I married into a very large family. My wife is one of five sisters. There are also two brothers. Everyone is married, everyone has children and many of those children are fully grown. When the entire family gets together the “children” bring their boyfriends or girlfriends. As a result, depending on who is “in town” at any particular time, there could be 35 to 40 people at a family gathering. It’s quite an overwhelming crowd. [note 1]

I adapted to the noise and varying personalities within the family by spending much of my time at the periphery. If everyone was gathered in the living room, I would be in the dining room. If the men were watching a football game, I’d find a book and a quiet corner where I could disappear for awhile. No one questioned my behavior. The few times when someone did make a remark, the response would be, “Well…he comes from a small family and he still hasn’t gotten over the shock of how large our family is.”

On July 4th the family gets together for a long day of fun and conversation. They go in the swimming pool, they play wiffle ball, they play basketball. They drink wine and beer and talk and talk and talk. They enjoy hot dogs and chicken and ribs and sausage and salads and music. Much of this is made possible by me because I spend the entire day at the grill, cooking hot dogs and chicken and ribs and sausage. This is a socially acceptable way for me to remain at the periphery. No one asks why Jeff doesn’t play wiffle ball or why Jeff doesn’t come into the pool because it is understood that Jeff is at the grill and that’s okay. [note 2] Don’t get the wrong impression here. I truly enjoy cooking and I am not all alone at the grill. I get help from some others. I take a break. I have a beer or two. I even go into the pool, but not necessarily to play but mainly to cool off. I get to sample the cooked food before everyone else does. I engage in some conversation, but the conversation takes place at my safe spot – the grill – where I am in control.  I can pace the conversation by interrupting it in a socially acceptable manner — I open the grill and check on the food.

In the movie Mystery Men there was a character named “Invisible Boy” who had the power to make himself invisible. (You weren’t surprised, were you?) However, he could only use this power when no one was looking. That is, his power depended on people’s willingness to carry out a specific task, namely, the task of not looking at him. If they did not do it, he could not utilize his power of invisibility. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Yet in the scenario described above I cannot hide in plain sight without the participation of the other people. They must play their role so that I can invoke my power of invisibility.

Part of the motivation for hiding, even if it is in plain sight, is an ADHDers need to control the external chaos of the world. Though this need to control the external can take on negative overtones, nonetheless, it can also be seen as something positive when viewed from a strictly personal perspective. [note 3] For example, cooking at the grill, which may have the effect of allowing me to hide, has a positive dimension. It is a skill that I can discuss with others, even with those whose main interest may be sports. [note 4] Cooking also provides a creative outlet. I can try different recipes and cooking methods (direct heat; indirect heat; low temperature cooking  – for those baby-back ribs! – and see the Cooking category of this blog). Further, cooking has led to an interest in fresh foods (as opposed to frankenfoods) which led to creating a vegetable garden. These are all outgrowths of my need to hide in plain sight. The interesting twist is that, unlike Invisible Boy, when I invoke my power of invisibility I have, in this case, increased my visibility.  But you weren’t surprised by this, were you? After all, everyone wants to know, “Who is that bald headed man cooking all those ribs and sausages?”


  1. When my mother-in-law was ill and the entire family went to see her at the hospital, we took over an entire waiting room. I wonder what people thought when they saw this crowd of people ranging in age from three years old to eighty years old (my father-in-law) all doing their kumbaya thing. Hopefully my younger daughter – who is an extraordinarily talented writer – will be able to use moments like these in some future novel.
  2. I don’t want this to sound like I am resentful of being stuck at the grill. I’m there of my own choosing and I am thankful that everyone in the family accepts this behavior, accepts it as just one more variant of “normal.”
  3. Anyone familiar with my blog will know that I do not see ANY positive characteristics to ADHD. The scientific literature backs me up on this one. Objectively, when one views all of the data, it shows that in terms of life accomplishments there are NO POSITIVE BENEFITS to having ADHD.
  4. Since childhood I have had zero interest in sports. See my comments in He Said / She Said – The Education of an ADHDer (Part I).
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  • http://18channels.blogspot.com Katy R.

    Oh yes. Wow. Thanks for sharing this. I bet a lot of us have stories of how we cope…and how we cope in different situations…or how we have coped at different times of our lives.

    I have a hard time following conversations at a party because there’s too much going on…so my current coping mechanism is that I greet people, and then I find someone else in the room that I know they would just get along great with, and then I introduce them to each other, we talk about why I really want them to meet each other, and when they’re engaged in getting to know one another, I excuse myself…I do this over and over. It keeps people happy because they meet new people without having to awkwardly introduce themselves to strangers…I look like I’m sort of engaged, because I truly am trying to match up people that I think would like each other, which requires actually caring about the details of those people…and I don’t have to spend the evening going “what? what? I’m sorry, I can’t pay attention to you right now…”.

    Formerly, getting blitzed drunk out of my mind was my coping mechanism…until I realized I had no friends, just drinking buddies, and that made me sad.

    Sometimes, at family parties, I actually have to excuse myself and go rest or take a nap in a quiet place because I get so overstimulated that it nearly induces a panic attack. When I was little, I would usually gravitate to the vicinity of my male relatives, because they were less frenetic. I couldn’t follow what the women were talking about because it was all one big everyone-talking-over-each-other fiesta.

    I worried about the wedding this summer and how I might deal with that big, huge, crazy day…but it was such a happy day that I was able to just roll with it.

    • Jeff

      “getting blitzed drunk out of my mind was my coping mechanism” – You mean…we’re not supposed to do that anymore? ;)
      Looking back…I realize I spent a lot of years with a book…sitting in a corner. In large social gatherings…I’d find someone that I could talk to and we’d be off in a corner away from the crowd.

  • http://www.ADHDRollerCoaster.com Gina Pera

    Nicely done, Jeff. It seems to me that you were smart in creating a niche for yourself

    You are describing the situation that my in-laws faced.

    The second in-law to enter the family I found in the basement crying while everyone else of was lapping up momma’s ravioli at the dining table that could seat 26 (young folks ate in the kitchen). Most everyone talking very loudly, wittily, and simultaneously. It was a friendly and welcoming crowd, but she was just overwhelmed.

    That was 40 years ago, And, as I look back over everything that has happened in her life since then, she probably has ADHD.

    • Jeff

      What’s most upsetting to me is that someone missed out on all that good ravioli!

  • http://18channels.blogspot.com Katy R.

    It’s posts like these that lift weight from my shoulders…that erase the line between the person I feel like I have to be sometimes, and the person I really am, who has ADHD and sometimes has a hard time rolling with certain things…so thank you :)

    • Jeff

      “erase the line between the person I feel like I have to be sometimes, and the person I really am” – This is the KEY STRUGGLE!! Once we get rid of the person we think we have to be and, instead, become the person we are (with, perhaps, a modicum of improvements/adjustments around the edges) we then feel much better about ourselves.

  • Laura


    Interesting. In hindsight I saw this behavior in my Ex many times and always thought that he was either really shy or just really rude. He would do as you did and hide himself in a separate room than where most of the activities were going on for a gathering. His favorite thing to do would be to plop in front of the tv and either watch sports or watch a movie and then fall asleep. I would always get so frustrated because what is the point of a “social” gathering if you are not actually “socializing”. His behavior makes so much more sense to me now and I understand better why he did the things that he did.

    • Jeff

      I’m glad that the post was able to provide some insight. I would not be surprised to find out that many other behaviors that you thought were rude or antisocial were manifestations of your Ex’s ADHD.

  • Denim

    Jeff, again you have enlightened me. I have been unable to understand why, as my extended family grew and continued to have reunions, then I married a man with at least if not more extended family, I kept getting worse and worse exhaustion after “the gatherings”. Everyone but me was florishing in these environments. I just started to calculate the numbers involved in these combined (my husband and mine) extended families who LOVE to gather. I stopped counting around 1,000. My mother just recently said that crowds were bothering me worse and worse as I got older, but that one on one I was the best she had seen. My tenacity kept trying to participate in these events and my recovery time was getting longer. Because of your dead on identification of my innattentive ways and this dead on identification of trying to “play nice” I confirmed with my Psychiatrist. She has the same problem. Even if she is hosting a family gathering, she will leave the venue for a while to rebalance.

    I know that your blog has touched many lives. Jeff you have launched my life. I am more grateful than you will ever know.

    • Jeff

      Denim, thank you so so much for leaving your comment. Many times the things I post are like those little lamps floating in a stream (I believe used in a Shinto ceremony)…you never quite know how far they will go and who will find them. So I’m glad you found my little floating lamp and it provided some illumination.

      - sent via blackberry while walking my dogs
      I found this image: Lantern floating ceremony which comes from this website: POD: 9th Annual Lantern Floating (Toro Nagashi) Ceremony

      • Denim

        I see the lamp that has my name on it!!! How did you find a picture with me in it??? Oh wait, just because I can see it does not mean you can see it. Sorry, but I keep forgetting that I have special powers. Gets me in trouble all the time. I think everyone sees what I see, but it does not often prove true. My husband has special powers too. Together we are quite a disarming pair (maybe that should be well armed pair, hmm). If you have not figured out which lamp has his name on it, please quit trying, for he is the water under my lamp.

        Thank you for the picture. I am honored.

        • Jeff

          “I think everyone sees what I see” – Damn! I’ve spent my entire life assuming that people can “see” what I see and, even now, I don’t understand how people can’t see the obvious.

          “well armed pair” – I’m picturing the both of you walking into a party with bandoliers and side arms…ready to take on anyone. ;)

          “Thank you for the picture. I am honored.” – You are quite welcome and you have honored me by sharing your insights.

          • Denim

            Jeff, quit assuming and just accept your special powers too. No one else has the particular powers that you have so quit expecting them to….

            I prefer a .12 gauge shotgun but the husband says that is too difficult to hide…

            Ya say you sighted a target??? Pointer’ out !!!
            Or did ya say you insighted a riot?

            Yes, this type conversation goes on in our home all the time. Even with a nest of zero, our home is often a noisy one. *much laughter*

  • http://addmsorboth.blogspot.com/ Scott Hutson

    Hiding in plain sight, in a social setting is something that I am an expert at. Been doing it all my life, so I know the “tricks of the trade” so to speak. The family members that have known me a long time, know that it is just Scott(dad,brother,son,,etc) being Scott, when I “hide”.

    I do enjoy one on one conversations with a guest at my home or a person at a social gathering we occasionally go to. But I don’t search them out, they will usually be someone who also “hides” and notices the similarity in the way I “hide”. I can listen and talk to some of most interesting and Intellectual people I have met in my life about subjects that don’t interest most ppl at that social gathering. Then at some point we will notice what time it is, laugh,roll our eyes and say: “Guess we better go play with the others, before they think we are un-social”.

    • Jeff

      Losing track of time…yup…that happened to me numerous times.

      • http://addmsorboth.blogspot.com/ Scott Hutson

        What’s kinda funny is the one on one conversations I sometimes get to have with the new freind, will be on the topic of how we feel about social gatherings. That is the truth and I wonder if I wasn’t the only person there with ADHD. ;)

        • Jeff

          “I wonder if I wasn’t the only person there with ADHD” … or … perhaps … sort of social anxiety. (You don’t have to be ADHD to be hiding in the corner.)

          • http://addmsorboth.blogspot.com/ Scott Hutson

            Uh huh, could be many reasons. Maybe an old girlfreind that happens to be a distance cousin of a wife. The one that was promised something ….30 yrs. ago. (rut ro)

            “Honey, next year lets make this a Christmas Costume Family Gathering!” ;)

  • Jeff

    “Jeff, quit assuming and just accept your special powers too. No one else has the particular powers that you have so quit expecting them to….” You’re right, Denim. It’s about time I just accepted who I am.

  • Denim

    I sure do hope you accept yourself, on medication.
    All powerful equipment needs its …oil, spark plug, engine fuel…..???
    No impulsive decisions, please!
    Write yourself to where you are going.
    I am transition impaired so I don’t make many if any impulsive decisions.
    NOW I am frightened. I am just a wee little one out in cyberspace. What have I done!?! It is all my fault. It is always my fault. How am I going to fix this. (Leaves the room, wringing hands.) Oh, sugar!!!

  • http://addmsorboth.blogspot.com/ Scott Hutson

    What if the social gathering just happens to be an unexpected social gathering where we are the person that everybody came to see and……? Holy Moley! I bet that would be a challenge for an “Expert at Hiding in Plain Slight”. ;)

    • Jeff

      That’s when you run to your room…crying. ;)

      • http://addmsorboth.blogspot.com/ Scott Hutson

        Yep. I guess we can fool some people sometimes. But sometimes,,,, someone knows us. ;)

  • http://www.alookonthelightside.com Judy

    In the movie Mystery Men there was a character named “Invisible Boy” who had the power to make himself invisible. (You weren’t surprised, were you?) However, he could only use this power when no one was looking.

    I love this! Sounds related to Scott Adams’ “Somebody Else’s Problem” shield.

    • Jeff

      Scott Adams’ “Somebody Else’s Problem” shield. – I’m not familiar with this. I think the Bush/Cheney regime used this shield…a lot!!!

  • Jessica

    I dunno, I’ve found after actually being able to listen to the conversations at social gatherings with proper treatment, my ADD had it right on. They’re boring!

    • Jeff

      I never said the conversations weren’t, at times, boring…that’s a different issue. ;)
      But I do think that we tend to have less tolerance for less-than-stimulating conversation simply because it IS less stimulating. Just because we are taking medication doesn’t necessarily mean that we find discussions of Charlie Sheen’s sex life to be of any interest.

  • Jessica

    Exactly, who has time for that shit?

  • Penny T

    Wow. I like this post. I can relate to it. But maybe a little differently.
    My ADD manifests like this. I HATE to be interrupted. I love to have highly stimulating, long, deep conversations with people one on one. I have a hard time with these crowds because then I have to share. I feel like hauling off and punching someone (I don’t, but I think my frustration probably shows), when they walk up to my deep intimate conversation where I am pouring out my heart and ask the person I’m talking to a stupid question like “Hey do know where I can find a hand towel to wipe my hands?” and then that person is taken away from me to go find a friggin hand towel. I feel like screaming. And if my person doesn’t come back, I’m offended. Because I would NEVER walk away from an engaging conversation.

    This sucks for me and makes me look like a conversation terrorist. People think I’m too intense. Over the years of dealing with the disappointment of realizing people aren’t like me in their intensity, and most people do not want to talk about deep things all the time, I’ve learned to save it for rarer moments, and for other people who enjoy getting on that “ride” with me. I too HATE small talk, which goes back to what some of you I think are saying about yourselves. A bunch of boring stupid conversations…how to deal?

    So far I deal by having social anxiety, trying to avoid deep conversation for fear of being interrupted, AND shallow conversation cuz I simply can’t stand it.

    Anyone relate to this?????

    • Jeff

      “I HATE to be interrupted. I love to have highly stimulating, long, deep conversations with people one on one. ” – This was an easy one for me to solve. I no longer have highly stimulating, long, deep conversations. Really…it’s true. Only a few people can keep up with me and understand what I am saying. That’s not because I’m a genius or anything but I absorb lots of materials and synthesize them into theories, explanations and so forth. I pepper my conversation with references to things that most people don’t bother themselves with (I’ve read the 9/11 Commission Report plus a few books dealing with terrorism and security issues in general; I’m reading the Financial Commission Report; I read various news websites (both liberal and conservative) and so on). I’m referring mainly to things of a political nature but I still read/dabble in philosophy, sociology, a bit of science (physics; astronomy, etc.) and I have a nasty habit of not coming to any particular conclusions unless I can back it up with data…so…there are only a few people I will talk to in terms of a deep conversation…for others…I’ll talk about politics on a superficial level, I’ll talk about cooking (which I like to do) and stuff like dat. I hope this doesn’t sound condescending. Of course…if a moron is reading this…he’ll never understand it anyway. Wait…that’s condescending…no? ;)

      • Penny T

        So I have a question. I know you don’t believe that ADD is a gift, and neither do I. I understand the science behind it. But at times, when you find yourself not knowing when to stop doing things your interested in (like for me, reading and researching topics obsessively), even though all the other areas in my life suffer, I at least come out with a huge pool of knowledge I might not have had if I knew when to stop. So I although ADD is not a “gift”, should I feel bad that at certain times I find myself fully enjoying my obsession with my interests? Do you think if I did not have ADD then my interests wouldn’t turn into obsessions quite so much and I would not get as much out of them?

        I read in the book “More Attention, Less Deficit”, how for the ADD person, the uphills for the boring things are much steeper than they are for the average person, and the downhills for the fun things are also steeper. So I can’t help but enjoy the thrill of racing down hill. Even though I would trade it for a more balanced life (because I never know WHAT that downhill thing will be and many times it’s something that is a complete waste of my time), I still can’t help but be glad about the few gems that have come out of it.

        Sorry for hijacking the convo but I’ve been dying to ask you about this :)

        • Jeff

          First, don’t worry about hijacking the conversation.

          Second, we need to be careful about mixing up our intelligence with our ADHD. That’s a danger faced by intelligent ADHDers. They often assume that the ADHD is, somehow, linked to their intelligence. So we need to keep in mind that ADHD is one thing, intelligence is something else. Remember: some intelligent people are ADHD but not all ADHDers are intelligent. As Barkley had pointed out, if ADHD had some sort of magical powers, then it would have made itself evident in the various studies, both short-term and longitudinal. See his book ADHD: What the Science Says and the Barkley video I have on this blog which is here.

          So…now…to your question. “Do you think if I did not have ADD then my interests wouldn’t turn into obsessions quite so much and I would not get as much out of them?”First….would your interests turn into obsessions? Maybe…maybe not. Second, would you get as much out of them? The answer is Yes. IF you were truly interested in the subject and IF you did not have ADHD, THEN you would not have the issues of executive control (remember…in this scenario you don’t have ADHD) and you WOULD be able to schedule your time so that you could study this subject to whatever depth you felt was necessary.

          “should I feel bad that at certain times I find myself fully enjoying my obsession with my interests?” – Only if it is preventing you from doing something you should be doing instead. For example, I’m responding to your comment instead of getting in some more billable hours…so…bad on me. ;)

          • Penny T

            I gotcha. Most of the time I do feel bad enjoying my obsessions because my kids need my attention.
            I am going to get treatment soon, but I have to pay out of pocket so I don’t know how soon. I’m really hopeful for the first time in my life that medication could actually help me.
            I’ve avoided it like the plague up until now.

            • Jeff

              I think the biggest mistake made by some ADHDers is an avoidance of drugs. Most of the avoidance is based on fear and not on science.

              FYI…some of the big chains, like Walmart, offer drugs at a discount so that might help with that part of the medical bill.

              • Penny T

                Thanks. I’m hoping my psych dr. will know where the hookups are :)

  • Sarah F.

    I think I have a tendency to hide because I’m afraid of what I’m going to do or say… I don’t want to look like a nerd or an idiot. (I still cringe over a period in my early teens where I became fascinated with braille and announced to a group of my peers that I was “on a braille kick.” You can imagine the stares.) I tend to be really quiet for fear of talking too much. Because once I start it’s hard to stop. I want to talk, and talk, and talk… not because I’m stuck on myself, but because my mind is processing, and I just have to say what I’m so fascinated with.

    Fortunately, I’ve found a few friends that are interested in the same things. I have a friend that is borderline personality disorder, and we get along famously, mainly because we understand that we both have total oddities. (And man was that discussion a relief. “I have ADHD. It’s tough.” “Yeah, well, I have Borderline Personality Disorder. I can imagine.” Lightbulb! We both have issues! Yay! :) ) And we can laugh at eachother, because, since we both process differently than a lot of people, we also process similarly.

    Sometimes I just give way and talk. And talk and talk. But I’m learning to stop talking. I’m figuring out how to take breaths so that other people can talk too. I’m also finding that I can become deeply interested in just about anything if presented in an interesting manner.

    • http://jeffsaddmind.com Jeffs ADD Mind

      I’ve learned, the hard way, how to shut my mouth. Way too many embarrassing moments have taught me when to close my mouth. But there are times when I, like you, I talk and talk and talk and I have to reign myself in.

      Your fascination with braille is, well, fascinating. I believe there is a tendency among intelligent ADHDers to be fascinated by the esoteric. I’m into amateur radio (aka “ham” radio) and what fascinates me is morse code, a sort of electric braille, one might say.

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