Sunday, August 30, 2015

How my ADHD ruins my social life

So I know that the stereotype of someone with ADHD goes something like this:

NonADHDer: Something really exciting happened to me recently. I was walking down--
ADHDer: Oooo! It's a squirrel!

Just impulsivity and distractibility are the well known cornerstones of ADHD, but I don't think people realize just how many aspects of one's social skills are effected by ADHD. In some severe cases people can be misdiagnosed as being Autistic if the clinician is not familiar enough with how to tease them apart.

Now, I don't think I am on that level, but I am definitely quite frequently frustrated with myself, my apparent lack of social skills, and the impact this has on my life. Here's a few examples:

- One thing people don't realize is that when you have ADHD, you can also get hyper focused on a task or topic. When something exciting or stressful happens this can look like someone who is babbling on and on about a topic to every person they see until the excitement dies down a bit. This ends up looking like you care nothing about what other people have to say.

- On that note, hyper focused means it's also hard to be mentally flexible and change topics. A shift in topic can be frustrating if you haven't finished telling your story, but it also means you may completely forget what you were talking about if you were interrupted mid way (and getting it back is pretty much impossible). It's also possible to interrupt yourself if a new thought pops into your mind. This is extra frustrating if it keeps happening. It makes you look/feel stupid and flighty.

- To not forget what you want to say in response to someone else's contribution to the conversation you either need to stop paying attention to what they're saying to hold on to your own thought or interrupt them to say your piece. Sometimes this can turn people off and it ends up looking like you are monopolizing the conversation. Both of these things are obviously rude, but it's a hard balance to have when you want to look like you're invested in what the person is saying.

- Putting a few of these points together, when you have something you need to say (whether important or not) sometimes social niceties can take a backseat. You need to say what you need to say before you can focus on others comfortably and once again that ends up looking like you don't care since you haven't said things like "how was your day? how's your mom?" etc. when you actually do care, you just 1. forget to ask (see bullet above) or 2. run out of time and cannot ask. I force myself to not talk during whole outings with friends to show that I do care and am interested in their lives which has definitely led to me leaving out truly important stuff they should know about (oh hey, my grandma died last week). Which, in turn, looks like they're not important enough in my life to know about stuff that is actually important.

- Going back to the stereotype mentioned above, it's REALLY hard to hide your lack of disinterest. Even when you want to pay attention your mind is finding other much more interesting things to think about. This is something that everyone suffers from, but someone without ADHD can force themselves to pay attention better while someone with ADHD will miss 99% of what you're talking about while taking a mental trip to the moon. You end up looking selfish after rattling on about nothing for 20 minutes. And this only gets worse when you're tired.

- Even when you are interested in what the person says if you have a to-do list running around in your head like a hamster on its wheel, paying attention is just not going to happen. Trying to multitask to calm the jets down ends up looking rude because you may simply walk away in the middle of a conversation. It's also possible to forget that person was talking to you or even in the room at all.

 - Other fun stuff based on some of the things mentioned above: not being able to focus on a conversation because you can't let go a detail that's bothering you (like toys on the ground in my supervisor's office, or that booger that's half hanging out of someone's nose, or the spider crawling on the wall), not being able to remember words you want to use, bringing up really awkward things you think fit into a conversation but that was so 10 minutes ago, completely ignoring people because you're so focused on other things you didn't realize someone new was talking to/standing near you.

For all of these reasons it can also be hard to be friends with a group of people as you now have to balance all of this stuff with many people in one setting. Or try to remember to be in contact with such a large number of people on a regular basis. I know personally I'm shit with keeping in contact with friends. Not because I don't care about them, but because I get too focused on life that I forget they exist. In today's society people expect a lot of reciprocity and it's pretty easy to fall by the wayside as a friend if one person in that relationship does not call/text/email/etc. on a regular basis.

I think for me the hardest part about all of this is I know these things are happening and can often see it's happening, but as mentioned above, sometimes it's not possible to actively change things when I'm trying to balance my part of the conversation with others' and trying to remember the social rules I should be but am not following. That's too many things to focus on at one time and my brain is just not built that way. I also recognize the impact that it has on others in my life and there's a lot of time spent explaining myself. Sometimes people get it and are patient (Thank you Hubby!) and others don't and see it as excuses for characterlogical failings. But that's too bad for them because I bake a mean chocolate chip cookie.

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