I have been a slow worker ever since I can remember. I got through school by making use of my natural intelligence. I got into trouble in university because when left to myself, I’m not terribly good at Getting Shit Done and if I don’t employ a host of tricks, hacks and strategies, I suck at time management. I tend to be late, and I’ve got zero sense of time. I’m a night owl. But somehow I managed to graduate.
When I started my first job, things stopped going so well. Four years I suffered in unquiet team offices. I blamed myself for being so undisciplined and unconcentrated, while being unchallenged to an unhealthy degree. The continuous exposure to too much sensory input – people talking walking in and out of the office, no monitor privacy, cramped spaces, phones ringing, the constant influx of email and messenger input – left me terribly exhausted, and not even headphones helped to keep me sane. It felt like holidays and vacations were never enough, and even a minor cold would make me feel unable to work. Health was a constant stop-and-go.
It was a bit better in the next job, but still the same phenomenon: being sick very often and feeling constantly exhausted. I felt unable to block out what was going on around me, unable to shut out distracting things, constantly on alert and feeling exposed, and if things got stressful, I had the irresistible impulse to search for something I could easily focus on… unluckily, in most cases, that wasn’t anything work-related nor something I was supposed to work on.
Since I lost that last job, I have been fighting with procrastination while writing the applications I have to do or freelancing, having a terrible time with structuring my days, unloved-but-necessary tasks and – again – concentration issues. There’s often chaos in my head.
Some time last winter, a thought struck me: What if it wasn’t me? Or rather, what if it wasn’t that I was lazy, undisciplined and oversensitive? Everyone suffered in open plan offices, right? Why did it seemingly affect me harder? Why did a lack of project management, well-formulated assignments, clear (and realistic) goals and undisturbed time affect me so much harder? Why did I have such a low tolerance for boredom? Why was it so hard to get stuff done if I had no intrinsic motivation (i.e. a task that mattered to me and that was interesting in itself)? Because obviously, I was able to perform well and concentrate if something genuinely interested me. So why couldn’t I just pull myself together? What if that wasn’t a character flaw, but – a different configuration of the brain? Might it, after all, be ADD?
I started researching, reading online, talking to people with ADD I knew. Something clicked: Many of those description sounded way too familiar. I waited six weeks for an appointment with a specialist, and then another seven weeks for a second appointment, and then I finally had a tentative diagnosis… yes, I fulfilled the criteria. I was living with ADD.
The more I learn about my condition, the more I understand my needs and behaviors, and the more I am able to be forgiving with myself if I lost one hour going down some rabbit hole, or if it takes me an hour to leave the house to go grocery shopping, or if I have trouble with decisions or priorities, or if I procrastinate or make a mess, or if thirty things are going on in my head at the same time and I don’t know where to start and end up scrolling down my tumblr dashboard. My coping and compensation strategies may well have been enough until into my first years in university, and my trouble writing academic papers was probably the first manifestation.
AD(H)D is an inborn, lifelong condition that is rooted in a divergent brain development. Some areas are less active than in neurotypical persons, others are developed differently or function differently.
I may learn coping skills and improve my resources, but the underlying structure won’t change. Medication might help to cope in certain areas, but it won’t eradicate what I am. (Currently, I live without medication.) Relaxation and meditation do help – but they’re not magic bullets (meditation tends to increase my sensitivity, and a good relaxation can leave me without the drive and energy I need to tackle the everyday grind). And I’m already a time management ninja and have probably tried every task and self management method you have or haven’t heard of. I have needs that can’t be disputed. And I have strengths that spring from my specific brain configuration: a sensitive perception, a strong imagination, curiosity, the ability to live in the moment, love of learning new things and lots of creativity.
I still work at not blaming myself and finding better workarounds than just pushing myself harder. Because I have been pulling myself together most of my adult life, and my capacity to pull myself together is exhausted. I could believe that I’m worth being nice to myself for a change.
By the way, I will be doing 50/90 again this year!