“Struggles to work quietly without disrupting others.” (Grade 1)
“Gwen is quite social at school. It often directly affects her work. We need to redirect her focus. She does need to be less social & check her work. Gwen is always in a hurry to get her work done. She will often write down anything just to get done. She is not producing the work that she is capable of doing. There is a lack of effort.” (Grade 2)
“Gwen has had a problem with late work and needs to keep priorities straight. Also, she needs to work on listening a little better. Finally I would like for her to remember to raise her hand and be called on before speaking in class.” (Grade 5)
Growing up was a constant struggle to keep my designated areas picked up. I’d leave things everywhere and my family was very tired of tripping over my stuff. Most of my allowances as a kid went to replacing my lost library cards or house keys. I routinely struggled to remember to bring my work home, do the work, and then remember to bring it back to school to be graded. 5th and 6th grade were particularly difficult on me as that was when my district started moving students between classrooms instead of sitting in one room all day.
I struggled to fit in socially with my classmates. I was different. I liked to read — and not just YA fiction books. I’d read the Reader’s Digest at school or big books like Anna Karenina. (The latter was worth 75 Accelerated Reader points. I didn’t finish the book but I did read enough to do well on the quiz. I set records for AR points in 5th and 6th grades that stood for several years.) My classmates thought I only read the beginning, middle, and ends of the books when in reality I just really liked reading and read super fast. It seemed like I was always saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. I had zero filter between brain and mouth.
And yet, despite all this, I did well in school. I loved learning (and still do!). My grades were in the A‑B range with the occasional foray into C’s when it was something I didn’t like (such as chemistry or geometry). I have records from testing that was done on me as a kid. My results ranged from above average in Mathematics to high in Fine Arts on a low-below average-average-above average-high scaling system. I was able to use my intelligence to mask my differences. I graduated high school with a 3.5 GPA and a 28 on my ACT. I also had an extensive list of extracurricular activities like National Honor Society, library aide, office runner, swim team, softball team, intramural sports, and Girl Scouts (including getting my Gold Award which is the equivalent of the Boy Scout Eagle Scout award). There were days when I was at the school from 545a to 8p. All of these combined to get me my full-ride scholarship to college, where I graduated with honors straight into a good career.
I found the Financial Independence world and made it my goal to retire at 35 while I joined the local quilt guild, played recreational softball and soccer, started this blog, and started a number of other hobbies.
Fast forward to 2020 when the global pandemic hit. Life as we knew it screeched to a halt. No longer could I play weekly softball or hit up pickup soccer in the park twice a week. We started working from home. I couldn’t travel on the weekends. All activities were over Zoom.
I hit a wall and fell apart. All of the coping strategies I’d developed to keep control over my life fell apart and I was forced to face facts that I couldn’t mask the symptoms anymore.
In Mid-June of 2021, I was officially diagnosed with moderate combined ADHD, which is hyperactive and inattentive. The most common reaction when I tell people has been something along the lines of “Duh. We knew this all along. Wait.….… you mean you had no idea?” And honestly, I had no idea until I started seeing people talking about their diagnosis online. There are a ton of great content creators on TikTok, Tumblr, Reddit, and Twitter talking about their ADHD and how that affects their view on life. It wasn’t until I found myself relating to all their content that I thought I might have ADHD too.
Suddenly.… everything made sense. I don’t suffer from a lack of attention — I struggle to focus on the right things. I’m overwhelmed by everything and my brain doesn’t know what the important things to focus on are. This makes things like cleaning the house awful since I’ll start in one room, move something to another room and start cleaning there, and then I have 3 hours of work and a house that barely looks like I did anything. As a kid I struggled to keep my room clean. I liked the messy piles. I knew exactly where everything was. My family cleaned my room a few times and it was like I had betrayed. Everything looked great but I couldn’t find a damn thing. ADHD also helped me understand why I want company for everything and struggle to do anything by myself. There’s a concept called “body doubling” that really reasonated with me. As a kid, I’d procrastinate and moan and complain about having to clean my room by myself, but if my sister was in the room I could do it. Not even having them help, just having one of them sit on the bed. Some people have posited this serves as an anchor for the brain and gives it a reason to do whatever chore of the day is on the list.
Now that I am an adult, I find I still need a body double or a deadline to get things done. At work, I can do tons of tasks if my coworker is nearby working on their own tasks. Put me in my cube by myself or at my own desk at home and I struggle to get things done. Fortunately at home I have my partner to be nearby when I do things, so that’s really helped things like doing the dishes or making food.
(I literally wrote an entire post on how hard dishes are to do.….)
But mostly, my entire life it’s been a struggle to get me to start something. Once I’m in it, I’m fine, but I have to convince my brain to just do the damn thing. I didn’t realize everyone didn’t have to fight their brain to do things. Neurotypical people say hey, I need to do the thing, and then they do it. *Mind blown* This causes problems when I team up with people on projects. I’m great at being the people person and doing the “face work” but I absolutely despise pretty much all detail oriented tasks. It causes me physical pain to get things perfect — which is unfortunate since “good enough” is not where the money is made. (This is also one of many reasons why being employed by a company is in my best interest. I’m the worst possible boss I could have.) This has led to people calling me lazy in the past and I thought it was true.…. but I’m definitely not lazy. I’m overwhelmed and can’t focus on the minute details unless I get into a hyperfocus state.
Take writing a blog post, for example. I’ll kick an idea around in my head for a long time, and then I’ll one day find a spark of motivation to start the post. If I don’t write the whole thing in one shot and publish it, it’s going to sit there until my next wave of inspiration. This post is currently on its third session. I’ll go back and scan it to make sure it’s cohesive, makes sense, and has no major grammatical errors but I very rarely rewrite posts. My brain says “Hey, no, we already did this. We don’t like redoing work. The first round took so much effort and now I have to do more work on this? No.” I have to be perfect and if it’s not perfect, why bother? This drive for perfectionism means things rarely get all the way finished. I’ve made a concentrated effort to change that narrative in my head. Things will occaisionally need touching up or redoing. I cannot do things perfectly all the time. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly. And honestly, my standards for myself are so high that even things I think are done poorly are just fine. If it means I don’t have seo phrases in the alt text on photos, custom social media photos for each site, or a focus keyword in the content, so be it. I have released myself from all those things because otherwise I’d get absolutely nothing done. I don’t care about making tons of money from this blog anymore. I don’t need it to be an alternative source of income to retire at 35 anymore. I’m not capable of consistently producing that level of work.….….. and I am perfectly ok with that now. That’s not who I am.
The best thing I can do for myself is embrace all the things that ADHD adds to my life. I notice so many small things about the world around me, which lends itself to appreciation about the world I live in. I notice nuances in friend’s behavior and can check in with them when they seem off. I then immediately forget the vast majority of details which is great for things people don’t want to tell anyone else. I can make people laugh by saying the things that pop into my head that some other people are thinking but don’t want to say out loud (filtered for the work environment, of course). I’m great at thinking of ideas for people and different scenarios. I’m not afraid to stand up in front of a bunch of people and be the center of attention. I’ll walk up to anyone and start talking as though we’re old friends. (Once you’ve sung silly camp songs and done pudding races in front of 50 8–13 year old girls you can do anything.) If I can design my life to take advantage of these strengths, I’ll live a rich and fulfilling life.