A missed deadline becomes a chance to speak up about ADHD

A few weeks ago, I nearly missed a deadline — a big problem for a writer. Everyone makes mistakes like this sometimes. But when you have like I do, it’s far more likely to happen.

I have system upon system to keep me on track: calendars, reminders, and alarms. Sometimes I go “old school” and write tasks on my hand. (Whatever works!)

But sometimes all the planning and reminding just doesn’t do the trick. Those days I’m left looking at the calendar, chilly waves of panic running through me when I realize that oh no, it was due TODAY.

This isn’t new.

When I was younger, I struggled constantly to stay afloat. Each missed assignment (and there were a lot) felt like new evidence that I was a failure. My cheeks burned when it came time for teachers to collect homework I knew I didn’t have.

Back then I didn’t understand that these difficulties were related to my ADHD. I saw them as confirmation that I was somehow less smart, less capable than my peers.

As I grew up and learned more about my ADHD and challenges with , I started to realize that I had just been working from a different playbook. I had to find a way that worked with my difference. That meant learning organizational strategies that worked for me. It also meant asking for help when those strategies didn’t work.

I remember the first time I spoke up about my needs. It was in college. I’d been trying to juggle too many things at once, and had written down the wrong due date for a major paper. On the day it was really due, I was only half finished and felt the familiar sinking feeling of horror as everyone around me started handing in their work.

At the end of the class, I walked down to the teacher’s desk. The instinct to hide was nipping at my heels, but I brushed it away. I felt nervous but determined.

“I didn’t turn in my paper,” I told him.

“I noticed.”

I took a deep breath.

“I didn’t turn it in, because I wrote the wrong due date down,” I said. Then I pulled out my calendar and showed him.

“I have ADHD and there was a lot of classroom noise when you gave the assignment. It was hard for me to pay attention. I’m halfway done. I’ve worked hard on it, and I’d like the chance to hand it in.”

He looked at me for a moment.

“Why didn’t you tell me you had ADHD before? I’m glad you spoke up. You can turn in your paper. I look forward to reading it.”

In that moment, I became my own advocate.

Learning how to manage and embrace my ADHD has been a journey. Creating systems for myself was a huge step. But the next part was figuring out how to speak up and reach out when those systems aren’t enough.

So a few weeks ago, when I looked at my computer screen and saw that the deadline I’d thought I had five days to prepare for was actually only hours away, I took that same calming breath again. Then I picked up the phone to call my editor.

“No problem,” he said. “I’d actually like to talk with you about a reminder system for all the writers, so I’m glad you reached out.”

“Me too,” I told him. “Me too.”

Learn how to ask your boss for help.


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