In 2016 I was diagnosed with adult-onset Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, with inattentive symptoms commonly called ADD. It was a roller coaster of emotions for me when I got the diagnosis.
I was thirty-two years old with a professional job working as a software engineer; it was also the first time I had ever worked in an office setting with a group of professionals. I had spent most of my career in food service, working as a chef, where I would make mistakes, but it was just part of the job.
It became apparent to me I was very different than my peers, I could not focus for long periods, I would miss important details, or I could spend an entire eight hour day and get three or four hours of work done. All of these issues came to a head in late 2016; when I went to the doctor and explained, I seemed to have problems focusing at work. A series of questions and an evaluation by a mental health professional later, and I was getting told I had what I considered a child’s disease. I was raised by parents much older, and this sort of condition was considered kids who needed extra discipline when I grew up.
I had dyslexia (mild) as a kid, and occasionally it still causes me issues; I most commonly swap “A” and “E” in words, or accidentally capitalize the first two letters instead of one. I overcame my dyslexia as a kid with the help of a teacher who understood the challenges. Looking back, since I am displaying the “inattentive” type of ADHD, I likely had it as a child.
I would just not do work at school; instead, I would write stories or think up wild fantasy worlds. I would work on things that interested me at the moment instead of assigned work. I got a lot of failing grades as a kid, but I was well-read, had a high IQ, and thanks to overcoming my dyslexia, I could read at a college level by the time I was in my fifth-grade year.
Fast forward to 2016; I am sitting at work after getting the diagnosis looking around. It occurred to me I was going to lose my job because no one could ever overcome this condition as an adult and hold a high demand intellectual career. The place I was working had high standards and expectations of everyone that worked there, you either “got good or got out” so to say.
So I started a treatment regimen; most of the medications made me a vegetable. When I found a dose that I could use of Adderall, I began to get sick more often; The Adderall was lowering my immune system, and I had to take more time off of work. It was a dark time for me, and I can only now talk about my struggles.
Then one of the luckiest conversations I could have ever had happened, and I found someone who saved my career and maybe my life. I was watching a video at work (I often needed the background noise with Adderall to keep me working, or I would zone out), and the autoplay started playing a new video. This guy in the background was talking about turning his ADHD into a superpower; I stopped my work timer and watched the thirty-minute video. The speaker was John Sonmez, commonly known on the internet as, “The Simple Programmer,” I do not know much about him even today. I attended a talk of his a couple of years ago at a conference; it was awe-inspiring.
Mr. Sonmez had some articles on how he organized his week, how he learned programming languages, and how he forced himself to focus in minimal doses. What this did for me was make me realize I was not alone; there were other successful adults with my condition in the world. I later learned a musician I like, Adam Levine, also has the same medical condition and discusses it often. There are many others in the world as well, which might surprise you
Soon I found other articles, and I prepared to set out and learn everything I could about my condition and how to manage it. In the last four years, I have entirely stopped taking Adderall or any other medication for ADHD and instead treat it with organizational techniques.
So I am what we would have called in the south, an odd duck. Where some people are organized, I am hyper-organized, but my desk is always an absolute wreck. It does not matter how often I clean my office; it still looks disheveled, the same with my room or my house. Not dirty, certainly not an organized mecca either. However, my life, on the other hand, is extremely organized so much so that it annoys other people.
I have a system on Todist; I use a Pomodoro timer, I sort my day both personal and professional into time boxes. I find that I am more productive during my short bursts of twenty-five minutes than many people are in an hour. I can read and absorb information extremely quickly, making it seem like I learn things effortlessly, and then I can teach others the same thing.
My life consists of routine, a particular routine that allows me to manage my life. A sample of my day today:
- Woke up at 4:30 AM (thanks Jocko Willink)
- Took my supplements
- Mediated with the Calm app for 15 minutes
- Wrote in my journal
- Went to the Gym (it was Push day today)
- Took a shower
- Ate breakfast
- Did some research on another blog post about Deep Work (Cal Newport)
- Now I am writing this blog post, and I will start work at 8 AM
I do not say any of these things to make me sound like I am better than other people. I have what people would consider a disability, and I turned it into an asset. No matter what your situation in life is, you have skills, you have value, and you can make a difference. If you have ADHD as an adult, you will fail at things, when you do try to land on your back; Les Brown says, “If you can look up, you can get up.”
It can be very challenging with this condition or many other forms of mental illness because you look at other people and wonder why you cannot be like them. You need to switch that narrative, do not focus on being like other people, focus on being better than you were yesterday. Do one thing every day that you did not get done yesterday, everything you did yesterday that you have to do today, try to do better at those things. Rick Rigsby says, “Good enough is not good enough if it can be better. And better is not good enough if it can be best.”
I have taken several personality exams over the years, the enneagram, and the Myers-Briggs (my personal favorite). My enneagram type was a split between the “Investigator” and the “Individualist,” where my Myers-Briggs has changed. I was rated an “Architect – INTJ” in 2017; by the time I finished Jocko Willinks, “Discipline Equals Freedom,” and “Extreme Ownership,” I was a “Commander – ENTJ.” In short, I went from an introvert to an extrovert in about ten months. I am not saying one is better than the other, but as I wanted a career in leadership, I had to learn how to take charge, get out front and lead the way.
Over the next few weeks, I will be putting out a series of posts in my “Professional Development” section on my blog. These posts will be out there to help others understand how to go about managing the most crucial asset on the planet, time. I have gone from unable to complete work to excel in multiple areas, almost like a superhuman being. You do not need to have ADHD to do these things.