Who is this masked competent person?  Zoë manages her ADHD...

Who is this masked competent person? Zoë manages her ADHD... Photo ©Zoë Kessler, June, 2011

I don’t recognize myself any more.

Yesterday, I was left to open and run the retail store where I work part-time by myself. The owners and accountant were out of town for the day.

Being left with this responsibility was another reminder of just how out of whack my self-concept can be. Here I was thinking that at the first opportunity, I’d get fired for my incompetence. Instead, I’m handed the key to the Empire. Either they were desperate, or they trusted me, or – just maybe – both.

I was reassured that Monday is the slowest day for a retail. As it happened, yesterday was the busiest day in the nearly 2 years that I’ve worked there.

Before my ADHD diagnosis, I’d worked in a bookstore and could barely handle the regular day-to-day shifts. At Christmas, I had a major meltdown. Needless to say, I didn’t last long.

Yesterday, here’s what I handled:

-two phone lines ringing at once at least five times during a five-hour shift

-on one occasion, a supremely irate artist was on one line complaining about our lack of art supplies, and questioning as to whether we ever will have more as promised

-with two lines on hold, I had three customers lined up at the cash register

-two deliveries at the back door

-one street person coming in, dragging a cart behind her, saying, “My head doesn’t feel right. Do you have a chair?” Of course we do. We sell chairs. “Have a seat over there, and put your head between your knees.” (Visions of her passing out in my store and lawsuits dance in my head, as my First Aid training is not up to date.)

-taking telephone orders throughout the day by scratching notes on a piece of paper

-taking phone messages for the absent owners and accountant

-receiving three panicked phone calls from a business person claiming that it was an emergency, she had to speak with the owner today; making a judgment call as to whether or not to contact the owner on his cellphone

-taking a personal call from our accountant’s Mechanic insisting he speak with her. When I offered to take a message, he asked if she had a cellphone number. Yes. “Can I have it?” No. (No preliminaries, no hesitation, no difficulty making a decision over what to do, no fear, no problem. Wow.)

-dealing with two customers who came in minutes before closing. Treating them with respect and courtesy while knowing I was working late.

-after serving the two late-comers, having to transcribe the messy order notes to the proper forms, while closing the store and working overtime on the so-called slowest day of the week


Who is this new person?  I’ve never met her before. It’s a little scary.

I can’t believe I handled all of this with calm, humor, and self-control. In the past, if even one of these things had happened, I would have panicked.

Even before the day was over, I started to think about why I was doing so well. I realized that a huge part of it was practice, practice, practice. When I messed up at the cash register, I didn’t panic. I stayed slow, easy, and relaxed. I could never do this before. Yesterday, I realized I’ve been consciously working at this for nearly 2 years now. It’s working. I can’t believe how far I’ve come, but I know it will take some time yet for my new self-concept to come naturally, and override the old one.

I’ve also recently increased the dosage of my ADHD stimulant medication. It’s a paradox: as my self-coaching and behavioral modification efforts continue, I’ve been taking on more responsibilities. As my responsibilities increase, so do my anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed. That’s why I decided to increase my medication. Amazingly, I was able to handle yesterday with grace and aplomb. But will the cycle continue? Or will I eventually be able to cut back on my medication as my competence levels increase? Time will tell.

To you highly-functioning people out there, this all may sound laughable. For me, it’s a triumph. I have a lot of education, some professional success, but believe me, this really was a major personal triumph. Little by little, I can see how the seemingly trivial gains will move me into the next phase, which I see as seriously reconstructing my self-image. Maybe someday I’ll recognize myself as a competent, reliable person and drop the worries that I’m a stumbling liability whose only asset is making people smile.

On the other hand, making people smile is a skill I highly prize. Maybe it will be my full-time job some day. In the meantime, it’s back to the trenches honing my skills pimping paint supplies and office chairs. I could do worse.

Follow ChickADD44 on Twitter