I’m coping, everybody’s coping, and we can’t talk about it!
Those early days, after I was first diagnosed with ADHD, were heady times. My first reaction was a mix of relief, excitement, and alarm.
Bouncing between “This explains so much!” and ”What does it all mean? And I damaged? What do I do about it?”
It was such a shocking revelation, so much taken, with so many potential implications that I couldn’t stop thinking about it or talking about it.
Pretty soon everyone in my family knew, all of my friends knew, the crew on The Red Green Show had been informed, ad nauseam, and dozens of complete strangers on elevators had been told how this had affected every aspect of my life.
Most People Were Polite
Some were genuinely sympathetic but a significant number were skeptical, cautious, or dismissive.
It didn’t help that I began to see ADHD everywhere, and was suggesting to a lot of people that they should get tested as well.
At the time I was mortified by the hostility or condescending attitude that, “You can’t have ADHD. You’re on television.”
It took me a long time to forgive people’s ignorance until I realized that until I’d been diagnosed and done a lot of reading, I was probably just as skeptical and misinformed.
Eventually, someone at a PBS station pointed out that if I hadn’t been so upset by everyone’s reaction I would not have gone on a crusade to change the world’s understanding of what ADHD actually is, and what it is not.
My hurt feelings lead to TotallyADD.com. Eventually. By a long and convoluted pathway.)
The fact that I was open about my ADHD, and many people in the public eye are coming out as well, is great.
But I strongly suspect for most people my strategy of being ‘open about disclosing,’ a polite way of describing my obnoxious over-sharing, is a bad idea.
Find Your Safe Space
TotallyADD is a safe space to share your challenges, questions, and insights with the rest of us, but the vast majority of the world still doesn’t understand what this is.
And in a way, why should they. People already have enough to think about in their own lives.
I love talking about ADHD, and I love reading about it and learning more. I love hearing people’s stories.
Don’t you? It resonates. It’s moving because we’ve been there.
It’s fascinating for us. Or it is for me.
But for others? For a long time I assumed everyone would be as fascinated as I was. I was enthralled at what I was learning! It was so… AMAZING! And so I talked and talked and talked.
Then I got to experience what it might be like for people who were mildly interested in hearing about my ADHD, but not expecting or wanting a half-hour torrent of information on every aspect of the history, neurology, costs, and treatment strategies.
The realization came at a party. I was mingling. People were chatting. I was introduced to a woman and I said, “How do you do?”
She lamented, “Not well. In shock, actually.”
“Oh dear. Nothing serious, I hope.”
She explained that she had been recently diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, then she explained what it was. Next she laid out all the symptoms. She described how it affected her life. The challenges. Costs.
She detailed frustrating experience with specialists she had tried with varying degrees of success. The holistic curious, diet changes, accommodations…
Don’t get me wrong. I t was interesting. For the first 10 minutes.
I know this will sound selfish but I have enough think about with my own ADHD, my family, and my friends, my work… And it’s not like there was anything I could do about her condition. And apparently there wasn’t much the doctors could do.
Eventually I realized the best gift I could give her was simply to listen and acknowledge how difficult it obviously was for her.
And the best thing I can do for people who politely ask, “I hear you run a website for people with ADHD,” is to explain a little bit about what we do and why it’s so rewarding, and then ask what they are up to in their life.
The Turning Point
But for me that one-sided conversation was a turning point.
Now, when someone introduces me to people, “By the way, Rick and his wife run an amazing website for people with ADHD,” and people ask questions, I keep my answers brief. If they ask more questions, I fill in details.
To my surprise, most folks don’t.
People are interesting. Everyone has amazing stories of travel, work, career changes, or rambunctious elks.
I didn’t know this because having ADHD I tended to dominate every conversation. I can be entertaining. Whether people want me to or not. (I mistakenly assumed everyone was interested in hearing whatever I had to say because, well, it was interesting to me.)
When I was diagnosed with ADHD, then made films and a website about it, well, I became even more of a one-track, one-topic conversationalist.
Actually a conversation requires input from others. All I needed was their reaction to my wonderful stories.
It’s taken something, but I’m now much better at talking less and listening more.
And guess what I’ve learned?
ADHD isn’t the only interesting thing in the universe.
In fact, a few days ago I was treated to a hilarious story by a Video Producer who had stayed at a B&B that was also a Game Farm.
She was told that a few days before she arrived one of the elk attacked the owners wife and broke two of her ribs.
So this guy grabbed a two-by-four plank, marched down to the elk’s corral, and whacked the animal in right between the antlers! (That’s where elk’s skulls are thick, like a rock.) Then he warned the big beast, “No one messes with my wife.”
The elk was fine. This guy knew, banging heads together is how elks figure out who is in charge. And he was right. The elk never bothered anyone again.
The lesson I’ve learned: when ADHD comes up in conversation at a non-ADHD event, say less than you want to. Don’t launch into a rant with strangers.
Sure, if they ask questions, answer them. The more they ask, the more you can explain.
But to make sure I don’t keep throwing one more interesting fact after another hoping to keep them interested, I steer the conversation back to them. And what they do. Where they’ve travelled. And whether they know any strategies for handling overly aggressive elk.
PS – Check out our video To Tell Or Not to Tell in the TotallyADD store
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