Shame Spirals

This past weekend, we went out of town. We went to the mountains of North Carolina, one of my happy places. But we almost didn’t make it.

The plan was to rent a car for the trip. Our car is fine, but it was going to be more than 1,000 miles round trip, and our Escape is great for short trips but not extremely comfortable for long ones, so getting something more comfortable and new sounded good. I went on Priceline and found a full-sized car with unlimited miles for $45 a day, and jumped at it.

We were heading out Friday morning, so at 6:30 AM I was at the end of our driveway, waiting for Tony the Lyft driver to take me to the airport. Tony was a big man, with lots of jokes and way too happy for it to be that early in the morning, but he got me there safe and sound.

When I walked in the door of the airport, there was a moderate line, but it moved quickly, and then it was my turn.

“I’m here to pick up a car. My last name is Hollowell,” I said.

She clicked lots of keys on her computer and made a face.

“Can you spell that?”

I did.

That was when she told me that I did indeed have a car reserved, but for next Friday, not this one. I had booked the car for the wrong date. And my rental was non-refundable because it was such a good deal. And they had no cars now.

We had friends meeting us there that afternoon. We had a room reserved. We were supposed to be leaving any minute now. I had screwed all of this up. And wasted $200 on top of everything else. I swear I almost burst into tears, right there at the counter.

It must have shown on my face.

“I’m so sorry, honey,” the kindly Black woman working the counter told me. “But you have to step aside now.”


I was in shock. I had screwed this up. I didn’t know how I did it. I was at the airport, with no way home, no rental car, and I had to call my wife and tell her we had no rental car, had wasted $200, and also, I needed her to come and get me.

While I waited for her, a nice man named Reggie with Priceline informed me that I had chosen the cheaper, non-refundable rental, and had not paid for travel insurance, so while I couldn’t get a refund, I could certainly come back next Friday and get the car then.

Thanks, Reggie.

We ended up taking our car after all. And it was fine. I mean, more or less.

We were three hours later than we had planned, and out $200, and most of all, I felt crushing shame, for not the first time in my life, that I sometimes can’t manage to do something so simple that it seems everyone else on the planet does OK.

This sort of shame is a common thing that those of us with ADHD deal with. I wish I could explain the shame I felt in that line on Friday. Shame that I had cost us money, shame that we would be late, shame that I looked foolish to the lady at the rental agency, shame I had to admit to my wife what I had done.

The worst is when my failures to executive function affects others. I go into a shame spiral.

On the way home from the airport, Renee, who read my mood perfectly, told me that everyone makes mistakes.

This is true. But most people don’t make them all the damn time.

No matter how often you repeat to yourself, “It was an honest mistake, it could have happened to anyone”, you never believe it. I have been living like this for nearly 50 years. And while it doesn’t happen as much as it once did, it will still keep happening. It’s safe to assume I won’t get better. It is what it is.

And what it is is exasperating.

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