Ground Control to Major Tom…Sympathy for the Space Cadet

Imagine you are sitting in a meeting, maybe it’s a conference call, and for the first 15 minutes you’re hearing every word being said by the other participants. But then you look out your window and see a man walking a dog. Your mind wanders.

Suddenly the voices coming through your phone simply become a part of the background, white noise. What matters is that you’re looking out the window, mind blank, the man and the dog are gone, and so is your focus.

Twenty minutes later you hear someone calling your name. It’s a disembodied voice piping through the phone. Your heart leaps a little when you realize you did it again – spaced out when you should have been tuned in.

People with inattentive ADD truly understand this scenario. It’s been a part of our lives for as long as we can remember.  In fact, the bungee bounce we do between daydreaming and hyper-focus defines the better part of our consciousness.

When it comes to ADHD, most folk think of the “H”. Unfortunately, people with inattentive ADD typically don’t manifest the “H” in obvious ways. Oh, it’s there. It’s just harder to see.

Because it’s harder to see, a majority of people with the inattentive variety of ADD aren’t easily diagnosed (or are never diagnosed). One of the reasons more boys are diagnosed than are girls is that females tend to have inattentive ADD. Many women aren’t diagnosed until their children are diagnosed.

So, what characteristics might we look for in someone with inattentive ADD? Here is a list of nine common traits. A person with inattentive ADD will manifest at least seven of these.

Careless mistakes. Oh man, has this one bitten me in the butt! I’ll have written an article in record time, proud of myself for beating a deadline. I think it’s perfect and click send…only to learn that I’ve transposed letters in a person’s name and have two other typos – including one in the headline. Lesson: please, get someone to proof your work.

Short attention span. I’d say this is a dominant characteristic of inattentive ADD. If we’re doing something boring, mundane, routine – it’s a given that we’ll be looking out the window, or even staring at our computer screen for hours…

No follow through. We start really well…and then the attention thing kicks in, we get distracted, forget to write down what the next step is supposed to be, misplace the phone number we’re supposed to call. And then…nothing happens. And the people around us quickly lose faith and trust in our ability to get anything done.

Poor listening skills. It’s a fact, our mind begins to wander…especially during a long conversation. Or, something pops into our head and we interrupt, blurting out the disconnected thought. Either way, we’re not listening. And, when we are listening, it’s not uncommon for us to ask our partner in the conversation to repeat what they said many times.

Forgetfulness. Another key characteristic. Here’s the deal, if you don’t write down the things you need to do, and remember to look at your list frequently, you will forget to do things.

Misplacing things. Have you ever left your car keys in the refrigerator? I have…

Laziness or apathy. Oh, if I had a dollar for every time I was called lazy. But, we’re not lazy, are we? Apathetic, maybe. To be engaged we need to be interested in what we’re doing. If we’re not interested, we don’t care.

Distractability. We specialize in rabbit-trailing. Shiny objects…well, you know. It’s real easy for us to get off track.

Disorganization. Our filing system tends to be a series of stacks. Our car hasn’t fit into our garage for decades.

Whew! Are you tired yet? You see, being inattentive takes a lot of energy. It’s not uncommon for us to be completely tapped out when we get home at night. Our condition creates a lot of stress.

That being said, there is a way to manage this stuff, reduce the drama, and actually create a life that is fulfilling.

In the coming weeks we’ll tackle a few of these tactics with a goal of experiencing a new level of authenticity and joy.

The Responsibility is Mine

Ever have a time in your life when everything – I mean everything – seems to be going in the wrong way? You and your S/O bicker about every little thing. Maybe you’re asked a direct question and you give a vague, non-committal answer, or, your social editor goes on hiatus and you blurt an answer that you wish you could immediately take back?

While that’s happening at home, stuff at work is mounting, too. You fall behind on a project, you forget to do daily, routine tasks. You miss deadlines, show up late to an important meeting, say something inappropriate to your boss or to a customer. Voila! You are the proverbial frog in a vat of water that is slowly coming to a boil. Pretty soon you will be fried.

The bank calls. Your rent check bounced. Your daughter calls. You were supposed to pick her up at the airport an hour ago. You’re standing in the middle of a grocery store, staring dumbly at the different brands of coffee – you’ve forgotten what you needed to pick up.

Things can go to hell pretty quickly when you have ADHD.

We’re lucky. It’s real easy to blame everything on having ADHD! Woo hoo! We have the perfect, built-in excuse! Isn’t that exciting!?

Yep, ADHD is a built-in excuse, an explanation for our sometimes erratic, seemingly irresponsible behavior. In fact, it really is not an excuse at all – stuff does happen (or not happen) because we do have ADHD. This neurological/biological disorder is very real and can create real problems.

That being said, our behavior affects others – and sometimes at the worst possible moment. That inappropriate thing said to our S/O? It could literally cause a hurt heart for years. Forgetting to do mundane tasks at work? Welcome to the unemployment line. Bounce the rent check because you handle money about as well as a teenage girl on a shopping spree with Dad’s credit card…you get the picture.

We never mean to do the odd stuff that we do. Typically our hearts are in the right place but, for whatever reason – impulsivity, bad timing, lack of an internal editor – our social ticker is off a few beats. Nevertheless, spouses, girlfriends, friends, bosses will at some point feel the effects of our unique talents for getting in trouble.

So, what can you do?

First, stop making excuses. Own whatever it was that happened. Take absolute responsibility.

Second, make amends. Make sure that whoever was affected by what you have done understands fully that you are responsible, and that you’ll do whatever is necessary to make things right – and do whatever is possible to not let whatever happened occur again.

Next, become a keen observer of your behavioral patterns. Essentially, step outside of yourself and notice the types of stuff you do that is outside the norm. What leads to doing these things? Is there a trigger? Numerous triggers? What are your feelings? Take note of what is going on that initiates this behavioral pattern.

After that, do your best to be mindful of those feelings, triggers, and situations that precipitate the behavior. Awareness can allow you to disrupt the pattern.

For example, let’s say you have a pattern of interrupting people during intense conversations. The trigger might be a feeling of being threatened or accused or confronted. Your brain gets over-stimulated through a flood of adrenaline and you must defend, respond, interrupt.

When you feel this happening, you’re mindful that you are about to open your mouth at exactly the wrong moment, take a deep breath, close your mouth, and listen. Just listen. Take as many deep breaths as you need to take whenever you feel the words scrambling to the tip of your tongue. Breathe. Just breathe.

It will be difficult at first. But, the more mindful you become, the more often you practice this, the easier it will become. You’ll find that you’re developing a new pattern, a healthier response that is more socially connective.  Guess what? You’re absolutely responsible for this behavior, too.

The more you do this, the more patterns you disrupt, the better life will be. You won’t disrupt everything. You won’t catch every behavior. That’s okay. Roll with it. Take responsibility. Forgive yourself.

The more you do this the more graceful you will be with yourself and with others, and the more grace you will receive.

And it begins with owning it all. No excuses. You are responsible. Joyfully responsible for all that you do.