Zoë's Pet Peeve #13 - ADHD Autopilot

One of the most startling discoveries I’ve made since learning I have ADHD is how much I paint my  life with the brush of that label.

For example, just today I was telling a manager at work how foolish I felt my first day on the job. I’d thought I was vacuuming the carpet, until the owner of the business walked silently over, flicked the switch on the vacuum cleaner one more notch, and made the vacuum cleaner actually suck. No such action was required for me. Apparently, I already did.

Or, at least, that’s what I thought.

I felt humiliated. What would the guy think – “Why did I hire this idiot?” I could just hear it. He probably thought my resumé was fiction. I figured I wouldn’t last a week there. The jig was up. Trouble was, in that moment, I couldn’t think of any of the positive things about me, couldn’t remember that my resumé, as impressive as it was, was also true.

ADHD auto-pilot

Worse, I concluded that it was the ADHD that had put me in that precarious situation, confirming my fear that I was, in fact, unemployable. Obviously, I thought, “normal” people would be able to vacuum a rug without the assistance of their boss! The mountain of insecurity loomed before me, and I was on ADHD auto-pilot, hurtling towards it at 500 mph.

Reality check

Imagine my surprise, four months later, when one of my managers told me the same thing had happened to her. As the accountant for eight locations, she’s responsible for staff scheduling, bookkeeping, and so on — not a dullard herself, by any stretch. Yet she didn’t know how to turn on the vacuum cleaner either. The difference? I’m pretty sure she didn’t beat herself up for it (although she admitted she never forgot that day).

Is it ADHD? Only her hairdresser knows for sure…(my hairdresser is a pretty cool chick!)

This isn’t the first time that I’ve chalked up a minor screwup to ADHD, and blown it completely out of proportion. I’m beginning to realize that this is one of the things that I still have to work on (part of my house that still needs renovating). I have to find a way to not label any and every mistake I make as having something to do with ADHD.

I haven’t come up with a game plan for that one yet, but when I do, you’ll be the first to know.

Part of the problem is, I don’t know what it’s like to not have ADHD.  I can’t get into other people’s heads to find out that it’s no big deal to them to make minor mistakes, and that they don’t attribute them to some irrevocable fatal flaw.

ADHD from birth

Don’t forget, by definition, we have ADHD from a very young age. That’s a necessary prerequisite to being diagnosed with ADHD in the first place. This means that we have no pre-ADHD life experience to compare with, as someone, for example, with a late onset of clinical depression might have.

It’s ADHD…or is it?

If we’re diagnosed in later life, we can go through an agonizing period of suddenly attributing all our human foibles to an irreversible brain disorder. This, in turn, can set us up for a negative feedback loop, where the more we identify ADHD-fueled mess-ups, the worse we feel about ourselves in terms of our competence level, and finally, the more insecure we feel about our abilities to improve. It’s a tailspin toward that mountain of doom.

Switching off ADHD autopilot and taking over the controls

While I don’t know what my strategy will be to cope with this ADHD-related trap, I know for sure it will include not being so hard on myself, and not assuming that I’m the only one on the planet who makes dumb mistakes (maybe some day I’ll even learn not to refer to them as, “dumb mistakes,” but one step at a time!)

I’m turning off the autopilot… I have no parachute… Wish me luck!

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