Looking for help/advice on dealing with ADHD as a web developer


#1

Some brief context

I’m a web developer for a technology consultancy. I haven’t been officially diagnosed with ADHD yet, but I’ve recently realized all the symptoms have been there since I was a teenager. I have been diagnosed with major and chronic depression and anxiety, which get triggered on a regular basis by my job. I get frustrated and then a brick wall gets built up in my head and I go into an emotional and mental tailspin of anxiety, low self esteem, depression, etc.

Some days I love my job

  • Computers and technology have always been easy for me to learn. I’m self taught (after a few years in college, unable to stick with a major or even a single college for that matter), and it naturally evolved into my livelihood.
  • I love technology (particularly open source) and I love the endless possibilities it provides.
  • I’m introverted so I love hiding behind my computer and communicating with writing.
  • I can hyper-focus when it comes to researching, setting up new tools, finding ways to streamline/improve processes, etc.
  • I can learn new things very quickly (but if they’re not put into practice right away I forget about them a week later, and even if it’s something I do use often the fundamentals always get forgotten).
  • I’m really good at figuring out how things work by digging into source code, seeing what some tweaks do, trial and error, etc. and I think that’s the only reason I got to where I am now.

Some days I want to throw my computer out the window, quit my job, and go live off the grid in a forest

I’m struggling with certain parts of my job because of my issues, and it’s holding me back from moving up in my company.

  • I often get stuck on seemingly stupid things and spin my wheels for days, hijacked by anxiety, every day feeling worse and worse because I can’t figure it out, and every day more reluctant to ask for help because I waited so long and it’s such a fundamentally stupid thing to be stuck on. Things I should have mastered by now after doing this for 10 years.
  • Boring tasks, forget about it. Tasks that don’t interest me get procrastinated for as long as possible. Not good in a consultancy environment.
  • Meetings, I’m tuned out 50% of the time (not good in Agile workflow where there are a gazillion meetings.) I’ve been told I’m very attentive to people and I have no idea where they got that idea. I’m good at faking it, I guess?
  • Nothing makes my brain “work” once when I’m frustrated, stuck on something or forced to work on a task that doesn’t interest me.
  • Time estimation is crucial in a consultancy, and after 1.5 yrs at my job I still feel like I’m just picking a random number out of the air. I’ve tried tools that are supposed to help with this but I have yet to build any consistency.
  • I thought working in an Agile environment would be good because of sprints, etc. but it doesn’t seem to matter. I appreciate the division of projects into small chunks, but those small chunks can still totally trip me up.
  • I have a list a mile long of new things I want to learn but can never sustain focus to follow through with any tutorials or sandbox projects.
  • The ADD symptom about being “able to multitask and manage multiple projects”, that’s not me at all. If I’m working on more than 1 project I get stressed, confused, overwhelmed, forgetful, panicked, etc.
  • Deadlines… this concept doesn’t even compute in my head where time is an anomaly. Only when something is down to the last couple days do I grasp the concept, and then stay up til 3am meeting it.
  • I love the diversity and rapid evolution of the web development world but also hate it at the same time. I get freaked out by the ever-growing list of things we have to know. 10 years ago if you knew HTML and CSS you were golden, now job descriptions say “must know HTML, Sass, Drupal, WordPress, .NET, jQuery, Angular, Apache, nginx, Grunt, Gulp, Ruby, Node, Vagrant, Bower, Puppet, Yeoman, and every web technology that ever existed”. I get frustrated very easily when I can’t understand something, so an endless list of things to learn and understand leads to endless frustration. I feel more incompetent every day because it’s impossible to wrap my head around this ever growing list of requirements. I can’t even remember the fundamentals of the technologies I use every day, let alone add more to the mix.
  • Some days I leave work feeling so proud I figured out a problem that was stumping me for days, but there are just as many days I cry in the bathroom and leave work after not producing or committing any code, feeling like a stupid failure who has accomplished nothing.

I’ve tried to fix things myself

  • Focus apps that minimize distractions. Yes, they hide things I shouldn’t be looking at, but they don’t magically make me interested and able to focus on the tasks I need to be working on.
  • Pomodoro method and related apps: great in theory, but don’t work for me, maybe because time doesn’t exist in my head so what use is a countdown timer.
  • Working from home: just as distracting. Dogs barking, household things that need to be done, etc.
  • Recommended supplements: B-complex, Omega 3, etc. They maybe help a little but not nearly enough to consider it a viable solution.

This turned into a mess of a rant, sorry, I’m writing this while on Valium. Just wanted to put this out there while it was fresh in my head. If you’ve actually read all this, thank you. Any tips/advice would be greatly appreciated.


#2

I don’t really have any specific advice, but I appreciate your post. I’m on the road to becoming a developer and I have depression as well. I’m starting to have many feelings similar to what you’ve described. Focusing is just hard sometimes. I hope it gets more manageable for you.


#3

Do you take any medication for your ADHD? I have not had any success trying to manage the symptoms through willpower alone. In lieu of a powerful stimulant (which would in turn have powerful side effects), you could try a nootropic like modafinil.


#4

This post really struck a cord with me because I’m in a very similar situation.

I’ve always loved tinkering with computers and it was always through my passion that I learned, rather than being taught it at school. My grades and exam results have always been bare-minimum, despite people telling me that “I could’ve done so much better”. I’m currently at university and I’m only there to get the degree beside my name proving that I can do the stuff I’ve been doing for quite some time, but I really struggle with assignments to get them in on time. And of course, getting them in on time is crucial to a good mark.

Deadlines are just an excuse for me to delay things until the date or even just after it actually expires. I end up doing them on the day before, and whilst the quality usually lacks in some way, I’m generally pleased with how much I get done, but a part of me grieves over the what it could’ve been like if I had actually given more time to produce a really good assignment. I’ve always struggled with procrastinations and have never found a solution that really, really works. Alot of articles on it will tell you that the only fix is to do the most important task as soon as you get up that day, but due to the fact that willpower usually lacks in procrastinators this takes an awful lot of self-effort to even try it once. When I’m doing assignments I generally can’t hold my focus for more than 15 mins before I’m desperately searching for something to steal my attention.

Personally I only really considered the fact that I might have always had ADHD a year or two back and although there’s very little actual merit in those online tests, I’m usually quite disappointed that I only get above-average. I’m really hoping that I get a clear-cut diagnosis so I can just accept it and move on. Being stuck in this limbo-existence of not knowing if there is a problem or I’m just not cut out for programming is the worst part of it, because I’m my case programming is the only thing I’ve wanted to do or have put time in to.

I guess I’m also in a pretty weird situation being that I’m not in a job, still a student, still technically “learning” but as I said I’m not there to learn just to tick a box so I can actually get into a job. Before I always told myself that this was only a temporary issue with assignments, as I wasn’t particularly passionate about getting them done, but it seems this stretches to anything that can’t hold my interest.

I’ve always considered it my niche, but sometimes I just struggle so much with a program solution or understanding a new piece of source, other times it instantly clicks. I question my identity as someone with natural ability (or perhaps, natural curiosity is a better way to describe it) as opposed to someone who just wishfully wants to believe they are good at it.

It’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one who struggles as a developer with possible symptoms.


#5

Thanks everyone for their replies and apologies for taking months to say that (procrastination-- I have a feeling you all will understand). Then, when I finally went to post my reply, this site was offline. Glad to see it’s back up again!

Since posting this I’ve been officially diagnosed with ADHD and am taking Adderall XR. Although ironically enough, the main “test” I took to get diagnosed involved about 15 minutes of clicking a mouse every time I saw a certain letter on the screen. I scored extremely well, meaning my reaction times were not indicative of someone with ADHD. I had to explain I’ve worked on a computer 8+ hrs a day for over 10 yrs, of course I type/click/react quickly. Fortunately my history and other background info trumped what the computer test concluded.

The meds have definitely helped prevent the waves of anxiety I was having regularly. I’m not as intimidated by project demands and it’s easier to dig into work I don’t really “feel” like doing (e.g., I can work on Project B even though Project A is more interesting and I’d rather work on that.)

One thing that still creeps up every day is the simultaneous desire to learn more along with being paralyzed by all the choices of things I can learn. I have a list with a couple dozen topics that I’d like to either learn for the first time or refresh my memory on. I have accounts on EdX, Kahn Academy, Coursera, Treehouse, Code School, etc. I know there’s an endless amount of FREE information out there (to quote Kahn Academy’s mission statement: “You can learn anything”), mine for the taking, but that notion in itself is paralyzing. I’ll start a JavaScript tutorial, get a day into it, then start browsing through my list and think maybe I should learn one of the other topics instead. Most days I’m too tired and busy when I get home to have any motivation or brain power left to learn anything new and I’d rather put on Netflix and zone out til I fall asleep. But my waking hours always have this “ooh, I wanna learn that” list generation system process constantly running, eating up mental CPU as long as my brain is on. It’s a love/hate thing, like I said in my original post, I love that technology is always changing and there are always new things to learn but I also hate it because all the things to learn are overwhelming and I can’t choose where to start. Indecisiveness isn’t new to me, it’s manifested itself in numerous ways throughout my life, this is merely the latest way it’s been appearing in my life. Curious if any of you experience this as well, and have any tips for dealing with it?

“I’ve always considered it my niche, but sometimes I just struggle so much with a program solution or understanding a new piece of source, other times it instantly clicks. I question my identity as someone with natural ability (or perhaps, natural curiosity is a better way to describe it) as opposed to someone who just wishfully wants to believe they are good at it.”

I TOTALLY get that and feel the same way. I think part of that is Imposter Syndrome. :-/


#6

(didn’t work for me to log on with my Gmail account anymore so created a new user, was “Peter” before)

I can relate to most things you write. I have tried to get my pDoc to take my ADD suspicions seriously but he’s reluctant.

Pardon if this message is too brief, I have problems nowadays to even focus enough to write messages like these.

I’ve been in the business for 15 years now. In the beginning I didn’t have so much troubles as everything was new and shiny. Gradually it got harder and harder to motivate myself though, especially when learning how everything works behind the scenes of the companies (making some rich person richer etc).

At my current assignment I’m currently happy if I can get in one productive hour during the day. Really recognize what you write about it becoming more difficult to ask for help with something the longer it goes.

I’m also thinking about my hobby projects a lot while at work, about how I’d rather work on those.

If I stumble upon something that looks interesting I’d rather spend a couple of hours researching that than do actual work. Even though I’d really like to be productive and contribute to the team I really can’t.

Sorry I don’t have any real answers for you, can sympathize a lot though.


#7

I love the diversity and rapid evolution of the web development world but also hate it at the same time. I get freaked out by the ever-growing list of things we have to know.

This times a million! I recently got out of a coding bootcamp, and am really coming up to a wall on this. That there’s still so much to learn and I’m expected to be an expert in everything. Right now, I’m trying my best to learn the basics of Angular and Node (and I do enjoy the process a bit) but I can never shake off that dread of some future employer tutting at me for my lack of skills.

With regards to medication, I used to be medicated as a child, but eventually I came to “grow” out of it. I feel like this industry is putting me in a difficult place it deciding whether to medicate myself again. I didn’t deal well with some of the symptoms, but in an industry where even neurotypical people will use Adderall (and brag about it) I’m wondering whether I should revisit that diagnosis.


#8

This is definitely similar to how I feel. I’m at my first post graduation developer job and I feel conspicuously unproductive composted to everyone else. I just can’t ahold of all these things I’m supposed to learn on my own. Conceptually, I can come up with great efficient plans but then when it comes to actually coding in a large project or framework I’m not familiar with I always feel like I’m hitting a brick wall. I can only use my ‘new employee’ excuse for so long.

I’m really not comfortable in an office environment so I’m constantly trying to think of reasons I need to work from home. When I’m in the office it feels like there’s an insurmountable pile of languages, tools, frameworks, processes I need to master and I can’t get any of them. When I’m home I feel so guilty for not going in that I’m a little more focused on just getting something committed.

I really feel like maybe this developer stuff isn’t for me. Especially a full stack position where I’m expected to magically be an expert in 5k brand new things all at once. I can get a really deep knowledge in a very targeted part of it but not be able to pull it all together.

I take adderall too though not XR because this way I can control it more with halves when I feel I need it and none when I feel I don’t. Being overly medicated is almost as bad for me. I’ve tried pretty much all the antidepressants and nothing helped, most hurt. I’ve always wondered if maybe I have some other neurological condition that is similar to depression. Constant mental fogginess, insomnia and fatigue. I constantly can’t think of words and sound dumb stammering and trying to come up with another synonym for the common term that escapes me. Been tested for everything.


#9

I’m a 32 year old woman with 7 years of experience in Java programming language in the same company. This may sound awesome but I have less real experience in Java coding. I happened to code in 2 projects out of 9. Strangely, I’ve very less memory and I can’t recollect the work I’ve done a few years ago. After many trials, I got into a product company wherein I need to code. My juniors here are very good at it and they program using best practices. After my inexperience in coding became very evident, I feel very low sometimes. Added to all this, I’ve Attention Deficit disorder and hence cannot grasp quickly whatever they explain. I feel myself like a person of 3 yrs experience. I pressurize myself to fit in quickly as I’m hired as a lead. It is simply backfiring and I’m experiencing the lowest of self-esteem. I’m also going to be divorced. My career is the one I desperately need now. I wonder why my mind goes blank when I’ve to present my skills and how to improve concentration as
I’m afraid that soon I’ll be called by my manager wondering what’s happening.


#10

Hi, I just signed up to reply to this post.

I feel like I’m going through a lot of the same things as you’ve described, I’ve been wondering for a while if I’m suffering from ADHD as well. I wish I could have something helpful to tell you but I don’t, but I wanted to say thank you for posting your story.

It’s been another month since your second reply, how are you doing now?


#11

I relate to everything that the OP described. I was diagnosed with ADHD a few years ago, and am still struggling to find answers to almost all of the problems described here.

Actually, let me clarify that. I’ve lived with ADHD long enough to have a pretty good idea of what I can do to help myself. But my problem has always been taking those first few steps, and keeping myself on track with the treatment (whether traditional or alternate, medication or not).

One suggestion for those struggling with this is to find someone in your life who is patient and willing to help keep you on track as you try to get a handle on your symptoms. It is extremely overwhelming trying to manage this on your own, so having someone there as a coach of sorts can be helpful. It has been for me. Accountability is key.


#12

I wonder if mindfulness meditation would be good for you. I know it works wonders for anxiety/depression.


#13

Great post, Sarah. You’ve described some things we’ve all dealt with many times (spinning wheels, wanting to throw the computer out the window, etc), I can definitely relate and I bet everyone else can.

I’ve written a bit on this topic, primarily from an ADHD focus, if it helps in some small way:

Thoughts on Being an ADHD Computer Programmer

But also, I’d really suggest finding a way to get daily exercise - something you find fun (or at least, not so stressful you won’t do it), that makes you sweat and get your heart rate up.

The thing I consider the ‘holy trinity’ of self-improvement when you’ve got ADHD and/or anxiety, depression, etc are the 3 things that everyone needs: decent sleep, decent nutrition and simple exercise. Each is hard to tackle, but I find that getting a little exercise daily gets you the most bang for your buck - it starts helping you sleep better, and sometimes crave healthier foods. So if you can do all 3, AWESOME - but if you need to build up to it, starting with some movement daily is a great start.


#14

Thank you for your post.

It’s a very accurate description of what I’ve been going through as a web developer in the last 15 years.

I’ve always suspected I have ADHD but I’ve never been able to get a clear answer (I’ve seen multiple therapists… read books… didn’t help. Finding the right help for this issue is confusing.)

I’d like to add a couple points from my own experience:

9 to 5 is hard for me

I show up around 10 at the office and leave at 6-6:30. I have a hard time going to bed before 1am. My energy fluctuates constantly. I would really like to be the guy who gets in at 7:30am and leaves at 4 but that’s not me.

I have very low patience/tolerance for shitty/buggy code

My second job as a PHP developer was for an agency that was in trouble with their most important client. The project was a complete mess but I didn’t realize that in the interview process. The stress/over time that was required to keep things on track was simply not worth it. That project literally made me sick.


#15

Hi,

I know how you feel because my brother has diagnosed with ADHD. There are many ways of managing ADHD, you can have overcome it through taking medicines or you can try natural treatment.


#16

Hi,

I read in a ADHD website that Cognitive Behavioural Treatment is very effective for adults with ADHD. There’s no need in taking any medicines because it is more on a management approach.


#17

I don’t know if this helps anyone, but recently I’ve been working on this sort of thing and I think there are 2 things I need to satisfy to keep momentum going at work:

  1. Knowing what I’m supposed to be working on (and next!) - a big stress is when other things come up and I need to be able to record this somewhere. I’m trying to use Trello to organise my “stack” but it’s a discipline in itself making sure its kept up to date (I’ve experimented with todo.txt also). Whatever you pick, you just have to stick at it.
  2. Feeling like you’re getting stuff done - I think this is a combination of breaking tasks up into small enough chunks which are manageable and sometimes I’ll even stop working on what I’m supposed to be doing to do a small task (e.g. refactoring or some code improvement) to give myself a little win and feel better about what I’m doing.

I’m also thinking about dumping social media (reddit, twitter etc.) as it’s just a time sink and it feels like it sends my concentration down the toilet. I thought I was being clever and “keeping up with technology trends” by reading these things … I dunno.

Even still, it’s hard to stick at it. I can still get stuck in a funk for days if not weeks at a time where I don’t get as much done as I could.