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Struggles With Relationships

An adult with ADHD asks:

I am almost 42 years old and I struggle so much with relationships. It seems as if my brain just shuts off and nothing will come out. I enjoy being with people but not being able to relate (just hold a simple conversation) is so hard. At times, I just have to leave because I get so nervous and fidgety that it makes every one around me feel anxious too. I really want to overcome this problem but have no idea where to start.

Michele Novotni answers:

I'm sorry to hear that you are struggling so much in the area of social relationships. However, you are not alone. In my recent book, What Does Everybody Else Know That I Don't?, I quoted a man with similar feelings. He wrote:

I wanted to tell you about how socializing is work. Most well adjusted people do their best to balance the percentage of time they spend working and relaxing or recreating. Further it is usually best not to play at work or work when you are supposed to be relaxing, that tends to ruin both activities. Most people put socializing in the "play" category; it's relaxing and recreational. People with ADD have to put out so much effort to socialize, it ends up in the "work" category. It's not relaxing at all... No wonder we're always exhausted.

Once you recognize that interpersonal relationships can and do require "work" for people with AD/HD, you may feel less anxious and frustrated.

If your expectation is that listening is hard, you are more likely to gear up to the challenge. However, if your expectation is that it should be easy, you may often find yourself frustrated and overwhelmed.

You could also benefit from learning to understand your own frustration/anxiety tolerance levels and planning ahead to not exceed your limits.

If you can only listen to a boring story for five minutes, have an excuse ready (i.e. bathroom, need something to drink, eat, call the office, etc.) or plan to think about something else until the person is finished talking. If you pre-plan your escapes you are more likely to be socially appropriate and not feel so anxious or overwhelmed.

You also may only be able to comfortably attend a get together for two hours. Plan accordingly.

You could also try finding ways to enjoy the situation more. What are your expectations? Perhaps don't try to focus on all the details of a conversation, just try to understand the basic idea.

Medication often works well to help people focus better in social situations. Unfortunately, many only use their medication for work or for academic activities leaving the social areas of their lives unsupported. Social relationships are at least equally important to the quality of life. If you take medication, make sure it's helping you during these times.

Discover what frustrates or overwhelms you most and try to pre-plan methods to meet the challenge. Try reading some books on the topic of social skills and/or conversation. If needed, seek the help of a professional counselor or coach.

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