Surviving Virtual Conferences (with ADHD)

This is going to be a structural adventure. All expandable sections should be taken as parentheticals and footnotes that are still conscious of the fact that comments, also, go at the bottom.

I’m currently attending the 45th Annual Natural Hazards Workshop. I attended it in person last year, and it’s virtual this year, and some of the common threads are passionate, involved, and incredibly kind people who are involved in the science and policy of disasters. 

More of why it’s important to meIt’s the first place I presented a professional academic poster, and where I’ve met incredibly nice people and been able to talk to them about their ideas and research. It’s also where the DRC’s alumni reunion is, every year, because it’s one of the big conferences for disasters – and one that, by dint of effort, structure, and the strict banning of acronyms, is host to practitioners, policymakers, academics, and the great conversations that can come of them being in the same room. So it’s important to me to attend for several reasons, including the fact that the people I talk to there are almost uniformly incredibly nice and make me feel hopeful about the world.

This isn’t the first virtual conference of the year, and won’t be the last, but it’s the one I’ve most tried to engage in, and so the one that’s inspired this tweet.

The ADHD is newly diagnosed this year, but given that Zoom Fatigue is something growing in people’s awareness, I don’t think even those of use with ADHD are alone in the struggle.

ADHD is an adventure, y’all

I was initially screened in third grade, when I would finish my tests in class and then talk to people and be helpful and generally be cheerfully and politely disruptive. The psychiatrist, on rotation in my small Central British Columbia town, decided I didn’t have it.

I got through high school with okay grades and weird coping mechanisms (to be enumerated later), flunked out of college the first time because of untreated depression, got my shit together to the tune of running my own business and training as a paramedic, finished an undergraduate degree, finished a Masters degree, went in to see a psychiatric nurse to have a prescriber for my continued use of antidepressants, and 5 minutes into our consultation she just kind of cocked her head to the side and then pulled out an ADHD assessment.

Turns out, at 30 years old, I have moderate inattentive-type ADHD. I sometimes have imposter syndrome about that! Because my roommates have ADHD, too, but it manifests differently. In high school, I most of the time had two part time jobs, multiple clubs, an active social life, and an online writing group. The month I did Emergency Medical Responder Training I also worked solid weekends, studied, and finalized the bi-annual launch of a literary magazine. I did my makeup for the launch I was MCing on the bus to the location after work. I’ve had people who genuinely like me describe me as, variously, a shark, a whirlwind, and a hurricane.

I’m still working out how much of that is my personality and how much of it is literal decades of overscheduling as an ADHD coping mechanism. I also realized that the whole thing where I keep my laptop with me at pretty much all times is also a coping mechanism. I realized this in the middle of, during some tech issues that meant I was in class without my laptop, going on a 10 minute rant about the way Calvinism had contributed to problems with the National Flood Insurance Program. Sorry, Dr. Kendra, and I hope at least it was amusing.

. . . mostly I don’t have imposter syndrome that much anymore.

So, during this lunch break, some recommendations, tactics, and coping mechanisms for getting the most out of virtual conferences. has this guide on survival tactics for Zoom meetings generally, but meetings and conferences aren’t quite the same beast: this workshop can’t really be an email. Additionally, it doesn’t matter as much whether you as a participant are dressed professionally: if you’re in the audience, you don’t have video on most of the time, and if you don’t want to turn it on at all you can ask any questions you have in chat.

Dr. Jenn Trivedi suggested taking notes by hand.

I’ve successfully embroidered through one conference (I had a little belt bag with my embroidery kit, it was badass and a great conversation starter), and knit sometimes at conventions. Having my hands busy definitely helps!

But I also run into trouble with ‘Oh, they’re messing with PowerPoint, I’ll just check my email real quick,’ and next thing I know I’m resurfacing because someone’s voice just called for one last question. Which is suboptimal.

One answer would be splitscreening, ideally with the conference on the main monitor and whatever else on a secondary monitor, but that still leaves the problem of my primary attention just. Wandering off. There is also the issue of I am on my laptop on the couch, and do not have a secondary monitor handy.

So! An itemized list of things I’m going to be trying once lunch ends, some of them based on evidence or prior suggestions.

  • Taking notes by hand
  • Continue crocheting the All My Exes fingerless gloves I’ve been working on
  • Continue the embroidery that’s been sitting abandoned by my chair for months
  • Continue the very simple knitting I’ve been working on that keeps my hands busy but doesn’t require a pattern or paying attention
  • Keeping Zoom on one half of the screen any anything else on the other half
  • On breaks, going outside to water the plants, so I’m definitely taking a break from staring at screens.