Live Through This

You & Me & ADHD

Dealing with a friend with attention issues.

Illustration by Ruby A.

Illustration by Ruby A.

Anyone walking into my bedroom would say it’s a mess. There are piles of stuff on every table, a mass of papers on the desk, and loads of clothes—some dirty, some clean—strewn about the floor. But to me, it’s in perfectly good order, because I know where everything is. It’s a controlled chaos, scattered yet organized, much like my brain, which also can look like a jumbled-up mess to outside observers but makes perfect sense to me. All of this—the room and my brain and basically the way I run my life—is because I have ADHD.

I was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder relatively late in life, in my early 20s. That’s pretty common, especially for women, who are less likely to be described as “hyperactive.” The kids who get diagnosed right away are the ones who make themselves really obvious by running around classrooms screaming—and those are usually, for whatever reason, boys. Boys, in fact, are three times more likely than girls to get an ADHD diagnosis, and subsequent ADHD treatment.

People like me used to be grouped into a separate category, called ADD (for attention deficit disorder)—basically ADHD without the hyperactivity. Lots of people still use that term, but doctors now categorize us all as ADHD, with a bunch of variations. It’s not that I’m more chill than a kid who’s constantly bouncing off the walls and disrupting class; it’s just that my hyperactivity is mental, not physical. A doctor once told me that for a lot of people the H in ADHD is like a tricky superpower that enables us to see and hear and feel everything a little more intensely—which can sometimes make the entire world seem overwhelming. But it can also be a lovely thing, in that we are ever fascinated by everything around us: blue skies are bluer and all of that stuff.

This condition has definitely been both a curse and a blessing for me. It makes certain things more difficult (I get bored verrrrry easily), but some of my most useful talents are tied to it, too (I have a ton of ideas streaming into my head at all times, and even if 99% of them are garbage, there’s usually one weirdo gem I can run with). Embracing the good stuff makes the hard stuff a little easier to deal with. This applies not just to a person with ADHD, but also to the people around them.

If you’re not currently close to someone with ADHD, you might be wondering what’s could be so “good” about it. Who would ever want a distracted, disorganized, hypersensitive, easily bored friend? Well, for one thing, we tend to be quick and creative thinkers. A brain that is constantly jumping from one point to another to another is pretty great at brainstorming and riffing ideas. If you’re having trouble coming up with a theme for your bat mitzvah or a name for your fish, ask a friend with ADHD—10 seconds later they’ll hand you a list of like 32 options. We tend to be extremely sensitive to external stimuli, which, yes, can be annoying when we “overreact” to things like sounds, smells, and social interactions. But sensitive people are also good at being sympathetic to others. So we can be really good friends, if you know how to handle us.

Which you will, after reading the following tips. They’re for anyone who loves someone with ADHD or a related disorder, but know that everyone’s ADHD is a little different, so the best thing you can do is to talk to your friend about what’s going on in their brain. These are just some general things to keep in mind.

1. Your friend is going to interrupt you.
Oh, man! Sorry, dudes. This is something that people with ADHD struggle with on the regular, and something that we consciously work on, as being “that girl who always cuts everyone off” is not a rep that anyone wants, really. It’s not that we aren’t listening to you—in fact, we’re listening as best we can, and you’ve probably said something that’s set off a light bulb in our brain, and we’re so excited to share the idea that we can’t help blurting it out, for fear that we’ll forget it if we wait five seconds before doing so. I’m working on it (I try to maintain eye contact and bite my lip), but I still blurt things out all the time, and my friends know exactly what to do: they typically acknowledge my idea before returning to what they were saying. It takes a lot of patience, but trust me, that patience is much appreciated. What not to do: ignore these interruptions completely, or yell at your friend to shut up until you’re done talking.

2. Be prepared to repeat yourself.
The people I love more than life itself could be sitting in front of me, telling me the greatest story of all time, and I still may zone out momentarily. It’s not because the person talking to me isn’t interesting, or because I don’t care, or because I’m not trying my hardest to pay attention—it’s because my brain is like a television that’s constantly changing channels, and a weird image or piece of a song or thought may come filtering through, blocking out the words right in front of me. Oftentimes I’ll miss one crucial line and have to hear the entire story again, and though most people would just give up and walk away, my friends now have learned to rewind to the missing piece and pick things back up. It has taken years of practice, and a lot of frustration on both sides, but we all understand by now that I don’t mean to fade in and out, and I do try my best to focus on conversations—therapy and meds have helped a lot with this. Give your friend a little room to space out. She’ll come back to you.

3. Accept their organizational style.
Organization is a challenge for a lot of people with ADHD. Your friend will most likely find her own way to keep on top of things, and that might look chaotic to you (like my room). Everything she owns may be covered in to-do lists. She may need to turn on the television, the radio, the computer, and her cellphone while you’re studying together. If her phone alarm goes off all the time, it’s probably her way of reminding herself to do something. Just remember that her brain works differently from yours, and what seems counterproductive to you might be the key to her own productiveness. If she’s like most people with ADHD, she would probably appreciate your support to help her stay organized—what she doesn’t need is to be mocked or judged about how hard this is for her.

4. Don’t ask for our medication.
This is such a dick move that I’m annoyed that I even have to write this out, but c’mon dudes, don’t ask for our medication. People with ADHD brains don’t get high off of their meds, and because so many people abuse Adderall, Ritalin, and other ADHD medications, we have to jump through annoying hoops to get our prescriptions filled every month. We rely on our medication just to function normally, and it’s a serious bummer when people we care about get all creepy on us and try to bum a pill or two for party funtimes. It also makes us feel as if you don’t respect us, our brains, or personal boundaries. Don’t be that person. That person is gross.

5. Don’t treat them like they’re “crazy.”
First of all, don’t treat anyone in your life like they’re “crazy”—if someone truly has a mental illness or a behavioral disorder, they don’t need you adding to the stigma they already face every day. Second of all, ADHD doesn’t make people irrational, immature, dumb, or insensitive. If anything, it makes them more sensitive to everything around them, and able to focus intensely on the little things. Your friend may be a bit of a space cadet, but trust that there’s a lot going on in there, and most of it is pretty neat.

6. Don’t be a doormat.
All this being said, being empathetic and understanding doesn’t mean that you have to put your own needs aside in order to make things easier for your friend. She’s not a delicate flower who needs protection, she’s just working with a different thought process. So while you may want to be a bit empathetic if your friend is constantly running late, forgetting plans, or forgetting important dates like birthdays or what have you, you don’t need to ALWAYS let her off the hook for repeatedly disappointing you or constantly showing up 20 minutes later than she promised. You might want to try what my friends do with me, which involves a benign kind of lie: If a party starts at 11:30, they tell me it starts at 10:30. That way I can be late (my tendency) and on time (what everyone, including me, wants). Respect your friend’s limitations—if she can’t be counted on to remember plans, don’t depend on her for really important stuff, like a ride to school. But also, set your own boundaries. If it’s not OK with you that she forgot your birthday, tell her how much it hurt your feelings, and that it’s important to you that she figure out a way to remember it next year. Then let her do that. Right at this very moment you are reading an article to understand her better; she also has to put in work to make you feel appreciated. If you’re constantly giving and she’s constantly taking, that’s not a healthy scenario for either of you. ADHD is not an excuse for being a shitty friend.

It all comes down to finding a happy medium. The best friendships are built on mutual understanding, love, empathy, and respect. Being patient and kind with your friend—and letting her know your own boundaries and needs—will strengthen not only your friendship with her, but also your appreciation of anyone who thinks differently from you, which, after all, is everyone.

Oh, and P.S., if you ARE the friend with ADHD, know that there are people out there who won’t judge you when your mind starts drifting even your editors when you’re supposed to end a piece cupcakes rainbows Ryan Gosling marshmallow pie OMG horses you guys

28 Comments

  • spudzine May 14th, 2013 11:36 PM

    I have a friend with ADHD, and I use the tips above, but I don’t realize I’m using them, because we both treat each other like people. Like, I don’t really think about the fact that she has ADHD, but these tips are very lovely.

    http://spudzine.tumbr.com/
    http://emotwins.tumblr.com/
    http://rockogirl.tumblr.com/

  • Maisie Pryor May 14th, 2013 11:37 PM

    As a person with ADHD, this article will make my life so much easier, because now I’ll have something to refer new friends too when explaining why I act the way I do. Thank you Rookie!

    pippinandpeaches.blogspot.com

  • irritum May 14th, 2013 11:49 PM

    This article really made me think about things. I’ve been talking to my counselor about the possibility of me having adhd, and this article just really resonated with me in terms of my mannerisms. I know I can’t self-diagnose (nor should I), but I was wondering how to go about talking to a health-care professional about this (as well as discussing it with my mom, a woman who doesn’t really “believe” in mental health issues. I don’t know how to phrase that but I’m sure you understand). I know that the idea can come off as trite, because as you said so many people abuse the medication. How can I express these legitimate concerns, and try to get a professional’s opinion? If what’s going on is in fact adhd, I don’t want it to hinder me especially when treatment is available. Thanks for your help and for this article!

    • Blythe May 15th, 2013 1:30 AM

      Hey there so I’ve just gotten on Ritalin for the side effects actually–to raise my blood pressure–and here’s what I learned.
      1. It is a pain in the ass to get from your doctor.
      2. Don’t just blurt out that you want to be on ADHD medications; be subtle.
      3. Make sure you’re talking to someone who is going to be understanding. I chose to talk to my cardiologist before my general practitioner, because my GP would have been confused.
      4. Reassure them that you’re not going to abuse the meds. It’s best to acknowledge it, instead of trying to avoid the topic.
      Anyhoo, even though my situation is pretty different, I hope this helps!

  • neon jelly May 14th, 2013 11:51 PM

    I’m going show this to my “friend”, she really needs to see it. Shes gets annoyed by me easily always telling me to shut up or sit. I really never thought i was ADHD. People have always told me i have a noodle brain because i would do the exact same things in conversations and spaz out with random crazy art ideas at random. I have always been hyper and i can control it when necessary but i get extremely bored when i do. I tend to be bipolar and bounce in between strong moments of ADHD and OCD. I can remember dates if necessary but i will forget details. i’m usually always on time or start to freak out if I’m not. I am a lot more sensitive to emotions and im really trying hard not to. Ive had a lot of self discipline to control myself because i dont like the attention
    Thank you so much for sharing this post :)

  • jessmargo May 15th, 2013 12:15 AM

    I like this alot! I’m 15 and just got diagnosed with severe ADHD, and sometimes I feel like I’m responsible for making my friends feel like doormats, because I’m much more dependent on them than they are on me, or that I’m too much effort for people to be friends because I’m either the spacy wallflower or the interruptive obnoxious one. It’s nice to be able to read something about ADHD tendencies and stuff in a personal way that you can relate to <3

  • Kylie Flynn May 15th, 2013 12:27 AM

    this is great, Ii have add and now i know where some of my (not exactly best) tendencies come from that I didn’t know were related to add. Like the interrupting, I tend to do that and hate when I do, but it is exactly like you described it- it’s not that you aren’t paying attention and listening, it’s just something the other person says that “ignites a lightbulb” that you can’t help but blurt out.

  • kati May 15th, 2013 12:29 AM

    this is my life :c
    until now i didn’t know that cutting everyone off was part of my adhd, i just thought i was an obnoxious bitch. Thank you so much for making me feel better and less alone about myself.

  • TessAnnesley May 15th, 2013 12:31 AM

    best end to an article ever

    reminds me of the joke “the awkward moment when a sentence doesn’t end the way you think it octopus”

  • Abby May 15th, 2013 12:35 AM

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE this. My little sister (god she’s not that little anymore she’s going to be sixteen this summer 0_o) has ADHD, and she can definitely be a handful. She’s always running around, she talks a mile a minute, and she’s an interrupter, but I have to constantly remind myself that she’s not being rude, it’s just how she is. Also I always have to remind her to eat, because her meds suppress her appetite, and she will literally forget to eat for the entire day haha. ALSO also, I think it’s funny that you mentioned phone alarms, because I think if her phone didn’t have an alarm function her life would fall apart… On any given day she has like 20 alarms set for everything from the previously mentioned eating to feeding the fish haha.

    And I’m glad you mentioned the not asking for meds thing, because as a college student, abuse of ADHD medications is literally so prevalent and it PISSES ME OFF. It detracts from those who really need them, it’s dangerous, and it makes you just generally an asshat.

    AND (sorry this is long…) I’m glad you said this: “a tricky superpower that enables us to see and hear and feel everything a little more intensely…we are ever fascinated by the world around us: blue skies are bluer and all of that stuff.” My sister says the exact same thing. She once described it to me this way. “You know how you think of something, or hear something, or see something, and then it just goes away? Well, for me it doesn’t. I have to concentrate on it, think about it, before I can move on.”

    Anyway, thank you sooo much… this was great!

  • imfinejusttired May 15th, 2013 12:55 AM

    this is great

  • Blythe May 15th, 2013 1:27 AM

    I have some health problems that are very very different from ADHD and yet still cause some of the same problems (what I call “brain fog”). Numbers 2, 3, and 4 really apply to me!

  • elliecp May 15th, 2013 2:15 AM

    This is such a helpful post. I never knew much about ADHD but my friend has it, so now I guess I know how to handle her better ahaha!

    http://roseandvintage.blogspot.com/

  • whodatgal May 15th, 2013 2:49 AM

    this post was super awesome! i have some of the adhd characteristics but yeah i dunno

  • Lorf96 May 15th, 2013 3:51 AM

    This was an awesome post, my boyfriend has ADHD and I think it just makes him a way cooler person, but this article has really helped me understand him better thanks!:D

  • HaverchuckForPresident May 15th, 2013 4:40 AM

    ahahaha I love the end of this article

  • Charlotte CallaGirl May 15th, 2013 6:19 AM

    This was amazing to be able to read! You wrote everything so beautifully and clearly. I don’t really know anyone with ADHD but if I ever do I’ll use these tips! Thanks for writing!

    http://thecallagirl.wordpress.com

  • Chloe22 May 15th, 2013 8:47 AM

    I have and have had all sorts of friends, with everything from high functioning Autism to Down Syndrome. They just think differently! It may be different, but what really is wrong with different? Usually their much more creative than me! Like everyone on this planet, they have their challenges. I don’t have any ”disorder”, but I still am not happy and chipper all the time. I have problems with anxiety, but then those tendencies can help just as much as they can be annoying. I really don’t like the word disorder. It implies that there’s something wrong with you.
    http://rhinestonemoon.blogspot.com/

  • Eva Z May 15th, 2013 1:32 PM

    I would have loved to see some tips for people who are diagnosed with ADD or ADHD instead of tips for people around them. I feel like it is more difficult for people with AD(H)D to deal with it than for people around them. I was diagnosed with ADD myself, and I would have liked this article better if it was written for the diagnosed, maybe in a way that would encourage them to talk about it with friends. I know it wasn’t your intention to make me feel this way, and I love the fact that you wrote about attention disorders, but I think it would have made me feel less difficult if I was the one getting awesome rookie advise.

    (And I think you meant ‘without’ instead of ‘with’ in the sentence that describes ADD)

    • Anaheed May 15th, 2013 1:47 PM

      Nice catch, Eva, thank you!

  • taste test May 15th, 2013 2:26 PM

    I really related with this article. my mom has ADHD and has never been on medication for it. it’s made my life interesting :P I think I’ve figured out most of the tips in this article by now (at 18), but it would have been super helpful to me 4 or 5 years ago.

  • Faith May 15th, 2013 6:51 PM

    I think I might have ADD, actually I might have convinced myself that I have it!! Whenever I tell my parents or school guidance counselor they just refuse to believe the thought of me thinking that I have ADD. I procrastinate… a lot. I get distracted and get anxious about my grades all the time, and a lot of the things you mentioned about people who have ADHD, I can identify with a lot! I tend to interrupt my friends during conversations! but I don’t want to self diagnose myself, maybe I’m just easily distracted. I wish I could just get tested already, but it isn’t that easy. :( Help?

  • ___ellarose May 15th, 2013 6:57 PM

    Im 15 and was just diagnosed with ADD this year and this article totally rings true. Although it can be extremely frustrating when I am trying soo hard to listen to some one/concentrate and my mind wont let me I take my ADD in stride:) I can be really creative and just like it says everything is so stimulating, in a fun way! I love getting excited about how blue the sky is! Being diagnosed was something that made perfect sense and explained a whole lot.

  • MysteryChild May 15th, 2013 8:41 PM

    I have a kid in my class who had ADHD, everyone is very mean to him. I feel like I should do something, but it’s a bit hard when he’s always running around everywhere annoying the shit out of people. I leave him alone, like those mean dudes should. I don’t think anyone understands he’s only human. About the meds thing, I totally understand. So many boys in class ask him for it. Dickheads. *

  • Gwynster May 17th, 2013 1:34 AM

    This helped a lot I’m an eighth grader with really bad ADHD and nobody really understands why I can’t study for twenty minutes and ace a test or how it takes me four hours to homework even though my grades aren’t as good as others, one girl accused me of being a slacker so I yelled at her for not knowing what it’s like I then showed her this article and she apoligized I also showed my block teacher who called me a procrastinator but didn’t understand that by whatever methods he would give me to fix it wouldn’t work so I also showed him this article and he finally understood so he isn’t to rough on me anymore if a get a little procrastinated in class

  • daisyhaneisha May 17th, 2013 7:56 AM

    My dad has it. It sucks.

  • catpower44 May 17th, 2013 6:57 PM

    this is great! Could you guys maybe make one about Asperger’s?

  • Robiol July 20th, 2013 10:46 AM

    Thanks girls, this is a very helpful post. For me everything was worse because they diagnosed me with ADHD at the age of 10 and this same year I started with the medication. Everybody was laughing at me and calling me crazy because I was the only kid in my whole school who had it. And the side effects of the medication harmed me more. Now I’m 19 and my new classmates understand my situation and some help me with the school stuff. I think it is a question of surrounding itself with the most suitable people. :)