Working With ADHD

June 17 2017

ADHD causes every­thing in your brain to be the most impor­tant. It can’t filter or sort pri­or­i­ties prop­erly. The chem­i­cal imbal­ance man­i­fests itself dif­fer­ently between people, and for me, a cloud of thoughts, com­ments, com­plaints, lists, and ideas float around like trash in a lake. Then when the damn breaks, the lake erupts into nearby camp­grounds.

My first diag­no­sis came in 2012, after four years of being a pro­fes­sional designer.

The first day on pre­scrip­tion med­ica­tion was a game-changer, and I thought it worked great! I took meds every­day for sev­eral months, and my pro­fes­sional work improved. My brain felt like it was putting things in the right order. 

But at the same time, it felt like my heart was beat­ing through my chest, which causes me mas­sive amounts of anx­i­ety. And these meds can be expen­sive as hell. So I stopped taking them.

I was off the med­i­cine for a few months when I found myself in a multi-team meet­ing dis­cussing some big (pos­i­tive) changes. At the end, my boss opened the floor for com­ments.

When it was my turn to speak, I said every­thing I was think­ing in real-time. Most of which I should not have. My free-wheel­ing soap­box speech didn’t go over well, and in the moment I thought people were cap­ti­vated and encour­aged by my hon­esty!

Plot twist: They were not.

Thank­fully, another co-worker who knew my med­ical his­tory talked with me imme­di­ately after­wards and gave me a heads up.

That was a a lot you said back there. How are you feel­ing?”

Not great,” I responded. What do you think about what I said?”

She sug­gested to apol­o­gize quickly before I was caught off-guard with neg­a­tive con­se­quences. I trusted her very much, so this was advice I promptly fol­lowed.

I asked for a pri­vate meet­ing with my man­ager and the boss. I apol­o­gized for the rant. They were appre­cia­tive that I approached them first and had real­ized the mis­take.

I hadn’t real­ized my mis­take. She prob­a­bly saved my job.

It was time to revisit the ADHD diag­no­sis, but this time I wanted to talk with a spe­cial­ist, rather than the GP I was seeing. I talked with my ther­a­pist who gave me a refer­ral to a ADHD spe­cial­ist. If I was going to invest the time and money in taking pre­scrip­tion med­ica­tion, I wanted to be sure I was approach­ing the prob­lem the right way.

My second diag­no­sis came in 2014, after six years of being a pro­fes­sional designer.

I’ve been taking my meds nearly every­day since then, except on week­ends and when on vaca­tion (doc’s orders). It’s a dif­fer­ent kind of med­ica­tion than before, so I don’t get extra anx­i­ety from it (only the normal amount from being alive today). 

Before taking med­i­cine, I devel­oped a bunch of tricks to help me stay on track at work.

Things like Bullet Jour­nal­ing, the Post-It method (where I would cover my mon­i­tor in Post-Its at the end of the day and sort them in the morn­ing), using apps like the Self-Con­trol app to stay off social media during the day, and the Pomodoro tech­nique were all mas­sively help­ful. (And just gen­er­ally, not speak­ing up in meet­ings was help­ful. Instead I wrote my thoughts down, revis­ited them later, and if I needed to, spoke with my man­agers.)

Now that I’m taking meds, I still use those tricks, but it’s very nice to know they aren’t nec­es­sary to func­tion.

Gen­eral sug­ges­tions

If you strug­gle with ADHD, I know you have your own tricks and I’m sure you have your own horror sto­ries. (If you would like to share them, I’m all ears! (Email or DM me, I’d love to hear your expe­ri­ences!)

Go see a doctor (prefer­ably a spe­cial­ist) and start taking pre­scrip­tion med­ica­tion if you’re able. I’ve had dif­fer­ent insur­ances in the last five years, and the cost passed onto the patient varies. You’ll need to talk to your insur­ance com­pany and doctor about this.

If pre­scrip­tion med­ica­tion isn’t an option for you, sur­round your­self with trusted cowork­ers and friends who are patient and will hold you account­able. Also, con­sider a secret signal so they can inter­rupt you in meet­ings when you start on a path you shouldn’t be on. (Reach­ing for my closed water bottle and knock­ing it over onto the table worked pretty well for me. The loud noise snapped me right out it.)

Talk to your man­agers in one-on-one meet­ings where it’s a safer place than a group team meet­ing. High­light some behav­iors they can keep an eye out for, and ask for help. And if you’re at a job where you can go home early on days when your brain is play­ing hard to get, do so!

For man­agers

These days, I’m a design man­ager and team lead, and I’m open about my mental health his­tory with them. 

I believe we should be cre­at­ing a work cul­ture that isn’t afraid of mental health dis­cus­sions. Not one where we probe each other con­stantly, but one of trust, empa­thy, and com­pas­sion for each other. If one team member is strug­gling, I want them to trust me enough to tell me, and know that I’ll keep it con­fi­dence while I work to alle­vi­ate their work­load. They need to have options to make it through the day, and it’s our job to create those options.

While I don’t think trust, empa­thy, and com­pas­sion cures ADHD or any mental health con­di­tion, I do sub­scribe to the phi­los­o­phy from the trolls from the movie Frozen.

People make bad choices if they’re mad or scared or stressed,
But throw a little love their way, and you’ll bring out their best!