The Hidden Cross of ADHD

Quick post before I go to work.  I work at a supermarket deli with a boy I’ll call Steve.  He’s extremely hard to work with–rushes around all the time, making funny faces and talking constantly and singing at the top of his lungs, making unfortunate jokes, telling everyone what to do.  The hardest part is that he never gets anything done himself.  He’s extremely obnoxious and slows everyone down, and he can’t understand why nobody likes him.  He’ll charge in and order everyone around, start doing some simple task, then immediately get distracted by three other things.  He’ll stop what he’s doing to answer the phone call you were about to pick up.  At the end of the day, he’s complaining how exhausted he is from working so hard, and he certainly has been running around all day–he’s not lazy–but somehow he’s gotten nothing done, and everyone else has to pick up his slack.

Even the nice people can hardly deal with Steve.  I’m one of the ones who’s nicest to him, and I’ve still lost my temper with him many, many times.  Until the other day, when it suddenly occurred to me: Steve has ADHD.  He’s not stupid, and he’s not lazy; he just can’t keep his mouth quiet and his mind and body still enough to complete a single thing.  And here I am, treating him like a jerk, when it’s not really his fault.

I work with a lot of people with various disabilities, and with most of them it’s easy enough to tell, from their slow speech or their facial structure, that they have mental problems.  But when a person has a disability like ADHD, it’s easy to mistake his symptoms for character flaws.  These people have a hidden cross: they have an excuse for being hard to live with, but it’s not very evident, so they get judged unfairly.  I’m ashamed of myself for not seeing it sooner, since I have a close friend with ADHD and I should have seen the signs earlier.  I’m resolving to be more aware, in the future, that many more of my co-workers may have hidden crosses like this.

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One last note, about ADHD: the friend I mentioned above was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, and it was literally life-changing.  I was reluctant to accept the diagnosis, because I grew up in an era when classroom diagnosis of ADHD was rampant and lots of kids were medicated unnecessarily.  But I learned that ADHD is not just some trendy diagnosis-du-jour, but something that can really drag down an otherwise intelligent, creative, and hard-working person.  It makes you look like an unaccomplished person who can never see things through, when in reality you’re working as hard as you can.  It makes you doubt your self-worth, and blame yourself for your failures instead of blaming your disability.  And it can be very hard for other people to recognize, because it doesn’t always fit the stereotype of the hyperactive little boy; often it is characterized as the “innattentive” type, which doesn’t involve hyperactivity at all.  I’d encourage everyone to read a book that opened my eyes to the reality of ADHD: Driven to Distraction by Edward Hallowell and John Ratey.  There’s also an extremely helpful book by Melissa Orlov, The ADHD Effect on Marriage, which despite the title can be a good guide for friends and relatives, not just spouses.

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2 thoughts on “The Hidden Cross of ADHD

  1. Great blog and I hope it will help someone, because there are adults out there that have undiagnosed ADHD. I had a friend at church a few years back. He was a professional guy (well-paid consultant in DC), full of energy, 6 kids. Sounds likes he had a lot common with Steve. My friend, call him Ted, was a bright, hard-working guy but he keep being fired. Ted had lots to offer in our active and wonderful parish, but most people didn’t want to work with him. When Ted’s son was diagnosed with ADHD–Ted was as well. An absolute revelation. Changed his life, not only in his behavior, his marriage, but in his self-esteem as well.

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    • Thank you! I’ve heard a lot of stories like that–people who didn’t get diagnosed until their kids did. I think most people think of ADHD as a hyper little boy’s problem, not something that adults also deal with.

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