Inside My ADHD (Redux)

I’ve spoken at length about my ADHD and how it impacts my life, but I’ve recently had a bit of a realization (read: I realized something that should have been obvious to me years ago) that threw me through a loop and now has me revisiting my thoughts and approach to my life long companion.

Throughout my life, I’ve primarily focused on two ways that my ADHD affects me. While it’s reductive, when it comes to overcoming my own wiring I’ve always channeled my efforts on two major challenges: my ability to focus on just about anything and my ability to interact with just about anyone. Two weeks ago I listened to a conversation between Brett Terpstra and Mike Rose about how empathy impacts our relationships. The conversation struck a chord and I decided to reach out to Mike. He suggested I read David Finch’s book, “The Journal of Best Practices” a chronicle of his journey to overcome his Aspbergers to save his marriage. I’ve found myself spiraling ever since.

While also reductive, David’s book focuses a lot of energy on his non-existent empathy, the resulting egocentrism that came from it and the ways it was eating at the most important relationships in his life. I deeply recognized this in myself. While my marriage is on better footing than where David’s was at the start of his book, it forced me to face a potential reality that, in hindsight, seems so obvious: my ADHD isn’t only impacting my focus and my social skills. It plays a massive role in my emotional responses, particularly when it comes to my stunted sense of empathy.

After doing the requisite amount of online research that comes with freaking yourself out, I learned two things that terrified me even more: lack of empathy is not related to ADHD. There are, however, some cases in which ADHD itself is tangentially related to Aspbergers. This obviously led me to the first and only question that would occur to an egocentric person: “Holy shit! Do I have some mild form of Aspbergers?!?”

Some level of self-awareness and several hours of online research had me convinced that this was not the case. However I couldn’t shake the idea that my relationship with empathy was somehow directly tied to my ADHD. David’s experience wasn’t just something I related to, it was I immediately knew to be true. Not only does my ADHD impact my focus and social skills, but now I’ve started obsessing on how it is driving my emotional responses.

Now the idea that my ADHD drives many of my emotional responses may sound obvious, but I always assumed that my naturally low empathy was more of a reaction to my early years of social struggle than a symptom of my crossed wiring. But like many obvious things that you missed for some 32 years, once they’re pointed out to you, you tend to obsess. So this obvious revelation/new obsession led me to do two things that I have not done or even considered in over 15 years: see a specialist and keep an open mind to regarding my reluctance to use ADHD medication.

Why the sudden change? In my younger years, I spent quite a bit of time learning to overcome the social aspects of my ADHD. While proper interactions many take for granted (when to talk, when not to, how not to cut people off, how loud to talk, noticing basic social cues) will always be a struggle, I’ve either learned to overcome or mitigate these over the years. When it comes to my lack of focus, I’ve spent the past few years strengthening muscles and building the right foundation to help me get more done. When it comes to how this is affecting my emotional responses, I’m lost. I feel as if I need help identifying exactly what parts of my unusual response to perfectly normal circumstances is caused by my wiring.

For example, when your primary response to a book about a man who would stop at nothing to overcome his Aspergers to be a better father and husband isn’t “how can I be a better husband and father?” but rather, “wow, I wonder how my ADHD is impacting my emotional responses and can’t help but wonder if I have some mild form of Aspergers myself,” you may want to seek help.

Rather than continue to slowly unravel, I decided to speak to someone. It helped me realize two things, one that I already knew by the time I walked into his office. 1) I don’t have Aspergers and 2) my inclination towards impulsivity is almost certainly having an impact on my empathetic responses.

So even though it took a random conversation between Brett and Mike, which led to a conversation with Mike that took me to a book by David to realize something that should have been apparent to me years ago, I’m starting to get a feeling for what I’m dealing with and am keeping an open mind as to the best possible way(s) to deal with it in light of new revelations.

I’m just getting started and will certainly follow up for the two of you who find this ADHD stuff interesting, but in the meantime, the moral of this little tale is to always keep an open mind that you may not have realized something obvious about yourself. And in the case that you do and it throws you for a loop, deal with it rather than letting it fester. Not only will it save your own sanity, but your wife and kids will thank you for it (if you have things like those).

What do you do when you get thrown for a loop?

5 Responses to Inside My ADHD (Redux)

  1. This is a hell of a post, Michael. I sure appreciate your openness to talk through these realizations and explorations.

    As for what do I when I get thrown for a loop? That’s easy: I email Michael Schechter.

    OK. But there are some occasions when I have to confront issues on my own. My first response, as you can guess is to be filled with shame and regret. I tend to feel that I’ve made an unrecoverable mess at first. But after that phase, I try to step back from the issue at the moment and think through my patterns and whether I’m just repeating an old pattern that no longer serves me. (This was definitely true in relationships, where I tended to run away after about 1-2 years, over and over again.) Once I see a problematic pattern, then begins the hard as hell work of changing that pattern. It usually involves: therapy, a few shots of bourbon, talking to some trusted friends, more therapy, writing a novel, and the capacity to be okay with myself making very small steps of progress. 

    I know I’m being a bit vague here, but I need more time to think through this in more detail. In any case, thank you for sharing this kind of thing here. It’s honestly my favorite kind of post. And I dig all your posts….

  2. Michael, go read this book http://www.drhallowell.com/books/delivered-from-distraction-getting-the-most-out-of-life-with-attention-deficit-disorder/ and start experimenting with natural supplements and your diet (I find that I do better and feel better when I am mostly – 95% – gluten-free) and your lifestyle before you start with any prescription meds. For me, a B-complex, fish oil, vitamin d and grapeseed extract are a pretty good regimen for managing focus. Also, working in bursts, meditation and smoking were useful behavioral modifiers. I have quit smoking recently, so I have had to find new certainty anchors, but overall I’m doing okay.

    I took Stratera for for a while and, while it did have a massive effect on enabling me to sit still and get work done, it also had interesting and frustrating side effects.

    • I’ve read some of Hallowell’s stuff (Driven to Distraction was one of the most helpful books I ever read on the subject) so will do. I actually got so distracted once that I lost the book… Appreciate the guidance on the lifestyle suggestions as well good sir!

  3. […] Then there is this dude Michael Schechter (bettermess.com). He is a fellow geek. But he’s experiencing some new insights lately. He still talks about the way he uses apps and tools and workflows like he always does. But something else is going on. He is going through some realizations about ADHD and his goals in life and what he wants to do and who he wants to be. I remember he used to make offhand references to ADHD, but in a jokey sort of way. Now he is turning things over more thoroughly. He dedicates whole post to the personal things he’s going through — whether they are about ADHD or about where he is focusing his attention in life. His geeky workflow posts are the ones he is probably most famous for in the geek community — and they are good — but these from-the-heart posts are another big part of who he is and I appreciate that he isn’t scared to post those either. Example post from his blog: Inside my ADHD (Redux) […]

  4. […] shared on the site and during my interview with David, this book hit me hard. It actually led me back to therapy and forced me to completely reexamine the way my ADHD was impacting my marria…. Which, come to think of it, is a really bad way to explain just how much I think most of you would […]

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