Dealing with people is not easy for girls with the hyperactive flavor of ADHD. We miss social cues, we talk over people, we fidget, we can’t modulate the volume of our voice, we interrupt. We see the complete picture of how to bring a project together, but can’t explain why you should believe us. We do all of these and more in an RSD spiral.
I’ve had some varient of “needs to stop clipping people’s sentence with her own reply” written on every performance evaluation I’ve ever gotten. This was true before dysautonomia, but trying to talk coherently when your blood pressure is 80-something over 50-something during your review doesn’t help. Thank heavens for planned out replies. I had a reasonable review, even though the new diagnosis amped up the challenge rating.
Dysautonomia alone shouldn’t further deteriorate social skills. My history of corporate ridiculousness practically guaranteed it would. My boss set my review for 8am, the earliest possible slot of the whole team. Between dysautonomia and ADHD, mornings are not my most clear-headed. Mornings after a night out “bonding” didn’t help. (We were on retreat at a hotel with corporate meeting rooms.) The others drank. I didn’t, and I left at a sensible time. However, even those few extra hours of socializing apparently were too much for dysautonomia. ADHD is socially awkward, but dysautonomia is just asocial.
I discovered I have the forward planning skills of a Petyr Baelish and about as few social skills. (Not my boss’s words, but we did do an MBTI analysis during the retreat. At the after party, we looked up famous people with our type, and I share mine with Vladimir Putin and a whole host of fictional villains, Game of Throne’s Littlefinger among them. This led to some good-natured, “Well, that explains a lot” and, “At least you’re on our side” teasing from GoT afficiandos.)
My boss thinks I’m a talented statistician who could cross over into R&D management if I could learn to explain my insights such that a lay audience could a) sense a single narrative thread, with A–> B neurotypical logic instead of A–> Z ADHD logic and b) get that sense after a thirty-second, not 30-minute, elevator pitch. I’m not getting fired, but I’m likely not getting promoted either until I transform from back-office data nerd into front-office public speaker.
My therapist and I pre-planned ways to help me feel more in control at my review. I think she was trying to lead me to open up about addressing the psychological reality of RSD. I was more focused on practical skill-building for the subtle interpersonal challenges of ADHD. My launch pads, passion planners, fidget toys and time management apps aren’t cutting it, and most of those spymasters my tipsy co-workers identified me with climactically fail because they account for everything except that backwards social skills defeat forward planning.
I need to learn to take turns in conversation, feel less awkward looking into the eyes of someone who is judging me, not interrupt and figure out what to do with my hands when I can’t have a fidget object. This is not exactly a revelation given the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, but it is a revelation that social awkwardness feels like the most insurmountable of all of the challenges of my multiple diagnoses. I can comprehend the neurochemistry hijacking the ADHD conversation, but I can’t articulate to anyone what I learned. That distinction is basically the difference between Code Monkey and Second (or First) Banana.
Guides have been written for how to merely get and hold some job with ADHD. Nothing useful has been written, it seems, about how to further climb the corporate ladder. Someone needs to write a guide for the ADHD corporate mid-tier professional. If they do, “Diagnosing and Treating Foot-in-Mouth Disease,” needs to be a chapter.
Since no one has written that yet, I wrote myself a prescription (which my therapist and boss both liked.) Good old “fake it til you make it.” But, where I’ve been trying to do that alone and failing spectacularly, this time I’m getting help from the professionals!
I signed up for improv class. It makes sense if you think about it (I hope). I can’t take turns or play off another person – improv is all about learning timing. I interrupt. Comedians who press the point lose their audience. I am stiff and awkward, especially when being judged.
It’s not a physically imposing class. I explained the realities of dysautonomia. While fainting on stage has humor potential, I was assured I’ll only be on my feet during my own scenework. In between, I can rest comfortably in a chair and guzzle Gatorade. If I’m not feeling up to my assigned time, I can go to another class that week for make up.
The bully in my brain thought I deserved to be fired. I merely got told, “Your public-facing persona could use improvement, but your data skills would be hard to replace.” Maybe improv is a way to practice effective communication while mocking the bully before it can mock me out first? Plus, the idea made my partner laugh and fits my blog theme. I have to do it, right?! What’s a little RSD when an eight-week course means two months of blog posts will write themselves?
Unfortunately, the class time I chose means I will miss cheering for the Starks to off my Meyers-Briggs match on Sunday. I suspect I will be much too tired to watch that night. My co-workers better not spoil the finale next day…
Post-Script: My therapist spent about a quarter of our session yesterday entreating me to say my review went “well.” I find it difficult to state this overtly, given my hyperfocus on the Challenges and Areas for Improvement section. In deference to her, though, I will at least reiterate that I did quote my boss about my being a talented statistician. That’s something, right? (993 words).