If you read my last post, you might remember the trampoline full of tennis balls metaphor I provided as an example of how living with a neurodivergent brain feels for me. In that post, I introduced ADHD in adulthood, difficulties with focus, planning, and organization, and how they affect myself and others like me at work. This second part will continue where my last left off.
Relationships with others
Body doubling. To neurotypical folks, this probably refers to someone who stands in for an actor. In the ADHD world, a body double is someone whose mere presence makes it easier to focus on a task (Quinn, 2022). When I don’t have noise, a body double is what makes boring tasks like household chores possible for me. In my work life, body doubling most often comes in the form of working meetings, where we are working in tandem to meet a common goal, or writing groups, working in tandem toward individual goals. In my workplace, we do both on a weekly basis.
Relationships are an important factor in a self-directed workplace for more obvious reasons too. There is a lot of shame associated with ADHD (Dodson, 2022), largely due to judgement of others (many of us have been told far too often, “you should try harder”, “write a to do list”, “have you tried [enter organizational method, app, or planning tool here]?”) and their lack of understanding of executive dysfunction (letting our team down by forgetting to complete a task, missing a meeting, or taking time off work due to ADHD burn-out). Not only is this short-sighted and presumptuous, because yes, we’ve tried all those things and are very aware of our mistakes, but it also increases our demand avoidance and harms our self-efficacy. We’ve been called lazy and irresponsible our whole lives. In my experience, disclosing your diagnosis to your team can help. Ultimately, this is a deeply personal choice, but for me, disclosing my condition has been positive. ADHD is a disability and avails us to accommodation in workplaces. The problem with accommodation for adults with ADHD is that little research has been conducted in the area, meaning that employers often feel unequipped, leaving it up to the individual with ADHD to communicate their own needs, something they may not be able to do. Additionally, ADHD presents differently in different people, and presentation can vary throughout the lifespan (Gordon, Lewandowski, and Lovett, 2014).
While I don’t use any formal accommodations, disclosing my condition allows my colleagues to understand my workstyle. For example, I am creative and often generate ideas but find it difficult to actualize them due to either forgetting about the idea altogether or experiencing demand avoidance. Disclosure also allows my colleagues to understand why my performance can be inconsistent, why I am often late or seem hurried, and why I need flexibility in my work environment. I find that eliminating the planning and commuting that is required to get to campus a couple times a week is beneficial. Being able to work from home two days per week can help me from completing the ADHD burnout cycle (see comic below), once per week. Burnout is an overwhelming feeling of mental and physical exhaustion due to prolonged stress. It is sometimes also referred to as a hyperfocus hangover. Burnout often includes irritability, depression, negative affect, detachment, appetite changes, an inability to keep up with regular routine, and paralysis (Brattberg, 2016; Cootey, 2022; Sherman, 2022).
A comic created by Pina at ADHD-Alien.com
Creating our own structure
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer when it comes to living with ADHD as an adult. Determining what helps you focus, plan, and avoid burnout is a process of trial and error in any environment, but certainly in a workplace that is self-directed. When we entered the working world, the mechanisms that helped us live with our executive dysfunction disappeared. During our education, we may have received accommodation, but almost all of us were provided with structure during those years: defined periods of time for learning, play, exercise, and eating, and clear due dates for projects. Luckily for us, we can look at the structure that was provided for us and try to replicate it in our adult environments. In my mind, these mechanisms fit into four categories, but I like to add on a fifth because I have ADHD…there’s always something I’m forgetting.
- The first is our work setting. Where do you work best? Do you prefer a private office or an open workspace? Your answer might consider the presence of distractions and sensory stimuli (e.g. bright and overhead lights inhibit my ability to focus, so I use lamps), the organizational systems available to you in different spaces, and your proximity to administrative support.
- The second category you might consider is the way your work is presented to you. Do you prefer written or oral communication? Digital or paper-based? Do you need to break tasks down into multiple steps to begin? Could you benefit from technology like text to speech, speech to text, a visual timer, or a dry erase board?
- The third category is time. Do you need additional time or a flexible schedule? Do you prefer to take structured breaks or push through the day? Do you need to set timers or book meetings with yourself?
- The fourth category is comfort. What kind of office furniture do you need? Are you unable to sit properly in a chair like I am (I have no citation for this but people with ADHD cannot sit properly in chairs, I’m dead serious, ask anyone you know with ADHD.)? What kind of clothing are you most comfortable wearing? What kind of clothing is acceptable in your work environment? Shoes aren’t comfortable and I absolutely do not want to wear them, but I am more productive when I do wear them (again I have no citation aside from my own life experience). I am also going to go ahead and add snacks and drinks to the comfort category because their presence is crucial to my success.
- Do you need weekly check ins to impose deadlines on yourself? Ask for them. How much feedback do you need? Could you benefit from body doubling? Are there any incentives that might help you?
Ultimately, these categories and questions to ask yourself might be just another suggestion that didn’t work. Maybe I’m just as irritating as those who ask, “have you tried a to-do list?”. I do have an ulterior motive for writing this though. I feel alone. I don’t feel seen or understood. Truth be told, I’ve always felt like an alien, trying to imitate a human. If you feel this way too, please reach out. I’ll try my best to respond. Demand avoidance be damned. Living with ADHD is a rollercoaster; sometimes we feel like superheroes—jumping up and down on that trampoline that I introduced in part one and catching every single tennis ball. Other times we feel like supervillains—so burnt out that we’re certain we’ll never be able to jump on a trampoline again, let alone catch any of the tennis balls.
Brattberg, G. (2006). PTSD and ADHD: underlying factors in many cases of burnout. Stress and Health, 22(5), 305–313. https://doi.org/10.1002/smi.1112
Cootey, D. (2022, March 31). After the thrill: Avoiding a hyperfocus hangover. ADDitude Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.additudemag.com/adhd-hyperfocus-crash/
Dodson, W. (2022, August 24). ADHD and the epidemic of shame. ADDitude Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.additudemag.com/slideshows/adhd-and-shame/#:~:text=Shame%20causes%20many%20people%20with,gives%20it%20back%20to%20them.
Flippin, R. (2021). ADHD at work: Time wasters and productivity killers. ADDitude Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.additudemag.com/adhd-at-work-time-wasters-and-productivity-killers/
Gordon, M., Lewandowsky, L. J., & Lovett, B. J. (2014). Assessment and management of ADHD in educational and workplace settings in the context of ADA accommodations. In R. A. Barkley (Eds.), Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: A handbook for diagnosis and treatment (pp. 774-794). Guilford Publications.
Quinn, P. (2022, December 28). Get more done with a body double. ADDitude Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.additudemag.com/getting-stuff-done-easier-with-a-friend-body-double/#:~:text=But%20in%20the%20world%20of,around%20to%20keep%20them%20company
Schneidt, A., Jusyte, A., Rauss, K., & Schönenberg, M. (2018). Distraction by salient stimuli in adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: Evidence for the role of task difficulty in bottom-up and top-down processing. Cortex, 101, 206–220. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2018.01.021
Sherman, C. (2022, March 31). Is it ADHD, depression, or both? ADDitude Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.additudemag.com/adhd-and-depression-symptoms-treatment/
Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.