“Normal” just doesn’t understand

It takes two to tango, but only one to stomp on the wrong toes.

Look at it from this perspective. Most people don’t really know they have ADHD until school. And even then, it probably takes a few years, (or in my case 8!) to realize the issue. So, you go through school forgetting things and being impulsive and loud and fidgety. You’re labeled as rude, annoying, unmotivated, out of control, problematic and basically just trouble. Then you discover, guess what! All of that is because your brain is broken! Yay! A reason! Now, you get to add to the list! Now, you’re a burden to your teacher, your family, the school, the system, the world….

But, you struggle through it. The bullies, the judgmental teachers, a school system made to berate you if you fail (which makes no sense. How do you learn unless you make a mistake?) And, of course your own personal self-esteem issues. Now, fast forward to graduation. Thank God, it’s finally over. No more bullies and judgmental teachers. No more fearing the next mistake you make might end your scholastic career. No more Stress!

Hey! A dreamer’s gotta dream!!

That’s right, it never ends. Because the next course in this buffet of torture is that you get a job. And you have to deal with bullies, and judgmental supervisors, a professional system that has no patience or room for your ‘personal issues’, and you get to worry that your next mistake will evidently end your career. And, God forbid you actually tell them you have ADHD. Well, now you get to add a secret label to your placard on your cubicle: Handicapped.

That’s one major problem I have with letting my employer know I have this condition. I don’t feel handicapped. I don’t think I looked handicapped and I’m pretty sure I don’t act handicapped (So help me if anyone makes a wisecrack they are getting publically shunned). Of course, it all depends on your personal definition of handicapped. For me, I typically think either physically challenged or unable to function outside of therapy and serious medications. But, then again, to some that have to deal with me daily, I might seem the spitting image of handicapped.

There lies the issue. How to manage your work/school life handicapped (sounds like a course I need to take). Of course, if you do have a physical or psychological malady, that title does not carry a sense of dread. It’s actually to your benefit. Our country has laws to protect your rights. And you have to love that about our country. Not only do we protect those with disabilities, we started the entire movement globally (A bit of bragging, I know. But my daughter will love it so…).  If you tell your instructor or employer you have a disability, they are typically supposed to do what they can to accommodate you. They find ways to make your workspace more comfortable and easier to access or work in. They alter your schedule, breaks, and assignments to what you can handle while still adhering to the needs of the company or institution. And they do all of this with the upmost respect and dignity.

No, I did not take too much Adderall today. Dreamers gotta dream!

Why is that a dream? Because, we have ADHD. And it seems to be the only disorder that is likely to get an eye roll rather than sympathy. We’ve all experienced this at one time or another. Think about it. Have you ever done something impulsive in class and the teacher scold you and then tell you not to blame it on your “issue”? How about you forgot an assignment, again, and are told you’re just irresponsible? Or have someone tell you that you can get over this “little problem” if you just put some effort into it. Or God forbid you simply are unable to manage your emotions that day and then have a moment where you simply broke. Then, you’re called “Drama”? Oh! Oh! How about the most common phrase, “Try Harder!” Yeah, me too. And it always hurts. It hurts because they have a skewed view of who you are. It’s like they’re looking at you through a dirty window and saying you’re a slob and should try harder to keep clean. But, despite it all, you inform them that you have ADHD. And that’s when you encounter discrimination at its worst. Unprovable discrimination.

If you’ve been around long enough, you’ll see your fair share of discrimination. I’ve seen quite a bit. Racial, sex, religious, medical, you name it. I’ve even been a victim of what is called ‘Reverse Discrimination’. An employee I worked with didn’t like me because I was white. The whole event still stuns me to speechlessness (Public shunning still in effect…). Of course that discrimination was obvious. Use a known racial slang, or other derogatory remark about someone’s color, or sex, or religion, and there’s no disputing that you’ve been discriminated. Just mention the evidence out loud and you’ll be able to find an attorney with ease. Just follow the salivation trail.

But for those of us with ADHD, it doesn’t work like that. As a matter of fact, everything that happens to us can also be seen in people without ADHD. And when you try to explain yourself, you get hit with our own set of slurs and offensive comments that literally can be interpreted as innocent remarks. Who hasn’t been told “stop using ADHD as an excuse”, or “you’re just not trying”. How about being called, “overly sensitive”, “hyper”, “bezerk”, “unruly”, or, my personal detestable word, “drama”. I’m talking nail-on-the-chalkboard hate being called that. (No, this is not a challenge!)

As an example, after working in my current position, it only took a few months before the same issues cropped up. The biggest was forgetting. (Seriously. You can teach me a ten step process and I will totally understand. Give me 30 seconds, three random steps simply disappear like smoke in the wind!) However, this time, I wasn’t going to hide it and I informed my manager and VP I had ADHD. Now, to their credit, they were very supportive and truly did follow through with their offer to accommodate me as needed. And because of their open door attitude and caring, I believed I had some culpability. Yes, I was “handicapped”, but that didn’t mean I could just sit here and forget things, expecting my manager to teach me seven times over until it finally stuck. That isn’t her responsibility. I decided to get on meds. And that worked. I was doing much better and began remembering things. Ask me to tell you about the day I first realized I remembered something I typically would forget. Talk about excited! Like a blind man seeing for the first time kind of excited. I was almost in tears. (I should just publicly shun myself at this point.)

However, it was almost 6 months later before I started seeing my manager acting differently with me. I could literally watch the favoritism occurring in my unit. After I informed them of my ADHD, suddenly, I was the last chosen for an assignment. She began leaning heavily on one particular specialist and he was less than thrilled. The funny thing was, he let me know constantly. It got to a point where he was the only one that was actually busy while I sat there, fully functional and capable of learning and accomplishing, but being completely and purposefully avoided. When I pointed it out, I was called “overly-sensitive” and “paranoid”. At one point I even told her she was being discriminatory. And, guess what? She called me overly – sensitive about that too.

Yes, I took it to my VP and it was addressed. However, I’m not even going to pretend it got better. Just….different. This is what I like to call “Oily Discrimination”. They treat you in a specific manner in order to either passively express their displeasure, or simply deny you the same respect and opportunities others have because they simply do not have the faith, nor the emapthy, in your capabilities. While you can definitely see the discrimination, they can easily debunk that with any of a plethora of reasons why they do what they do. And they slip right out of being forced to face that their discriminating. It becomes a He said/She said situation that you simply cannot win, because you’re the sensitive one.

And think about what happens in schools. It is very difficult for a child with ADHD to get any fair treatment no matter how many parent/teacher conferences are held. I know of one young lady that happens to be rather impulsive, and accidents happen. But, since the faculty have no patience for “her kind” (We’re a ‘kind’! It’s like a club nobody wants to join) she is accused of being a bully and punished for “other kids’ safety”.

Now that I have everyone all riled up and ready with their picket signs and marching shoes, I think it’s time to look at the solutions before I start some sort of revolution.

What does one do? A parent can only complain so many times to the heads of the school. A person can only go to the boss so many times over the same stuff. I can’t go to my VP, again, and tell her it’s not getting any better. It’s super hard to show that it’s even happening, let alone prove some sort of intent. Because every complaint always starts with, ” I feel…”. Feelings have no business in business. So, what do I do?

Well, for one thing, I have to recognize my position and my alternatives. Every action has a positive and negative reaction. I could take this to HR and escalate it further. Like a parent can go to the school board and start escalating. I could get results this way. They’ll really take me seriously now! (Which would be amazing since I hardly take myself seriously…).

But, now I’ve become a nuisance. I’m basically attacking my manager and creating strife and tension. “But Will, it’s not your fault!” No, it isn’t. But do you think they’ll see it that way? Neither do I. I’ll be to blame and even though they’ll be made to act more like a professional, a secret target would now be on my back.

I could find another job. This would be very good because now I’ll go somewhere they don’t know anything about any of these issues. A do-over if you will. All I need to do if find the right job that isn’t a step down from where I am.

If anyone thinks that’s a simple and reasonable answer, then maybe you’ve taken too much Adderall today.

Finding a job, interviewing and securing it is not what I would call a piece of cake. I have to get my resume out there.Then take interviews. And since I’m not wanting my current employer to know what I’m doing for fear of retaliation, usually in the form of FIRED!, I have to find ways to take the days I need off to get to the interview. If I were to actually find this magical employment opportunity, I’d have then transition. This typically means letting my current employer know why I’m leaving. Awkward….

Now, I’m not opposed to this. I’ll ride that magical unicorn across a rainbow walking into my new office with a better paying job and a fresh start. But, I have to consider, am I starting a trend? Is it a good idea to run away when things get hard? If you know your job has an expiration date, then I would definitely take this course of action. Otherwise, why am I running away? Things will eventually get hard at the new place too. Same issues, different faces.

I could lawyer up! This’ll get their attention! Equal Rights! Fair Treatment! Love me as I am dammit!! It might even work. Strike fear in the collective wallet. Back off and treat the ADHD the way he deserves. Or, settle and get a serious payday!

Um, let’s nip this one in the bud right now. Unless you’ve actually been fired and can PROVE discrimination, then this is as bad an idea as a billionaire becoming president. (I am so losing some friends over that). This forces their hand. You expect that they’ll fall in line for fear of litigation, but you’d be dead wrong. They have they’re own lawyers that will find a way to eliminate the threat of the overly ambitious ‘At Will Employee”. What is that you ask? It’s their fail safe. Most places hire you “At Will”, which means they can pretty much let you go because they don’t like your shoes and get away with it. And without solid evidence, you end up losing the case and your job. And you still have to pay the lawyer.

So, I’ve chosen a different path. I’ve chosen a level of tolerance. Yes, I know that I will be the last guy chosen in my department for a promotion. However, I also have other areas in my company that I can transfer. So, I wait for an opportunity. In the meantime, I manage my condition (I’m done calling it a handicap) and keep a low profile to those that do not see me for who I am and what I am worth. I cannot let them affect how I see myself. If I respect their opinion of me, I self loathe. If I get angry at it, I lash out. So,I simply consider the source. My manager isn’t happy with me because of my age, sex or condition, so be it. I have several people that love me. She isn’t the sole source of respect I will find in this life. She’s just a splinter. And I don’t believe I will let a splinter stop me from functioning.

That is the advice I give. Tolerance. And respect. They may not deserve it, but their position requires a level of it. Over time, they might actually see you for who you are. And if you take that high road, it will be to both of your benefit. Teachers can judge, but that doesn’t mean their judgment is supposed to define you. They don’t have that power. That power is within you and you alone.

We have ADHD. And we will not be ashamed of that. Why should we? We make life so much more interesting!


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Born and raised in San Diego, California, I achieved a degree in Film and Television and currently work IT for a large corporation. Spends most of my time with my three children creating short films.

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