I would start one project, then remember something else that needed to be done, so start the second task, but while doing the second task would remember a third to-do, and so on and so on. I would have 12 different projects on my desk halfway done and on my computer 10+ programs running and 40+ internet tabs open.
It was like everything I knew needed to get done was swirling around my head at 100 mph, coming in and out of focus. I would grab a task from the tornado and try to start it, but the second I did it would be swept by away by a strong wind and replaced with another.
My ability to focus began to quickly diminish after 10 am, and trying to get anything done after 2 pm was excruciating if not impossible.
On top of all this, there was resulting anxiety, stress, and shame of feeling so out of control.
Despite all that, I found myself unable to say no to additional responsibilities and instead would always find a way to get it all done–staying late, coming in early, losing my mind. At times, I would find a burst of drive (hello, hyperfocus) and work on something I was obsessed with for multiple hours straight. The problem was I would then be completely burned out with no energy for anything else the rest of the day. It didn’t help that half the time I would conclude that thing I had just spent hours on really hadn’t been quite as pressing as it had felt at the time.
Needing to make a change, I began an internet search on “how to stay focused at work.” The articles I related most to and the strategies I found most helpful were by/for people with ADHD. I began to implement their advice and, while I was still having a hard time, they made a noticeable difference.
All this internet reading on ADHD reminded me of that appointment with the psychiatrist I mentioned earlier. I had laughed her off back then, but now that I had done my own research about ADHD I was feeling bad for doubting her.
Thinking back, I remembered she had listed off statements (I now realize were part of an ADHD screening tool) with me having been instructed to say how frequently I did/experienced them. They had been about a variety of topics: losing important items, being forgetful, having a hard time focusing, struggling with finishing things, etc.
That’s stuff every person on earth can relate to, right?
That’s why I assumed the psychiatrist was too eager to diagnose me.
What I hadn’t realized at the time was this:
“While everyone could relate to losing their keys/phone/wallet at some point or another, not everyone was losing them to the point they were not sure they would ever find them again multiple times a day. But I was.”
“While everyone could relate to the annoyance of walking into a room and forgetting why, most people weren’t forgetting 75% of the time they walked into a room. But I was.”
“While everyone could relate to being disorganized sometimes or have a messy bedroom, not everyone was feeling helplessly out of control about it because no matter how many times they had tried to “get it together” they just couldn’t. But I was.”
“While everyone could relate to hating boring tasks and getting side-tracked from time to time, not everyone was sabatoging group study sessions with an endless supply of memes because they didn’t know how to focus and were afraid of feeling stupid. But I was.”
“While everyone could relate to starting a project and then abandoning it, not everyone was jumping from obsession to obsession, compulsively crafting intricate plans for them or impulsively spend too much money on them…just to lose 100% interest shortly after. But I was.”
It’s crazy, but even though I had answered “frequently” to almost all her statements regarding ADHD symptoms, I hadn’t. I had thought when it came to most of them, I was either completely normal or just plain lazy.
There in my office at work, I was starting to see it differently.