Sarah Fader Guest Post: ADHD & Career

Sarah Fader ADHD and Career
Guest Post by Sarah Fader on ADHD and Her Career

For many years I could not hold a job. I did not know why because at the time I didn’t realize that I had ADHD. It is only one of my mental illnesses, and it is the condition that gets me fired from countless jobs. I have trouble with time management and finishing work and things that require me to focus. It’s exhausting having ADHD for a multitude of reasons. One is that nobody believes that it’s isn’t true, but enough people do to make it difficult to function in the world.

What if you had cancer and when you told people about your disease they said, “That’s not real!” Think about how you might feel. Sad, angry or possibly invalidated? That is how I feel when I work in any job where my colleagues or supervisor do not believe that my symptoms are related to my disability. I don’t indicate that I have a disability to my job. I have shame associated with ADHD and I don’t want to be treated differently. It’s not fair that I can’t focus. It isn’t just that I was born with a genetic set of brain garbage that makes it hard for me to hold down a job.

I used to make excuses for my issues at work. I make a conscious effort to curb that impulse now; I use techniques that I learned in therapy in order to circumvent the symptoms that I have. For example, the Pomodoro technique helps me. This method is something that allows me to structure my workday. I work for 20 minutes and I take a break for 10 minutes. It makes me feel like I have something to look forward to and I don’t have to keep continuously working.

One of the accommodations that helps people with ADHD function better at work is to have scheduled breaks. People like me that have ADHD are easily bored. So, knowing that I have something to look forward to is essential.

Once I got my diagnosis when I was 24 years old it was easier for me to understand my struggles, but I didn’t necessarily walk a smoother career path. There were many failed attempts at keeping a job. I resisted taking medication for ADHD, because I felt weak, less than, like a loser or deficient. Finally, I made the choice to take a stimulant. It changed my life.

I have a great job now. I use my structured schedule to make sure I get tasks done. And if I’m running late on something, I communicate with my supervisor. When I started my position, my boss said his core values were honesty and communication and that is what I strive for at work. Regardless of what your disability is (or even if you don’t have a disability) being honest with your supervisor is essential. Tell them what’s going on and your work relationship will remain strong.

In some ways I consider my multiple mental health disabilities to be an advantage. ADHD gives me the ability to hyper-focus and get things done when I’m interested in a task. I liken the ADHD brain to a car. My default state is neutral. The goal is to get my brain to shift into the drive gear. That is the challenge and things that help me are medication, structure, and doing a task a enjoy before doing something boring. There are studies that show that people with ADHD need to stimulate their brains before they do something that they consider to be boring. And I find this to be the case for myself.

You might think that it is the opposite, you need to reward yourself after you do something that is boring. However, it’s the antithesis for somebody that has ADHD.

I would not be who I am without my disabilities. I’m not saying that they are my identity. What I mean is if I didn’t have the things that I have I would not have founded my mental health nonprofit, Stigma Fighters, if I did not live with bipolar type two, OCD, ADHD, and panic disorder I would not be able to empathize in the way that I do with people that have mental illness. And I use my disability is to help others that have similar issues. I finally saw my sensitivity and my illnesses as strengths I brought to the world in order to help people. I am a professional writer today. When I was a six-year-old girl typing on my mother’s Brother electronic typewriter that is what I always wanted to do. I am living my dream. I never imagined when I was 16 years old and suicidal that this would happen for me, but it has, and I am so grateful.

I started a publishing company called Eliezer Tristan Publishing. My goal is to publish books by people that have lived through similar experiences to mine. Whether that has to do with their mental health issues or drama or near-death experiences I want those people to be able to speak their truths. The world is sometimes a scary place but we’re in this together. I hope that you are able to share your story whether it’s online, in a book, or with a close friend, because you are not alone.

Sarah Fader
Sarah Fader, CEO & Founder of Stigma Fighters, Founder of Eliezer Tristan Publishing

Sarah Fader is the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Quartz, Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good Day New York.

Sarah is a native New Yorker who enjoys naps, talking to strangers, and caring for her two small humans and two average-sized cats. Like six million other Americans, Sarah lives with panic disorder. Through Stigma Fighters, Sarah hopes to change the world, one mental health stigma at a time.

Stigma of Invisible Disability

Stigma & Invisible Disability
Those of us living with invisible disabilities face stigma not only from others but sometimes from ourselves.

Recently read Work Ethic, a post by bpnurse, in which she discusses her life since she stopped working and went on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

People judge those of us with invisible disabilities. We even judge ourselves.

Someone once asked me if I questioned the ethics of receiving disability. I explained that my disability wasn’t visible. I ran down my history of hypomanic workaholism and subsequent crashing into depression, rapid cycling and mixed states which lead to my hospitalization.

Although I appear fine, traditional work and I do not mix well. My bipolar type II is well-controlled with medication and my careful avoidance of triggers to mood cycling.

Because my brain disorder is invisible and because my husband provides for our family, someone believe that I take advantage of a government program I do not need.

You see, I receive SSDI, which is based on my payment into Social Security taxes from past income combined with my current inability to work. I do not receive SSI, which is based on need (lack of resources).

Still, with this understanding, even I have felt guilty about being on disability (SSDI), about not being “productive.”

One of my psychologists (I’ve been in therapy since I was 18, so I’ve seen many psychotherapists over the decades) suggested I reframe being on disability (SSDI) as a long-term sabbatical. Reframing enabled me to accept my changed life circumstances.

Since then, I’ve further reframed my experience as God making me stay home to care for my high needs son (a migraineur who has struggled with co-occurring anxiety, depression, and health issues).

Of course, I don’t receive disability to be a stay-at-home mom. But, I didn’t want to be a stay-at-home mom. So, I’ve chosen to reframe my experience this way. I had to be broken to leave my ambitions behind, to accept a new lifestyle, to reprioritize my life.

Now, I do other work — I volunteer my writing, my time, and my knowledge and experience — while on my extended sabbatical from my former work.

What I can do, I do, and I do it well. No longer expect myself to work as I once did. It wasn’t good for me or for my family.

I do not whisper. I ROAR.

I do not whisper. I ROAR.

Motherhood transformed me. My identity changed. Now it changes again. I have constantly reinvented myself over my lifetime.

As a pre-med biochemistry major at UCLA, I was miserable and suicidal. Then I studied part-time at a community college, biding time to find my direction. Finding a niche as a legal studies major at UC Berkeley, I tried to reconcile my inner turmoil with very high professional aspirations.

First I worked as a legal assistant, then went to graduate school, earned a master’s in psychology and became a psychotherapist, only to crash and burn. Recovering from that breakdown, I re-entered the workforce as a temporary file clerk in the commercial real estate industry where I had ten years of success.

Trying to balance work with motherhood, I failed miserably, and ended up hospitalized in a psychiatric unit with rapid cycling and mixed symptoms of bipolar disorder. After months of partial hospitalization, I became a reluctant stay-at-home mother on disability.

What does an overeducated and reluctant stay-at-home mother with a recurring sense of calling (or a manic and delusional symptom of bipolar disorder, depending on one’s perspective) do with her mind? Why attend seminary, of course, which I did on two separate occasions and on two separate occasions had to quit due to symptoms.

Here I am writing my story again. To what end? To reinvent myself once again – not as someone who is ill, but as someone who fights and loves and writes and has hope that new chapters of her life lie ahead.

I have a voice that must be heard. I have a message to share and share it I do. I am not just my son’s mother. I am not my diagnosis. I am able. I am able to affect change. I wield power. I am a mover and a shaker. I do not whisper. I ROAR.

Reunited and Learning ASL

My mother has moved back in with my father, back into the same Silverado memory care community (which is lovely), again sharing a room. I hope and pray it goes better this time round than last when they isolated and refused medication and care. They love one another very much, so it is wonderful to see them together.

Missing his old home, my father asked about his old beach house which we sold last year to pay for their care. The staff has told my dad “therapeutic white lies” about the house, such as saying that the plumbing is being repaired.

Instead of using a “therapeutic white lie,” I skirted the issue, telling my dad that since my mom had her stroke, she needs care and that the house was too much work. He asked her if she wanted to live in the memory care community, she nodded her head yes (since the stroke, she hasn’t been able to speak).

I told him that it was no longer her job to cook, clean, or take care of him. Up until the stroke, she was his caregiver, as he’s had progressive memory loss for years. I told them that their individual needs differ now. Mom cannot use language, but dad can and should take part in community activities designed to exercise the brain and fight memory loss.

The community’s social worker has started working with my mom to help her communicate her feelings. My mom didn’t like using communication boards. I knew from previous attempts at using them that my mom doesn’t seem to understand what the drawings on the boards represent. She didn’t want to try writing either, as she knows that she simply cannot.

BUT… the social worker discovered that my mom responds to ASL (American Sign Language). So now my mom, dad, and I are using simple ASL signs to communicate. Not sure how much my father will remember due to his dementia, nor how much my mother really understands due to her stroke and vascular dementia. At least, my parents seem to enjoy learning it.