Everyone seems to have their own ideas about what ADHD is about. Many make assumptions that we can or can’t do certain things because of the ADHD. They also take these assumptions and spread them across the general populace, assuming that all of us who deal with it, have the same symptoms. I think ADHD has got to be one of the most confounding mental illnesses anyone can deal with. The number of different ways it can manifest, are as varied as the people who have it. Within my own family, it is me, my two sons, my father, and his father, who all have symptoms that vary within each of us. My father has never been officially diagnosed and my grandfather, who passed away in 1995, was never diagnosed either. However, when you live with ADHD everyday, you learn to recognize it in other people. There are people in my life right now who would probably never think about getting a diagnosis. They’ve lived with it for so long that there doesn’t appear to be a problem to them. Any difficulties they may have are chalked up to age, a bad day, being too busy, or any other reason that may seem appropriate at the time. I can’t tell you the number of times the subject of ADHD comes up. Whether within my own family or out in public somewhere, and someone will say:
You know, I probably have ADHD but…
I did a lot of thinking after I was diagnosed. I sat down and thought about the number of jobs that I’d had up until the time I had been diagnosed. I figured that I had never had a job longer than 2 years by the time I was 38, and actually, 2 years was generous. I worked for one woman at a bank and she had no trouble wagging her finger at me telling me that I was a daydreamer. She moved my workstation away from the window so that I was right in front of her where she could keep an eye on me. In one doctors group where I worked, we were broken up into teams but there were so many people in this one big room that I could always hear what the other teams were talking about and who they were talking to on the phone. It made it difficult for me to think about the person who I had on the phone when I could hear everyone else so clearly. Then at another doctor’s office, I didn’t have a lot of contact with patients and my hours had me coming in early and staying late. I thought this would work well for me but the need to be able to multitask was essential, as it usually is in this environment, and that has never been one of my finer points.
It is at this point that some people make the assumption that people with ADHD should not work in a busy office environment. That is totally not the case. I know this environment does not work for me but that’s not to say that it won’t work for somebody else. For me, the noise, the busy-busy-busy all the time and the constant hustle, was exhausting. Even though the pay was good, the stress on me was not worth it. In the first instance, the company went bankrupt and I was left jobless. In the second case, they let me go, as others had.
It wasn’t until I moved to Connecticut and found a job on a farm, that I realized where my true calling lie. Working with the animals had enough of the routine I needed to keep me moving forward. The family that owns the farm, were willing to teach me whatever it was I wanted to learn. It has been nearly nine years since I first worked for them. I had a high risk pregnancy at the time and was only able to spend a year on the payroll but I have spent the last 8 years volunteering at the museum they have and working with their four draft horses. Just recently, I spent 3 months working back at the farm filling
in for family members who were out for various reasons. The smell of the barn and the warmth of the animals brought immediate peace to my troubled mind. With the ongoing issues here at home, trying to get my home organized and keep my marriage intact, time at the barn gave me a much-needed self-esteem boost. It allowed my wounded pride to heal a bit and it gave me a sense of accomplishment and knowledge that I haven’t had in quite a few years.
I’ve been asked many times, why can’t you apply that same drive to the tasks you need to get done at home? The answer to that is this: I am more likely to do a task when I am thanked and praised. I am also more likely to do a job that raises my self-esteem and gives me a sense of pride as compared to a job where I don’t get these things. This is why it may appear that I, and others like me, hyper focus on certain tasks. Doesn’t it make sense that we would continue to do things that raise our self-esteem and sense of pride? It isn’t that we don’t like to do the other things but, we often spend so much time struggling to do the things that everyone else does without any effort, hyper focusing feeds our mental needs. Though it helps us to feel quasi normal, we are criticized for ‘intentionally’ ignoring those other things that need doing and our sense of accomplishment is shot full of holes. It can become a vicious catch-22. It becomes a struggle between trying to meet our own needs and still trying to raise up to the bar; we are damned for trying to meet our own needs and damned for not being more efficient.
When I step back and realize how much praise I need even now, how so much of what I’ve done in my life has always required some kind of approval and yes, praise, I feel quite immature. I am 42 years old but mentally, on those ‘off’ days, I sometimes feel more like I’m five. I just want to be told that I something right the first time. As important as praise is, a big no-no is to never follow praise with “but.” I’ve had this a lot, my husband is the biggest culpret. When this happens, a well-meaning pat on the back becomes a critique. So whatever the words are coming out of the other person’s mouth, all I hear is, “You did it wrong…again.” I yearn for the day when I am no longer corrected, reprimanded, scolded, or otherwise judged based on my daily activities. However difficult it may be to live with me and my issues, one will never know, truly, how difficult it is to live up to the standards of the status quo, without spending a day in my shoes.
I desperately yearn for a small farm of my own but I am constantly met with: you can’t, you shouldn’t, it’s a lot of work, it costs money to do that, you’ll never make a lot of money doing that but here again, is where we come back to that sense of pride and feeding our self-esteem. The farming isn’t so much about how much money I make or even how much money I spend on the endeavor. It’s what it does for me on a mental level that will allow me to be successful in other aspects of my life. Having a small farm here at home will not only fulfill the emotional needs that I have but will also resolve other issues like having to be home to get the kids on and off the bus. It would be so much easier to develop a routine that will work day-to-day, much like working at my friends’ farm. I would become more resilient and more successful just by mixing my farm stuff with the house stuff; alternate all day long with a bit of each. The only trouble, getting my husband to believe it will work.