When I did my psychiatric evaluation and got my ADHD-diagnosis I found out that a lot of people around me think that I am bad at keeping up relationships. I’m perceived as outgoing and social when around people, but bad at reaching out and keeping in touch when I’m not. Apparently, this is typical behavior for people with ADHD because we have a lower-than-normal baseline of dopamine. Dopamine drives not only focus but also motivation, and when around you, dopamine is high and interactions flow naturally. When away on the other hand, dopamine drops and picking up the phone can feel difficult. This has nothing to do with you, but everything to do with emotional chemistry.
While there are medications to help people with ADHD raise their dopamine baseline, there are also coping strategies that can benefit anyone, ADHD or not. When it comes to this specific challenge, I stole and modified a tier system for my relationships from a friend (who may want to remain unnamed). It works like this:
Tier 0 – This is me. I need to remember to save some time for myself.
Tier 1 – My family. My number one responsibility and priority. Hi kids!
Tier 2 – My closest friends. These should get one-on-one time physically and or remotely at least weekly and preferably several times a week.
Tier 3 – People whom I really like and want to spend time with. Here it makes sense to try to scale up and meet in larger groups with dinners, parties, or other activities so that it can be more efficient.
Tier 4 – Acquaintances and network. Awesome people too, but perhaps not so socially close. Here I try to scale up even more with larger parties and events to keep in touch. Here social media and digital channels make much more sense too.
If you think honestly about the percentages of your time that you spend on each tier, and who goes in each tier, are you happy with it? Does it reflect how you feel about each person and how they make you feel? Do they bring energy, love, and inspiration into your life; or gossip, negativity, doubt, and guilt? Remember that every hour you spend on a person in Tier 4, let's say, is an hour you won't have for your Tier 0-3. That can be fine, but this way you can make this decision a conscious one.
As a caveat here, I should perhaps address that it may seem a little insensitive to categorize people like this, but the purpose of this exercise is the opposite. It's about not just letting your life and relationships happen to you but to be mindful of every moment of your life and make sure the people you really care about get the time and attention they deserve.