Scared of Shutting Off at Work


Hi all,

This is my first post in this forum and is actually the reason I found myself here. Apologies in advance for the long post, I have a lot of thoughts! I was diagnosed with combined type ADHD 2 years ago at 20 (I got my diagnosis shortly after my dad got his at 60). One of my biggest challenges relating to my ADHD is shutting off when people seem like they don’t believe in me or trust me. Over many years in school I had teachers and friends that gave up on me or took my behavior personally, and I got hurt many times over because of it. Over the years my defense mechanism became that I would just shut off at the first sign of trouble and cut my losses. This has been the cause of some of my biggest problems in school and relationships.

I’ve been working at my job (a VERY not ADHD friendly job I might add) for about 7 months and my symptoms are starting show. I get bored and look at my phone when I’m not supposed to, or miss follow up appointments when they are set too far in advance. While I know strategies to change these behaviors, really those aren’t the problem.

I’ve had a great relationship with my boss until this point, but now it’s like she looks at me differently. She won’t have conversations unless she has to and when I make a mistake she tells me how poorly it’s reflecting on my work performance and that it reflects poorly on her. I want to shut off entirely because these things really hurt me, but I know I can’t do that because it would mean quitting my job or being fired. Since I’m just starting out my career I can’t afford (literally or figuratively) to be in that position right now.

My question is: how can I not shut off in a work situation? My whole mind and body is telling me to give up and not let myself get hurt but I’ve done that before and it just leads to more shame.

I’m not really sure what to do so any advice or thoughts are greatly appreciated (especially if you’ve been in this position). Thanks in advance!


I understand a lot of these feels that you are talking about. I have a job where I really WASN’T at all close with my supervisor. In fact, she wasn’t supposed to be my supervisor when I was hired, but then somewhere along the way my job was changed without anyone informing me, and she was my boss. I struggled a lot, because I was in a position that, like yours, was NOT ADHD friendly at all, and many people would comment on my performance issues. In response, because she though I was struggling to do basic tasks, she started restricting how much I was given to do. This exacerbated the situation, because then I was bored out of my mind with nothing interesting to do, and only menial repetitive tasks every day. I began to hate the job, and blamed the job for my feelings. I began to believe my supervisor disliked me and was actively working to hold me back from doing better, or advancing, or anything. Every time she pointed out something I did wrong, I would take it incredibly personally. I would get angry and feel very attacked on every front.

My therapist and I talked a lot about my job. We talked about a lot of different aspects, but one of the things he said that most struck me was about my feelings toward my supervisor and her towards me. This was aimed especially at my anxiety over yearly evaluations, but helped with day to day stuff, too. Here it is.

My supervisor has a job, too. And part of her job is managing the people under her. When it’s time for an evaluation, she wouldn’t be doing her job if she didn’t give me feedback on areas where I can improve, because NO ONE is so perfect at any job that they can’t improve. But also, when I consistently, or even sporadically, fail to meet certain aspects of the job, it’s not just me people look at as being at fault. It’s also her, because SHE’S supposed to be managing me, right? It looks like she’s not doing HER job when I don’t do mine, and she hears that from her boss/es.

I know how hard it is to try and talk to a person you think is disappointed or unhappy with you. I know exactly what it’s like to shut down to protect yourself. It might be a good idea to schedule a meeting with her. By scheduling it, she knows it’s important to you. Make a list of areas you are concerned about before you go to the meeting, so you don’t forget what you want to talk about. Talk about what you think you’re struggling with. You could also think about and suggest accommodations or actions for her to take that would make it easier for you to do your job. Be prepared to hear feedback that may make you unhappy or uncomfortable. For my part, when I had my yearly evaluation, instead of seeing it as her just putting me down constantly, I framed it instead as her trying to help me grow and be better. I was able to tell her about things that would help me, like listing tasks for me, or helping me break down a project into steps/sections. I also asked that she occasionally let me know when I was doing something right, because that really helped me better understand how I was doing. (When the only communication from her was every time I messed up, it definitely felt like I was nothing but a screw-up)

I hope you’re able to find a way to enjoy your job more in the future. It sucks when a job makes you miserable.


Thank you for responding! I really appreciate the perspective. I think you are right; imagining her perspective and thoughts will help me understand her actions. For example, if I think about what information she has (i.e. doesn’t know I have adhd, sees these repetitive problems) based on that she is not wrong to be frustrated. I’m not sure if I feel comfortable enough to tell her about my adhd, but maybe a conversation about work style or what will help both us would be a good next step.

At the moment I’m starting to look into new positions that may be more ADHD friendly, but the pickings are slim!


Hello Sarah,

I’m interested in why you think the behaviour that you know is causing you difficulty is not a problem? It’s probably due to this behaviour that your managers trust has been eroded.

You can try to change this and hope that it gets noticed, but it would be better if you make a plan then ask for a meeting. Say that you know you have been under-performing, apologise and then tell the manager how you are going to deal with it. It will be hard to do and place you under added scrutiny but will be a much quicker route back to a position of trust and you should then reduce the level of anxiety due to always being on edge.

I hope you have prospects within you chosen career to find a more ADHD friendly position, otherwise burnout will be eagerly waiting for you. If you will be facing this kind of stress for the next few decades than maybe looking for something different would be a better choice.


Hi Neil,

For clarification: when I said the behaviors weren’t the problem I meant that I know ways to deal with those things. I’ve learned strategies to adjust my behaviors and I know what kind of accommodations might help me perform better. However, I don’t know strategies for not shutting off or how to communicate these things with my boss. Ultimately I foresee this being the bigger problem because I am totally lost on how to move forward.

I appreciate you holding me accountable, I need It! I will definitely write down those strategies and accommodations that will help before I go into my meeting. Hopefully this will show my boss I am taking responsibility and want to make change happen.


I tend to take things too literally and I know my writing can seem abrupt, sorry!

It’s good to figure out what works best for you. Too much sensory input is a problem for me causing shutdowns but I know that’s not true for all ADHDers. I think most people struggle with hearing the similar thing repeated and maintaining interest, but it’s especially hard for us and tied in with poor working memory means conversations just evaporate for me.

How about keeping a notepad with you and taking notes, it will keep your phone out of your hands, but then you need to resist the doodle urge. Good luck, I hope you find a solution.