By Tekla Luchenski
As a cis female with adult-diagnosed inattentive ADHD, I can confidently say, employment is baffling.
Employment is Baffling
Understanding adult ADHD and its effect on employment helps fit the pieces of a complex puzzle. In spite of our competencies (which are many and often stellar), how can we be blind-sided in the workplace by poor performance reviews, or even sudden job loss? Why do we feel like the ugly duckling, out of place and misunderstood by colleagues?
Our limited confidence erodes. I used to be a rockstar employee. I think I used to be a rockstar employee. I think I imagined that once, long ago, I was a rockstar employee. I hope that one day, I will find some kind of gainful work, and climb out of the lower ranks of the unemployed, or working poor. Today, I doubt it. But maybe…
At 53, I am certain about my uncertainty, and dumbfounded by my confusion.
So Much Potential…
People—parents, teachers, friends, employers—tell me I’m smart, even brilliant. I got straight A’s in school. I have a master’s degree in cultural anthropology. I taught undergraduate classes.
I still wonder what I will be when I grow up, and if I will live in a cardboard box under a bridge one day. I’m not kidding.
In January 2020, I took a huge risk. I accepted a permanent part-time job as a caregiver to a woman with dementia. That doesn’t sound like a risk, does it? For me, though, taking a job where I had to be on time, indefinitely was, and is, scary.
Academics was solitary and challenging. I loved that as a sessional lecturer, there was always an end date. I never had to learn how to interact beyond collegial and social events. I never had to fully engage, except in things I enjoyed.
However, as a contract worker, I never developed fully as an academic. There were few benefits. The pay was relatively low, and ultimately insecure.
I miss it.
A Job I Loved!
As it turned out, I loved my job as a part-time caregiver. I was attached to my client. I was good at my job. I enjoyed her family. I looked forward to my one-year anniversary as proof I could hold down a job.
Then, in January 2021, I was fired.
I am still reeling. Early in my shift, I responded to my employer’s text with an innocuous question. Annoyed and hostile, she texted it was none of my business, and that I should do as I was told, without question. I was shocked, and upset. I told her so. She berated me. Stunned, I continued my work day.
Later that afternoon, she resumed texting me, telling me I needed to remember my place and she was finished talking about it. I replied that I wasn’t okay with the way she treated me. I invited her to speak to me personally, rather than over text. She told me to leave immediately.
I left potatoes, half peeled, on the kitchen counter. My client was distraught. I couldn’t explain. I hugged her, said goodbye, and left, shaking, and tearful. I haven’t seen her since.
It Came Out of Nowhere
It’s confusing to reconcile my dedication with my employer’s hostility. Do people with ADHD seem threatening? We don’t recognize some boundaries and norms others take for granted. We offend without meaning to. There are resources to help us with our presumed deficiencies. That is great and helpful. But wait…
Although my confidence is shaken, I know my employer’s behavior was inappropriate on levels I don’t have room to discuss here. Where we have confidence, ADHD adults are steadfast and well worth the patience it takes for others to catch up to us.
Down, But Not Out
Going forward, I start by putting my feet on the floor every morning before noon. Everything after that is a bonus. I am learning adaptive strategies for employment. I find solace in my ADHD diagnosis, because it explains why others don’t understand me. I hope others with ADHD recognize themselves in my narrative.
Here’s the thing: I’m not satisfied with adapting. The more I learn about ADHD, the more I see we are not the only ones who miss out when we are judged through a dominant neuronormative lens.
Take heart in knowing your confusion in the workplace is not your deficiency. Your so-called neurodiversity gives you perspective others miss. You are innovative where they don’t perceive a problem.
I know this doesn’t help you pay bills, but it might help you to get back on track, find a job, and maybe even keep it. It’s resilient to be adaptive, to learn how to “pass” as neuronormative when it suits you. My goal is to adapt in this way, so that non-ADHD people can catch up to me/us, and perhaps collaborate to do a better job.
Wouldn’t that be nice?
Tekla Luchenski writes for small business owners, creatives, and non-profit organizations, helping people realize their dreams. Tekla also writes for mental health advocacy. She challenges stigma with frank, sometimes irreverent, and amusing stories to inform and engage readers for better mental health. Learn more and contact Tekla at WireBirdWrites.