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ADHD Form-O-Phobia

ADHD Form-O-PhobiaI was having a great day. Then, I sat down to fill out a form. It was a week overdue, but I called the company that was waiting for it, and bought myself more time.

Things were humming along grandly, then Whammo! I hit page two. Page two contained a line of legalese which meant nothing to me, yet I was supposed to check yes or no. Yes or no to a statement I understood about as well as I understood William Shatner in Incubus (shot entirely in Esperanto). It took three phone calls to find out that no one at the company wanting me to answer this question had any clue what it meant either.

Page three: wherein it was clearly stated that I would be responsible for providing facts and figures that would take me hours and hours to compile. Suddenly, my task went from almost manageable to a massive undertaking that, at best, would take an all-nighter.

I began to panic.

This was not the first time I’d succumbed to form-o-phobia.

Yes, I’m on drugs

I’d known about a plan for drug coverage for years. I knew I was probably eligible. Each year I’d requested a new form from my pharmacy, intending to complete it and send it out. Year after year, instead of diving in, I threw the form into a now over-stuffed file.

Over the years, I’d periodically break into a cold sweat of remorse and shame imagining the hundreds of dollars I would have saved, if only I’d had the courage to face the dreaded form.

Finally, back to the pharmacy I went, to retrieve one more copy. (I accumulated copies to ensure that, when I finally tackled the deed, I’d have an up-to-date form).

I sighed with a mixture of relief and chagrin as it turned out to be the simplest form I’d ever seen.

And did I succeed? No.

Even after checking and re-checking, I still managed to send in the (nearly) completed form with one teeny-weeny box left unchecked. This caused a delay of several months before my form was processed.

Why? Why oh why oh why am I so afraid of forms?

To answer this question, I referred to Russell A. Barkley, Ph.D.’s  Taking Charge of Adult ADHD (2011). Here’s what I found:

1) People with ADHD often lack flexibility.

This applies to my need to know precisely what every question in the form I was filling out yesterday meant. I was the only one who’d ever asked for clarification; the company didn’t know what it meant either. True, I’d asked a valid question (as one employee at the company acknowledged), but nothing of earth-shattering import would have befallen me had I just checked the damn “Yes” box. I was, after all, a week late submitting the form already.

2) People with ADHD don’t comprehend what they read, see, or hear as easily as others.

Last week, I bought a new cookbook. I follow new recipes to the letter (for obvious reasons, as those of you who have read my previous cooking-related posts will know).

The first recipe I tried gave instructions to use ½ head of cauliflower. I was to mix the cauliflower with other ingredients, including bread crumbs. Later in the recipe, I was to spread the mixture on a baking sheet. You tell me how you spread a half head of cauliflower.


Frustrated and discombobulated, I read the recipe over and over again. The book had come highly recommended. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that the author had left out the instruction to chop the cauliflower first before mixing it with the other ingredients.

Cauliflower & crumbs... mmmmm....An ADHDer tries to follow a recipe
Cauliflower & crumbs... mmmmm....

After much mental angst, I eventually did break it into pieces (making a hard-won “executive” decision), but I remained anxious because I didn’t know how big the pieces should be. (and yes, I do know how lame this all sounds. I just keep reminding myself that I am a highly educated and intelligent person. I think.)

I popped it all in the oven. The allotted time passed. As the crumbs went past toasted and into burnt, I took the sheet out of the oven. The cauliflower pieces were still raw (I hadn’t broken them into small enough pieces), but if I cooked them until they were soft, the bread crumbs would have burst into flames.

As it was, the only smoke in the room was coming out of my ears.

I think I’m onto something

No wonder I’m tentative at best when approaching written instructions: especially ones that will 1) potentially save me money; 2) potentially lose me money; or 3) potentially make me and/or my dinner guests sick.

What to do?

I still haven’t figured out how to overcome my difficulties with written instructions. But at least I’m willing to face the problem.

And I’ve promised myself not to follow my first impulse to hoard all forms for use as firestarters on my next camping trip.


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ADHD Form-O-Phobia

Zoë Kessler, BA, B.Ed.

Zoë Kessler is an award-winning author, journalist, and speaker specializing in women and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD / ADD).

A frequent contributor to ADDitude Magazine, Kessler has also created video, standup comedy, and guest blogs on ADHD and Marriage covering ADHD-related topics.

Zoë, an internationally recognized ADHD expert, has been interviewed on radio and featured in magazine articles, documentaries, and books on the topic of women and ADHD across North America.

Her newly-released memoir ADHD According to Zoë - The Real Deal on relationships, Finding Your Focus & Finding Your Keys (New Harbinger Publications, 2013) about life with ADHD is now available.

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APA Reference
Kessler, Z. (2012). ADHD Form-O-Phobia. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 15, 2020, from


Last updated: 27 Mar 2012
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