Masking and apologizing for ADHD symptoms can be a common coping strategy in a “neurotypical” world. Here’s how Megan Potts escaped the shame cycle.
I was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at age eight. Back then, my given diagnosis was ADD - attention deficit disorder without hyperactivity.
I was always more of a daydreamer than a child with unstoppable energy. Apparently, as long as I listened and applied myself, I'd have no problem with school or work.
So, I forgot about my diagnosis and focused on doing as I was told – with varying levels of success. I only realized three or four years ago how much ADHD still affects my life.
Masking to hide my symptoms was NOT a perfect solution
Like many other “neurodivergent” people, I learned to hide my true self as I grew up.
Note: "Neurodivergent is a nonmedical term that describes people whose brain develops or works differently for some reason."
The world wasn't going to adapt to or accommodate my quirks. Instead, I had to learn to navigate a world designed for those regarded as neurotypical.
I'd come across as a shy, organized person to my peers - a wallflower. In reality, hiding my symptoms (also called "masking") had taught me to semi-withdraw from society.
I spent my days overwhelmed by those rushing to cross off every item on their "To Do" lists. I wanted to take my time and explore things in-depth. Worried about mistakes, I spent far longer on tasks than my peers deemed necessary.
My façade would fall apart from behind closed doors. I had no idea I was "masking," but I knew how burned out I felt at home. Drained, I'd let home become my "messy place." Of course, this double life quickly became overwhelming on top of schoolwork and fitting in with my peers.
Despite my masking, I still fell behind
Many kids are messy but learn executive function skills as they age. My untidiness stayed with me throughout adulthood and motherhood. Things would become chaotic, but it wasn't the chaos I feared the most. It was being "found out" and judged by others.
Masking became my downfall during my school years. I was a fantastic student with good grades, but in the end, I couldn't reach my potential.
My underperformance was partly due to shame and fear of asking for help. I needed more detailed explanations and instructions than my classmates. When other people don't need the same level of support, it feels embarrassing when you do. I didn't want to become a target for my peer's frustrations, so I stopped asking questions.
Combine this with exhaustion from masking, and something had to give. Sadly, it was my grades.
Rediscovering ADHD and its role in my life
Years later, I found some posts online about Adult ADHD. They were so relatable! I was laughing away when, suddenly, the penny dropped.
I knew why these comments seemed so familiar. Jumping between tasks, never finishing what I'd started... I was ticking boxes all over the ADHD checklist.
Clinicians may use ADD to describe ADHD without hyperactivity symptoms. However, ADHD is the official umbrella term for the three presentations:
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, combined presentation (ADHD-C)
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, predominantly inattentive presentation (ADHD-PI)
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation. (ADHD-PH)
Most diagnosed people are placed in the ADHD-C category. Hyperactivity can be both psychological and physical. For example, racing thoughts and the inability to "switch off" could be signs of psychological hyperactivity.
That said, some people have more attentive or hyperactive symptoms than a 1:1 combination.
Even now, ADHD is stigmatized as a "can't sit still" condition. As a result, many children with possible ADHD-PI don't receive testing or treatment. But the struggles of ADHD extend far beyond excess energy or fidgeting.
Some people feel very ashamed of their ADHD symptoms. They may constantly apologize to others as a way to stop negative judgments.
Masking, apologizing, and guilt vs. doing things my way
Since rediscovering my ADHD, I've learned to stop berating myself for being "lazy." I take a step back when I'm burning out.
I've also learned to speak up when people criticize my methods. I won't apologize or promise to change. Why should I?
Rather than doing a small pile of laundry every day, one big load every week works better for me. I can psyche myself up for the necessary motivation.
Likewise, I may not have the mental capacity to cook an intricate recipe every evening. I stock my kitchen with a mix of convenient and involved-preparation foods. Ready meals, frozen pizza, and stir-in sauce sit near my spices, fresh ingredients, and brown rice. Homemade is better, but fed is always best.
The rest of the house aims for controlled chaos. I use baskets to tidy away my daughter's toys. I separate my kitchen cupboard into carb groups such as bread, pasta, flour, rice, etc.
Bits and pieces can pile up throughout the day, but I know the importance of having an uncluttered floor. If I don't have the energy to put things away, I shuffle them into neat piles at the side of the room.
It's not a perfect solution. But if I can maintain order for a while, it's a win!
Understanding my ADHD needs has led to pushback from others
Some people get annoyed when I admit I've relaxed my standards. They get even more irritated when I don't sound ashamed of it! Most often, these people have never stepped foot in my home. They hear, "most chores can wait," and assume I live in squalor.
I don't. My home may be messy, but it's rarely dirty. Yes, it may be the evening, and my breakfast dishes are still in the sink. Who cares? I can wash breakfast and dinner plates together and not fill my time with endless bitty tasks.
You may prefer 15-minute bursts here and there. I like getting stuck in and doing several things at once. I won't stress if I don't get something done immediately. Instead, I enjoy the day the way my daughter and I want.
As I tell my daughter, potential hazards are a clean-up priority. Spills are gone within seconds. I deal with broken fragments of anything as and when it happens.
But a few dirty cups on a sunny Saturday morning? They can wait.
I now make my own (healthy) priorities and stick to them
My daughter is a great kid. We've both been happier since I stopped obsessing over "how to be a real adult." And, yes, I'm far less worried about comparing myself to others.
I'm now much more pleasant company, especially for my kid. Isn't a child's well-being and happiness every parent's priority?
So, my system is the only thing that matters in my house. I'm not interested in criticism, unsolicited advice, or judgment.
I want to prioritize my daughter, and I've found healthy ways to work with my challenges. There's nothing I need to apologize for.
The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for ADHD evaluations, management, or treatment. Please consult with a professional who can apply best practices and appropriate resources to your situation.
NPS-ALL-NP-00735 NOVEMBER 2022