Fellow Baby Boomers, do you remember this one?
Back in the early ’60s there was a TV sitcom about a guy in college, called “Dobie Gilllis.” His best friend was Maynard G. Krebs, a beatnik with a goatee who was always playing his bongo drums. Whenever anyone said the word “work,” Maynard would yelp “WORK??!” like he’d just been stuck by a pin.
Can you relate? I know I could.
For many if not most inattentive ADDers, the thought of having to go to an office from 9 to 5 or 9 to 6, five days a week, 50 weeks a year, and deal with co-workers and deadlines and job expectations dictated by a boss can sound totally stultifying and absolutely horrible – a recipe for misery, defeat, overwhelm, humiliation and failure. “How do people put up with that?” is what the ADDer really thinks. “How can people live like that and have any kind of life?”
Hey, I get it. I felt exactly like that.
Unfortunately, for many folks with Inattentive ADHD, years of feeling this way doesn’t result in a super-creative “off-the-grid” life. It just results in underachievement. Underachievement is such a hallmark of Inattentive ADHD that if you’re over 30, don’t have a major alcohol or substance use problem, yet aren’t accomplishing close to what your intelligence and education would say you should, Inattentive ADD should probably be the first thing you or any therapist you go to should suspect.
If you have Inattentive ADD, you may have heard for years that you’re “lazy.” You may even call yourself that. You may be very upset with yourself that you’ve barely done anything with your “potential,” and it may be a source of shame and low self-esteem.
But the problem is not laziness. If only it were that simple!
All ADDers, but especially Inattentive ADDers, have a hard time sequencing the steps to get to any goal. Meanwhile, because of the way your brain works, daydreaming about the goal satisfies the reward center in your brain almost too much, making it feel almost as though you had actually accomplished it. At the same time, acting in the real, physical world to take a step toward a goal, such as making a phone call or filling out an application, can feel almost unbearably difficult and intense. Yet settling for the structures of “ordinary” life feels horribly limiting, as though you are closing off all your options and stifling your true abilities.
The result is drifting, feeling as though you are, or soon will be, heading toward where you really should be, following that true life you have figured out in your mind, when in fact you’re not getting anywhere closer to it and haven’t for a very long time
For three years of my life some decades ago I didn’t do much more than imagine that I would start an alternative men’s magazine. I had the intelligence to create such a magazine, and I certainly had a vision, but I didn’t have anywhere near the skills to actually make it happen. Nor did I have the ability to figure out what I didn’t know, or figure out the steps I needed to take, or the confidence to raise money and gain supporters. But for three years, though I did very little to bring it about, I believed I would do it and wouldn’t give up on my dream. It still embarrasses me to write about it.
Taking stimulant medication helps, but it may not be enough. If you are someone with Inattentive ADD, see if you can gently face these problems inside yourself – the fear of being “boxed in” and having to work too much, the tendency to substitute daydreaming about what you’re going to do for actually pursuing it, the fear that your co-workers won’t like you or will be disappointed in you, and the difficulty with both figuring out and taking steps toward using your abilities. If you can’t do it alone or with the support of people in your life, you may need to get some professional help. The trouble you are going through is real. But please — don’t procrastinate this. Don’t keep thinking that you’ll“get to it.” Do it now. You have a lot to give to the world.