This is possibly a quick episode, written under special circumstances. Those of you who read my blog will know that I’m halfway through a four day trip to kochi, where I’m accompanying my daughter and some of her classmates (and teachers) for a visit to the biennale.
Regarding my “adventures” in kochi, and with the children, you can read on my blog. The other thing I’m currently doing, based on a few reactions to this newsletter, is reading Gabor Maté’s Scattered Minds, about ADHD.
I’ll write separately about the book (short answer so far - it is definitely thought provoking, but the prescriptive sections suck, for the lack of a better word). Here I want to write about a few thoughts that the book has triggered.
Rather, I had briefly alluded to this in a comment on Arun Simha’s newsletter, but now want to elaborate on (Substack iPhone app is now not developed enough to insert links. I’ll add them over the weekend once I’m home).
So it’s about misjudgment. Over the years I’ve thought that my ADHD has led to a lot of issues. However, thinking about it now, it all comes down to one thing - I just can’t gauge other people and understand what’s happening. This means I constantly under or over react. And means that I’m constantly anxious without realising why.
Sticking to the work situations - there have been several occasions in the course of my reasonably long career (including consulting) where it’s turned out that the people I’m working for (or with) haven’t been happy with the quality of my work or output.
On a lot of occasions (especially early on in my career) this came to me as a surprise - I had thought I’d been doing rather well. On other occasions it’s come with a sense of morbid inevitability- I’ve got so conditioned to know that this will happen sometimes that I’m almost “playing for it”.
Having experienced this from both sides, there is occasional anxiety on whether I’m doing fine at work (scattered minds also talks about how one of the effects of ADHD is low self esteem and high self doubt). And so I’ll be looking for signals (positive or negative) on how I’m doing.
And ignoring all the tenets of Bayes’ theorem that I constantly pontificate about, any minor signal I get in either direction, I allow these to sway me massively. And adding to the uncertainty and anxiety, there is also the volatility of my mental state. Talk about a bottomless pit.
Then again, this is not the case with work alone. It’s true of relationships as well - having spectacularly failed to read signs of rejection early on in life, I’ve become a rather poor judge of this signal - either in prospective or ongoing relationships. So back in the day I ignored what now seem obvious positive signs, including (at some points) with my then-not-yet-girlfriend now wife.
And now; I fail to see when my wife is angry with me. And having spectacularly failed to notice her anger on a few occasions early on in our relationship I’ve taken to overcompensating. And so she is subjected to a barrage of “hey” “are you okay?” “Are you pissed with me?” And the likes. And she has told me at least twice that originally nothing would be wrong with her but my constant checking irritates her to the point where she actually gets pissed with me. Like opening the box with Schrödinger’s cat!
And it’s not just work and romantic relationships alone. It works with friendships. With parenting. I’m just not a good judge of whether something is alright, and this can lead me on a self destructive spiral.
Now - again this has been a super long digression - there are two things that I had in mind when I started writing this.
First, I have my doubts about everything but most neurotypical people won’t know that these doubts exist and so don’t bother about trying to proactively do something about them. And once sowed, the doubts germinate (I was about to say “go deeper” but that mix of metaphors wouldn’t work) and grow.
The other, and more important, thing is that ADHD just makes you a poor judge. Of everything. It’s not that I lack empathy - it’s that I don’t know when I should show empathy (and I can show empathy, but usually overdo it horribly). It’s not that I can’t be considerate or helpful or generous - I lack judgment on when that is the optimal policy.
I lack judgment on when someone wants to continue a conversation with me. And so get jittery on whether to continue, and inevitably make the wrong decision on this count (and get unnecessarily anxious in the middle of the conversation even when it’s otherwise going well).
Lacking that calibration wiring, just about everything comes out in extremes!
Ok. Enough for an quick post from my mobile.
I started writing this on the bus from the biennale back to our hotel. I finished just when we reached the hotel (30 mins - I’ll write another day on bursty work). Now doing a quick edit and post.
Thank you for sharing this. I don’t really know you in person except that I have enjoyed reading your blogs. I just created an anonymous account to say what I want to say, coz I am not ready yet to publicly speak this under my name. Have you considered that you might be autistic? I say this because I have struggled to understand people all my life. Then my kid got diagnosed with autism when she was 2 and everything the doctors said about her autism just clicked for me. They were describing all my behaviors when they described autism. Also autism and ADHD really go together - autism is much more prevalent among the ADHD population than the general population and vice versa.
Take this however you will. I wanted to share coz figuring out this piece about myself helped me go a long way in understanding myself and reducing my anxiety. Previously I would question myself incessantly “why am I like this? Why am I weird “. But learning about my autism has helped me make my peace with myself and the world. Everything you wrote about difficulty understanding people unless they are explicit and the resulting anxiety resonated with me so much. Wishing you lots of peace.
Good vulnerable post. Thanks for sharing.
Have you checked up on the literature on attachment styles?
Her youtube lectures are quite good.