When ADHD Makes Me Talk Too Much (and Hate Myself)
In my undergraduate days, I had an incredible opportunity to work for one of the world’s most highly esteemed researchers in developmental neuroscience. I worked in her lab for two years, and she was even my mentor for my senior thesis project. Her lab, appropriately titled the “Developmental Neuroscience Lab” at my university, studied a wide array of disorders such as autism, dyslexia and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It wasn’t only fascinating to engage in this area of research because of my genuine interest in neuroscience, but also as a person with ADHD, I was learning more about myself in my work. I was literally taking classes and doing research into myself, a profound experience that shaped who I am today. While working in that lab, I was also exposed to a fundamental truth of ADHD, and all mental illnesses really: people with ADHD have a common diagnosis, but there aren’t any two people who experience the disorder in the same way. I knew this on paper, but when it came to my personal experiences, it took a bit longer for that idea to sink in.
I was diagnosed with ADHD in the middle of college, and I thought I knew all there was to it. All of my siblings have ADHD, and all four of us have radically different expressions of it. I have friends I can say the same about. Our symptoms have some commonalities and similar roots, but the ways they manifest in each of us is unique to the highest degree.
A quick note or two about ADHD before I continue with my story, as it is necessary for the context. The disorder is often dichotomized into two “types” — ADHD hyperactive type and ADHD inattentive type (sometimes also informally referred to as behavioral ADHD and cognitive ADHD, respectively), though not everyone has a type. My ADHD has always been inattentive type, so my symptoms are primarily cognitive (impaired ability to maintain attention, memory loss, comprehension difficulties, etc.) but I’ve never been immune to hyperactivity. Though, since hyperactivity was rarely a disordering effect for me, I focused more on addressing my cognitive symptoms. But when I started experiencing a rather severe hyperactive symptom, I couldn’t ignore that part of my diagnosis any longer.
Before I get into the real meat of this story, some more context is necessary. When I was little, people would often describe me as outgoing, personable and talkative. These were positive attributes, uncommon in a lot of 5 and 6-year-olds. As I grew up and matured, these traits became my personality, not just a phase of my childhood. A really good summary of me, then and now: I like to talk. I’ve never been afraid of public speaking, and in fact, I love it. I like to think I’m good at initiating casual conversation, and frequently engage in thought-provoking discussions and debates. But just as all things can, my natural tendency for speaking can go too far.
(Stay with me here, I’m getting to the good stuff, but I’ve still got some more background information for you so you can get the full picture).
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, which as of the writing of this article is being reignited by the surging of the Delta and Lambda variants, people around the world have relied on phone and video calls to maintain some semblance of socialization. I got into a rhythm of calling friends and family often just to make sure I stayed connected to those I couldn’t be with physically. But what does this have to do with my ADHD and talkative nature? It was these phone and video calls that opened my eyes to how my proclivity for conversation was impacting people around me. You see, on a phone or video call, most of the time there is a timer to tell you how long the call has lasted. I slowly started to see the time of my calls getting longer and longer over time, and it was me that would prolong them. Calls started lasting for two, three, four, five, and even a handful reached six hours long, an unreasonable amount of time to expect anyone to stay on the phone. It took seeing those timestamps to make me realize something I’m actually a bit embarrassed to admit: I’m talking too much, and it’s rooted in both the inattentiveness and hyperactivity of ADHD.
After I realized this, I started to monitor myself in every conversation. What was I saying? Was it relevant? Was I giving the other person space to speak as well, or was I dominating it all? These questions sat in the back of my mind for a long time, during every interaction I would have with someone, and I noticed a pattern emerge. The reason I talk so much, to a detrimental degree, is because I’m almost constantly experiencing racing thoughts fueled by my inability to maintain a direct focus and enflamed by hyperactivity that speeds it all up. When added to my natural personality of being an active, outgoing conversationalist, it leads to me always saying the first thing that pops into my head, even if it isn’t relevant. I’ll give you an example.
I was talking with someone the other night about some interpersonal conflicts I’m navigating. In the middle of the conversation, I said something vaguely related to a political topic I’m passionate about. Because of that, my mind lost all focus of the original topic and started to fill with irrelevant thoughts and ideas, all of which I felt compelled to say out loud. I managed to tangent the conversation into those politics. After ranting a bit about that, I found something else I said that pegged a memory from my childhood, so I started to go into great depth to tell that story. This snowball went on and on for the rest of the evening. But, there’s something even worse about it.
As I said, I’m pretty cognizant of this issue now. As a mitigation effort, I often tell people that I feel myself tempted to tangent the conversation into something else. I can usually catch when my brain is telling, “hey, start talking about this and make sure you say everything!” I’ll admit to the person/people that I know I’m talking too long. You’d think that would be enough for me to bite my tongue more, right? It’s not that simple, and it makes this problem so much worse because I essentially get trapped in my own head. What do I mean by that? I essentially split into two mindsets whenever I admit those things. Half of my brain just tells me to keep going, keep talking, say everything. The other half is begging me to stop, to slow down, reminding me that I don’t need to say everything I think. The result of that split mindset: my continuous talking, conscious that it’s unhealthy, unable to stop myself, and feelings of guilt and embarrassment start to bubble up. I literally can’t stop myself from doing something I know I shouldn’t be, and so I shame myself for my lack of control.
This entire situation has really dragged down my self-esteem, made me feel like a burden to those around me, and tempted me to isolate myself socially. It’s made me start to hate myself. I don’t want to talk so much. I don’t want to annoy, bore or bother people, and despite people reassuring me I’m not, I know they’re saying those things to be supportive of me as I struggle with this. I don’t want my ADHD to win, but it seems to have the upper hand here. So, where does that leave me? Well, not in a great place, but not defeated either. As time goes on, more and more I am learning to catch myself when I feel my ADHD starting to manifest itself in this way. That’s step one in addressing any issue: recognizing it exists. What’s next? For me, I need to be bold enough to ask for help, and I know exactly what that looks like. I need to be very blunt with people and tell them, “If you hear me go off-topic, please cut me off or tell me.” The idea of saying those words scares me, and I wish I didn’t have to. But I do. After that, I must engage in a continuous and honest dialogue with the mental health professionals helping me manage my ADHD. Those are my three main steps to handling any issue like this. Everyone has their own ways of handling and treating their mental health struggles (not just illnesses).
If you’re reading this, and going through something similar in any way, but are unsure of what to do, I would offer this piece of advice. I just outlined how I approach my mental health treatment (recognizing the issue, honestly asking for help from my support system and seeking professional help). That is my process, and I follow it because it works for me. If you have a process, keep going with it. It’s on the hardest days that our process can save us. If you don’t have such a clear-cut approach for handling your challenges, I would recommend putting together a rough idea of what you think would work for you. Write it down, draw a picture or flow chart to represent it, talk it out with someone close to you. You may need to change your process over time, and that’s OK. But if you have a process in place, your process will be what grounds you and allows you an avenue to find relief from whatever you’re experiencing.
Trust your process. Trust yourself. Stay kind and motivated to yourself. And above all, keep going. I may not know you, but I know you’ve got what it takes to face your challenges because you’ve made it this far. Keep going, I believe in you. Make sure you believe in yourself too.
Photo by Thái An on Unsplash