As a journalist, I get paid to speak to remarkable people doing incredible things. As a teacher, I was honored to support 1,400 brilliant students a week for three years. But the most rare and special connections are often the ones I make with people who share my neurodiversity.
In a lifetime of friendly mates and first dates, I’ve met only a few special souls who truly get what it’s actually like to have ADHD. Each time, that first conversation makes me want to jump up and shout, “Me, too!” Making that connection lights up my brain like a Christmas tree — glowing with a sense of euphoria and overwhelming relief that I’m not really, truly the odd one out.
Prior to my ADHD diagnosis, I came across fewer than 10 people with speech patterns, and other little ticks and quirks similar to mine. After years of admonishment and shame, some people choose to hide their ADHD traits from strangers, no matter how friendly and eerily genuine they may be. So when we feel liberated to finally come out of our shells, it’s an incredible feeling akin to therapy.
Clicking with other ADHD brains is always a very big moment. It’s so strange trading stories with someone who has been through the experience of growing up with ADHD without knowing it — the way you just ping off each other with an automatic chemistry that I’ve struggled to find elsewhere in life.
Those rare conversations with someone who can naturally follow the squirrel around the tree —rather than smile and nod or eventually just give up — leave both of us suddenly feeling not “weird” or “overly chatty,” but just “fun.” When you’ve found someone who gets it — the ups and downs, the frustrations of inexplicable failure, the extreme self-admonishment for little mistakes, and the harrowing lows and obsessions around heartbreak —suddenly it’s all fine. You’re not worried about how you come across, so you’re able to let your guard down and just enjoy the conversation.
As a man diagnosed with ADHD in adulthood, my ADHD specialist referred to me as a “unicorn”, and that’s how I’d been feeling for so long — a bit different from everyone else, but for reasons I couldn’t fully understand. With undiagnosed ADHD, everyone assumes you’re quirky; sometimes they think you’re a creep; sometimes they see the worst in you when really you’d do anything for them. Other times they take advantage of your insecurities or push you away when you become “too much” or “too needy.”
Like many people who grew up with ADHD, I was often tolerated for my intensity and little entertaining performances. I was often seen as far too friendly for a bloke who is not trying to chat up every girl, constantly in a little bit of trouble, but also every stern person’s secret favorite.
Having an ADHD diagnosis and doing a bit of reading makes it a lot easier to meet and identify people who ping like you do. In online forums, you can talk to people who are just as nuts and are probably up at 3 am too. It’s becoming easier and easier to meet clever, quick, wonderful people. It’s shocking to see how many experiences we have in common, both good and bad.
Their experiences shed new perspectives on mine, and help me to resolve hang-ups and identify what’s me, what’s my environment, and what’s my ADHD. One recent acquaintance mentioned how her mood changes the room — she’s known for being a happy and fun person, but she pulls the room down when she’s sad, so she often hides in a cupboard on down days. I’d rarely thought about it like that, but it resonated so well with how I used to hide in the toilet when I was pinging and couldn’t get my head straight.
She was absolutely brilliant and both the emotional and fun parts of the conversation made my week. The little bits of firsthand advice she had, like drinking tea in the morning instead of coffee, or simply to “give yourself a break” has improved the way I work and behave too.
It’s really important to seek out people like yourself. A blog reader recently found me on Facebook and it was such a great thing to help him get through his breakup and talk through our shared experiences. It helped me stay sane in lockdown as much as I hope I helped him.
Talking to people in general is really important and great right now. It’s better when they can really reach into your head and ping off you, too. It’s a very emotional thing to know that you are not alone, and you really aren’t.
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Updated on March 16, 2021