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Burned by the ADHD Back Burner

(Graphic: No and yes. Credit: Jeff’s A.D.D. Mind.)

In February, as major economic changes were beginning in my life, I blogged about what nationally noted ADHD blogger Jeff Siegel calls ADHD paralysis. It’s a powerful sense of overwhelm ADHDers feel when too much life comes at us too fast for us to parse it in the non-linear manner that our brains like to go about things. Since we find it particularly difficult to estimate time, usually we see our lives in terms of Now and Not Now. Whatever is happening now is real. Whatever will happen later exists in some forgotten nether zone–unless we were wise enough to write it down on our Google Calendar and set an auto alarm (as drives very much of my life.)

A related concept–one I think about frequently–is that of the ADHD “back burner.” Sometimes when we’re not completely overwhelmed,  ADHDers can still find it hard to get things done, even important things. It’s almost a game our minds play–as long as we think of something we have to do, it’s almost as good as doing it. Except it isn’t–unless we can manage to get the whole world to agree with our persistently pesky prefontal cortexes. No matter how time-sensitive the task, there’s always this background sense that as long as we haven’t forgotten about it–which for us ADHDers is a great sucess in itself–it will somehow magically get done on time without us having to do anything else.

Our inaction is not a (non-)act of laziness, we really mean to get done everything we have percolating on our mental back burners. But often it’s hard to sit down and choose just one of those pending items, and sometimes when you’re not looking (and sometimes even though you are), you turn around and a critical task has gone incomplete for months. If we’ve done the work to come to terms with our ADHD and manage it with meds and/or behavioral strategies, we know the real explanation for what has happened and let go of the urge to blame ourselves for the occasional messes created by our chronic condition.

However, it doesn’t absolve us of responsibility for completing time-sensitive tasks that we have promised others–and ourselves–that we would deliver. That doesn’t make us ADHDers sound reliable, yet when we’re firing on all thrusters, the cruft of inaction becomes less like tar balls floating on top of an oil-ravaged sea and more like a localized thin sheen of algae that arises only so often and in the right light can be kind of pretty to look at.

Fellow ADHDer Handyman Nick said to me recently, “I think you ought to stop writing about ADHD. It’s not doing you any good–who’s going to hire you if they know about it, man? I’m just sayin’.” He also complains to me about the near six-figure design jobs he frequently turns down–or gets turned down for–because “it always turns out to be something different than what they say they want me to do when we first talk.”

I haven’t yet plinked him in the nose for thinking that repeatedly looking highly remunerative gift horses in the mouth and then complaining about all that self-spurned good fortune to a member of great unwashed unemployed America would be a good tactic. Then again, I smell ADHD all over those “turns out to be something different” moments. I know from personal experience how often ADHDers can get the wrong end of the communication stick and blame others for our own misunderstandings.

Point being, you can’t hide what you are. I guess I prefer to let people know what they’re getting with me. Recently, I let a potential blogging partnership with Jeff Siegel languish on my ADHD backburner. The partnership eventually fell through, and don’t I know why. I wish Siegel all the best on the new project with a spectacular new partner–and it’s probably just as well. I don’t think our ADHD’s matched. Like Nick, Siegel’s ADHD is the hyperactive kind that makes introspective ADHD daydreamers like me feel overwhelmed. Then we just turn on our backburners, turn up our headphones and…

What was I talking about, again?

Categories: ADHD

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Mike Doyle

I’m an #OpenlyAutistic gay, Hispanic, urbanist, Disney World fan, New York native, politically independent, Jewish blogger in Chicago. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I write words and raise money for nonprofits. I’ve written this blog since 2005. And counting...

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3 replies

  1. Mike,

    Don’t beat yourself up over this. Sometimes the timing is just a bit off. There’s nothing that stops us from doing something collaboratively in the future. And remember…we’re all ADHD. We all have piles and back burners and broken burners and missed opportunities and on and on. It goes with the territory. So as far as I am concerned, we’re still ADHD buddies.


    You are absolutely right that ADHDers should concentrate on what they are good at. I’m learning that lesson slowly…I think it is sinking into my thick bald skull.

  2. The funniest part of this is while you were leaving me a comment, I was sharing your latest 18channels post with my Google Reader followers! I totally get what you wrote about today, that ADHDers should probably concentrate on what they’re good at, not just what we’re technically capable of doing (but the doing of which might drive us crazy!)

    I envy you the meds even if you’re not on them right now. I’ve never had the option (health insurance has been a sporadic option in the two years since I learned of my own ADHD) and consequently know quite a bit about ass piles myself. If only one of the back burner bars at least had good margaritas, at least it wouldn’t be so bad too pass so much time there…

  3. Ah yes, I know this backburner…it’s a really rough neighborhood full of seedy bars and time machines. I spend a fair amount of time there. Even more these days because I was sidelined by a migraine condition that made me have to temporarily stop taking my stimulants (for the past TWO MONTHS) and voila, life is a big ass pile, once again, of messy purses, to-do piles the size of Tex-ass, questionable forays into the blogosphere, and broken partnerships with Jeff Seigel. (Just kidding about the messy purses…er…just kidding about Jeff…but his new partnership DOES look cool…). As you know though…we have no choice but to forgive ourselves. Why not…living in a perpetual state of self-torture is just not healthy…

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