ADHD: Workplace Successes and Frustrations

On Friday of this past week, I pulled out a notebook and a pen.

There were four screens in front of me. Two of them were large computer monitors mounted to the back of my desk. One was the laptop attached to them both. The other was my mobile phone.

Ha, actually, there were five screens in front of me. I forgot about the extra laptop I’d borrowed from IT in order to do some cross-platform testing.

My team is embarking on a new project. The details are vague, as they usually are at this stage in an adventure. It is up to us to take the few directions we’re given and transform them into a full-fledged, sellable product.

The wheels in my head always start turning quickly once I’m given a chance to be creative in this way. A few short lines about what is desired and I’m already off in dreamland, conjuring up how we might accomplish the directive we’re given.

Capturing those ideas so they can be conveyed to others is then something I struggle with. I sit at my screens with my various online tools and I focus on organizing everything swirling in my head into digestible bites.

This time, the ideas were too big and numerous. I decided to forego the creation of headings and the preparations for presenting. The digital detox I’ve engaged in outside of work hours is working so well for me that I decided to go analog.

I grabbed a sheet of paper. And then another. And then yet another.

Before long, I had pages upon pages full of scribbles, questions, diagrams, and ideas. The categories and headings began to take shape on their own. The research that needed to be done became clearer.

I turned to the screens and I searched the internet to find more information. I started to read.

I realized I couldn’t. The words on the screen swam in front of me and I couldn’t make any sense of them. Sentences didn’t form. There was no flow to follow.

I printed out a few articles. Suddenly, with paper in hand, I was able to see clearly the ideas presented by others, the research and evidence others have done on the topic at hand. I understood.

Before long, I was surrounded by pieces of paper covered in my own handwriting and printed out articles with passages underlined and notes written in the margins.

It was the most productive workday I’ve experienced in ages.

I went home for the weekend certain I would never be able to regain that brain flow, that high level of cognitive function. Those days are rare. I appreciate them when they come along, but I don’t expect them to happen often.

More often than not, I sit quietly, trying to sift through the noise in my head in order to reach that one thought I know is in there and be able to put it into words. It takes weeks to get as much done as I know I’m capable of doing on one good day.

On Monday, though, I did it again. I once again filled multiple pages with my ideas and plans and, by the end of the day, knew I was ready to start building out a scope of work for the project. I had been able to maintain focus for a full eight hours.

I know the cause isn’t only the decision to detach from screens. I am sure it is no coincidence that I started a new dose of ADHD medication on Friday. I stopped taking extended-release methylphenidate a few months ago and was trying the immediate release kind. It didn’t feel like it was getting the job done, so I switched back to the extended-release at a lower dose than I’d been taking previously.

These times when my brain locks in on the exact thing I need it to attach to are so incredibly rare. I hate that I can’t get into a flow like this more often. I hate that I so often feel so unproductive, so useless, so incapable of managing even the most basic tasks assigned to me, much less the higher-level ones I was able to complete over the past few workdays.

My body will adjust to this medication. This period of higher function will not last. It’s incredibly frustrating.

I know I’m capable of so much more, and yet I know I am not at all capable of so much more. It is not a matter of simply trying harder to find a way to focus and get my brain to obey my demands. My brain is stubborn. It will not do what I need it to do simply because I will it so.

It’s so hard to not think about all I could be, all I might be able to accomplish if I didn’t have ADHD.

As is, I will appreciate these rare good days and hope they last one day more, and understand not to expect myself to be able to maintain this sort of flow consistently.

But… I’m definitely going to try going offline at work more frequently now.

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