
- Forgets your birthday, even though you always remember theirs
- Forgets people’s names, even people like colleagues or neighbours that they should remember
- Gets people muddled up, even if they have had whole conversations with them in the past and should remember
- Seems careless about people (see previous three bullet points)
- Is very open about their thoughts, feelings and personal life. Have you no shame? Quit the oversharing!
- Talks on and on about themselves and their opinions.
- Doesn’t listen properly to others
- Frequently relates the conversation back to themselves, eg ‘Oh I totally get what you mean, It’s like when I…”
- Interrupts and talks over people. Wow they really are full of themselves! (Especially when combined with the previous three bullet points).
- Lets you down when you have trusted them with a simple task. It really isn’t difficult or time consuming, so it must be that they don’t care.
- Daydreams way too much and often seems to be in a fantasy world. Seriously, you’d have thought they’d grown out of that by now.
- Doesn’t respect money. Always short of money, getting into debt, unable to build up savings. And yet they have nothing to show for it? Where did it go? Honestly, some people are so spoilt and careless.
- Doesn’t prioritize friendship. They rack up credit card debts and can’t afford to go on holiday with you. But then they blow £100 on a water feature for the garden. Well, that just shows me how they prioritise their lives.
- Gets angry. This doesn’t apply to everyone with ADHD but is something I think we are more in danger of and is certainly something I can relate to. RSD, as discussed previously on this blog, is a major factor here, but also lack of impulse control. I can get angry as an immediate, knee-jerk response to something, without being able to slow down. I also feel things deeply. I am as likely to be angry about something happening in Yemen as I am about something happening at my children’s school. And both will get me absolutely incensed with rage. I am getting better at dealing with this, though I do believe anger isn’t always wrong or bad. For many situations it is actually the most rational response.
- Doesn’t respect property and possessions. Their house is messy, some of it is in need of redecoration or repair. Piles of stuff accumulate in corners, on chairs, on surfaces. Cupboards are badly loaded with items that can tumble or fly out when you open the doors. And then there are all the things they regularly lose or break like the lovely framed picture you got them, or their third smartphone of the year.
- Doesn’t take their role as a parent seriously. They haven’t memorised their children’s birth weights, have lost the little red books, forget appointments, rarely sign their kids up for schemes and events before the deadline, are usually zooming up to the school gates at the last minute with those poor, stressed kids.
- Has no self control or self motivation. This one is exactly what it says on the tin. I am thoroughly shit at both of these and no technique I have ever tried has alleviated the problem. In our culture this is definitely considered one of the biggest moral failures and one of the things I have been judged for most. Seriously though, if you want to lose weight you just need to stop eating so much food. If you want to stop pulling your hair you just need to try really hard, it’s just mind over matter. Yeah, I am trying really hard, but you’re telling me it’s not good enough. Thanks for that.
- A hopeless dilettante. I find so many things interesting, and I can imagine doing those things so vividly. I start in a rush of enthusiasm. But then I realise it’s more commitment and energy than I realistically have, and/or it’s falling too short of how it was in my imagination, so my enthusiasm vanishes, and I can’t motivate myself to do anything for which I have no enthusiasm. My life is scattered with incomplete projects and the debris from short lived hobbies. Honestly, your problem is you just can’t stick at anything.
- Is commitment-shy. Ah yes, this. I am always tormented by the possibility of the ‘other’. I could be in a really happy relationship but can’t ever really shut off the thoughts about ‘but what if I was going out with him instead..’, I can be in a really great job but after a while (it’s usually around the 10 month mark) I am constantly signing up to alerts for new jobs and getting a thrill when they drop into my email inbox. I love my house that I’m in now. I have great plans for it over time, and I intend to live here for a long time. But I’ve been here over two years now and that’s a long time for me to have lived in one house, so inevitably I am signed up to Rightmove alerts and get weekly thrills from all the possibilities of other properties I could be in instead. Why can’t she just learn to appreciate what she has? How spoilt!
- Can’t put down roots. This is related to the previous point. I recently worked out that since the age of 18 (that’s 24 years) I have lived at 15 different addresses in 7 different cities/towns. I have had 7 ‘proper’ jobs, as in permanent contracts (and I left all of those within two years), and many many other temporary or freelance, so many that I can’t actually count them. And the weird thing is that whenever I move on from a place or a job, however much I enjoyed it, I don’t miss it or look back at all. I just think ‘well, that was fun’ or ‘that was nice’, and I shrug and move on, without regret or sadness. Even now, going through a period of looking back at my life (triggered by the twin events of passing 40 and getting diagnosed with ADHD), it is more of an academic exercise. I don’t ‘miss’ anywhere. I don’t feel ‘homesick’ about anywhere. So I really shouldn’t moan that I have no community and very few local friends. It’s my fault, to be fair!
- Is self obsessed, going on about themselves and their worries when the world is full of much more serious issues and suffering. Get a grip you navel gazing, overprivileged narcissist.
This is not an exhaustive list. There’s bound to be more I haven’t thought of. If you have ADHD, please do add more in the comments.
I am not saying that these behaviours are good. I can see why someone might find them annoying, upsetting or even offensive. But please understand, this is default behaviour for many of us with ADHD and it’s because of our brains, rather than anything to do with our hearts, our souls, our morality. Now I can look at the list, and see how it happens and why, I can begin to try and adapt. I take a lot more care to try and slow myself down in the moment, to stop myself taking over a conversation and to stop and listen to others. But it is hard work, and I won’t get it right every time. What I am saying to others is, please understand that these behaviours are the result of my ADHD, they are not because I don’t care or feel or take an interest in the people around me. I don’t breeze through life saying and doing whatever I want without a care in the world. I am not a bad person. It might just seem that way at times.