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4 Things You May Not Realize You’re Doing to Mask Your ADHD

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While those with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are likely not the only ones who mask their disorders, this is definitely one that is often socialized into us. To the point we didn’t even know it was masking. Or that we even had ADHD! At least, that was the case for me.

When you grew up with certain expectations of behavior, and when those around you had similar expectations, you often think it’s normal. For example, I went to a small religious school and we were expected to act and behave exactly how you would imagine: calm, well-mannered, obedient, taking directions well. All that yummy goodness.

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And so, whenever any ADHD symptoms or behaviors arose, it was often met with ridicule and negative reinforcement, like detention. All of this learned behavior eventually turned into what is essentially self-policing of behavior to manage the impression on others.

Read: Act this way and behave properly or you will get in trouble.

And so, while we went to different schools in different towns and had different teachers and parents, I’m sure many of us have similar experiences, feeling as though we have to self-monitor our behaviors, and often in ways we might not even know we’re doing.

1. Procrastination.

ADHD brains don’t respond to the same rewards as our neurotypical counterparts. I can’t just “get it done” so I can do other things and not have it loom over me. I need those deadlines and an impending deadline to make me “Do The Thing.” And that’s why I have a thousand projects going on. So, I’m always busy and I procrastinate on completing the task by… starting other tasks. Because I need a deadline, and so when I have a thousand projects on the go, I’ll always have a deadline to meet and finally kick my butt into gear!

2. Drinking a lot of coffee.

When I say a lot, I mean a lot. It wasn’t until a little while later, after a diagnosis, that I was starting to research and understand the relationship between ADHD and stimulants. Essentially, I was self-medicating.

When you think of drinking too much coffee, you probably imagine jitters and bouncing around. But for folks with ADHD, it actually can have a calming effect. That’s right! Stimulants can actually have a calming effect on ADHD brains. So, perhaps I am drinking my coffee, or maybe I am self-medicating to help me relax and focus on the task at hand.

3. Intense staring.

I stare. I stare a lot; and often, I don’t speak much when I’m trying so hard to try and focus on what you’re saying. And this is likely because as you’re talking, my brain is going a mile a minute and I’m trying to make a mental list of what to say as a response when you’re done. But sometimes, when all you need is a friend to listen, you don’t need answers or solutions. So, to avoid myself from interrupting, I force myself to focus. And that comes in the form of… staring. Intently. At you, as you speak. To make sure you know that I’m actively listening. It can also come across as hyperfocusing.

4. Taking notes.

Taking notes during meetings and phone calls. How diligent! Such a good notetaker and so good at keeping records. Of course, these are all good things! But really, it’s a way for me to help my brain focus because, just as with the active listening, no matter how hard I try, my focus will shift and drift, and then who knows how long before I come back to what you’re saying? Of course, note-taking is a great skill to have, but it’s also a way to force your brain to focus.

Also, just because we are talking about masking, I would like to take a moment to say it’s OK to mask! It’s not a bad thing. And often, these things are productive and they’re done subconsciously. As long as you are feeling comfortable and are able to move through the world in a way that best suits you, keep doing what you’re doing!

Getty image by paulaphoto

Originally published: November 30, 2021
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