ADHD masking: Breaking free and going viral
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Aideé Chávez Frescas is a senior social media manager at Understood. She also has ADHD and creates her own social media content that has gone viral again and again. She shares about her life as a Mexican person living in the United States, and the intersection of being Latina and having ADHD. Her videos and posts help end stigma and show others they’re not alone.
Understood is the first workplace where Aideé has been open about her ADHD. She felt comfortable disclosing because of Understood’s mission to help people who learn and think differently thrive. In the past, she relied on masking her symptoms, toning her energy and personality down to fit into spaces. Now, Aideé is proud to be herself at work. And she encourages her team to do the same.
Hear how Aideé thought masking her ADHD was code-switching at first — plus her formula for going viral.
Aidee’s personal Instagram account, and her ADHD Instagram account @totallyadhd_
Aideé: I stopped being afraid and pretending. I didn't realize how much pretending I was doing through my day or even with friends. I couldn't do me because I was just so worried that my ADHD was going to interrupt somebody. I was so exhausted too. I was so tired.
Eleni: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "How'd You Get THAT Job?!," a podcast that explores the unique and often unexpected career paths of people with learning and thinking differences. My name is Eleni Matheou and I'm a user researcher here at Understood. That means I spend a lot of time thinking about how we find jobs we love that reflect how we learn and who we are. I'll be your host.
Aideé Chávez Frescas knows how to go viral. We work together here at Understood, where she creates content as the senior social media manager. She has ADHD, and she manages her own team who she encourages to be themselves at work. Since Understood is an organization that works to shape the world for people with learning and thinking differences, we're very understanding and open here about neurodiversity, which is not the usual working environment, as we've heard on the show again and again. Aideé and I talk more about this and how it's changed how we work.
Welcome, Aideé, to the Understood podcast studio. Two Understood employees in the Understood podcast room.
Aideé: That sounded so professional. Thank you for inviting me. I'm so excited to be here.
Eleni: I'm so excited that you are here and we are chatting. One part of your story I think is really interesting is, you know, social media is a big part of your life, both in your day job and then also outside of work. So I thought that we can start just maybe with a quick description of what you do and Understood. And then also how you apply some of your skills outside of work too.
Aideé: I'm a senior social media manager here at Understood, and I didn't become a social media manager by accident. It has always been easy for me. I'm always an early adopter. So I started with social media and I didn't really understand, because social media, like 10 years ago, is not what it is today. So I didn't really understand that it could be a job. I just knew that it made me happy and I wanted to do something with this.
And yeah, when you do something every day, it makes you happy, you become really good at it. And it becomes part of your nature almost. I joke about it all the time and I say, look, I can make you viral if you want to be viral. It sounds cocky, but it's not cocky because I just know the formula so well. I can do it for brands and for people.
Eleni: What were the skills that you learned in your personal life that you then applied to your work?
Aideé: I remember the first time that I had a brand reaching out to me for me to do their socials, and I didn't know I could charge. So I was like, OK, yeah, I'd do it, of course. And then they're like, "How much do you charge?" And I'm like "What? You pay?"
Eleni: I just do this for fun.
Aideé: Yeah, I was, I was so in shock. And then from that I started, like, getting more clients and I had, like, clients. I had great success with the brands. And so I was able to start charging a little bit more money. It was an easy transition. It was never something that I questioned. It was one day I just woke up and I was like, OK, I'm quitting my job. This is what I'm doing now.
Eleni: That's super cool. I actually didn't know that. There's a couple of things I want to follow up on. First of all, you said like social media has changed a lot in the last 10 years, and it seems to be like a pretty fast-paced industry to work in. I'm curious how you feel it might be related to like how your brain works and why that might be suited to you. And, you know, yeah, this felt so natural and easy for you.
Aideé: No, it is definitely related. I can write a strategy for socials today and I wake up tomorrow and the whole strategy goes to trash because social media changed completely and I cannot do anything about it — it's just how it is. And I love that. I love that about it because I'm always learning and I'm always doing something else. It's never boring for me. Every day, there's something new, and that gets me going.
So if I wasn't doing this, right, I know my ADHD — it would just paralyze itself, basically. I would be in this place where I would not be able to take action, because that's how my ADHD works. That's how she goes — or he or it, whatever. It goes to that place of not taking action and overthinking everything.
So because my job is already moving so fast, I have to take action so fast, I cannot think about it. I cannot sit down and take a whole week to make a decision. So it's constantly knowing and trusting your gut and then going after that.
Eleni: Yeah, it's like a positive cycle. You haven't actually said what you're known for on Instagram or on TikTok.
Aideé: Yeah. So for my Instagram, I transitioned to just like lifestyle. And then I now do me. It's like something that I would post for my parents to see now for Instagram. And then for TikTok, I started the account just sharing about my experience as a Mexican person in America, in New York. And so I that's how I started. And then I transitioned to talking about ADHD.
It's also like interesting because I didn't transition also to speak about ADHD by accident. It was also what the audience wanted to hear from me. I'm very good about doing something and realizing what somebody wants out of it, and then that's what I give. I don't have to do the other stuff. I can open up another channel and do that on the other channel.
But yeah, I immediately knew the first time I shared something about ADHD, it was like viral. The next one viral, the next one viral, the next one — like it was like one thing after another one. And I was like, OK, this is it. This is what people want to hear from me.
Eleni: So then what is it like working in a field that's so personal to you?
Aideé: Yeah, I don't know the difference between personal and work. So, like, the values, like we speak about this all the time here in the organization. Like, what values do you have in the organization? And, like, my values are the same values. Like, my personal values are the same values that I have in the organization. I can't — I don't know the difference between the two.
And so, like, when I come here, I bring my full self and I really can't separate the two. When I try to do that, it's just — I'm not happy, you know? And so I have to make sure that I stay strong on the things that I do in my personal life. If I'm like a kind human outside, I have to be extra kind. All of it has to match.
Eleni: But then I imagine that Understood is a pretty unique place to work in terms of openness about ADHD. So how does this version now, the authentic version of yourself that you bring to work, how does that differ from the past and working in other organizations?
Aideé: Yeah, this is the first time I have ever told my job that I have ADHD. And actually, before that video that I posted on TikTok, I had never told even my friends. Yeah, I was so worried about that video. I was so nervous before posting. I didn't want anybody to know. I also was worried that my family was going to see it and like offend somebody for whatever reason. I don't know. My ADHD has always been like me, myself, and I, and like together we don't — I didn't use to share anything.
I know that because I shared that I have ADHD with the org, yeah, I can be myself finally. Like I can have the giggles for no real reason, because my ADHD is — have like a splash of energy and time. And I'm just happy. All that stuff, everybody understands.
Here, I stopped being afraid and pretending. I didn't realize how much pretending I was doing through my day or even with friends and family. I would just sit in, like dinner table, and speak so slowly and try to be so professional all the time like this. Like I couldn't do me because I was just so worried that my ADHD was going to interrupt somebody. I was so exhausted too. I was so tired. I was so tired of pretending.
Eleni: Yeah, because masking can be really exhausting.
Aideé: Yeah. It was so tiring. And also a lot of my friends that I was worried about, they reached out to me as like, oh, by the way, my son has ADHD. Everybody was super, super extra supportive. It took my parents time to understand it — not because they didn't understand what ADHD is. It's just they didn't understand that I had it because they didn't see any signs. For them, this is me and that's who I was. So they don't see anything as a sign for ADHD.
Eleni: Mmm. That's interesting.
Aideé: Yeah. So that — it took them a long time. So I had to go through the signs with them. Yeah.
Eleni: That's interesting though, because in a weird way that shows that they did have a level of full acceptance of who you are. They just didn't know why.
Aideé: Yeah. And that was so beneficial. So beneficial for me when I was growing up because I was so stupidly confident. I was so weird and I was so fine with it. And that was the way my childhood — so happy. I remember like the way I dressed when I was little, the way that I did things. It was so weird, so strange. And I see pictures of me and I was like, I thought I was the coolest. I was like, so — my personality was so out and I was not so worried.
I think when I went to college is when I started feeling that I needed to change and become more like mature, I guess, and serious. And I know — a lot of people would make comments how I interrupted them when I talk, you know. Then I started working in corporate America and I got a lot of feedback about how loud I was, how much I was laughing. And so like, I internalized all of that.
Eleni: I had a thought when you were talking about, you know, your fear about what would happen if you came out and went viral. But then actually what happened was that people reached out. And I think it's interesting because we hear that a lot in research in terms of visibility, like how important it is. Because like once you see others that are like you, it does normalize it to an extent and you feel less alone in that experience. So it's cool that you could do that for others.
Aideé: Yeah. And I think that also — I am not going to speak for the whole like Hispanic community or Mexican community, but I know what I know. And around my circle, I know it can be a taboo. Mental health. It's something that we are not accustomed to speak about it because it is shameful in a way. I mean, I don't know. I felt shame. I did. I didn't want to be different.
Aideé: Yeah. I just didn't want my brain to not work the same way that everybody else's brain, because I didn't want people to think that I was stupid. My parents were like, why will you post this on social media? Like, they don't even have social media. Don't do this, because everybody's going to see it. Like it's OK that you have it, but like, let's keep it a secret.
Eleni: Yeah. Definitely.
Aideé: Yeah, I can see that it's something that it does affect them.
Eleni: So one thing I wanted to ask you about: At Understood you manage a team, and we already talked about you being out about your differences. But I know in addition to you being open about your differences, a lot of your team is also open about theirs. I think that's kind of an interesting case study to think about in comparison to other organizations, because obviously it's unique in that way, right?
Aideé: Yeah, my team is a team of four full-time employees. It's going to be five soon. And we have one contractor right now. And from the four, three have ADHD. Right? And we are open about it. So the dynamic is really interesting. We are so understanding of what we need. It also can feel — like if you're in a meeting with us and our team meeting on, we have it on Tuesdays and Tuesday mornings, you're going to be like, what is happening?
I mean, we do follow some guidelines that we go through. I mean, every time we meet, we go through the same things. But before you know it, we start talking about like why apples are the color that they are. And then like, why like random, random stuff comes every single time. At the same time, we get the work done. And not only that, it's extremely successful because they are extremely creative and it doesn't stop. It's like the energy that this team has is like times 20. You know, like an idea happens today and it's done by next week. We are already implementing it so fast. They're so, so smart.
And also it's hard for me — the part that is hard — because I have to also maintain the creativity. Channel that creativity. The best thing, too, about people that have ADHD because we always, constantly have many, many, many, many creative ideas. So if I say no, we can't do that because whatever reason, they're like, OK. There's never hard feelings. Because I know a lot of neurotypical people get really passionate about one idea and they think — .
Eleni: They get attached to it.
Aideé: Attached to it and they think that's it. But because we are like used to losing them all the time, because, you know, your brain goes so fast. So one day you have one idea and then like the next day, oh, what was I thinking? That was a great idea. Oh, I forgot. That's OK. You know, like, you move on really quickly. It's like, not a big deal. We're used to it.
Eleni: Do you feel like you have learned more about yourself and your ADHD through working with others that are also open about it?
Aideé: 100. Every time. It's a constant seeing yourself reflected in others and seeing your actions reflected in others. It's so good because your awareness grows.
Eleni: Do you want to talk a little bit about what works for you at work and how you've kind of come up with coping strategies or tools or whatever it may be?
Aideé: I learned how to cope with my ADHD without realizing I was coping with my ADHD. And so for the longest time, because I'm Mexican, I thought I was in good shape. I just was like, oh, at home I can be really loud. At work, I can't be really loud. I didn't really realize it was ADHD.
But for me to be successful is always notes, I guess. I take lots of lots of notes. I'm so organized to the point that is crazy. Like you look at my Google drive and it's like chef's kiss, you know. It's so pretty, so organized. But like, but I have to. Otherwise, I would nod. I would not know how to find things. Like I have to be that extreme. And I'm constantly looking for ways of improving the process that we have at work. I'm always looking for ways of the team spending less time at work. Not that I don't want them to work, it's like just —
Aideé: Efficiency. Yeah, I had this conversation with the team member and he said yeah, I spend three days creating this spreadsheet every month. And I'm like, what? Three days? You're so creative. This is a spreadsheet. No, we're not doing this anymore. Like, I need you to be like bringing ideas and like, sharing those ideas. This is not where your time should be spent. And so we switched right away, and now it takes 45 minutes. Like little things like that. I'm like, always looking for that — that kind of ways of improving — .
Eleni: It's part of problem-solving. We definitely had an episode where someone talked about spending a lot of time in their day job actually trying to figure out ways to not do the mundane things that didn't work for their brain. Like it was partly like, oh my God, this is so boring. I physically can't sit here and do this. Like, how do I make this more efficient in order for me and the person after me to not have to do this boring thing, you know?
Aideé: Yeah, yeah, that's exactly it. You start making mistakes because it's boring. Your brain is tired, your brain doesn't care, especially when it's the same thing over and over and over again. So, yeah, I love that. I love that about my brain.
Eleni: Yeah. That's so cool. Well, thank you so much for having this conversation with me. It was very fun.
Aideé: Thank you so much. This is great.
Eleni: You've been listening to "How'd You Get THAT Job?!" from the Understood Podcast Network. The show is for you, so we want to make sure you're getting what you need. Email us at [email protected] with your thoughts about the show. Or maybe you'd like to tell us how you got THAT job. We'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. Also, one of our goals at Understood is to help change the workplace so everyone can thrive. Check out what we're up to at u.org/workplace. That's the letter U dot org slash workplace.
Understood.org is a resource dedicated to help people who lead and think differently discover their potential and thrive. Learn more at understood.org/mission.
"How'd You Get THAT job?!" is produced by Margie DeSantis and edited by Mary Mathis. 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, Laura Key is our editorial director, Scott Cocchiere is our creative director, and Seth Melnick is our executive producer. And I'm your host, Eleni Matheou. Thank you for listening.
leads user research for Understood. She helps Understood to center its work on the lived experiences and voices of people who learn and think differently.