‘You’re Not Lazy’: Rich and Rox Pink on ADHD and relationships

In this extract from their upcoming book SMALL TALK, @ADHD_Love creators Rich and Rox Pink talk about how they unlearned negative core beliefs about ADHD and the myth of laziness.

Richard and Roxanne Pink
Small Talk by Richard and Roxanne Pink

Written by Rox

If you have ADHD, it’s very likely you will have a deep internalised belief that you are lazy. It will have formed over your lifetime as you collect little pieces of ‘evidence’ to support it: the washing left in the machine, the important work you haven’t done, the creative ideas that ran out of steam. It’s highly likely you’ve been called lazy as well, by caregivers, teachers, or in my case, loads of anonymous users on the internet!

Listen up: you are NOT lazy. Rather, you have ADHD, which means you may struggle with certain tasks due to difficulties with executive function. I also know you have the ability to work very hard. You may be incredible with empathy, gifted at creativity, or have a vivid imagination; or maybe you’re a wizard at brainstorming or starting a crafts business, or able to spend hours hyperfocusing. These things probably won’t feel like hard work to you because they come so easily. But they are extremely valuable skills.

Here are a few tips to kick the lazy lie!

1. BANISH THE WORD ‘LAZY’: The first step is simply to stop calling yourself lazy. Out loud, or internally. If you are struggling to do something, get curious. What’s going on? Why is your notivation kicking in? Do you need help? ‘Lazy’ is a word stacked with horrible connotations— you don’t need to hear it anymore. The world is still catching up to understanding ADHD, and many people still see us as inherently lazy. It’s imperative we show them the truth—that we work really hard in a different way. And that is something to embrace, not judge.

2. REJECT PRODUCTIVITY CULTURE: For so many of us, we dream of beating the laziness out of ourselves so we can finally be productive. Finally achieve something. Make people proud of us. And escape that horrible feeling that we are failures. But when this is our goal, we make a catastrophic error! Productivity is not the most important thing in someone’s life. There is no moral element to it. Over-focusing on our productivity means we often miss the bigger picture. The real rough diamonds of life: being authentically ourselves, loving people deeply, feeling sorrow and pain, dreaming of better futures, living in safe environments. Our safety and our happiness should be number 1 on our list of priorities. Not our productivity.

3. REDEFINE ‘HARD WORK’: Your definition of what it means to work hard likely needs to change. In a neurotypical world it is very easy to believe that hard work is simply showing up at the same time every day and grinding away on something. Distractions are seen as bad. Rest is seen as unnecessary. But for the ADHD brain, hard work is totally different! It will come in huge bursts of energy and action, followed by much needed rest. It won’t follow a tightly defined schedule, but that’s the beauty of it. We are colouring outside of the lines of what is expected, and creating our own blueprint for what dedication looks like.

4. SHARE YOUR REALITY: Letting loved ones, friends and colleagues know how you work best is an exercise in ADHD advocacy. The more people understand that we don’t work well with repetitive daily tasks, but can be absolutely invaluable in a brainstorming meeting, for example, the more the world will start to see the high value of neurodivergent thinkers on a team. It is not selfish to express where your strengths lie, and the right company will relish the opportunity to develop a different kind of talent and perspective. So many of us have hidden our true talents away because we are so overly focused on fixing our perceived flaws.

Reframing the Lie

Instead of this:

 I am lazy.

Try this:
I can sometimes struggle with things others find easy, and that’s okay. I work really hard in my own way.

“You’re Not Lazy”

Written by Rich

Relationships usually end for a multitude of reasons: unreasonable behaviour, cheating, abuse or incompatibility, to name just a few.

What isn’t usually given as a reason is, “I can’t handle the clothes all over the bedroom floor.” But if Rox and I were ever going to end, this would be why! You see, before her ADHD diagnosis we were caught in what I like to call the ‘Toxic Tidy Cycle’. Here’s what that looks like:

  1. Rox makes a mess. This could be clothes all over the bedroom floor, a new arts and crafts hyperfocus spread all over the house, or a new superfood smoothie recipe she’s found, leading to a trashed kitchen.
  2. Rox promises to clean the mess up “later.”
  3. Rox does not in fact clean the mess up later.
  4. I get pretty pissed off, and feel lied to and taken for granted.
  5. I end up tidying up, making sure to do it loudly so Rox knows I am pissed off, while quietly letting resentment build.
  6. Rox gets defensive and says, “I was gonna do that!”
  7. I say, “But you didn’t.”
  8. Both of us feel angry and misunderstood.

Although a messy bedroom doesn’t seem like grounds for divorce, the toxic cycle around it brings up some bigger issues. The constant broken promises can really impact trust between two people. The resentment that builds internally can steal your connection and joy. She ends up thinking of me as judgemental. And I end up thinking she’s just lazy.

But still, angry as I was, the notion that Rox was just lazy was confusing to me. It didn’t ring true. I would see her spend all day researching a new hobby, work for hours writing a song, or want to redecorate the spare room at 11 p.m.—and find the energy to do it! The way I saw it, she could be incredibly focused and hard-working when she wanted to be.

Sadly, at first, this led to an even worse thought . . . rather than simply “Rox is lazy.” I started to think: “Rox is choosing not to help me.”

We were on a one-way road to miscommunication and misunderstanding—and the real possibility of missing out on what has been the most incredible relationship of both of our lives. Now that we have an understanding of ADHD and the challenges faced by people diagnosed with it, our entire conversation around cleaning and tidiness has changed.

The two things I learned about ADHD that had the biggest impact on my ability to lean into understanding Rox, rather than judging her, were:

  1. ADHD people often have problems with executive function. Executive function is a cognitive (mental) process that takes care of organising thoughts and activities, prioritising tasks, and managing time. Many ADHD people will therefore struggle to organise and stick with tasks. Like cleaning.
  2. ADHDers have an ‘interest-based’ nervous system. This means it seeks high-stimulation situations, stronger incentives, and more immediate rewards. These in turn trigger a quick and intense release of dopamine and a rush of motivation. Let me be clear: cleaning clothes up off the floor does not stimulate the dopamine injection that Rox will be craving.

What this meant was game-changing for our relationship dynamic. She wasn’t doing it on purpose. She wasn’t being lazy. You see, the clothes on the floor weren’t really the problem. Yes, a clean house is lovely, but the mess triggered negative thoughts in me because it was touching on something a lot deeper: the feeling that my needs didn’t matter, and that my partner was purposefully choosing to not help me around the house.

It’s very easy to judge somebody’s actions––or inaction––and have no idea what is actually going on underneath. Of course, the best way to know how somebody is feeling is simply to ask. This was something I had never done with Rox until this point. If she promised to do some- thing and didn’t do it, I assumed it was intentional. The first time I addressed things directly with her, everything shifted.

“Babe,” I began, “you promised you would clean the bedroom today. I’m finding it a bit difficult that you haven’t done it. I’d really like to know what’s going on for you.”

“Honestly, I have no idea,” Rox said. “I am so, so sorry I am affecting you. When I promised to do it, I really, truly believed I would. It’s like I never learn my words mean nothing. I honestly think I am just really lazy.”

Hearing this triggered massive amounts of compassion in me. Here was this person that I deeply love, twisted in knots because she was struggling to do something that is considered basic, feeling guilty because it was affecting me, and choosing to label herself in a really negative way. Suddenly I could see I had been reflecting back to her what her core negative belief was! And when someone believes deeply that they are lazy, they won’t ask for help, and they won’t be able to imagine things getting better.

But things do get better. In our case, we replaced our Toxic Tidy Cycle with something that actually works. Behold, our Wonky Tidy Cycle:

  1. Rox makes a mess.
  2. Rox promises to tidy it up later.
  3. I kindly remind her that it’s now or never with her, and ask if there’s anything I can do to help her get started.
  4. Rox will often ask me to sit with her while she works, or to break the tasks into steps and advise her where to start.
  5. The mess is cleaned and we both feel better!

The simple offer of help can often be the little injection of dopamine needed to get an ADHDer started on a task. And let me be clear about something: I have been accused on the internet of doing everything for Rox. That simply isn’t true. And in fact, doing everything for someone with ADHD can do as much harm as criticising them. In Rox’s case, it means she wouldn’t start to build a new core belief that she is actually way more capable than she ever believed.

My offering to assist Rox is about creating an environment of kindness and encouragement so that she can help me with tasks around the house and we can both feel a sense of pride over our work. We don’t simply replace the core belief of “I am lazy” with “I can’t do it, so others always have to do it for me.” Rather, we want to replace it with “I can do it if I have the right support.”

So, to sum up, we won’t be petitioning the government to add “Clothes all over the floor” as legal grounds for divorce any time soon . . . which is great news.

SMALL TALK is out 16th May.

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