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When ADHD Makes Everything Seem Like Work

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I currently have piles of laundry around my apartment, a dishwasher that needs to be loaded, a suitcase that needs to be unpacked, a bunch of emails that have been waiting to be responded to since July, a stack of unopened mail and a form from my insurance company that needed to be filled out by last week for my coverage to remain active. My stomach’s been growling for the last hour, but I have yet to go warm up a plate of food. This is what attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) looks like. Even the smallest tasks are work. Logically, I know that it will probably only take about five minutes to get one of these tasks knocked off, and it’s really not a ton of work but ADHD makes starting feel impossible. Basic tasks are massive mountains to climb and I simply don’t have the energy. Some people talk about an “ADHD tax” — or the costs associated with having ADHD — such as having to pay late fees, buying takeout because you can’t cook, or having to hire a person to clean your place because you simply can’t do it.

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Growing up my mother would get so frustrated with me because I would never do my chores. Both of us knew I was fully capable of doing them, but I just couldn’t get the motivation mustered up to do it. I was notorious for leaving old, half eaten lunches in my backpack, only to be discovered weeks later after I forgot about them at the bottom of my bag when the unpleasant stench would fill the car.

In school I would procrastinate everything until the last minute and get stressed out about my assignments. At work I have a number of non-urgent tasks that I tell myself every day I will get to tomorrow, but tomorrow never comes. It’s not because I can’t do them, I just don’t have the motivation or don’t find them interesting enough to do.

With ADHD I find myself in constant states of boredom where I have little to no interest in most things, particularly small chores or little tasks I have to do. Let’s look at the example of my insurance form — in my mind, it’s not as simple as just filling out the form. First, I’ll have to find a pen. Then it’ll probably require health information, so I’ll need my health card. Once I fill out the form, I have to mail it to the insurance company. So I have to get an envelope and a stamp, and find a post office to mail it from. Now that five minute task is actually several small tasks.

One of the biggest symptoms of ADHD is executive dysfunction, which is basically the inability to plan ahead properly, start or finish tasks, manage time, stay focused or on track and stay organized. When you’re dealing with executive dysfunction, even small tasks can seem like a ton of work. This can play out in scenarios beyond chores and work, though. I experience it a lot in social situations too, where it feels like so much work to go out and be social.

I occasionally like to be a social person, but sometimes it seems like more work than it’s worth. Hours before I have a social interaction, whether it’s in person or virtually, I start preparing myself. I think about what time we’re connecting so I can make sure I’m ready far ahead of time because I’ll probably be late since I struggle with time management. I also think about how I’ll stay engaged because I get bored and distracted easily, and struggle to focus on the conversation. All of these extra things to think about and try and plan for make me exhausted by the end of it. With ADHD, there are so many extra steps I have to take to function like a neurotypical person, that everything ends up feeling like work and I get tired out very easily.

I sometimes get really hard on myself or beat myself up because I feel like I’m being lazy, but really it’s just that ADHD is making things harder. I feel bad that I can’t do basic, adult tasks like keeping up with my chores the way my friends can. I also get embarrassed that social situations can feel so daunting and difficult because I put so much work into acting properly. I try to remind myself that it’s not fair to measure myself against neurotypicals, and that my struggles don’t make me any less competent. I know I can do hard things … I can do easy things too … I just need a little extra time and that’s OK. I’ve also learned that it’s OK to pick my battles and make concessions — when everything feels like work with ADHD, it’s OK that I need extra time to rest. It’s OK to hire some help if I have the privilege to do so, and it’s OK to put off certain things when I can’t get to them.

It’s really helpful when my friends or family offer different ways to help out, whether it’s helping to cook meals with me or for me, or reminding me to do the things I keep forgetting, or working on tasks together. People with ADHD can find it really helpful to do tasks with someone, like a friend and I deciding we will both do our laundry at the same time and then text each other after. Most of the time, I find my ADHD challenges are lessened when I feel supported, seen and not judged. When people reassure me that I don’t need to be embarrassed about having a hard time, or support me with getting things done, I feel less alienated. That burden and that mountain of work becomes slightly smaller, and my motivation increases just enough. And isn’t that ultimately what we all need? To feel less alone in the mountains we face, and to feel like we’re not wrong for wanting someone to help us scale the mountain, or at least witness how much effort we put into climbing these mountains?


Photo credit: fizkes/Getty Images

Originally published: September 6, 2021
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