Leave Me Alone!

crowd

A woman asks:

“I’m a 48-year-old married woman and I have trouble being around large crowds. I would rather be alone, and there are times that I don’t answer the door if people—even my children—visit.”

Michele answers:

You say that you have a lot of trouble being around large crowds but I’m not sure if that is because of ADD-related difficulties such as inattention, hyperactivity or impulsivity or something else. If ADHD characteristics are in the way of your social relationships, then you could have unlocked a big piece of understanding yourself better. If you do struggle in those areas and that is what makes it difficult for you to socialize with others, I recommend an evaluation with a professional who specializes in diagnosis and treatment of ADHD.

However, you also said that you lack desire for even one-to-one contact with your spouse or children. Sometimes people with ADHD are so used up trying to cope with the stresses of everyday life that they need extra quiet/alone time and sometimes avoid social contacts. However, it could also be that you have something else going on.

Just because you have ADHD that doesn’t mean that you can’t also have something else (like depression, anxiety, etc.) going on and if you have something else, that doesn’t mean that you also can’t have ADHD. When you have more that one difficulty at the same time, we call that comorbidity. Professionals would not view your behavior as stupid or selfish as you fear, but rather as an indication that there is a problem.

I recommend that you seek out the help of a psychologist to help you understand your behavior whether ADHD related or not and to help you develop strategies to change. I wish you well in gaining a better understanding of yourself and overcoming the obstacles to connecting to the important people in your life!

Eye Contact

Some one asks:

“I am 54 and was recently diagnosed with ADD. My problem is that I’m unable to look people in the eye when I talk to them. How can I improve this character flaw?”

Michele answers:

eye contactMany people have difficulties with eye contact, which is not a character flaw, but rather learned behavior. To learn how to establish better eye contact practice with people who you feel are safe and not likely to criticize you. Tell them what you are working on and ask them to give you feedback for short periods of time. Gradually improve your eye contact by prompting yourself to look at others whenever you are talking. It will help cue you to look at the person. Later, you can add looking at them while they talk.

Maintaining steady eye contact is different. You may look away now and then but try to aim for no more than about 25% of the time. If you begin the feel uncomfortable emotionally as you increase your eye contact, you may want to see a psychologist/counselor for emotional support.

Falling out of touch

How you can restore friendships that really matter.

Are you missing old friends—people you once loved to talk to and spend time with, but with whom you’ve lost touch? What went wrong? Maybe they moved away. Maybe your interests diverged. Or maybe you said or did something that drove them away. (That’s not unheard-of for folks with
ADHD.)

Wouldn’t it be great if you could resurrect relationships that used to sustain you? Well, I’m here to tell you that you can. All you need is a do-over.

Let me explain. Not long ago, I was walking by a school playground and stopped to watch four girls who were playing kickball. One of the girls, shorter than the others and sporting messy pigtails, gave the ball such a mighty kick that she fell down from the effort… but the ball rolled only a few pitiful feet. She got up and, without missing a beat, said, “I need a do-over.”

The other girls quickly assessed the situation and agreed. And so she got a second chance, this time with better results. The girl certainly looked happy as she ran to first base. So did her playmates.

As I continued on my way, I realized that the do-over is a powerful tool — one with applications that go far beyond childhood games. A do-over can fix all sorts of sticky social situations — including those involving close friends and family members. Of course, the sad truth is that, as we get older, we are less inclined to ask for, or grant, do-overs. And so a minor misstep — perhaps something as simple as making a careless remark or forgetting a birthday — puts a chill into even our most treasured relationships.

If neither party makes an effort to ask the other what’s wrong, the chill turns into a deep-freeze. No more calls or e-mails, no more getting together. In this way, we get cut off from countless wonderful experiences. What a shame!

It’s no secret that ADHD can complicate relationships. Unfiltered words, missed social cues, forgetfulness, quickness to anger, and other problems can offend others and make them think that you don’t care. Perhaps you could benefit from putting the past behind you and forgiving a friend. Perhaps you need to ask someone else to get over her own bad feelings and give you another chance. Perhaps it’s a little of both. Whatever the specifics, I invite you to begin the new year by trying a do-over. Here’s how:

Four quick steps that will help you reconnect with old friends.

  1. Name a person you used to enjoy spending time with but from whom you are now estranged.
  2. Ask yourself what caused the estrangement. Did you have a fight? Did you drift apart? Did the other person stop returning your calls or e-mails? Was the other person always “too busy” to get together? You may not even know what happened—that’s OK.
  3. Ask yourself how you feel about the demise of the relationship. Do you still miss spending time with the other person? Are you angry? Hurt? Confused?
  4. Make a phone call or write an e-mail or letter. Tell the person that you miss him or her. Ask if it might be possible to get together to talk about the relationship. You could write something like, “I want to see if there is any way for us to be friends again. I never meant to hurt you. If I did, I am sorry. You are important to me, and I miss you. If you would like to see if our friendship can be restored, please call me, so we can get together to talk. If not, I’ll be disappointed, but I’ll respect your wishes.”

You may decide that it is not worth the investment of time and energy to reconnect. But even if that’s the case, do your best to let go of any negative emotion you feel when you think about the lost relationships — whether it’s anger, sadness, or simply regret.

Writing in a journal is a great way to let go of negative emotion. So is visual imagery. For example, imagine attaching your feelings to balloons and watching them float up into the sky. Or imagine smashing some dishes.

In the spirit of the new year, see if you can reestablish at least one relationship. Consider making a phone call or writing an e-mail or letter telling the person that you miss him or her. Ask if it might be possible to get together to talk about the relationship.

If it’s possible that you did something to hurt the other person, offer an apology. Maybe you’ll be rebuffed—or maybe you’ll find that your old friend is just as eager as you are to reconnect. You never know until you try.

This article comes from the December 2006 / January 2007 issue of ADDitude. To read this issue of ADDitude in full,  purchase the back issue and SUBSCRIBE NOW to ensure you don’t miss a single issue.Copyright © 1998 – 2007 New Hope Media LLC. All rights reserved. Your use of this site is governed by our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. ADDitude does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this web site is provided for educational purposes only. Additional information, click here

New Hope Media, 39 W. 37th Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10018

Avoiding Fights on the Job

Find yourself quarreling with colleagues?

Follow these ground rules for getting along with others.

  • Always look for win-win ideas.
  • Make sure the proposals you offer and the positions you take are in alignment with the company’s values and priorities.
  • Before proposing a potentially controversial idea at a large meeting, test the waters by meeting in advance with some of the attendees.
  • State your position calmly and clearly. It may be helpful to break down your position into bullet points.
  • Stick to the facts so as to avoid becoming emotional. ADDers sometimes lose their jobs after making inappropriate comments in the heat of the moment.
  • If you get angry, “reset” your emotions with a 30-minute break. Do something unrelated to the situation that caused your anger.
This article is republished from Additude magazine.
Click here to subscribe to ADDitude.
Copyright © 1998 – 2007 New Hope Media LLC. All rights reserved. Your use of this site is governed by our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. ADDitude does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this web site is provided for educational purposes only. Additional information, click here

New Hope Media, 39 W. 37th Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10018

Playmates and Friends

A mother asks:

“I have a son with ADHD who is 9 years old. He prefers to play with girls instead of boys. He seems to fight with boys and act as a caretaker for girls. Is this another symptom of his condition?”

Michele answers:

AD/HD does not in itself cause children to be drawn to interact with the opposite sex. However, it could be that your son has found more acceptance and nurturing with girls than he finds with boys. There are often gender differences in the way children react to differences with boys often turning to aggression and girls more often being more nurturing. This is not true in all cases. Perhaps he has just found people he likes who like him and they happen to be girls. For many with AD/HD, finding anyone who likes them is a wonderful gift!

Conversational Difficulties in Adults

Q:

“I’m 42, single, have no children, and live alone. Because I have had difficulty with conversations most of my life, I am shunned by family members and co-workers. What can I do?”

Michele answers:

Sometimes it is not what we say, but the way we say it that matters most. Personally I would prefer a world where being right was all that mattered, but that isn’t the world we live in. From your email, it seems like you need to refine the art of social interaction. It also sounds like you don’t know what social errors you are making, so you don’t know how to improve.

I recommend that you consider using the Social Skill Checklist in the back of What Does Everybody Else Know that I Don’t? (Specialty Press, 1999). You can fill out the checklist and ask others to also fill out the checklists to help identify your social strengths and areas that need improvement. The checklist should provide a safe manner of obtaining feedback that others might not usually give.

Another strategy is to ask others directly what you could do to improve your conversations and social interactions. Common ADHD social errors can include:

  • interrupting
  • talking too much
  • talking too fast
  • going off track
  • not paying attention
  • not maintaining balance in relationships
  • impulsively blurting out words that would be better left unsaid
  • not being reliable, and
  • inappropriate body language.

Once you have identified the social errors you are making, you will be able to work on learning different methods of interacting that facilitate connection rather than alienation. You may find help learning the new skills through reading the book, through coaching sessions, or with a therapist trained in social skill acquisition for those with ADHD. Fortunately, there are specific skills that you can learn to improve the social connections in your life!

How to Stop Defeatist Thinking

Five proven expert strategies for battling ADD-related defeatism and negative thinking.

Depression is common among people with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD). In fact, people with ADD are three times more likely than non-ADDers to be depressed. It’s easy to understand why; you’re unlikely to feel good about yourself if forgetfulness and disorganization cause you to feel less than competent at home or work.

But why does poor self-esteem continue to plague ADDers even after their ADHD has been treated? To answer that question, let’s go back to the mid-1960s, when University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman conducted pioneering research on a psychological condition now known as “learned helplessness.”

Seligman trained a group of dogs to associate a particular sound with an impending electrical shock. Initially, the dogs were restrained, so, even though they knew a shock was coming, there was no way to avoid it. (Thank goodness such cruelty is now out of vogue!) Later, even though their restraints had been removed, the dogs did nothing to avoid the shock. They had been convinced that it was unavoidable. In other words, they had learned to be helpless.

ADDers are not dogs, obviously. But many ADDers — particularly those whose diagnosis comes late in life — exhibit learned helplessness. They’ve spent so many years failing to live up to their potential, at work, at home, and in their personal relationships, that they assume they always will fail.

That was certainly true for my client Mike, who worked in sales. For years, he had been told that he was not working up to his potential. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t set priorities or keep up with paperwork, and he missed meetings. He was afraid he would lose his job. Even after beginning treatment for ADHD, he just knew that he would continue to fail.

Mike was experiencing learned helplessness. So I urged him to talk to a physician about antidepressant medication (often a good option for severely depressed people) and suggested a few strategies to help him cast off his chronic pessimism. Here they are:

Stop negative thinking.

Mistaken beliefs about yourself are major contributors to depression. Stop beating yourself up with thoughts like, “I’m a failure” or “Things will never change.” How do you do that?

Each time you think ill of yourself, try to  replace the negative thought with one or more positive thoughts. Sit down for a few minutes and take inventory of your strong points. Are you unusually creative? Are you a good storyteller? Can you make a yummy apple pie? Jot down everything you can think of on an index card, and carry it with you in your wallet or purse.

Choose friends carefully.

Spend more time with people who are supportive and encouraging. Do your best to avoid “toxic” people.

Get more exercise.

Physical activity fights depression by boosting levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Exercise for at least 15 minutes, three times a week (ideally, you’ll get 30
minutes of exercise, five days a week).

Seek the sunlight.

Spending 15 minutes in direct sunlight can have a big impact on your mood.

Don’t wait to celebrate.

Give yourself a pat on the back for any progress toward your goals. Invite a friend to dinner. Get a massage. Pick up a new DVD.

Mike is no longer depressed. His office is organized, and he is on time
for meetings. He no longer worries about getting fired; recently, he was
publicly recognized for his outstanding achievements at work. All this
came about because he had the courage to believe that success was possible.

Are you depressed? Be like Mike!

This article comes from the April/May 2007 issue of ADDitude magazine. To read this issue of ADDitude in full, purchase the back issue and SUBSCRIBE NOW to ensure you don’t miss a single issue.
Copyright © 1998 – 2007 New Hope Media LLC. All rights reserved. Your use of this site is governed by our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. ADDitude does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this web site is provided for educational purposes only. See additional information here.
New Hope Media, 39 W. 37th Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10018

Conversational Difficulties

SW in NJ asks:

I’m 42, single, no children, and live alone. Because I have difficulty with conversations most of my life, I am shunned by family members and coworkers. My opinions don’t seem to count, though many times people say, “I should have listened to you.” What do I do next?

Michele Novotni answers:

Sometimes it is not what we say, but the way we say it that matters most. Personally I would prefer a world where being right was all that mattered, but that isn’t the world we live in. From your email, it seems like you need to refine the art of social interaction. It also sounds like you don’t know what social errors you are making, so you don’t know how to improve.

I recommend that you consider using the Social Skill Checklist in the back of my book What Does Everybody Else Know That I Don’t?. Fill out the checklist yourself and also ask others you trust to do the same to help identify your social strengths and areas that need improvement. The checklist should provide a safe manner of obtaining feedback that others might not usually give.

Another strategy is to ask others directly what you could do to improve your conversations and social interactions. Common AD/HD social errors can include

  • interrupting,
  • talking too much,
  • talking too fast,
  • going off track,
  • not paying attention,
  • not maintaining balance in relationships,
  • impulsively blurting out words that would be much better left unsaid,
  • not being reliable,
  • inappropriate body language, etc.
Sometimes it is not what we say, but the way we say it that matters most.

Once you have identified the social errors you are making, you will be able to work on learning different methods of interacting that facilitate connection rather than alienation.

You may find help learning the new skills through reading the book, through coaching sessions, or with a therapist trained in social skill acquisition for those with AD/HD. Fortunately, there are specific skills that you can learn to improve the social connections in your life!

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.

Stop Procrastinating! ADHD Time Management Strategies

Simple ADHD time management tips and strategies to procrastinate less at home and on the job.

We all procrastinate. Unfortunately, folks with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD) procrastinate more than others. Although it seems harmless, procrastination causes conflict in personal and professional relationships. When we fail to complete tasks on time, others see this as a sign of disrespect, incompetence, or laziness. To change this habit, realize that procrastination is a purposeful behavior. It lets us avoid doing something we would rather not do. And it works — for a while.

Photo credit: jdurham from morguefile.com

Because procrastination is essentially a mind-set, cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques can help even chronic procrastinators break the habit. If you’ve been putting something off for days (or months), focus and try the following ADHD time management tips:

1. Do something pleasant first

Once your interest is piqued, it’s easy to apply that positive involvement to the task at hand. Rather than follow traditional behavior-management cues and reward successful behavior after the fact, many people with ADHD find it helpful to do something they love first, to “light up” the brain. After that, it’s easier to move on to less enjoyable tasks.

For my clients, these pleasant activities have included basketball, computer games, dancing – even taking a bubble bath. (Set a timer for 20 minutes to make sure you don’t get so absorbed in the pleasant task that you forget to do the necessary one.) Any stimulating activity you love will work.

Photo credit: earl53 from morguefile.com

2. Create the right work environment

People who have ADHD often function best amid unconventional surroundings. Experiment to find your best working environment. Instead of wearing earplugs to ensure silence, for example, you may find that you’re more productive when listening to loud music. If you use ADHD medication, it’s generally best to schedule difficult tasks for times when your symptoms are fully covered.

One of my clients knew that she worked best under pressure. Unfortunately, this meant she’d begin to work on projects only the day before they were due, no matter how involved the task. She’d either turn her work in late or exhaust herself by pulling all-nighters. We solved this problem by having her set her own deadlines for completing portions of the project. This way, she could still work under pressure to finish each portion “on time” – and would have the entire project completed by the actual deadline.

Photp: vicky53 from morguefile.com

Photp: vicky53 from morguefile.com

3. Eliminate negative self-talk

What we silently say to ourselves about doing the task at hand has a strong impact on how (or whether) we do it. People with AD/HD tend to beat themselves up by playing and replaying negative messages in their minds.

Instead, try telling yourself positive, but realistic, messages – and see what happens. Once you replace “This will take forever, and it’s so late already… ” with “I might not be able to finish this today, but I can do the first two steps within the next 30 minutes,” you’ll see that it is easier to begin.

The messages you send yourself when you complete something on time can also be powerful deterrents to future procrastination. Procrastinators are used to feeling guilty about missing appointments and deadlines and turning in work that doesn’t measure up to their ability – and they don’t enjoy that feeling. Once you begin experiencing the relief you feel after finishing something well, it will be hard to go back to the guilt.

4. Just get started

Merely to start a task – even if it’s started poorly – makes it easier to follow through. Next time you find yourself avoiding something, take a “first sloppy step.” If you need to write something, for example, start by typing random letters on the page. It is gibberish, but at least you will no longer be looking at a blank page.

Photo credit: sssh221 from morguefile.com

5. Take one step at a time

Break large tasks into pieces. One of my clients came to me several months after her wedding, worried because she still hadn’t sent out thank-you cards for her gifts. She felt guiltier about it by the day, and she was approaching the problem by thinking she had to find a block of time when she could sit down and write 150 cards. I gave her “permission” to write and mail only five cards a day until she was finished. This helped her begin – and, eventually, finish – the task.

If a project can’t be completed piecemeal over several days, keep up your momentum by focusing only on the next doable step. Write this step on a sticky note and post it within your line of sight. Put on your blinders, and focus on this rather than on the task as a whole. When that’s done, move on to the next step in the same manner. Before you know it, you’ll be done.

This article is published by permission from ADDitude Magazine ©2006. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited. Subscribe to ADDitude online or via toll-free phone 888-762-8475.

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