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!

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