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Confronting The Stigma around My ADHD and Embracing It to Reinvent Myself

“I finally came to grips that if I ever wanted to succeed, I would need to acknowledge my ADHD and get help. This was around the same time my son was diagnosed, and we started treating him. I talked to my doctor and started taking medication again. After a few weeks, I noticed a difference. I was finishing tasks, I was proactive and productive.”

Hello! Who are you?

Hello, I’m Jonathan, and I live in Rochester, NY. I’ve lived in the Rochester area my entire life. 

I work as a consultant for Non-Profit organizations. I’ve been in IT for most of my adult life. I turned to consulting when I realized I could help more than just one organization at a time and share my knowledge to help them meet their goals. 

I’ve been married for 14 years, we have 2 children together. 2 dogs, and 1 cat. My wife and I met when we were both 21, we fell in love almost immediately and have been each other’s best friend since. 

I’ve had many passions over the course of my adult life, currently I love playing Ultimate Frisbee and working on my classic Mustang. 

I do consider myself to be happy. I’ve always had a positive outlook on life, I would definitely say I’m an optimist. I always look at the silver linings in things. 

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What is your struggle and when did it start?

I was diagnosed with ADHD in the 4th grade. The book on me was that I was a smart kid, but couldn’t keep his hands to himself, and was constantly being disruptive.

I struggle with impulsivity, poor memory, and hyper-focusing. I’m sure there are a few other symptoms, but those are the ones that affect me day to day. 

Shortly after being diagnosed, I began medication which definitely helped with school-related matters. At the time ADHD came with a bit of stigma, nobody really knew about it and everyone wanted to know why I had to go to the nurse every day to take medication.

I began to really hate taking medication, and by the time I reached 7th grade I had matured a lot, and my outward hyperactivity had subsided quite a bit.

My parents believed that I had “Outgrown” my ADHD and asked me if I still wanted to take my medication. Obviously, I said “No”.. and for the rest of high school, I went unmedicated. 

Unfortunately, my grades suffered and throughout high school, I struggled. I failed my French class in 8th grade and had to stay back the next year. I failed math 3 different times and had to go to summer school each time.

Because I always struggled with school, I was academically ineligible to do any type of sports or extracurriculars. The only sport I could do was football, and because it was in the fall, I could participate before the first marking period was over and my grades prevented me. 

I barely graduated, I needed to pass French in order to do so. I got 67 on the final to graduate with a Regents diploma. 

I had no plans for after high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do or be. My parents pushed for me to attend the local community college where I could figure out a career.

I thought I wanted to be on TV or Radio, so I majored in communications. I joined the campus radio station where I made lifelong friendships. Through those friendships, I met my wife and started a career in Radio. 

After dating my wife for 6 months, we got pregnant. I was barely 21, and now I was staring down the barrel of fatherhood. I managed to secure a full-time albeit very low-paying job at the local radio station.

I had interned there initially and had made a good enough impression to get a morning show position that allowed me to make enough money to pay rent. 

6 months after my son was born, my morning show position was phased out and I was laid off. 

Here I was, 22 years old, unemployed, with a 6-month-old baby boy. I remember sitting in the bathroom of my apartment just crying. How was I going to take care of my wife and baby? I didn’t have any schooling or experience. 

ADHD contributed to some of these experiences. It’s like the devil on your shoulder telling you to do something when you are not sure. Impulsivity and poor memory made it almost impossible to finish school, and when I met my friends at the radio station, I became hyper-focused about that and only that. That’s what my career was going to be, that’s all that mattered. When that all came crashing down, I needed to reassess and really think about what it was I wanted to do

How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?

ADHD has been like an anchor for most of my life. Every day I have to fight. It’s also really hard for others to feel any type of sympathy. For the longest time, my wife couldn’t understand how I could forget things so easily.

It wasn’t until my son was also diagnosed with ADHD and she talked to his doctors that she really grasped how much of our day-to-day life is affected by ADHD. 

ADHD doesn’t display itself as a physical disability. Most people with ADHD appear and function as typical adults in most settings. I was very concerned about the social stigma left over from high school, so I never spoke of it and generally ignored it. 

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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?

After getting laid off, I changed careers to IT and have been working different entry-level service-related desktop/help desk positions. The work was steady but paid barely enough. I was bored all the time.

The work was slow enough that my ADHD didn’t really get in the way. I wanted to get a better job, and there were opportunities. But I believed I wouldn’t be capable with my skills. 

I finally came to grips that if I ever wanted to succeed, I would need to acknowledge my ADHD and get help. This was around the same time my son was diagnosed, and we started treating him. I talked to my doctor and started taking medication again.

After a few weeks, I noticed a difference. I was finishing tasks, I was proactive and productive. I felt good about being able to complete something without waiting till the last minute. 

I remember talking to a coworker about college, and he recommended an online school that allowed me to work at my own pace. I could go as fast or as slow as I wanted. I realized that I would only ever get where I wanted to go if I finished school. 

After talking with my wife, I decided to go for it and I enrolled. 

What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?

After acknowledging my ADHD I started developing strategies that allowed me to cope and work around and with it. I learned that my channel-changing brain was a caged animal: If I tried to ignore it, it would get angry and break out of its cage. But, if I fed it once in a while, it would be easier to control.

If I need to complete a task by noon and it’s 9 am. I would get that task done as soon as possible. Even if the task is only a 20-minute task, I start it. I know that at some point through that task, my caged animal brain is going to want to be fed, so I feed it.

I’ll get to a good point in my task and allow myself to browse the internet or zone out. Then I come back to that task and finish it. By being proactive in feeding my animal, I can control it in a way. 

The hardest part of that is starting the task. There isn’t a trick for this, only that promise of completing that task. Which is a drug for me. I learned that I love completing tasks.

The feeling of finishing something that was hard and difficult gives me great joy. Eventually, it gets easier and easier the more you do it. 

Another strategy I learned was how to work around my poor memory. ADHD doesn’t actually hurt your memory, it’s just that your brain is changing channels so much that you don’t have a chance to commit what you want to do to your short-term memory.

I use the channel-changing metaphor because that’s the best way to explain it. Imagine quickly switching between 10 different channels. Spend a half-second on each channel.

Now, once you are at channel 10 stop and try to remember what you saw on channel 2. There’s a good chance you won’t remember or have a very vague idea of what it was. 

So what I learned was that, If I need to remember what is on channel 2 at 8:30 every day. I would always go to channel 2 first. Always do the same thing. My morning routine is always the same. I get up > shower> get dressed > take pills > make coffee > feed the dogs. 

It gets much more granular than that, but the idea is, the more you do something the more it becomes a habit and committed to routines. There will be less reliance on memory. I know on days when that routine or habit gets disrupted, all my old issues come flooding back.

This happens a lot when I go on vacation or travel for work. I can’t tell you how many times I forgot to take my medication when I was traveling for work. 

And lastly, I’m no longer ashamed of ADHD. I own it, it’s part of me, and what makes me who I am. I’ve learned that my impulsivity allows me to have a quick wit.

I have a great sense of humor so this can benefit quite a bit. I’m honest with co-workers I trust, I tell them that I’ve struggled with ADHD my entire life.

Multiple times, I’ve had co-workers tell me they’ve also struggled with ADHD and we both commiserate and share tactics we’ve both learned. I’ve also talked with employers about accommodations for my ADHD. 

Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?

Obviously, my wife and family members know, but it’s hard to share my ADHD with people I don’t trust. The stigma is nowhere near what it used to be, but it’s still there in varying degrees. 

When I make close work relationships, I like to open up about my ADHD so they have some understanding of what it is I’m dealing with. That can make working together a little easier. 

It’s definitely not something I share openly. Only when it can come into play. My social friends don’t need to know, because they are not depending on me to do their job. 

If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?

It’s ok, everyone has their own stuff to deal with. The sooner you accept it the better off you will be and can start making a plan. There isn’t a cure, but you can live a successful life with ADHD. ADHD can be a superpower in some areas. Being able to hyper-focus on something is very useful if applied correctly.

Don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor about medication options. 

There are tons of resources available for ADHD than there used to be. I grew up in a time when there were only 2 drug options and no extended-release. Now there are dozens of different drugs, and some non-stimulant options as well. 

Figure out what about ADHD holds you back. Is it the memory? Are you bad with money? Start putting guidelines around that issue. I used to overdraw my checking account at least once a month.

It got to the point where I decided I wasn’t going to use a debit card anymore because I couldn’t remember what I purchased. This was an extreme guardrail, but it was necessary for me to start learning and developing a strategy.

Now, I use a credit card for all of my bills. I have a very low limit on it, and I pay for everything using it. Then once I get paid, I only pay my credit card and don’t have to worry about overdrawing my account. (some banks no longer have fees, so that’s an option too) 

The point is to start breaking down each issue by its root cause, and focus on what you can do extreme or not, to control that root cause. Your ally is going to be repetition and success. Focus on little wins, and snowball it. 

If you are always late for work, ask yourself what is causing me to be late? Are you waking up too late? Are you doing too much in the morning before getting ready?

Break it down to the things you need to do to get ready. If you only shower and get dressed, and you’re still late, maybe you need to get up earlier. If it’s not that straightforward, it might be beneficial to talk to your boss and confide in them about your struggles and come up with a plan.

Employers are much more likely to work with you if you acknowledge the issue. Either way, develop a strategy and keep refining it. Start somewhere. 

One last piece of advice is don’t ignore exercise. Without going into the obvious benefits of exercise, I’ve learned that it helps settle the caged animal. Every night I take both of my dogs for a walk around the block.

During that time, I listen to a podcast and forget about everything. It’s a good way to recharge and decompress after work. I also try to get to the gym before work a few times a week.

I know this is a tough one, but the days I go to the gym before work I’m a lot more productive than the days I don’t. Sports are a great way to get in exercise without it feeling like “Work” 

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?

Ha, I find this funny, because reading is probably the hardest thing for me to do with ADHD. I can’t concentrate long enough to follow along. I do listen to tons of podcasts, either about sports, or my hobbies. I love audiobooks because I can let my imagination do the work. 

Definitely check out /r/ADHD. It’s a great resource to learn and share about your experience. I’ve gained a lot of knowledge and comfort knowing that it’s not just me with struggles. It also gives me a great perspective that some folks are having a harder time than me. 

Also, the “rules for life” post on Reddit was a real help for me as well. It’s not necessarily geared for folks with ADHD, but it applies. 

Where can we go to learn more about you?

You can reach out to me on LinkedIn!

Is there anything else you think we should have asked you?

I don’t claim to be an expert, I don’t have a psychology degree. But I do know that it’s possible to be happy with ADHD. Granted, everyone’s experience with ADHD is going to be unique.

I recognize that their life experience may be totally different than mine. But I know if somebody had guided me and given me some tips when I was in 7th grade, I would have avoided a lot of struggles. 

I’ve learned being a parent with ADHD and having a child with ADHD, that I inherently learned to do things without actively trying. When my son would struggle with similar things that I struggled with, I would put my present self in that situation, and I would immediately turn to the strategies that I’ve developed over the course of my life.

14-year-old me, didn’t have the experience and struggles yet, but 40-year-old me did. That’s when I realized that for me there were a few base tenants that contribute to being happy and living with ADHD. 

  • Strategies to overcome the daily struggles; E.g. Routines, Feed the Caged Animal. 
  • Acknowledgement that you learn differently and may need help; E.g. talk to Dr, medication, confide in trusted co-workers/friends
  • Confidence in yourself to do the job. Just because you don’t learn in a straight line, doesn’t mean you can’t. That can give you the opportunity to think outside the box or bring creativity into the equation. 
  • Be open and ever-evolving. What worked today, may not work tomorrow. 

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

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Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.

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