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ADHD: A Funny, True Story About Emotional Flooding

The following is an unusual blog post. It is the humorous account of a recent experience with ADHD:


Recently I was given the great honor of speaking at a state-wide convention for professional therapists on the topic of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. I had applied to speak three times, and I had finally gotten the green light! I was quite excited when my speaker application was accepted, and now, after the fact, I am quite glad that I was able to do it! This presentation was the biggest, most important talk of my professional career to date. However, as fate would have it, I had one of the most ADHD-affected mornings of my entire life right before delivering my talk! Below is an account of what happened and how I handled it. I hope the story normalizes the struggle of ADHD a bit, and I also hope you find it a little funny! Here goes!


The convention was held in a large, upscale hotel in Dunwoody, GA, just north of Atlanta. I wanted to be extra-prepared for my talk, so I reserved a room and arrived a day early. The setting was beautiful, the accomodations were extra high-class, and even my hotel-snob wife would have been proud of it! (No shade on my wife - she fully admits and owns her hotel-snob identity and embraces it proudly.) BUT, the hotel parking facilities were…less desirable. The convention had apparently brought over 1,000 people, many of whom were not pre-registered to the hotel’s already limited parking. After about 45 minutes of worming my full-sized, gently-lifted Silverado through the tightest corridors of the underground parking deck, praying as I drove under each sparse 6’6” overhead barrier (having only 2-3 inches clearance in some places), I watched helplessly as the last parking space was filled by the car right in front of me. [Grrr! Stupid Subaru!]  I was then diverted back out of the deck, up into the daylight, and down the street about half a mile to the overflow deck. 


The spacious deck and no-wait access in the overflow area was a welcomed change! Still, somehow, the clearance was even lower this time, allowing me only 1-2 inches in some places to fit my moderately-sized pickup. Parking in the overflow deck would not have been a problem for most conference presenters, but I’d brought props! Whenever I speak, I bring large visual aides, including a bicycle. I use the bicycle to demonstrate what it’s like to be “spun up” with energy in your brain by flipping the bicycle upside down and pedaling the back tire up to speed and allowing it to slow down gradually.  I also use bulky, heavy audio equipment to demonstrate sensory coping methods like 50-60Hz monotones and loft hip-hop music. I bring large exercise balls, clamp-lights, power strips…I’m a lot to handle!  


My new challenge was that now the props I needed were all parked a half-mile from the presentation space.   This problem wasn’t insurmountable, of course, because I could simply drive to the valet area and check the items with the concierge until the morning…right?  Sigh. This is where the ol’ ADHD first comes in. The low ceilings and crowded spaces of the parking area had escalated my emotions to the point that this sort of logic was now unattainable. I needed a minute. I needed a bunch of minutes. So, I parked and came to the hotel. Here’s the dialogue I had in my brain after settling in at the hotel, shortly after parking, on the evening before I spoke:


Me: OK, I don’t like being parked far away, but the most responsible thing to do here is to go back to the truck now, drive to the front door, and drop the props off with the concierge. They’ll be ready for me in the morning.


ADHD: Yeah…but you also just saw some people in the lobby you want to talk to. And maybe they’re making dinner plans, and you don’t wanna miss dinner plans… DO YA??? And maybe you’ll meet new people, and maybe there’ll be a glass of wine down there! And you had to drive in traffic already for, like, way over an hour and a half to get here, so give yourself a break.  And oooo the TV in the room is nice!  Oh hey, there’s your friend you met at the last conference! 



Now, friends, I wish I could tell you that I’d listened to my wiser self, but alas, this wouldn’t be much of a story if I had! I instead elected to forego relocating the props and go out that evening with some friends. I set an alarm to get up early the next morning so I could move my props to the hotel.  ADHD, it turns out, does not care what time of day it is. In a moment of clairvoyance and efficiency, I woke early the next morning and went to the room in which my presentation was scheduled. To my delight, the space was wonderful, the temperature was pleasant, the chairs were comfortable, there was room for all my props…but there was no cord to connect my computer to the projector!


Me: OK, no problem. Someone here has to have the proper cord. It’s not some super rare thing. I bet if I wait until closer to time I can find someone with a cord.


ADHD: Nah man, you need to FREAK OUT! You can’t count on anyone else. This was YOUR JOB to bring the cable and you FAILED! For SHAME! You need to go to Target RIGHT NOW and get your cable. And while you're at it, grab me a Starbucks coffee!


So, against my more logical judgment, I wasted the next 90 minutes in a spiral of activity, anxiety and caffeinated self-doubt. I caught a shuttle to overflow parking, found my truck, drove to Target, purchased the necessary component, returned to the hotel, unloaded my props into the presentation room, returned my truck to overflow parking, and finally caught a shuttle back to the hotel. I was feeling super proud of this accomplishment, because I had 15 whole minutes to spare before my presentation! Go me!


Me: OK, this is good. I’ve got plenty of time to spare. Everything is fine. I just need to get my props set up correctly and test the projector…hmmm…it’s really curious that there isn’t a cord here already, and no one from the hotel has come by to check on that…Just to be safe, let me double check the meeting room number again…   oh. crap.


ADHD: OMG-HOW-DID-YOU-LET-YOURSELF-SET-UP-IN-THE-WRONG-ROOM???? WHAT ARE YOU, STUPID??? GET IT TOGETHER! GET ALL THIS STUFF UPSTAIRS! OK PEOPEL, WE ARE IN FULL-ON PANIC MODE!!! FREAK OUT! FREAK OUT!!! THIS IS THE BIGGEST PRESENTATION OF YOUR CAREER AND YOU’RE ABOUT TO BOMB IT BEFORE IT EVEN STARTS!


Now, this is where it helps to have great friends who are sympathetic to what it’s like to have ADHD. One of my all-time greatest colleagues EVER, Mrs Kris Shock, stepped up and provided the best, most level-headed, rational support I could have ever asked for. She helped me rapidly carry my props upstairs, she connected her own computer to the projector when mine failed, she ran some power cables, she saved the morning!! (Thanks again, Kris!!) 


 I spoke. It all went very well. Nearly 200 people were present for it. I got great feedback. I accomplished my goals for the talk. I was proud of the job I’d done. And, it turns out that the conference’s organizational software had inadvertently changed the room the morning of my talk. (So, I was in the right room originally, but the room changed unexpectedly.) I was able to incorporate into my talk some real-world, highly personalized examples of emotional hijacking by my own Default Mode Network from my experience that morning. And, the same ADHD that kept me spiraling in blame, shame, and doubt also made me highly versatile and spontaneous. I rebounded quickly to meet the challenge of giving the talk, just as many of us do regularly! 


I hope this helps normalize one of the struggles of ADHD. We get anxious under pressure. We’ll almost always pull of a stellar performance, but we’re gonna get anxious about it first.  If you’d like to talk about this more, I specialize in working with creative professionals across Georgia who have Anxiety, ADHD, and/or High Functioning Autism. If you’d like to speak more about these or other types of issues, please give me a call at 770 615 6300. You can also schedule a session and learn more about my practice at www.altmancounseling.com I offer telehealth and in-person sessions. I am in-network with Aetna insurance and provide paperwork for filing out-of-network claims.

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