I don’t post on here as often as I used to. In the early days of the site (like 20 years ago? What the hell?), I would post just random things all the time. Twitter, I think, gave me a different place to scratch that itch coupled with the movement that everyone needed their own personal brand. Your website conveyed your personal brand and you can’t write anything there that isn’t brand-safe! So, I fell out of the habit or only tried to do it as an exercise of writing for an audience, instead of for me.
Missing those days of the web, I write today about being diagnosed with ADHD several months ago. From my childhood, ADHD seemed to be a new thing that the kids that would never listen to the teacher had and I remember plenty of stories about how the medicines made you a different person. I was good in school—as long as the material came to me quickly, which most of it did—and I could hyperfocus on things at school, so I did fairly well.
Fast-forward to high school and when I faced challenges that needed deeper focus—French class, doing the whole IB diploma instead of just almost all of the certificates—I just couldn’t do it. “I’m bad at foreign languages! Woe is me and the requirement to have it!”
In college, compounded by delayed grief and what I know now to be PTSD, I struggled a ton. Professors didn’t care one bit about “challenging” you—just do the work I’m assigning. Starting with a science degree also meant a lot of prolonged, deep dives into a single thing. Which became “boring”. I couldn’t make myself study despite so many attempts. I would jump into random things all the time and never actually get myself to stop. “I’m just not a good student”.
My advisor (who had long turned into a friend by that point) helped me find sociology as a field that I would be most likely to be able to get a degree in before getting too bored with the subject. Which worked out to be true. I could take a good diversity of classes ranging from Sociology of Sexualities to Sociology of Criminal Justice, and Sociology of Work. I minored in “Science, Technology, and Society,” which is, basically, the sociology of the technical changes impacting us. I joked that it was basically how the relatively new Facebook site was changing how we act as a society.
My career started in pastoral ministry, which often meant just handling the situation in front of me. I could do that well. I struggled with, say, developing a weekly program, but doing a bunch of different quarterly or monthly programs? Let’s do it. The work later on that interfaced more with the development side that required pouring over donor records to find issues with recurring donations… the only time I’ve been written up professionally.
I moved to insurance sales, which was fine. I was too young and inexperienced to do it well and it exhausted me in the end, so I quit. Being a stay-at-home dad was a great experience that really opened my eyes to what it meant to be in charge of kids. And while they survived, I really struggled with keeping up with what should be simple things—like planning out a week’s worth of meals before going shopping. “I’m just not good at this stuff. I’m an okay dad.”
Finally, I ended up at Automattic. While I’ve been here for over 10 years, I’ve moved to different roles within the org about every 2 years. Support work was fun since I never knew what my day would be like when I started it. I tackled the problems as they came in and could really hyperfocus when shit hit the fan. Loved it.
Moved to engineering—the same thing. Don’t give me the huge six-month-long effort that would require a ton of smaller projects on the same thing to achieve, but the random bug that popped out of nowhere and is breaking stuff. Hell yeah.
So, I’ve been at my company for 10 years, married going on 15, and there were still a ton of things at home that I struggled to figure out how to do. It was frustrating for me and for Vanessa. “It feels like I have a 7th child sometimes.” “I feel you’re never happy with anything I do”. Through talking to a couple’s therapist, she made a quick comment.
Were you ever diagnosed with ADHD?
What? No‽ What are you talking about? Of course not.
Okay, but, the conflicts you two are having and how you both are talking about them sounds textbook like couples where one of the couple have ADHD and that’s how I’m going to approach you two for the time being at least.
Huh. That’s interesting. Maybe I’m not just really bad at a lot of things? Maybe there is an explanation that could help me find resources, ideas, and best practices to bridge these gaps?
I met with my psychiatrist and asked if could there be something to this? Or, whatever, you’re a 38-year old man, of course you don’t have the thing where kids can’t sit in their chair.
After some evaluative work and digging into behaviors from childhood (as, per the current literature, there is no such thing as adult-onset ADHD, but undiagnosed cases—especially due to the lack of awareness and stigma during the time when I was a kid—are possible), yes. I very strongly meet the criteria.
It has been very eye-opening. It’s not that I suck at everything. I just think and process things differently. Am I dumb for not being able to remember something that I said I would do 30 seconds ago? No, dysfunction of working memory is textbook ADHD. Instead of beating myself up, make sure I “Okay Google, remind me to take out the trash in 30 minutes” or put it in Todoist. Help me double-down on “if it isn’t in my calendar, I don’t know about it”. Let my wife help by letting her know that if she tells me something and I don’t note it in some way, I’m probably going to forget it and she can remind me.
Between medicine, reading more about ADHD, and then behavioral therapy, I can’t believe that I’ve been struggling for almost 40 years without realizing that things could be different.
I hope to write more about things that I’m learning and figuring out for myself. None of this is medical advice or advice of any kind really, but just sharing my journey.