I want to start out by saying this is deeply personal and important for me to talk about. I decided that with May being Mental Health Awareness Month that the timing is right. I’ve felt very lucky to hear from a few people telling me about how my blog has made them want to get into mobility. This is sort of a sequel to a huge article of mine about my growth in my mobility career. Today, we are going to talk about a few of the aspects of my illness and how they have effected my career/how I cope with my symptoms.
My Thoughts on ADHD
Back in the 80s, many doctors wanted to put everyone on Ritalin. I was never told by my family that I had ADHD and didn’t even discover that I have ADHD until I was cleaning my room and moving in with my soon-to-be wife. I can’t blame the decision as the science was still very newish and people were unsure. A few years later when I was working at BlackBerry I started to fall asleep on the way home from work, which made me realize something was off. After some testing, I learned definitively of my diagnosis and ended up starting to take Ritalin anyway
ADHD is terrifying the more you read about it. I’ve heard/read about some people who can’t even work directly with others. Some people even claim that ADHD is similar to Autism, which I vehemently disagree with. The reality about ADHD is that the symptoms vary by the person. Some of us handle things really well, but others don’t like so many diseases. I would come to learn that I was falling asleep on the way home because my brain has to work twice as hard when looking at text files e.g. logs. It’s terrifying, but I could totally grasp the logic behind it. Let’s talk about some of my symptoms and how I handle them.
Dealing with My Focusing Issues
One of my main issues is around focusing, which can be very problematic in IT. Most normal people can tune out the noise that is around them. In a normal situation, you can be working on something and give it your undivided attention.
When you have ADHD, your mind wanders, you notice everything, and it’s hard to focus on a singular task. It’s not dissimilar to our dog friend below. You’re doing your thing and your mind gets cluttered so easily.
The Good Things about Focusing Issues
One of the focal points about this article is that people with mental health issues can turn their symptoms into strengths. I strongly feel that every coin has two sides. The only way that we remove the stigma from mental health issues is by trying to flip the script!
Being a wanderer has been great for me. My mind is like HTTP/2. I’m able to have my mind working on multiple threads at the same time:
- When working on issues, I can see everything around the issue. I often notice adjacent issues or instability that most people wouldn’t notice because they have nothing to do with the issue at hand.
- My mind tends to work on 2-3 issues at a time, which gives me a huge boost in efficiency that many do not have.
The Struggle with Focusing Issues
It’s hard to know if the pros outweight the cons on ADHD focusing issues. I think it largely has to do with empowerment and having peers/managers who can really respect how your mind functions. When your mind functions like mine does, you often change directions constantly and can be really hard to follow.
My mind is sort of like a rubix cube. I’m constantly going in different directions, making connections that normal people don’t that make me segue quickly. One of the biggest problems with ADHD is that we are the epitome of the misunderstood. People often use derogatory terms like scatter-brained and think we’re basically the tasmanian devil.
Factually, we are constantly finding links and we get excited about connections between things and start coming up with ideas and switch directions on a dime. It is incredibly hard to understand when you don’t have ADHD. Let’s talk about some of the things you can do to mitigate this behavior (if you choose to).
Thoughts on Mitigating Focusing Issues
One of the best pieces of advice that I can give on mitigating focusing issues is using a notebook or a tablet to jot down your thoughts in meetings/when talking to others. It’s crucial to be as self-aware as possible. It’s very hard to realize that people don’t operate like you do. No one is ever going to really understand what it’s like. We need to do the best we can to make our delivery as human-friendly as possible.
I really like the concept of mindmapping to make sense of what is going on in my mind. Diagramming and drawing out what I’m trying to do and the connections that I am making is really helpful. Sometimes it can also be a good way to show how you got to some of your conclusions when others are confused by your unique thought process.
The Social Challenges of ADHD
There is no larger issue with ADHD than our social challenges. It would take at least two hands to show the problematic situations I have found myself in because of ADHD. Socially, we have several problems:
- I don’t know when people stop talking
- Highly excitable
- Zero filter
- Excessive talking
- Often talking without thinking it over properly first
I don’t believe in putting lipstick on a pig by any means. I’ve had a very tough life professionally because my social challenges with ADHD, but I’ve been lucky that I can interact with people at all because many cannot. People will inevitably think you are many things with few of them good.
Trying to Smooth Our ADHD Edge in Social Situations
Our social interactions are probably a majority of the reason that ADHD gets such a bad rap. It can really be a mixed bag especially with how political IT has become with downsizing, layoffs, etc. Some people will appreciate how honest you are. People like us are usually seen as fairly genuine and passionate.
Smoothing out our edges are VERY hard. One of the things that works well is having an honest dialogue with your manager about your challenges. A good manager that has your back operates as a great buffer to take the edge off. I’ve found over the years that being self-aware is your best tool. You can “try” to coach yourself to pay extra attention and try to make sure you think before talking, but that isn’t always going to work. For me, the main focus is trying to be consistent and doing the right thing. Building a good reputation helps people look past minor mistakes to know you have good intentions.
Building a good reputation helps people look past minor mistakes to know you have good intentions.
My Struggles with Retaining Information
Similar to earlier when I discussed focusing, retaining information is a major problem. Historically, school was always very difficult for me. Growing up, they didn’t have the help that my kids do today. I fought my way through to a high school diploma and eventually to an online bachelors degree. It’s not about how you start, but about how you finish.
I’ve never been able to read and retain information. I haven’t read a book for pleasure for 30 years for this exact reason. When your mind wanders all over the place, it’s near impossible to retain information. Ironically, it’s why I started a blog after VMworld 2017. Let’s talk about what I have done to learn how to remember things.
How I Retain Information
I’ve found that two things work for retaining information: (1) physically doing things and (2) writing/documenting things. Coming up with creative ways to ingrain information into your mind is very tricky when you have ADHD. This is part of the reason why people struggle to advance and develop. Even today, companies don’t do a great job providing training mechanisms that work well for people with mental illness.
Simply, there is only way to overcome these challenges. You need to drive the change you want to see in yourself. I put in extensive time tinkering, testing, learning, and pushing the boundaries of End User Computing to be successful. Companies do not understand our mental health issues and likely won’t have the appetite to support our challenges. Drive, passion, and dedication can bridge the gaps and make a difference between being an engineer and a disruptor.
Keeping our Energy in Check
The final thing that I wanted to discuss is this abundance of energy we have. This so-called nervous energy is really tough to deal with. It’s important to remember to deal with things constructively. Sometimes people with ADHD will get themselves into trouble because of their restlessness. Some of the things that I have done in my career that were stupid and reckless because of this are:
- Oversharing with people about the wrong things
- Trusting the wrong people and talking things through
- Getting myself overly involved in things that are unnecessary
- Making impulsive decisions out of boredom
- Changing jobs too frequently because boredom and impatience
I’m not sure that there is much you can do to save yourself from yourself. The one thing you can do is find a good sounding board. It’s hard because in IT there are so many people you cannot trust. If you can find that right person, keep them close. I believe that anyone with ADHD needs that special person they can trust to keep them honest and help them make the right choices. It’s incredibly hard with how fast we move, but if we can remind ourselves of what’s really important in our lives it can help.
Normally, I would write about my final thoughts here, but enjoy this video about what mental health awareness means to me.