ADHD, Irritability, and Friendship
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ADHD, irritability, and friendship (Jake’s story)

Jake Lambert watched his mother thrive once she was diagnosed with ADHD and getting ADHD treatment. That pushed him to look for answers about his own struggles to pay attention. He wondered why he was so irritable, why he had trouble managing emotions, and why he struggled to keep friends. He figured they were just “bad” traits of his — but in reality, it was ADHD. Growing up, Jake did well enough in school that no one caught his ADHD symptoms. He’d have to re-read a page three times because he’d get distracted. And he constantly procrastinated on homework assignments. Jake and host Laura Key also talk about how ADHD can make you feel “crackly,” and coping strategies that help them.

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Episode transcript

Jake: So actually my mom had been diagnosed about a year or so before me, and she started a treatment plan with her therapist and her psychiatrist. And she works in insurance for a living. So she has to read these 60-page policies on the daily. And I could never understand how she could do it. And once she felt like the treatment was really helping her, I asked her about it. And she said that she could just sit there and finish the task to completion. And if she got an email or she got a text, it didn't bother her because she was focusing on the current task. And that was a mind-blowing way of hearing that experience, because I realized that I had never been able to focus on a task unless it was either due in an hour or something that was really exciting for me.

Laura: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "ADHD Aha!," a podcast where people share the moment when it finally clicked that they or someone they know has ADHD. My name is Laura Key. I'm the editorial director here at Understood. And as someone who's had my own ADHD "aha" moment, I'll be your host.

 I'm here today with Jake Lambert. Jake is a comedian and an actor who lives in West Hollywood. And Jake has ADHD. Welcome, Jake.

Jake: Thanks so much for having me. I'm so excited.

Laura: Can you tell me how old were you when you got diagnosed with ADHD?

Jake: I believe I just turned 21. I'm 23 now.

Laura: So in the heart of the pandemic.

Jake: Yes. Yeah.

Laura: What was happening during that time that was making you start to wonder if you had ADHD?

Jake: Well, my mom had actually gotten diagnosed, and that was like a breakthrough diagnosis for her. And she felt like that once she started getting the proper treatment for it, that her whole life turned around. And I saw that. And as she was describing the sensation of the things in her life that were so much easier, I started to realize that I struggled with a lot of the same things. I'm a person that always has to be doing something. So like when we were just at home and there wasn't much to do and there wasn't many places to run and get stimulation, I started realizing that I have this burning desire within me to need to be getting constant stimulation all the time. And that's when I actually switched therapists, switched providers, because my previous one didn't believe in diagnoses. And that was a huge game-changer for me.

Laura: It's really interesting to hear about a parent getting diagnosed and then it kind of trickles down to the child. I think that's really cool. Good on your mom. First of all, are you and your mom close?

Jake: Oh, we're really close. We've always been so close. And looking back on it now and realizing that we both have ADHD, it just it makes so much more sense because we've had the kind of relationship that we're either like so on the same page with each other and it's amazing or we're too similar and you know, we're butting heads because of it and it just totally makes sense.

Laura: Give me some examples.

Jake: She's definitely more of the inattentive type, whereas I'm definitely hyperactive. And I know that as a kid that was something that always caused us to clash as the weekend would come and I would be like, "What are we doing? Where are we going? I want to get out of the house and do something." And she would kind of be a bit — what's the word for it? Like scatterbrained or not really wanting to like make plans and go do something. And like if she would bring up like, oh, you know, we could go to the zoo sometime or whatever, I'd be like, OK, can we go right now? And she'd be like, Whoa!

Laura: Yeah. So hyperactive. Maybe a little impulsive, too.

Jake: Yeah. Oh, very impulsive. Yeah.

Laura: So what would happen in those situations when you would kind of butt heads like that, like your symptoms would kind of meet at odds with each other?

Jake: Someone would end up probably crying, maybe me. I think I would either pester her enough until we went or it would just be like, OK, it's absolutely not happening. And I would have to make my own fun for the day.

Laura: Are you an only child?

Jake: I have a sister. She's five years younger than me.

Laura: And how is she interacting in these situations?

Jake: She definitely did not experience things the same way. And even as we were coming to terms with getting our diagnosis, she was like, "Yeah, that's a you guys thing. I don't think that applies to me at all." And it did make sense, because my mom and I always had that unspoken thing that like, just, we were able to get it.

Laura: Did that strengthen for you and your mom after you got the diagnosis?

Jake: Oh, yeah. 100%. Once we had that intangible thing that could never really be described, then I feel like with my relationship with my mom and my relationship to life in general, it all kind of pieced together pretty quickly.

Laura: That's really nice. Do you think your sister felt left out? I have her on the phone, by the way. We're going to — I'm just kidding. Do you think that she ever felt left out?

Jake: I don't know if she felt left out as much as like there were some things and like some feelings about things that my mom and I were kind of like, I don't know, like how she couldn't feel this way. Like, this is the only way to feel things. And she just completely did not experience that and maybe experience our anxieties and the impulsivity in the same way. But I think definitely like post us getting the diagnosis, it actually made her feel even less left out.

Laura: I really like what you just said. Like, how can you not feel it this way? That really resonated with me. Like that kind of like, attachment to a feeling.

Jake: Yeah.

Laura: Tell me what you were like as a kid. How did you do in school?

Jake: So I think part of the reason that I didn't suspect that I had ADHD and that other mental health providers didn't suspect it for so long was because I did pretty well in school, always made A's all the time. But looking back at it, I still see the ADHD very clearly. I was never much of a studier, which, you know, my friends would think was crazy. I was like, "Yeah, I just — I don't know how." And they're like, "What do you mean you don't know how? You just sit down and read." But that was so impossible for me. So I was definitely the type that was scribbling my homework during homeroom and like, you know, at lunch, looking over my notes for the test and like memorizing them very temporarily, then going to the test, word-vomiting all out on the test, and somehow doing well at the end of the day. But in terms of how much knowledge I actually retained, it's dwindled over the years.

Laura: So a lot of procrastination is what I'm hearing.

Jake: Oh, lots, lots and lots of procrastination. Math was something — that was maybe the one subject that I didn't procrastinate so much, I think because it was so hands-on and solving problems, and required so much brain effort that it was enough to keep me really engaged. But subjects like history or English or anything that required a lot of reading, I was never good at.

Laura: Did any of this reflection come up in your conversations with your mom after she got diagnosed?

Jake: Oh yeah, because even before I knew I had ADHD, before she knew as well, she works in insurance and she has to read, you know, 60-page policies. And I would ask her, but like, "How — how can you do that? I don't understand. How can you do it?" And she's like, "Well, I just have to. It takes forever, but I have to." That was actually the biggest thing that changed after she herself started getting treatment, because I asked her the same thing and she said it took her much quicker. And I was like, "Well, I don't understand. Are you enjoying reading it?" You know, historically for me, the only way that I could read is if I was so invested in whatever the material was. It was like I could read a book in a day, or it would take me three years and I would never finish the book. And no, she wasn't interested, but she was just able to stay focused. And if a text popped up on her phone, it didn't bother her anymore. She was able to finish the task to its completion. And that to me was a mind-blowing concept. And that's really when I started to decide to investigate this a little bit further for myself.

Laura: That sounds like a pretty big "aha" moment.

Jake: Yeah. Oh, that was a huge "aha" moment. I have wondered do I have problems with my eyesight? Am I just a slow reader? Like why does everyone else like books? And I don't like books, and why does it take me three times as long to finish? And that's when I start to put the pieces together and realized it's because I have to re-read the same page three times in a row, because I was thinking about dinner or I was thinking about the next task and I wasn't able to comprehend any of the information. And my former English teacher would probably scream, but I honestly made it through all of high school without reading a single book to completion, which is — it's a bit embarrassing to admit, but I've restarted my reading journey in the past year or so, knowing this about myself. And I just started picking out like novels that really, really interest me, or memoirs of people that really excited me. And even going back to like some TYA novels, like starting from the basics and just these like very short, sweet, you know, satiable books that I could just plow through. And I've started to realize I do like reading. It is fun. I get it now. It was just harder for me than everyone else.

Laura: So last time we chatted, Jake, you used the word that really spoke to me. And it's one that we haven't really talked about on this show before. You described yourself as "irritable," or like you thought you were just irritable. Can you talk to me a little bit about that?

Jake: So growing up, I kind of had, you know, my ups and downs during childhood. There were definitely times that I didn't fit in very well in school or times that I felt pretty misunderstood by the adults and my peers in life. And I just felt like there would be times that little things like noises or people's behavior, or when something is mentioned or taunted in front of my face that it would just — I don't know, it would get under my skin so much. And I grew up kind of developing a little bit of resentment toward myself, because I just thought that I was so difficult and that I had to do things so different than everybody else. And why can't I just get it like everyone else? Or why can't I just let things go? That was a common theme. Just to let things go, just move on. And I would say up until the diagnosis at 21, that I still continued to feel that way. And since getting it, it's been a journey over these past two years to kind of unlearn all of the things that I felt about myself and kind of re-approach my life and how I viewed myself with more compassion and understanding. And that's why I feel like getting a diagnosis, while it may not be important to everyone, was so important to me and just really allowed me to be kinder to myself.

Laura: So some self-kindness kind of reduced that feeling of irritability, so to speak. And the word itself hasn't come up, but it's something that kind of comes up thematically. And a lot of conversations that I have, like the negative stereotype of people with ADHD, whether or not, you know, that person has ADHD, it's like this person who's like "crackly" is the word that keeps coming to mind for me, like, kind of restless and like reactive and crackly. Like, has that interfered with anything in the past? Like as a kid, did it ever get you in tough situations or situations that you regret for one reason or another?

Jake: Oh yeah, I think so for sure. I think crackly is a great word because one thing that pops to mind is I lived in apartments a lot as a kid, poorly insulated apartments. And we'd have really loud upstairs neighbors or a loud barking dog next door, whatever it is. And those sounds, especially if they were like infrequent and sporadic and I had no control over them, they would literally cause this bubbling rage inside me, which was like part of what was so confusing. And I think why I viewed myself as irritable is because I didn't understand where this rage was coming from. I never considered myself to be an angry person. But during those moments I could lash out and say things that 10 minutes later I would completely never imagine that I had said. And that definitely hurt in terms of making friendships, especially friendships with neurotypical people who couldn't understand, even though I didn't understand at the time.

Laura: Jake, our listeners can't see me, but I've been like nodding ferociously. Speaking of rage, you said a lot of things there that are really poignant. And I also want to say I'm sorry to hear that it affected friendships for you. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

Jake: One thing would be, you know, if I was having a conversation with someone, it could be something as simple as they're tapping their leg or they're tapping their pen or they're like making a noise. Then like as soon as that's happening, my brain, it shuts off. It's only focusing on that. I can't even hear what they're saying, and even in my responses could kind of like, you know, lash out at someone in that moment or quickly dismiss what they said. Honestly, I think a lot of my friendships during youth came to an end for that reason, not necessarily directly because they were making some kind of noise and I lashed out and that was it, but just in the sense of they couldn't fully understand me. And I feel like part of my ADHD is I'm very ruled by my emotions, and I'm like hyper in tune to little subtleties or difference that I notice from friends, and can maybe expect too much from people or read into things too much sometimes. And that would get me into some trouble.

Laura: Some of what you just said, though, Jake, also sounds like qualities that make a great friend, like being able to notice, to be really perceptive, that kind of being very in tune to feeling. Is that accurate of you?

Jake: Yeah, I think so, 100%. Like, it's definitely been a trial and error to find the people in my life. I'm definitely someone that likes to keep a really small circle of very close friends. I absolutely can't stand small talk or relationships where the conversation never really goes to a deeper level. So the people that I have found over the years, some of them with ADHD and some of them without, I think that they kind of view me as a kind of source of wisdom or advice, or the person that's always going to be there, which can be a good and bad thing for myself as well. Being someone that likes to overexert myself to burn out and, you know, be ready and willing for anyone at the drop of a hat. I've never been someone who's had a group of friends. More so I make very strong connections with people from a whole bunch of different groups and walks of life. Something about that group setting makes me really shrink up.

Laura: What do you think it is?

Jake: I think it's a lot of social anxiety. I get extremely in my head and I hear my inner monologue more than ever, and I'm like constantly like looking for little tidbits of the conversation, like, oh, could I contribute to that? Do I have the perfect thing to say to be liked by the group? Whereas it's funny to think about when you're removed from the situation and it's like, well, everyone in the group says things without making sure it's the perfect thing to say. So why do I have this pressure on myself to have everything come out so perfectly or not be cringy? Will they think I'm normal? Will they like me? And I also think there's an aspect of having to mask my symptoms when I'm in a group, as opposed to with a strong individual connection.

Laura: For example, I'm speaking from my own experience here. You're in a group. A bunch of people are talking. You're obviously very intelligent, but because of the way your brain is wired, it might be harder to, like, keep up and, like, you have something to say, and then you're afraid you're going to lose it because of the working memory. And so you're like, when they say this, I will say this kind of thing.

Jake: Yeah.

Laura: Well, I'm sorry to hear that you may be struggling with some social anxiety, but it is really common for people with ADHD to also struggle with anxiety. When you would leave like a group setting or a party, do you ever replay everything you said?

Jake: All the time. All the time, and not even just that night. For years to come. I think about this one thing that I said, this thing that didn't land or, God forbid, I finally said that thing and something else happened and nobody heard what I said. And I have to decide, am I going to repeat that? Was it even that good? 100%. That's been something as well. I have to like look back and be like, OK, you know what? It's time to forgive yourself for this. You would forgive another friend if they said this. You need to move on to.

Laura: I'm actually looking up something that we wrote on our website, Understood.org, about ADHD and feelings of remorse, like feeling guilty. As someone with ADHD, you're aware of what's happening, what things you're struggling with, but then it doesn't make those things go away. So you're like hyperaware of what you did and like, you can, like, ruminate on it and feel anxious about it. Tell me and our listeners about what it is that you do.

Jake: So I'm a comedian. I do improv, sketch comedy. Standup is something that I'm just starting to get back into as well. And then I also act and sing. So I've been out here for about six months. And it's been so awesome because since then I've been able to make my living doing what I love and being an actor. And, you know, I feel like above fame and riches and anything else that like just getting to survive and live in a place that I love, getting to do what I love and meeting people that are interested in the same has been like the greatest gift that I've had in my adult life thus far.

Laura: Do you ever bring ADHD into your improv? Do you ever talk about it?

Jake: Not talk about it, but I think that ADHD is my superpower there because I have always been quick and clever. All of those years of listening in on group conversations and figuring out the perfect thing to say have definitely helped. And because improv, everyone is saying something stupid, so you don't have to worry about that. It's just the practice of, OK, I'm thinking this, get it out.

Laura: Oh, that's great. I'm glad you found something that you feel passionate about and you seem really happy.

Jake: Oh, yeah. Even the nature of just, I mean, I did work a 9 to 5 for a couple of months in sales, and that felt so wrong for me. So, so very wrong. And even the nature of now, I'll start off the week on Sunday and I'll have no idea what my week is going to look like until it happens. And I might wear four different hats that week. And just the fact that it's always different and exciting and changing and last-minute, I just feel like I found the lifestyle that, like, really fills that need inside of me.

Laura: Oh, my God. Well, people can't see you right now, but Jake's smile is so big. I just have to say that. Right now, as you're saying that, you're beaming.

You've been listening to "ADHD Aha!" from the Understood Podcast Network. If you want to share your own "aha" moment, email us at ADHDAha@Understood.org. I'd love to hear from you. If you want to learn more about the topics we covered today, check out the show notes for this episode. We include more resources as well as links to anything we mentioned in the episode. Understood as a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently discover their potential and thrive. Learn more at Understood.org/mission.

 "ADHD Aha!" is produced by Jessamine Molli. Say hi, Jessamine.

Jessamine: Hi everyone.

Laura: Briana Berry is our production director. Our theme music was written by Justin D. Wright, who also mixes the show. For the Understood Podcast Network, Scott Cocchiere is our creative director, Seth Melnick is our executive producer, and I'm your host, Laura Key. Thanks so much for listening.

 

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  • Laura Key

    is executive director of editorial at Understood and host of the ADHD Aha! podcast.

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