Navigating Friendships With ADHD with Charlotte Dover

Friendship IRL Podcast - Episode 54 - Navigating Friendships With ADHD

Podcast Description

A few years ago, I was diagnosed with ADHD. I didn’t know it at the time, but ADHD was affecting so many areas of my life, including my friendships.

Navigating friendships with a neurodiverse brain is tricky. I talked about it in Episode 40, and here we delve into the topic again with today’s guest, Charlotte Dover, an ADHD life coach who supports late-diagnosed and self-diagnosed ADHD women.

Charlotte herself was diagnosed with ADHD at age 36 and has spent the past two and a half years learning about it from a personal perspective. 

Listening back to this episode makes me emotional, but I think there’s power in putting this stuff out there. Hopefully today’s episode will create more understanding for the neurotypical people out there and help the neurodivergent listeners feel less alone.

In this episode you’ll hear about:

  • Charlotte’s work with women who have ADHD and her personal journey of learning about her own diagnosis later in life
  • The traits and tendencies that can make friendship for people with ADHD very difficult and how Charlotte and Alex combat some of these obstacles
  • Common thought patterns (and thought spirals) for people with ADHD and Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria
  • “Regulating” ourselves for our neurotypical friends – which might sometimes feel necessary but can also be hard work that keeps us from important experiences
  • Loneliness – the definition of it and the importance of rethinking what we actually want out of our friendships (which might not always be a big birthday party!)
  • How a new neurodivergent diagnosis can be like bringing a new person into the equation

Reflection Question:

Do you have friends who have ADHD? What in today’s episode resonates? Are there any thoughts or explanations or shared experiences that you can take with you to help your own friendships?

Notable quotes:

“I have a very small group of people who I would say are friends, and an even smaller group of people who are close friends, that I will talk about anything with. And when I say small, I mean really small. I believe that’s a product of having always known that, I felt different – never quite being allowed in. I think we spoke about this before – my whole growing up experience, and even sometimes now, I felt like being just on the other side of a pane of glass from everybody else. You can see everything. You can hear everything. You can kind of be involved, but you’re not in it.”

“Once you start talking about this fundamental part of you, even though it’s always been there, you are expressing yourself as a person with ADHD, autism, neuro divergence, whatever it is that you’re starting to express openly. It’s a whole new expression of you as the person that your friends know. So it is almost like, oh, okay. We’ve known for 20 years Charlotte without ADHD. Here’s Charlotte with ADHD, even though I have always been Charlotte with ADHD. I just haven’t understood it or spoken about it openly. And that’s almost like bringing a new character, a new person into the equation.”

Resources & Links

Charlotte Dover is an ADHD coach – follow her on Instagram, reach out to her via her website, and listen to her podcast, This Beautiful Chaos.

Want to take this conversation a step further? Send this episode to a friend. Tell them you found it interesting and use what we just talked about as a conversation starter the next time you and your friend hang out!


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Episode Transcript

Podcast Intro/Outro  00:02

Alrighty, gang. Here’s to nights that turn into mornings and friends that turn in family. Cheers!

Podcast Intro/Outro   00:18

Hello, Hello, and welcome to the Friendship IRL podcast. I’m your host, Alex Alexander. My friends… They would tell you; I like to ask the hard questions. You know who I am in the group? I’m the person that’s saying, “Okay, I’m going to ask this question, but don’t feel like you have to answer it.” And now, I can be that friend for you, too. 

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Podcast Intro/Outro [Add time marker]

Alex Alexander [Narration] 0:50
I am thrilled to be sharing today’s podcast episode with you. This episode is near and dear to my heart. If you have listened to Episode 40, I shared in that episode that I was diagnosed with ADHD a few years ago now. And what I didn’t know at the time was that ADHD was impacting so many areas of my life, I will never forget finding out and talking to two of my friends who are very neurotypical, and telling them like, “I’ve just always thought that everyone else felt this way. But I thought everyone else had figured out a hack. And you all had just figured out your thing. But like, I feel overwhelmed by this every day.” And I remember them just looking at me and be like, “Yeah, we don’t feel that. So maybe you should reach out to someone because that sounds really overwhelming.” What I didn’t realize at the time, because I got diagnosed pretty quickly after that, was that navigating friendships with a neurodiverse brain is tricky. I had a lot of feelings, that even before I was diagnosed, I kind of knew, and I talk about those in Episode 40. But I really, really dish them out in today’s episode. So if you’re like, why the heck are you thrilled to be sharing this on the internet? Well, if you’ve been here for a while, you know that I think there’s a lot of power in putting this stuff out there. Like I think that people are going to listen to today’s episode and maybe feel really seen in their experience for the first time. I think some people are gonna listen and feel a lot less alone in their experience. And I think that there are some neurotypical people out there who are going to listen to this and realize that maybe there was a lot happening in their friend’s brain that they had no idea. And maybe it’ll just create a little more understanding. So that is why I’m really thrilled to be sharing this episode with you today. Now, I was not the only one in this episode, who really put it all out there on the interwebs. My guest today, Charlotte Dover was so kind to be so open and honest about her experience navigating friendship. I do want to note that we got to the end, and we talked so long about the struggles. But Charlotte was like “Wait, wait, wait, wait we didn’t talk about any of the good.” And I will get to episodes on that, I promise. But I do think this episode is important. I think it’s important to talk about this stuff happening in our brains that feels so overwhelming. So let me tell you a little bit about Charlotte before we get into the episode. Charlotte is an ADHD life coach. She supports late diagnosed and self-diagnosed ADHD women at all stages of the roller coaster ride that is figuring out life as a neurodivergent woman. Charlotte herself was diagnosed at the age of 36 and has spent the past two and a half years learning about ADHD from a personal perspective and joining the dots of how being undiagnosed has influenced her life until now. I’m really, really looking forward to this episode. So, let’s get to it.

Alex Alexander 4:49
You reached out when we decided to record this podcast and you said I want to talk about friendships from an ADHD perspective. And you work as an ADHD coach. Correct? Do you want to talk a little bit about what you do?

Charlotte Dover 5:06
Yeah, sure. So yeah, I’ve been coaching for just over five years. And two and a half years ago, I had this chance conversation that made me realize that I was absolutely ADHD. And then just over two years ago, I was diagnosed. So of course, in true ADHD fashion, I went down a rabbit hole of how much can I learn about this? What can I do? I didn’t really have the intention of working as an ADHD coach. But then I kind of stopped and looked one day about six months ago, and I was like, hold up. Pretty much all of my clients are either diagnosed or self-diagnosed. So I was like, okay, maybe I need to just talk about what I do, and call myself an ADHD coach because that’s what’s happened. So I think that’s one of the beauties of how my brain works is that I just tend to get where I need to get to when it comes to these things, without having to force myself. So yeah, I very naturally and organically now work with late-diagnosed ADHD women, or women who think they may be ADHD.

Alex Alexander 6:17
We just attract ourselves to each other. I have so many friends, I have a few that were diagnosed before I was. But I have a large number that have either gotten diagnosed after me or have questions. They’re pondering things. And I have lots of neurotypical friends too, but I definitely think we flock together naturally, quite often without even realizing it. And I think a huge piece of that, when it comes to friendships, is there really is like a natural comfort in the conversation and expectations. Because you’re both operating similarly.

Charlotte Dover 7:03
Yeah. I love it. You’re like edging into that. But I guess what you mean is you assume that there are going to be segways, and you assume that there are going to be interruptions. And you know that someone’s going to say something that seems completely unconnected, but their brains have gone like five miles down the road in half a second. And you know that it’s connected to what you’re talking about. And we kind of tend to sort of bulldoze straight in, I think, to a conversation, that very little small talk, which is like, “Hey, let me tell you my deepest, darkest secrets”, straightaway.

Alex Alexander 7:43
Yeah. And I think, naturally, what happens is when you’re meeting people, and you’re talking to them in those first conversations, and you do that, you jump three steps ahead. It’s pretty easy to tell whether the person’s keeping up or not. And in those conversations, if you’re a neurodivergent person, if they’re not, you’re masking and going back and you’re approaching the conversation a little differently quite often, not always. But if I’m talking to someone, and they’re just following along for the journey, that’s very comfortable for me. I think it naturally leads to conversations, to ending up in the same groups in a room, in a party to interests. Like, I think it’s just comfortable. And that leads to people just naturally developing these friendships with other neurodivergent people quite often without even realizing it.

Charlotte Dover 8:51
Yeah, I think so. I mean, it’s funny, there’s someone who’s in a networking group that I’m in, and she’s becoming a friend, and she also thinks she has ADHD. And we were at an in-person event. Most of it, I do it online, but we were in an in-person event. And she was like, hmm, I wonder where Charlotte is, I’m gonna scan the corners because she’ll be in a corner. And I’m pretty sure I know who she’ll be talking to. And it’s that thing of, we are going to flock together. It’s like magnets. And I mean, my tendency is, as I said, to end up in a corner, that may well be someone else who has neuro divergence tendency as well. And so there we go, hanging out in the corners together, rather than right in the center of this busy, crazy, live event. You know, we’re in that place where we are comfortable and can maybe control stuff a little bit more in a way that works for whatever our needs might be.

Alex Alexander 9:44
Yeah, I think… and these are all just natural tendencies quite often. I think before I was diagnosed, I was naturally doing some of these things. Or I would fight it and force myself which was exhausting obviously. And now because I’m aware I’m able to make choices a little bit. But before I was diagnosed, I was just like naturally doing a lot of things that were what I needed. And I don’t even know why I ended up in a corner.

Charlotte Dover 10:17
And then that’s… you see someone else doing these things that are a gift coming naturally to them. And you just kind of sent something, you suddenly feel you’re like, okay, you feel like a safe place to be when you meet another neurodivergent person, obviously, massive generalization. And it’s not always the case. But what I found is, the more I express my own neuro divergence, the more I tend to magnetize towards other neurodivergent people, or have people being like, “Hey, what you just said, made me think this. I’m gonna go and explore this for myself as well.” So it is this thing about just talking and learning how to do the things that we need to do for ourselves and knowing that there are people there who are going to accept us and hopefully be friends.

Alex Alexander 11:09
Yeah, like it is possible. Because I think, you know, one of the things what we’re hoping to talk about today is really this idea that everybody needs connection. Everybody needs community. But there are a lot of traits, tendencies of neurodivergent people that make friendship incredibly hard. Incredibly hard. And we can run through some of those. But, like so much… so much of being neurodivergent, there’s kind of things that end up being superpowers and things that end up being incredibly difficult. And if you’re not acknowledging how this is affecting your friendships, if you are neurodivergent, or if you’re a typical person who’s friends with somebody who’s neurodivergent, and you’re like, why did they keep doing that, some things in this episode might make you realize it’s not you. It’s just them and how their brain works.

Charlotte Dover 12:09
Absolutely. I mean, I spend so much of my time thinking, I am a terrible friend. And I don’t mean this, like I can rationalize that I know I’m not. But when I’m forgetting things, or not doing things, or, you know, being a little bit haphazard, because my brain is on something else. That makes me feel like a terrible friend. And yeah, I mean, I think there are probably a lot of other neurodivergent people who just feel like they are terrible friends. And actually, that’s just not true. It’s not true of me. I’m sure it’s not true of you Alex, and it won’t be true of anyone who’s listening to this, either. It’s just that we’re maybe not able to operate in these kinds of societal standards of what friendship is seen as, but yes, you have an incredible friend, so we can be okay with that. There are just tons.

Alex Alexander 13:05
Yeah, there are also huge pluses to being a neurodivergent person in friendship. Everything has a flip side of the coin. But they’re just some things about how neurodivergent brains work. Now, again, these are generalizations we’re going to touch on some things today. Not everyone, the way I experience certain things, and you experience them? Different. The way some people might have more of one thing. Like, for example, I’m gonna use executive functioning, right? The way my brain has executive functioning issues, and your brain has executive functioning issues and how they affect friendship? Different. I might have more executive functioning issues than you. Somebody else that’s listening may not really have those, but they might have other things. None of this is a blanket statement. But talking about these things, and how they’re affecting our friendships might make us realize that we’re not bad people. We’re not bad friends. This is just how our brain works. And our friends can hopefully listen to this too, and give us some grace, that it’s not because we don’t like them. It’s just because we are who we are. And we’re all unique people. And, you know, hopefully at some point, some of these things actually just become endearing traits of who you are.

Charlotte Dover 14:33
Yeah, or at least tolerable ones. You know, even if our friends don’t love them, they love us as a whole person. So they’re kind of those things that once they understand better, just become part of the whole patchwork.

Alex Alexander 14:47
Yeah, it just says who we are. We can change a lot of these things. Sure, we can get coaches and try and implement some habits and people may or may not choose medication to help with certain things. But that only helps so much if you do choose that. So anyways, let’s talk about… since I brought it up, let’s talk about executive functioning. And some ways you and I have experienced this affecting our friendships.

Charlotte Dover 15:14
Sure. So I dive in with what I…

Alex Alexander 15:16
Go for it. Yeah, I got one at the top of my head to see you start.

Charlotte Dover 15:19
I wonder if it’s the same one. Maybe it’s time… time blindness. Being able to figure out how to get myself where I need to be, at the time that I meant to be there. And, you know, for a long time there was this running joke amongst my friends, like whatever time you are meant to be meeting like, Charlotte’s always going to be late.

Alex Alexander 15:45
I’m a late person, too.

Charlotte Dover 15:46
Yeah. And that’s hard work. Because it’s a really fine line, isn’t it? Because actually, you don’t want your friends to think that you are disrespectful of their time. But I’ve gone the other way to try and overcome that and ended up being somewhere like an hour early, because I was so desperate to not be late. And that’s one of the huge challenges for me, if I’m meeting people physically because, you know, if I leave too much time, I then get optimistic about what I can fit in on the way and like, oh, let’s do this and then end up late anyway. So that was a big one that I’ve actually spoken to friends and a lot about. So that’s my diagnosis, just to be like, I really am not showing up on time because I didn’t care about you and your time. I just find it really hard. I might leave at the time. But I meant to be there. And then be incredibly stressed. Because I got it wrong again and those kind of things.

Alex Alexander 16:45
Yeah. So for anybody who doesn’t know what time blindness is, people with neurodivergent brains, sometimes experience time blindness. And that is, from my understanding, again, I’m not a psychologist, but from my experience, one, you don’t really have any sense of how long something will take. Like, I might have one hour to get out the door. And I, in my head, see something, I’m like, oh, I can just get that done really fast. But really, it’s a three hour task. But my brain just cannot figure that out. There’s really one setting, that’s actually a great way to describe it, for me, at least. It’s kind of binary. It’s like, oh, I can get that done real fast. Real fast. I always say that real fast, or that’s impossible, it’s going to take me forever. There’s no real sense of the length it’s going to take. So if you have to get out the door in an hour, and I see a task like, oh, I’ll just get that done real fast, it might be a two hour task and 55 minutes in, I realized it’s not done, I still put my shoes on. It’s a 10-minute drive, like I’m going to be late.

Charlotte Dover 17:57
And there’s also the other side of that, isn’t there? Where you know that you have to leave a certain time and you then physically can’t start doing anything.

Alex Alexander 18:07
Oh, yeah, the paralysis.

Charlotte Dover 18:08
Because you’re waiting for that time to happen, I find that especially if someone’s coming to my house, rather than I’m leaving to go somewhere. But this whole nothing-can-happen-before-that-meeting. You know, that also then has an impact on your experience with your friend when you meet them. Because you might be feeling frustrated with yourself about the fact that you just sat in that paralysis for hours that morning, before you could kind of leave and go because that is again, oh, I don’t have time for that thing. Therefore, I can’t start that thing. What should I do? I don’t know nothing. Oh, now I still only have five minutes to get dressed.

Alex Alexander 18:49
And you really needed… sometimes, you really needed to get four things done that morning. Like they had to be done. There’s a deadline, but because you have an appointment at one with a friend for lunch, you don’t get any of those done. So then you show up at the appointment, you’re happy to be with them. But simultaneously, you’re frustrated thinking I still have to go home and do those things. Am I even going to get them done? Why couldn’t I just get them done this morning? And that’s like running in the back. That’s a script going in the back of your brain. At least at the beginning of the time you’re spending with your friend.

Charlotte Dover 19:23
Until you managed to hyper focus on them and forget about it because that’s then like, out of sight. So you’re okay, but…

Alex Alexander 19:29
And then you may never do it when you get home… all that energy.

Charlotte Dover 19:35
… stuff like oh, if I spend time with my friends, I don’t get the important stuff done. Which can then make it really hard to allow yourself to even invest time in friendships because you then think, oh, that’s going to have a knock on effect on my productivity and what I’ve got to do, and it can become really sticky and complicated, even when it’s not about a particular relationship with a particular person. It’s like the whole concept of having time and space for meaningful connection in your life.

Alex Alexander 20:09
So another one that I was thinking of is text messages and communication. And this is layered, right? There is the… you mentioned the out of sight out of mind. So this is a common experience for neurodivergent people. I actually read something about this recently. And it’s like, the way our brains work, other people, for example, if you’re going to get out the door in the morning, can like picture what it looks like to be done and walk out the door to go to work, right? You’re dressed, you have your bag, you can picture these things. Our brains can’t do that. And because of that, we don’t know what done looks like. And we can’t work backwards for the steps to get there. Which, of course, telling you that story lost me my thing about text messages and friendships and…

Charlotte Dover 21:10
About out of sight, out of mind.

Alex Alexander 21:12
Out of sight, out of mind. So because of that, this doesn’t have to do with text messages necessarily. But like, if you haven’t talked to a friend in a while, or you don’t have something on the calendar, sometimes you kind of forget that they exist. I, to combat this, have a written list of people that I look at.

Charlotte Dover 21:37
Yeah, me too.

Alex Alexander 21:38
Which sounds so unromantic when I talk about it. And funny enough, surely, you’ll probably love this, I get a lot of neurotypical people that are like, that’s genius. Because it’s not that they have the same out of sight, out of mind. But I think for them, for everybody, it forces them to like sit down and look at this tangible list and make choices versus having someone pop up in their head repeatedly and be like, oh, I don’t have time, I don’t have time, I don’t have time and then feel guilty later. But I do think the technique works for everybody.

Charlotte Dover 22:11
So I’m curious as to whether you approach it in a similar way to how I approach mine, which is something that sounds even less romantic. But I make sure that I am periodically in touch with each of those people even if it’s just a quick, “Hey, I’m thinking of you” message. Like I won’t always ask them even how they are or send them a message to say I’m thinking about you. And the more that I do that, and the more that I cement that behavior in my brain, the less that person tends to slip out of mind. But what I would say to some, the neurotypical thing is, with everything, this is what I say to everybody that I talk to about ADHD. We are all human first, and we experience everything on a human level. And we don’t really… we being people with ADHD, neurodivergent, don’t necessarily experience things that people with a neurotypical brain don’t experience. It’s just like super magnified. So everybody sometimes forgets the existence of a person in their life, right? It’s just that it happens with ADHD.

Alex Alexander 23:30
At an extreme level, yeah.

Charlotte Dover 23:32
Yeah. So that’s why probably these people who aren’t neurodivergent, who think it’s a genius idea, it’s… again, it’s just a human idea. It’s just ways that our creative brains have come up with to kind of put some structure around this.

Alex Alexander 23:50
Because it’s important, and we want it to happen. And therefore, we have to create structures and systems and tools and habits.

Charlotte Dover 24:01
Systematic text friends day.

Alex Alexander 24:02
What I do think everybody needs, I think that everybody is suffering, when it comes to their… their friendships, their community, their connection, because they don’t see it as a habit and a skill. So, these are tools that work for everybody.

Charlotte Dover 24:20
And that’s again, I guess, like, we think, oh, if it’s a brilliant friendship, if we’re really connected, it is going to be easy. We’re going to think about each other all the time, and we’re going to want to talk to each other all the time. Like, life gets in the way. Whoever you are, life gets in the way of everything, that is not literally in front of your face. So yeah, it doesn’t need to be a habit. We do need to work at it and invest time in it. But I totally interrupted you there.

Alex Alexander 24:46
No, you’re good. I mean, that’s an important point. And where I was going to go with this in the text messages is, you know, we’ve kind of talked about the out of sight, out of mind with friends overall, but the text message component, I used to beat myself up, before I got diagnosed about text messages, daily. Because they come in… let’s just think about text message for a moment they come in. They ding.

Charlotte Dover 25:18
Yeah, I’m feeling like slightly on edge about where this is going,

Alex Alexander 25:21
Well, I’m probably focused on something, we’ve already covered that I’m either… you know, people with ADHD, they’re hyper focus normally or have no focus. So if I have no focus, then I might respond right away. But if I’m hyper focused, it comes in. And if I look at that, it probably will derail everything I’m doing. Maybe I can look at it. But I’m not really comprehending it, I’m not really responding to it, I might just read it and like, think, okay, nice. Back to my website. Moving on. So then it’s there, out of sight, out of mind. If I’ve read it, there’s not necessarily a notification on it. Although I did learn that on on iPhone, you can go back and mark your text messages as unread, I didn’t know that. That has been actually a life changing piece of information for me. And then I’m done with maybe my website and I go to cook dinner, I do this. Like I’ve moved on to the next task, it’s just this little thing, in a phone, it’s not tangible, it’s not physical. And they can pile up. And sometimes I want to respond to the person. But in that lovely world of executive functioning, I can stare at that text message for hours. And for some reason, just can’t actually type the response and hit send. And I know that anybody that doesn’t have ADHD, that is going to sound ludicrous, but it’s so real. It is what it is. Then I will put text messages, just literally text messages on my to-do list. And sometimes, they will get bumped. Because it just feels like this wall to get them done. And they pile up and then there’s more of them. And then when you do send them, people, of course want to talk to you, which is lovely. And I’m so happy about that. But now I feel like I’ve climbed the mountain and I’ve responded and then they all respond back. So, it just repeats. And I have no endpoint of this other than like text messages give me so much anxiety. You know, texting is such a big piece of communication in today’s day and age, especially with friends, people we don’t live with we don’t see all the time. And I just… I spent years thinking I was a bad friend, a bad person, only to find out that this is just how my brain works. Text messages are really hard.

Charlotte Dover 28:01
That makes me think another aspect of text messaging, WhatsApp in particular, although I guess I miss it as well, is this whole when… and maybe this goes on to a completely different topic. And maybe we save it and go back to it. But when you see that you have messaged a friend, and then they have not responded to you even though you can see they’ve seen it. And then you’re suddenly thinking, ah, what have I done. Even though I do that back to them, it suddenly becomes this awful feeling.

Alex Alexander 28:32
So Charlotte, for anybody that hasn’t picked up on her accent is from the UK. Now, yes, yes. Hold on, though, because this is interesting. So most of US people use iMessage if you have an iPhone. And even if you don’t have an iPhone, if you have a different Android or a different kind of phone, a lot of people use text messages, what we call it, not WhatsApp. And I have some friends overseas and they’ve been trying to convince me to get WhatsApp forever. I finally did it. I was like whatever, fine. Although I will say as a person with ADHD, having multiple messaging platforms is also…

Charlotte Dover 29:14
Yeah, too much.

Alex Alexander 29:16
Then business messaging and it’s just… they are developing something that brings all of them into one platform, by the way.

Charlotte Dover 29:29
Like Instagram messenger, Facebook Messenger.

Alex Alexander 29:32
… Business. I get so many Instagram messages for business. So if you’re listening to this on the podcast, you’ve already heard how hard it is for me to respond to text messages. So then I have to go in and do my Instagram messages, I have to go in and do… I have a couple business people to talk to me on Voxer, each of those as a separate to do list item and somedays I cannot tackle them all. So if you are in my Instagram DMs and you see that I’ve read it, I’m sorry. Which is what exactly what you’re saying. But what I… what I was gonna say is that WhatsApp, I downloaded it. And you can see when people were last on, if they saw it… on iMessage, you can turn that off. So, almost no one has that on. Almost everybody turns that off, which I prefer.

Charlotte Dover 30:18
It’s different over here. Very different. So, almost everybody uses WhatsApp.

Alex Alexander 30:23
Oh my gosh, this is awful.

Charlotte Dover 30:26
Yeah. And you can turn off when you’ve read a message. But that means you also can’t see when other people have read a message, which is helpful. But you can’t turn off whether people can see if you’re online. So yeah, it’s not very helpful when you throw in another ADHD thing like rejection sensitivity, which is what I was gonna say, maybe that’s for later.

Alex Alexander 30:50
No, let’s go there. Because I really at first when I read about rejection sensitivity dysphoria, right, that’s what it is. That’s how I say it. I was like, I don’t think I have that. And now, the more I read about it, I’m like, maybe… I don’t know. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about rejection sensitivity dysphoria?

Charlotte Dover 31:12
Yeah, so this is not an exclusively ADHD thing. But it is experienced by a lot of people who have ADHD. The best way that I can think of to describe it to somebody who doesn’t experience it, is that you can almost feel a rejection physically. So you don’t just feel it emotionally, it’s like a full body experience. For me, often it feels like I’ve been punched in the gut. Or I can go kind of numb and freeze, and I don’t know what to do. And it’s all part of emotional dysregulation, which is another executive function difficulty that Alex kind of mentioned, at the start of this. And, of course, nobody likes to feel rejected. It’s sucks for everybody. And it’s one of the main psychological risks as humans that we will avoid. But when you might see that a friend has read your message, again, maybe this is more of a thing in the UK, it’d be really interesting to hear what people’s experience of this is. But when you see they’ve read your message, they haven’t replied. But you can see that they’re online. Even though rationally to me, I know, they’re probably just busy, they might not even be on their phone, it might just be still that they have WhatsApp open on their phone. It feels as though that person is avoiding me, or is angry with me. I start to worry, what I might have done, whether I kind of phrase something in a message badly, whether, you know, I took too long to reply, also very common problem. And then even sometimes it moves out of feeling rejected, and I go into, are they okay? And there’s all these really complicated emotions. And, you know, I’m sure people are listening, going, “Oh, she’s a coach, she shouldn’t feel like this.” Like, ultimately, everybody feel things always, especially with ADHD. I just know how to get myself out of these more quickly and rationalize. But it’s hard, you know, you feel the thing, or you know, someone hasn’t invited you to something even though you have mutual friends. And automatically, that flips into… you know, I can sit on the sofa for the afternoon, and can’t do anything and just like cuddle myself and the dog to feel better. Because I’m so upset by this thing that I probably wouldn’t even want to go to, but it feels like a rejection. And this is where it can just get so complicated with friendships. Because when you feel rejected by silence, or exclusion, which is not direct rejection… that set off complicated emotions pretty much constantly. So it can actually feel safer to just distance yourself from that and not make yourself emotionally available sometimes.

Alex Alexander 34:25
Yes. Yes. I don’t know. I don’t know if I experienced this or not… which is, you know, something different. This is the interesting thing about having a neurodivergent brain is you’re like, is this just a human experience? Is this amplified because of it? Is it something else? Nobody knows. Nobody knows. You know, it takes a long time. What I was gonna say when it comes to that is because I think I do pretty good with silence or not responding, not being invited to something. But my biggest struggle for a long time, I don’t feel this way anymore as much, but was the like when you’ve been with friends, and you are the friend who is jumping all over the conversation or divulging information, or you’re being direct, right, you’re doing all these communication patterns that are very common in people with ADHD. And of course, this was all before I was diagnosed. I would come home and wake up the next day and just spin on the things I had said and wonder if I’d made anybody mad if they were gonna tell me, if what I did was wrong, if I should do it again. You know, how can I stop myself from doing that next time?

Charlotte Dover 36:04
How long are my friends going to put up with me doing this? When are they going to have enough of me?

Alex Alexander 36:09
Yeah. How can I make myself smaller so that they’ll stay friends with me? Like, oh, did I dominate the conversation? Did I talk about things they didn’t want to hear about? I mean, I could go on and on and on, and on. And that would just consume my morning. When my thoughts were, if I was too much, it also feels like too much to then, you know, ask them all these questions.

Charlotte Dover 36:42
And then also wonder whether they’re going to be honest or not. Because no one likes to hurt other people’s feelings intentionally. And that’s a very resonant story for me, as well.

Alex Alexander 36:57
And I think it’s a really common experience for a lot of neurodivergent people. And then the hard part with your friendships is if you feel that way, if you feel like you’re too much, if you feel like whatever, if somebody texts you, you might be hesitant to respond. Because what if they are mad at you? Or they invite you to do something and you think to yourself, like, well, I want to go but are they just inviting me because they feel like they should? Or do they really want me there? Maybe they need a break from me, maybe not going this time will give them some space. And that’s how I can manage it. And that’s just a sad… I feel sad for not knowing, you know? That’s a hard spiral to be in.

Charlotte Dover 37:49
I think that… and this sort of brings this point of connecting with other neurodivergent people versus neurotypical people. I mean, I have a balance of both in my life. And I’m grateful to have every single friend that I have, you know, that I’m connected with, but I’m not going to lie, there is something easier and relaxing about being in a room or Zoom room, a group of neurodivergent people, because you know that everybody is likely to be having some of these similar thoughts. And you know, if they say something they think is a bit wacky, they might be going, oh, should I have said that? Like, what are they gonna think of me? But you can move on much more quickly. And it is more of a shared experience. And I guess it’s a lot easier to unmask around other people who are likely to share traits with you. Whereas when you are with a group of neurotypical friends, you’re aware that if you get really excited about something, you may well go off on the train tracks of that being the only thing that you can think about. And that can be really hard, because, in a way, like why should our friends have to listen to us bang on about the thing that we’re interested in. It’s also hard to be friends with somebody who is in that mode, I’m sure. And so there is this thing… is necessary for the good of a friendship, to regulate that sometimes, so that we can communicate with each other. But it’s hard work. And sometimes it can be too hard work. And I know there have been times where I’ve not gone to things because I’m just like, I can’t regulate myself today. I don’t have that energy. And then I miss out on what could have been a wonderful experience, but also really hard. So who knows, we’ll never know.

Alex Alexander 39:51
Listening to you talk about that, I was thinking to myself, I also have a very large mix of neuro divergent and neuro typical friends and people are all jumbled together and mixed up. And it’s not like different groups, it’s just becoming very apparent that there are a lot of neurodivergent people that I’m friends with. So I hear from a lot of people, neurodivergent people that they just want to find neurodivergent friends and I fully support that. But it’s just like too hard to have any neurotypical friends. And my experience, and this naturally happened, it wasn’t something I intentionally did at first, instead of wanting everyone to be the same in the group, they really just took everybody’s uniqueness endearing. “Oh, that’s so Alex that she does that.” And the same can be said about a bunch of other friends, but I’m not going to throw their names… myself, but you know, “Oh, that’s so Alex” or “Alex loves a tangent. Alex gets really invested in a project.” They became just like, parts of me and my uniqueness. And I think that gave the neurotypical people in the group permission to step into their own uniqueness and not try and fit in some box. And that naturally happened. And then, when I got diagnosed, certain things that had just been me, had I never gotten diagnosed, it would have just, you know, been like an endearing trait that I’m sure drove them nuts sometimes. But instead of focusing on it as frustrating, they really tried to find the good in it, the enjoyable in it, you know? It gave them the ability for me to say out loud, you know, like, oh, well, the reason I’m the queen of tangents in this friend group is because I have ADHD. And now talking about it with everyone has led to one acceptance that this is what it is. Luckily, for me, they already found things endearing. But if you’re somebody who’s never really talked about these things with your friends, at least, they have more information, they know that you feel these things, they might take on a little bit more of a burden of the text messaging, because they understand that this is just really hard for you. But where I was going with this is talking about this with my friends has kind of given them permission, were the moments where they were confused. They can now be honest, and I was telling you this before, there’s now like this code word almost where when my neurotypical friends are lost in a conversation, because I’m just being me, I’m not masking for them. I’m just jumping all over because I feel comfortable with them. And they’re trying to keep up but they can’t. And I’m looking at them, wanting them to continue the conversation and they don’t know where to go. They’re like deer in the headlights lost, whatever. Now they just look at me and they go circles. “Alex circles, circles, circles.” And it has given them permission to not try and force me into a box. But also then I can be like, okay, what part of that conversation was I hoping they would… they would take away or they would join in on? And I can kind of help them out so we can continue to connect.

Charlotte Dover 43:36
And I guess also if you have actually just got into verbalizing whatever is happening in your thought processes. And that’s why it seems that the circles codewords needs to be… you can be like, actually, yeah, this isn’t anything to do with what I wanted to talk to you guys about. Thank you for helping me.

Alex Alexander 43:59
Thanks for… talking about that just helped me make a decision about my business. But really, you don’t need it… verbal processing. I really appreciate you friends for all the verbal processing I’ve ever dumped on you. But I also say I just think that so many of us neurodivergent people are silently holding all of this in. And I think sometimes just talking about it creates acceptance or creates a tool, like my circles codeword, that everybody can use to stay connected and not be left alone with either their thoughts of I’m so confused or my thoughts the next morning of I verbally dumped all day, are they still gonna be my friend?

Charlotte Dover 44:50
Yeah. And it sounds like you have an incredible group of friends who are really so supportive of this. And I think I’m probably slightly on the flip side, that sorry, all friends, you are also incredible. But I have a very small group of people who I would say, our friends, and an even smaller group of people who are close friends that I will talk about anything with. And when I say small, I mean really small. And I believe that’s a product of having always known that, I felt different, never quite being allowed in. And I think we spoke about this before about like, my whole growing up experience, and even sometimes now, felt like being just on the other side of a pane of glass from everybody else. And it’s like, you can see everything, you can hear everything, you can kind of be involved, but you’re not in it. And I think that the number of things that I found upsetting, felt rejected by, felt really ashamed of, you know, I was just getting it wrong. It became easier to not even let people get close. Because then the theory is, you know, you don’t let people get close, you can’t get hurt. Then you realize how painful loneliness and that lack of connection is. And you know, when I’m very ADHD driven, and I’m not having a great day, I still sometimes have these thoughts of, you know, does anyone really get me? Like sometimes do I even get myself, you know? Do I even know having the professional chameleons myself through my whole life to fit into these standards? Do I even know what I want for myself? And it’s, you know, I think it’s a life’s work of untangling this. And in many ways, that doesn’t matter, because we start from where we are right now. And the next thing we do can deepen that connection that we have with a person. But I imagine that there are lots of other people who are maybe undiagnosed neurodivergent, who feel lonely and disconnected, because they don’t know how to feel accepted by people. And they’ve been so traumatized through years and years of feeling like they’re not welcome, even if they are, you know, I’m not saying that the people in their life are not welcoming them. But this person might feel not good enough, not welcome. Like they’re getting it all wrong. And that can feel incredibly isolating even if you are surrounded by people who are friends. You know, that deep connection, that again, we all need on a human level. But that can be really, really challenging for neurodivergent people.

Alex Alexander 48:02
So I obviously talk about connection and community and friendship. And I’m so focused on the forward trajectory, like what we’re doing, the solution, that I had not looked up the actual definition of loneliness. And I recently did this, there’s a podcast episode that is out about it. And loneliness, is the difference between our kind of like, ideal vision of friendship are expectations that we have, what we perceive as this ideal, and our reality. And I think that’s so important to just point out here, because a lot of neurodivergent people are operating. Well, all people. All people are operating with this vision of friendship that like where did they get it? A lot of people got it from mass media. People put out TV shows and movies to get ratings, to make money. So they’re putting out things that are dramatic, or, you know, like the ultimate vision of what it could be like, aspirational. They’re not putting out real life. So, we’re creating these ideals. And then social media, right? We sit at home, we watch people where they put highlight reels, not there every day. So, for neurodivergent people specifically, not only are we building our idea of what we hope this looks like, off of the same bad vision board that neurotypical people are, but we’re also probably building it around neuro typical experiences. So when I think about loneliness, I think it’s a two part problem, right? One, we need to be thinking about our actions and what we’re doing to get us to where we want. But I also think we need to really inspect the what I want piece and think, is that really what I want? Is it what I want? Where did that come from? Because I think a lot of people have some aspiration of what it should be. Is the even what you want? Does it even work for your brain?

Charlotte Dover 50:37
Does it even work for anyone who seems to have it?

Alex Alexander 50:39
Correct. Correct, because that’s the other thing, right? You think you want, you know, this big birthday party. What you don’t see is that somebody’s fighting in the corner and somebody feels hurt. And other people are thrilled and happy and not paying attention to the fact that somebody’s hurt. And there’s just so many feelings we don’t know. We don’t know. So all of this to say, everybody… everybody needs to be inspecting, and looking at and thinking about this difference between where they are and where they’re going. But neurodivergent people especially I think, need to think about that vision they have in their heads, is it even what they want, you know? If what your vision is, is all these shoulds, I should be going on trips with my friends, I should be have a big group of friends, I should go to the party and stand in the middle. But if you really think about it, what would feel good for friendship for you, is a quiet trip with a couple of friends where you all read all day and have dinner together. And that’s it. And you stay in that room.

Charlotte Dover 51:49
Sitting on the sofa next to me, both reading our books really happily, not talking often. Like I love having deep conversations with people too.

Alex Alexander 51:59
But a dream would probably be to go on a trip, you both just sit on beach chairs maybe, maybe you’re not a warm weather person. Maybe it’s an extra mountain, I don’t know. And you read all day quietly, you go back and have naptime in your private separate rooms. And then you meet up for dinner where you have a couple hours of really deep, lovely conversation and then you go back to bed and you repeat it. That might be but that’s not very Instagrammable. That’s not going to sell movies. That’s not something most people are going to talk about. Because it’s not that catchy unless you’re actually interested in it. So we’re creating these visions, like are they what we want? Because if you really thought about it and that’s what you want, it’s probably a lot easier for you to do some things to make that happen. And then you could sit in it and be like, I’m not lonely because I have what I want. So for neurodivergent people, especially everybody, for everybody, especially neurodivergent people, like really inspecting and thinking about and rewriting what it is you want, I think would help so many people…

Charlotte Dover 53:07
Yeah, totally agree.

Alex Alexander 53:09
…who are experiencing this loneliness.

Charlotte Dover 53:12
We’re experiencing, not just loneliness, but this self doubt around? What is it okay for me to reach out? What are the rules here. And, you know, I see this a lot working with people. You know, they jus,t one, don’t know what they want. They don’t know what the expectations are of themselves, other than they’re unrealistic, and they have much higher expectations on themselves than anyone else. And then also this whole, even if they can figure out what they want, and what that could look like, feel like, the experience before them, it’s really hard to take action on it, because that is terrifying or just impossible. You know, to actually get into motion is so hard. And sometimes, even when you really, really want these deep connections with people, it can feel too hard to do it. And I think that’s another thing that is almost uniquely neurodivergent thing. Is this whole, you know, we’re told if you want it enough, you’ll make it happen. And…

Alex Alexander 54:32
… laughter because like yes, that’s not how our brains work.

Charlotte Dover 54:35
And that’s not like you can desperately, desperately want something. But if you cannot find a thread… and I mean maybe you can find 10 threads on how this could start but none of them feels accessible to you until you find a thread you can actually pull on and start to find a way to support yourself to take that first step into this great unknown, because we’re not dealing with facts, we’re dealing with people. And we don’t know how people are going to respond. Negativity bias, we tend to think this is going to go badly. And then you throw in all of those ruminating thoughts that you were talking about the day after you’ve had a social experience. And this whole idea of even pulling that tiny thread of connection to be like, hey, should we do something maybe? Has this whole other potential cascade of outcomes of how it might go, that it can feel paralyzing. And as I say that out loud, it feels extraordinary. But it can really feel that hard to send a reach-out message to somebody. And so even if you want it desperately, it can be too hard.

Alex Alexander 56:00
If you’re somebody that’s in my life, I’m very open about this. And I talk about it all the time. And I point things out. But I also understand that so many people are not me and not doing that and feeling like very, very, very lonely in this experience. So hopefully listening to this episode, you’ll know that you aren’t alone and that these are very common feelings to have.

Charlotte Dover 56:27
And I think that happens, particularly strongly if you are kind of late realized neurodivergent, not necessarily diagnosed, because that’s a whole new can of worms, you know, having access to assessment and diagnosis at the moment, but yeah, this realization that actually isn’t a fundamental thing you’re doing wrong. Your brain works differently. And this is why you experienced these things, that grief for the person that might have known from day one, and therefore been able to deal with things in a different way like I’m learning to do, all the time at the moment. You know, it’s a constant learning of, okay, how can I do this in a way that works better for me and my brain? But yeah, grief is a big one.

Alex Alexander 57:21
Same. I mean, I was only diagnosed a couple years ago. So, I’m with you on that. And I think also, especially for… I would imagine, I would imagine for late diagnosed people. But even if you were diagnosed, maybe you don’t talk about it, now you’re going to start talking about it, it’s hard enough in our own brains to pick apart our experiences and understand it, like what’s a human experience and what’s a neurodivergent experience. And like, that’s already hard. But then I think it’s hard for the people around us. Like sometimes I feel… sometimes I feel like do they believe me that this is because of the ADHD? And that’s hard.

Charlotte Dover 58:05
People think I’m making an excuse, rather than giving an explanation in context.

Alex Alexander 58:11
Yeah. And that is an incredibly difficult piece, especially I think, for late diagnosed people who already had very established friendships, whether you were struggling in them, or whether you were like me, where my ADHD traits, it really just becomes some quirk of who I am. No matter what, after getting that diagnosis, and starting to own it and talk about it, I had to, in some sense, become a new version of… why didn’t I become a new version of myself, who start to accept these things and think about these things. But then that meant that my friends had to develop a friendship with the new me.

Charlotte Dover 58:51
It makes me think of your episode where you were talking to your friend who was about to have a baby awhile ago and that whole new life with a pivot point. It’s now once you start talking about this fundamental part of you, even though it’s always been there, you are expressing yourself as a person with ADHD, autism, neuro divergence, whatever it is that you’re starting to express openly. It’s a whole new expression of you as the person that your friends know. So it is almost like, oh, okay. We’ve known Charlotte for 20 years, this Charlotte without ADHD. Here’s Charlotte with ADHD, even though I have always been Charlotte with ADHD, I just haven’t understood it or spoken about it openly. And there’s almost like bringing a new character, a new person into the equation, can be a big thing.

Alex Alexander 59:57
And if you are somebody who’s listening, and I want to say this, if you are overwhelmed by the idea of like owning this version of you, my hope, with this podcast and with episodes is like, if you don’t have the words, if you’re overwhelmed, share this episode with some friends, let them think about it a little bit. Like they might notice that some of these things we’ve talked about are things you do, and they might realize it’s not about them, it’s just who you are. And it might start a conversation and that could be the catalyst in your friendship, even if you don’t have the words, that allows you to be a little bit more yourself and feel a little bit more connected and seen and feel less overwhelmed by the idea of showing up or going to that thing or breaking down those barriers. Because I just think that so much of anything related to friendship and relationship, there’s so many common experiences, we’re just not talking about them. And if these stories were out there, and people were hearing them, we feel less alone in our experiences, they initiate more conversations. We feel more connected. But I get that for a lot of people, it’s hard to be the conversation starter. Well, okay, I don’t get it, because that’s me. That’s me. But I know that I have a lot of friends and a lot of people who struggle with being that person. So, let Charlotte and I be that person for you. Charlotte, this was… I’m so excited for people to hear this episode. And I want to thank you so much for being here.

Charlotte Dover 1:01:49
I kind of feel like we didn’t talk about the positive sides of being an ADHD friend. But maybe that’s a topic for another ADHD podcast and exploration that you’re…

Alex Alexander 1:01:58
Do you want to set that up? Let’s do this. There are a lot of positives, actually. Yeah, those are coming, I promise. But I think talking about the struggles is important too, because so many people are suffering on their own thinking that it’s just them and it’s not…

Charlotte Dover 1:02:13
And the more it’s out there, the more that these topics are covered. The more we realize that other people feel the same, or a slightly different flavor of something that we experience. And there’s this like, whole patchwork of different interpretations and emotions and feelings, the less we will feel ashamed about our own particular feelings and tendencies and habits. So it’s like with everything we need to get these conversations out there. And whether that’s you being part of it, or, as Alex said, sharing this podcast episode, sharing something that you’ve seen somewhere about neuro divergency that, you know, lets you just understand that we all have our quirks, whether you’re neurodivergent or not

Alex Alexander 1:03:07
Everybody. Everybody has their quirks.

Charlotte Dover 1:03:09
And the more that we can hold our hands up and say, hey, yeah, this is a struggle for me as well, or I don’t experience that. But this happens for me, you know, that we’re talking about a different experience of rejection, you know? But they’re both valid, and they’re both different than they might be things that other people are experiencing. Like, the more we see it, the less shameful it feels. And ADHD has tend to put a lot of shame. So the more we can get these conversations out there, my hope is that that shame will just go down, down, down, down, down, and just be recognized as we’re just being human. But yeah, I’ve loved it.

Alex Alexander 1:03:52
Shame barriers for us to connect. Beautiful way to end. Thanks, Charlotte.

Charlotte Dover 1:03:57
Thank you very much.

Alex Alexander [Narration] 1:03:58
I’m being completely honest, which I normally am, listening back to that episode made me pretty emotional. I know that the way my brain works, was impacting my friendships and causing me to really doubt myself and wonder if I was too much for my people and just feel different. And, man, do I just really feel for myself back then, even before I was diagnosed, the overwhelm of navigating all these feelings in friendship? I want to repeat that I will do follow up episodes on this topic and on other neurodivergent people, and we will get into this more. I have so many places I could go. I promise there will be episodes about the positives of friendship, more about the skills. But again, I just really think this episode was important. I want to thank Charlotte for being so open and honest and vulnerable. Because I know it’s hard to talk about this stuff. I mean, if it was easy to talk about this stuff, people would be openly talking about it. So thank you, Charlotte. And I want to note that if you are somebody who listened to this and you identified with it, maybe you’ve been diagnosed, maybe you’re in kind of that weird flux space, that Charlotte is a great resource. Reach out to her, look in the show notes if you are interested in chatting more about how you can work with her as a coach. She truly is phenomenal. I’ve had some really great conversations with her and the work she is doing with her clients. Until then, talk to you next week.

Podcast Intro/Outro 1:06:02

Thank you for listening to this episode of Friendship IRL. I am so honored to have these conversations with you. But don’t let the chat die here. Send me a voice message. I created a special website just to chat with you. You can find it at alexalex.chat. You can also find me on Instagram. My handle, @itsalexalexander. Or go ahead and leave a review wherever you prefer to listen to podcasts. Now if you want to take this conversation a step further, send this episode to a friend. Tell them you found it interesting. And use what we just talked about as a conversation starter the next time you and your friend hang out. No need for a teary Goodbye. I’ll be back with a new episode next week.

Hi! I'm Alex.

I am just a person who has spent an extraordinary amount of time trying to understand some of the relationships that I hold most dear. I invite you to join in on the conversation below in the comments section below.

Ask questions, leave comments, share critiques or give advice. All are welcome.

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Hi. I'm Alex.

I'm just a gal who cares deeply about community + friendship. Why? Well, I didn't have a healthy support system growing up.

So I built one... out of friends. I believe a healthy support system is the ultimate self-care.

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