Thursday, October 06, 2022

ADHD: It's Not Always Your Fault

Come explore with me the strange intersection of pants and ADHD.

Last July, I lost three pairs of pants.

As usual, I posted to social media to make light of it, but just between you and me, I stayed up fairly late searching the house like a ninja in search of those pants. Hiding my presence, I moved into almost every room in my home, making no sound as I lifted things, rearranged them, and rifled through them hoping those pants would turn up.

I didn’t search the fridge—because that would have been silly—but I searched everywhere else except my roommates’ rooms. It was possible that somebody absconded with my pants, but it was more likely I put them somewhere stupid, right? Besides, I could just imagine the conversation when I accidentally woke my roommates up as I searched under their pillows and bedsheets.

“Douglas, why are you dressed like a ninja?”
“Go back to sleep. You’re dreaming,” I’d say while making ninja-like hypnosis motions with my hands.
“I’m calling the police.”

It turns out that one of the roommates did indeed make off with my pants. This could have been scandalous, except that they politely returned them in the morning—folded—and apologized for accidentally forcing me to run around half naked for…well, no time at all. I eventually stopped looking for my pants, put on my PJs, went to bed, then woke up and got my pants. As far as scandals go, this one was fairly benign.

Except for the hours I spent blaming myself for something that I didn’t do while searching in every stupid place I could have possibly stashed pants.

Afterwards, I was a tad disappointed in myself that when three pairs of pants magically disappeared out of the dryer, I believed that I must have been responsible. I knew, logically, that somebody had taken them—probably accidentally—but I couldn’t believe it. I misplace things so many times on a regular basis, I just assumed that I had done it again. As Ned Hallowell wrote about in “ADHD and Shame”, ADHD adults …may feel that the real you is fundamentally flawed.

I have a brain and have even been known to put it to use occasionally. That means that I know when I’ve messed up and when I haven’t. This incident caught me off guard. Hadn’t I already changed this part of myself? I thought I liked myself better than this! I still don’t? What’s up with that?

I have seen two major ways that Adults with ADHD handle a lifetime of making stupid mistakes and being blamed for not measuring up. The first group internalizes the blame and even perpetuates it, holding themselves responsible for every perceived failure. The second group won’t allow blame to chain them down, so they sprint forward, but without much self-analysis. Both groups tend to become overachievers.

I used to fall into the first group. It was exhausting to constantly be my own worst critic, so I made large strides in putting that type of toxic thinking behind me. So what happened last July? If I were able to skip back through time in order to give myself some advice, I’d tell yester-me to trust his instincts and go to bed. Since I am not able to do that, I will inform future me to keep this lesson in mind.

Pants, even the most active kind, don’t leap out of the dryer and go for a walk. And since there is only ten feet between the dryer and my bedroom door, there aren’t an awful lot of places to misplace pants. I was so troubled by that incident, and so disappointed in myself that I had assumed fault where there was none, that I began to reassess my state of mind. That incident prompted me to seek more information about “Long COVID”.

In a way, I have those pants to thank for my new awareness. I’ve been blaming myself for an awful lot of issues that were out of my control this year. If I hadn’t blamed myself for something ludicrous last July, then been surprised at my error of thought, I might not have suddenly come to a stop and said to myself, “Hold on. Something is wrong here, and it’s not ADHD.” Brain fog is one of the major symptoms of “Long COVID”, but it’s also like a bad ADHD day every day.

I have to admit that I am glad that ADHD has taught me not to take life so seriously. I had a good laugh about those wandering pants. We and our ADHD aren’t always at fault.

The scars of our youth happened a long time ago. We should leave the wounds in the past and stop carrying them into the future. Whether we needlessly blame ourselves, or careen through life like a locomotive in an effort to avoid blame, we still carry those criticisms around with us.

Maybe there are people in your life who still relentlessly blame you. I won’t go so far as to tell you to cut them out of your life, but learning to push back at least can be part of nurturing your self-esteem. You don’t have to be angry, outraged, or hostile. Just draw a line in the sand and don’t budge. That includes pushing back against yourself. Don’t beat yourself up when you make a mistake. Learn from it instead. Laugh at it. Take away its destructive power. You can stop yourself from assassinating your own self-esteem like a ninja in the night. Not everything is your fault.

Now that I think about it clearly, though, I lost my favorite jackknife that month, too. You don’t suppose my roommates would mind if I blame them for its loss, do you? It couldn’t possibly have been me at fault.