ADHD & me
I trawled through the muck accumulating on the floor of my car, the pair of black thongs continue to evade me. My cell phone rings; I wouldn't answer it if I could find it because it is more than likely somebody I had owed money to. Impulsively I abandon the pursuit of the thongs and go to my meeting barefoot.
The lack of professionalism is received in jest by my colleague, Stacie, who understands me, the nut case. Yesterday it was the car keys in the paperwork and unopened mail in my room. The day before, my wallet, which was urgent for my credit card to get the phone line and EFTPOS lines back on at my little suburban Café Llewellyn.
My parking fines for the lack of parking permits would always escalate, $101 for the fine, add $60 for the enforcement notice. Same for my tolled trips to Sydney – I never get around to organizing my e-tag. My phone bill always had the $30 late fee.
Back to the moment, my phone rings again. I look at the caller; shit, I have double booked myself again—time to reschedule. If only I had taken my focus from my business blogs half an hour earlier today, I would have been implementing these strategies, starting with running on time. I have always been a late-payer; this is not that I am an arsehole or thrifty rather it is paying bills doesn't interest me. Opening mail, keeping paperwork, reconciling books, organizing functions, talking to suppliers, mundane little problems, filling out forms, and sometimes running my businesses, none of this interests me. Remember this is all past tense.
Sleep is not necessary or interesting.
At the pub with the boys, they are always pulling me back to topic, or getting me off the phone. "Sned, Sned, SNED!" my best friend Egg resorts to extremes to snap me back into the moment. Watching a DVD with the girlfriend 15 minutes in and I am working, or writing notes for a new idea or documenting a thought for my business.
If I start to unwind at the pub with a couple of schooners or the movie captures all my attention, I succumb to sleep. Nearly the minute my thoughts align; rather than the popping candy state my brain pattern is in most of the time, the fatigue of overthinking and working overcomes me. All these items don't receive the necessary attention because I am lazy or rude. Anyone close to me knows I always have the best intentions. Scott, my general manager at Das Hund Haus, has to pull my leash all the time.
"James you are a big puppy dog, but you can't lick everyone on the face!"
Generous, infectious enthusiasm, innovating are all traits of mine and my condition; officially a disability, Adult ADHD. Risk-taking, opportunity, selling, talking to customers, sharing the dream, creating, building, rugby, reading (sometimes), Facebook, innovation all interest me. Stress interests me, the adrenaline of a fast-coming deadline, this pressure causing me to thrive. There are times where I have lost hours trawling Facebook walls, YouTubing, or in a book losing track of time and forever running late. I could always focus on what I wanted, just not always on what I needed. When shit hits the fan, though, as it did with my business for nine months of this year, I hit my straps. Hyperfocus, fixing problems, handling drama, stress levels to the max, and I thrive. Working 630 am – 10 pm, kiss and chat to my then-girlfriend, Try to sleep, then up and working until 3-5 am. Before doing it all again. Evaluating costs, organizing payment plans, restructuring, rebranding in my element doing a lot of this work at the last minute. It was not until breakpoint that I could focus.
Awesome, a superhuman brain that solves multiple problems simultaneously; yes, this is awesome when harnessed. Unbridled for nearly 27 years and spiking in these past nine months of surviving in business were a direct result of the impulsiveness and risk-taking of ADHD, my absolute lack of attention to detail snowballed to my near destruction. The continual stress I inadvertently chose to live in destroyed a beautiful relationship with my girlfriend and absolute best friend. "You move too fast, you think too fast, slow down" was her parting advice. FAST FORWARD TO RECENT MONTHS SINCE.
I discussed in detail with my former partner what I could do better, and we both determined there was something greater at play here—something out of my control. I have been struggling socially due to my workaholicism. On a visit to a bookshop, it hit me in the face in the self–help section. Desperate for answers as I never visited this section and rarely read the books I bought here. And there it was 'Fast Minds – How to thrive if you have ADHD (Or think you might) [Craig Surman, MD; Tim Bilkey, MD & Karen Weintraub]. I read part 1; the case study started with "James likes to tell a story…" 9 pages later, and I had bought the book and a new acronym for my life.
Achieving below potential
Stuck in a rut
My mind absorbed the book, self-diagnoses confirmed with every paragraph and case. Quickly becoming my bible the book illuminated the power of ADHD, if I can harness this and get my life back on track. This will be novel to a few readers who know of me; they see a barely 27-year-old university-educated running three restaurants. Even my GP; who has been amazing for me these past few years, dismissed my self-diagnoses with, "You couldn't run three restaurants with ADHD."
I explained the house of cards I lived in. The restaurants I founded were great brands and great niches for my hometown of Newcastle. Including a laneway bar, an oyster bar, and a German beer hall, all places Newcastle is finally enjoying thanks to my punt and a great team. However, the impulse had not seen the due diligence done for comprehending the bureaucracy of the process of new restaurants and liquor licenses, along with lack of attention to detail, had seen me hemorrhage funds through overstaffing, waste, and theft.
Then winter came – with no cash in the bank. Don't ever be in this position in hospitality. I won't be again (I have been). A story for another day is how I empowered by ADHD, pulled out of this mess – this chapter is underway. Special thanks to the suppliers who saw me through and are now enjoying a weekly spend five times what it was 12 months ago with just Café Llewellyn. The GP gave me the referral I pleaded for – a psychiatrist. The first appointment I could get into was six weeks away. Fortunately, 'Fast Minds' had strategies I implemented straight away and changed my addictions – No booze until I could get a holiday, I revised my vision board and wrote my goals on my wall. The book establishes making post-it notes for reminders your best friend. In addition to the no booze, I went one further and established no shave or haircut until I get a much-needed break, a well-earned holiday. Why the holiday as a target? As any business owner knows, you need a pretty tight ship to go on a holiday.
My diary entry the day I saw the Doc: 'Popcorn thinking, popping candy,' these are thoughts that come to mind to describe my thinking pattern every moment of every day. Such tasty references aren't valid sometimes in the torment my own mind creates for me. It is more like fireworks bouncing off the walls, building up to an explosion, shrapnel scratching the inside of my scalp. Controlling my mind is now my goal in life, harnessing my thought pattern and controlling my impulses and urges. Medication has let me hold my thoughts. I've prided myself on being the one who jumps; that's how I got here to what appears to be very successful, four restaurants. I spoke to the Dr about my self-diagnoses, he questioned it, citing the projection I have made of myself to the public.
"I wouldn't think you could run four restaurants and have ADHD."
The truth is I would not be an entrepreneur without ADHD; grateful as I am, it now stifles me from being better. My room was cluttered, my car too, invoices, receipts, cash, coins, rubbish everywhere. It is like my thought pattern all over the place, such a mess. I am constantly starting something and never finishing anything. Somehow I have managed to attract some beautiful people into my life that keep me on track. I've long recognized some of my shortcomings. Only yesterday, I acknowledged no longer being able to live like this. I have consulted the doctor for the referrals to the psychiatrist and the psychologist. The psychiatrist is a funny one, apparently so busy that they may take my case, the Dr wrote me a disappointing referral, citing:
"Messy house, Messy car, thinks he has ADHD".
How can this be taken seriously? I just hope the specialists see through this dismissal of my behavior. This remedy being sought is truly more of a plea; to end sleepless nights, irrational behaviour, my distractibility, and my time-challenged lifestyle. To get my businesses under control to catch up on the compliance and to help them thrive—a plea for a break from all of this.
Six weeks passed, and when the time came, I missed my appointment (Classic behavior!). I then accidentally missed the reminder SMS; for confirming my rescheduled visit, and the third-time-lucky, with ten weeks, passed since seeing the GP, I was in front of the psychiatrist.
We discussed my history; I was smart enough to escape unnoticed in High School, although my good grades were often accompanied by commentary,
"If James focused, better results could be achieved."
I struggled in university studying part-time while working full time and only finished my university when I made it as stressful as possible, five subject semesters with full-time work. My chosen profession was accounting as I loved maths and business, the monotonous work was never going to see a great performance from me, and with that, I worked for six accounting firms in a 6-year career. Emotionally, I was seemingly always on an enthusiastic high, though when the lows came, I was downright depressed. All the other traits previously mentioned in this blog confirmed with the psychiatrist my ADHD diagnosis. Looking for additional support was hard as I was unable to find anything in Newcastle.
I have found support in networks in Sydney and the New York-based online magazine www.additude.com. The 'Faster than normal' podcast is great too. My newfound skills and medication have started allowing me to harness my mind, so very excited about the thought of the house of cards I built with untapped potential, now let me cement it all together, and the world is my oyster! Better still, I want to create a community for sharing this.
First published on Linkedin. This has been updated.