The ADHD Homestead

Create the life you want with the mind you have.

Family life with ADHD: Stash those labels.

Labels — we all use them sometimes, even though most of us know we shouldn’t. Parenting has taught me to use labels intentionally and sparingly. My favorite books caution against labels, both in the positive (“you’re such a good girl”) and the negative (“you’re a troublemaker”).

Labels tell us how we fit in.

The labels we give our children become the language they use to define themselves. Parenting expert Vicki Hoefle writes in Duct Tape Parenting, “your child is answering one question over and over again: ‘In my family I am the child who…'”

ADHD labelsFor those of us with ADHD, the end of that sentence was (or is) often negative. I can trace most of my childhood labels back to my undiagnosed ADHD: oversensitive. Inconsiderate. Selfish. Vain. Ingrate. Argumentative. Rude. Lazy.

Even positive labels, like “smart,” came with baggage. For a girl with ADHD, “smart” often means “you’re too smart for this.” This being missed homework, a bad grade, or a lower-level class. “Smart” also implies potential. It sets expectations for your life and career path.

As a kid, I sometimes took on these labels — “it’s true, only a selfish person would’ve done that” — and sometimes fought against them. I wanted to view myself as a caring, sensitive, quiet person. I never wanted to make people angry. And yet, I felt like the outside world saw me as selfish, aloof, and melodramatic. I didn’t like that person. I barely even recognized her. I longed to show everyone the “real me.”

ADHD inspires labels that belie our true intentions.

As a young, newly married adult, I still suffered with untreated ADHD. I felt desperate — and yet unable — to disprove the labels still haunting my life. In a long-ago conversation argument about household responsibilities, my husband uttered the phrase, “lazy is as lazy does.” I wrote it down, along with many other labels, in an attempt to sort through my feelings. Deep inside, I knew who I was, but I couldn’t show it.

I eventually sought help for my ADHD. (Side note: My husband, who was pre-diagnosis himself, would never say something like that today.)

And, just like that, we can evolve. It’s never too late to shed damaging labels and redefine ourselves. Change begins with a commitment to build each other up rather than tear each other down.

ADHD labels pull quote

Resisting labels while appreciating the little stuff.

These days, we shy away from labels in our home. In their parenting classic How to Talk So Kids Will Listen…and Listen So Kids Will Talk, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish point out the dangers of even the best-sounding labels: “you can take away ‘good boy’ by calling him ‘bad boy’ the next day.” As a child — and later an adult — with ADHD, I learned to eye each personal victory with suspicion, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

That’s why I refuse to trade my negative labels for positive ones. I get no pleasure from hearing “you’re a hard worker,” “you’re so organized,” or “I can’t imagine you losing your temper.” On the bad days, positive labels only serve to hone my sense of loss and failure.

Instead, our family works day to day, praising and appreciating each other for the specific — the nitty-gritty. Somewhere around age two, our son went through a hitting phase. When he got angry and didn’t hit, I’d tell him, “you were so angry, I know you wanted to hit me, but you didn’t. You went upstairs to calm down instead.” When my husband — often at work very late — is home in the evening, I tell him, “I’m glad you’re here.”

This is especially critical for areas where we struggle. Specific praise and appreciation lets people know we see them. We see them doing their best, and we notice their small victories. When this is what defines us, rather than “unreliable,” “late,” or “hot-headed,” we access our power to do better.

What labels do you find yourself using in your family? What labels did your parents use with you? How do labels affect the way you view yourself and those around you?

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The internet: ADHD’s friend and foe

When I get overwhelmed, the internet’s the first thing to go. That’s why my social media feeds are either hopping or silent. But the the internet, huge burden and distraction that it is, can also help me on my ADHD journey.

It’s complicated. On one hand, the internet — and social media in particular — keeps me connected to friends and family. It provides me with a community of like-minded ADHD advocates — a safe space to learn and to vent. At the same time, it’s easy to overstretch, to get distracted, to sink too much time into things that shouldn’t be a priority.

I found myself wondering recently: why do I assume my time for online activities is unlimited? Because I don’t need to get in my car and drive to the internet? Because Read Instagram feeds (personal and professional) isn’t something I block out on my calendar? Each new thing requires time and attention to feel like I’m keeping up.

For a while, I thought my ADHD was incompatible with social media. I took six months away from Facebook, with overwhelmingly positive results.

I wanted to stay away, but that didn’t feel right, either.  I have family and friends all over the country and the world. Exiting social media felt like a decision for them, too: in downgrading my internet use, I was downgrading my relationship with them. My ADHD Homestead Facebook page reaches thousands of people. A few of those people have written to thank me for making a difference in their lives. I participate in a small, private ADHD discussion group, and I want to keep up with the friends I’ve made there, too.

As much as I’d love to quit it all and throw away my smart phone sometimes, it makes more sense to treat online activities with the same respect I treat real-life ones. This year, I made a promise to myself to say no to any new evening commitments. I’ve been decluttering my schedule and reminding myself that my time is limited and valuable. If I say yes to everything, I shortchange everyone.

Likewise, I need to stop clicking “join” on every group that looks like it might be up my alley. If a social media app isn’t contributing value to my life and relationships, I need to delete it. Even if a Facebook group or a Coursera class doesn’t show up on my calendar or my doorstep, it requires time and mental energy.

The whole world can fit inside our computer or smart phone. It can’t fit inside our brains or our days. We can’t see or touch social media, not really, but a lack of intention around its use can deplete our most precious resources. The distinction between our online lives and “real lives” grows fuzzier by the day.

How do you balance the internet’s powers of good (connection) and evil (distraction)? Have you had to quit anything to reclaim your focus?

Personal organizing case study: Bullet Journal

Organizing my daily life: it feels like both the starting point and the impossible dream with adult ADHD. It’s also a basic expectation of adulthood.

Most ADHD’ers know we need an organizational system, but feel like nothing works. We struggle to find answers to the all-important question, “but how?”

A naturally organized person with a manageable schedule might answer, “you just do it.” Adults with ADHD rarely “just do” anything.

Today, I’ll share a simple, low-tech, flexible way to stay organized. It’s called Bullet Journal. First I’ll provide a look inside my notebook, then I’d love to answer questions in the comments. Personal organizing has been a pet project of mine for many years. If you want to talk about the nitty gritty, I’m your girl.

bullet journal ADHD

What is Bullet Journal?

Bullet Journal isn’t an app or a product. It’s an idea, best explained in this short, engaging little video:


I use apps to stay organized, but I appreciate a tactile element. Screens can feel too abstract. I’ve carried a notebook everywhere since the seventh grade. I’ve dallied with day planners, but fallen away from them since the advent of smart phones. Nowadays, I use my notebook for everything: Grocery lists. jotting down ideas, drafts, or outlines for writing projects. Taking notes at meetings. On-the-fly to-do lists. Goal-setting exercises. Everything imaginable.

Bullet Journal helps me organize those elements and keep me from losing track of what I write down. Because I have ADHD and a very poor memory, I write nearly everything down.

Adults with ADHD are individuals — Bullet Journal is flexible.

I love Bullet Journaling’s infinite flexibility. I chose the size, feel, and contents of my notebook to make it something that works for me. This is especially important for adults with ADHD. If a system or tool isn’t easy, comfortable, and even fun to use, it won’t last long.

I keep my Bullet Journal in Moleskine’s extra-large ruled notebook. In the spirit of Marie Kondo’s KonMari methodI use postcards — mostly collected from art shows — to make the notebooks special and joyful to use.

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I always add an entry to the index or add a page number to an existing entry before adding the content. Otherwise, I can get distracted and forget to update the index.

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Bullet Journal’s flexibility extends inside the notebook, too, allowing me to integrate new concepts while ditching what doesn’t work. For example, I never look at my Future Log. I’d love to examine my six-month view more often, but I’ve come to accept — with compassion and objectivity, of course — that it’s not going to happen with this life and this brain. My next Bullet Journal won’t have a Future Log. Instead, I may beef up the Monthly Log, which I include in my weekly review.

I also added pages to the front of my Bullet Journal to remind me of my many responsibilities and spheres of influence. Stephen Covey calls these “roles and goals” in his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In Getting Things DoneDavid Allen refers to them as “areas of focus and accountabilities.” Either way, I maintain a space in my notebook to reflect on my roles in the world and my goals for each. I skim over these pages at my weekly review.

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Using my Daily Log with Google Calendar

I use Google Calendar to track all events, meetings, and time-sensitive tasks. I copy entries from my Google Calendar to the Daily Log as part of my weekly review. I never add directly to the Daily Log, always Google Calendar. It’s critical for me to respect my primary resource/repository for a specific kind of information.

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You might be wondering why I recopy rather than print my calendar and paste it into the notebook (or look at the widget on my phone’s home screen). The tactile experience of writing helps me encode/process information. I also never take notes on a laptop or tablet, only with pen and paper, because I remember conversations more clearly that way.

Taking time to write down my schedule, deadlines, and obligations for the week helps me think it through. I wouldn’t get this from skimming my Google Calendar.

Notice the lack of to-do items under each day? My to-do list is long, and nowhere near my Daily Log. I use David Allen’s Getting Things Done system, which discourages “daily to-do lists.” I only tie a task to a day if it really must happen then: in other words, it becomes irrelevant or incurs a late fee.

Let’s chat in the comments.

When I say I use my notebook for everything, I mean everything, from grocery lists to a race bib from a recent 5k run. The Daily Log and Monthly Log pages keep everything in a rough chronological order, and the index lets me return and add to previous entries.

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Have you tried something like this before? How did it go? Are you hesitant to try it because you think it won’t work? Please share your questions and experiences in the comments. I’d love to chat!

ADHD & personal grooming: do you Epilady?

I rarely talk about products here. When I do, I’m sharing something I find particularly helpful. I haven’t been contacted by Epilady, nor did I get anything for free in exchange for this post.

Personal grooming can be a problem for adults with ADHD. Showering, shaving, clipping toenails, etc. — often, these are tedious, unpleasant tasks. We need to complete them on a schedule. No one with ADHD excels at that.

Hair removal is the bane of my existence. I’m sure a few other women with ADHD feel similarly. My skin is sensitive, I struggle to make time for it, and it’s easy to procrastinate. However, I’ve finally found a solution: an epilator. It’s relatively inexpensive, not too messy, easy to do at home, and lasts longer than a day or two.

#AdultADHD and the value of a long-lasting shave

What’s an epilator?

Epilators — a whole class of shavers, though I’ve only tried the Epilady — look like electric shavers, but work like wax. They remove hair by the root, like a high-speed mechanical tweezer. The manufacturer promises results lasting “up to 4-6 weeks.”

My first pass took over an hour, but didn’t feel more cumbersome than a thorough job with an electric shaver. Subsequent touch-ups took only a few minutes. I’m much more likely to make time for these touch-ups, knowing the results last longer than an electric shaver’s 36-48 hours.

My initial epilation lasted around two weeks — shorter than the claims on the box, but longer than shaving. I suspect people with silkier hair textures will see results closer to the one-month mark, and lighter colors won’t worry as much about stubble.

In any case, I’ve been using my Epilady frequently and with confidence. It irritates my skin less and lasts longer than a regular shave.

Doesn’t it hurt?

You may be thinking, “it sounds like it hurts!” If you’ve ever used an electric shaver and felt it catch, rather than cut, one of your hairs, you already know what a first-time epilation feels like. On the front of my shins, it felt like a constant bee-sting sensation. Afterward, my hair follicles were swollen and red for the rest of the day.

Maybe yoga has taught me to be more in tune with my body, but I needed time to relax after I finished epilating. I felt a little funny: woozy, in the same way I get when my blood pressure runs too low. I drank a lot of water and sat down for a while, and that seemed to help.

On the bright side, subsequent epilations were/are far more comfortable. Two weeks after my first round, I hardly felt it on my shins. Not only that, unlike an electric razor, the Epilady doesn’t irritate my skin. I don’t need to worry about going over the same patch of skin too many times, nor does the humidity (inescapable in our climate in the summer) cause issues.

Why the Epilady is right for this ADHD lady.

I’ve tried pretty much every at-home hair removal technique, with little success. Traditional razors required more time in the shower, and they irritated my skin too much. Inattentive moments led to bleeding cuts. My electric razor caused less irritation up front, but didn’t shave as closely and still caused ingrown hairs. Both provided results that lasted, at most, 48 hours before I had to start the whole process again.

Depilatory creams (e.g. Nair) gave me chemical burns and/or smelled too icky. Wax was messy and painful, which meant I rarely got around to doing it. Some at-home wax kits also irritated my skin, leaving a red rectangle where the wax strip had been.

While the Epilady causes a lot of initial discomfort, that seems to fade quickly. At $70, my Epilady Legend wasn’t the cheapest thing around, but saves a lot of money over disposable products or professional waxing. I also appreciate the option to use it corded or cordless. I forget to charge things, and I’m glad not to need a backup option.

Most of all, I appreciate the convenience. Convenience trumps everything in ADHD households. Without it, important jobs — and certainly shaving one’s legs — don’t get done. Just knowing I won’t have to use it again tomorrow makes me excited to use the Epilady. The long-lasting results give me more leeway on when I “shave.” I spend far less time feeling uncomfortable, either because of skin irritation or pointy stubble.

If you’re willing to endure a painful first day, the Epilady could change your personal grooming routine forever.

Have you tried a product like this? How do you manage the mundane world of personal grooming?

ADHD & screens: apps to protect our sleep from blue light.

When I first read Paul Bogard‘s The End of Night a couple years ago, hardly anyone was talking about the health effects of blue light. Since then, a number of articles and studies have made the rounds on the internet.

The bottom line: blue-rich light — like the kind emitted by computers, mobile devices, and many fluorescent and LED lights — isn’t good for us. After dark, and especially in the hour or two before bedtime, we should limit exposure to screens and other blue-rich lights.

Easier said than done. Certain behaviors often feel beyond our control. For those of us with ADHD, a hard-and-fast “no screens within an hour of bedtime” habit may be impossible.

blue light apps

Assume you’ll use screens at night, and reduce negative effects.

Knowing my willpower is a finite resource, I scrimp and save wherever possible. I know trying to put my phone and tablet down after 9:00 p.m. every day is a recipe for failure. Sometimes I need to work late to finish a writing project. Other times I get sucked into a mindless, fatigue-induced journey through my Facebook feed. That’s why I use apps to filter blue light out of my computer or mobile device’s display.

For my laptop and desktop computers, I use f.lux, which is available for all major operating systems. F.lux autodetects your location and adjusts your screen based on when the sun rises and sets. It works great out of the box and requires very little know-how beyond downloading and installing a program from the internet.

blue light fyiYou can further configure f.lux to fit your lifestyle by setting your bedtime and wake time. If you’d like to set your location manually, to someplace else — a friend living in Stockholm says this helps with the very long/very short days up there — you can do that, too.

While f.lux is available for iOS and Android mobile devices, users need to root or jailbreak the phone for the app to work. I tried rooting a device once and quickly learned it can be a hyperfocus rabbit hole. Some folks will root a phone as soon as it enters their hands. I no longer crave the super user cred. I try to avoid tinkering that can suck a whole day into the ether.

Newer versions of iOS provide a built-in solution called Night Shift, which is pretty cool. Amazon rolled out a feature called Blue Shade for their Fire tablets last year.

Android users have a number of free or cheap options in the Play Store. I’m currently using Twilight on my devices. Like the desktop version of f.lux, it works right out of the box and auto-adjusts based on sunrise and sunset.

You’re still responsible for going to bed.

Blue light filters aren’t a blank check to stare at a screen all night, but they may help prevent or correct sleep problems. Sometimes we succumb to screen suck, or we get stuck working late to meet a deadline. Screen tinting after dark may minimize long-term effects of these slip-ups.

One thing’s for sure: when it comes to maintaining our circadian rhythms, the ADHD’ers in our household need all the help we can get.

Do you struggle to part with screens at night? Have you tried these apps (or others)? If not, do you think it’s worth a shot?

Canaries in the coal mine

Sometimes, I don’t know if I’m managing my ADHD effectively. After all, the right type and dose of stimulant medication should feel pretty unobtrusive. It doesn’t make ADHD’ers feel drugged, hyped up, or otherwise not ourselves. Once the novelty wears off, we don’t sit around and say, “wow, things seem awfully normal around here!”

Those of us with supportive, ADHD-literate spouses can benefit from their outside perspective. Sometimes only they can tell us when our ADHD is out of control.

As medications, hormones, and life have evolved over the years, I’ve also improved my self-observation skills. It’s an advanced-level ability. Pre-diagnosis and treatment, I had zero self-awareness.

Now I’ve identified what I call my canaries in the coal mine: little indicators that reflect the overall success of my ADHD treatment.

canaries coal mine ADHD

Observe with detachment, not judgement.

Objectivity is key to spotting canaries: observing my own behavior with equanimity and pragmatism, and not getting carried away by emotion and judgement. This has required a lot of work. We late-diagnosis ADHD’ers reach adulthood without positive language to describe our struggles. It takes time, effort, and compassion to eliminate negative self-talk and start believing in ourselves. My default reaction to falling off the wagon used to be, “this was inevitable. I can’t sustain anything good. I’ll always fail eventually.”

Now, I try to approach my life like a scientist. I observe, I keep detailed notes (ADHD and motherhood have wrecked my memory), and I try to keep my own biases at bay. When a system begins to break down, that’s a clue. I’m becoming a detective in my own life — a problem-solver, not a basket case.

My canaries: more than a stressful week.

One of my canaries is my weekly review, an every-Monday ritual that keeps me on top of active projects and open loops. I once noticed myself skipping it for weeks in a row. I eventually ended up talking to my doctor about switching medications.

Likewise, when I haven’t even opened my to-do list for over a week, something isn’t right. When I keep looking at my list, but never find anything I feel like I can do, something isn’t right.

While some of life’s details can slide during a high-stress time, others indicate a bigger problem.

Staying organized is possible — if ADHD symptoms are under control.

Staying organized is possible with ADHD — when it’s well-managed. When something slips out of balance, my previously-airtight systems begin to collapse. ADHD makes it hard to notice it happening before it’s too late. I may not feel different right away, or I may wave off red flags with excuses about sleep or a busy week.

The key, for me, has been to disconnect my emotional reaction from the content of my observation. Put-downs and criticism, directed inward or outward, stop problem-solving before it begins. Rather than figuring out how to fix the problem, our brains fixate on the problem itself, and how big and awful it feels.

When a system malfunctions, I ask why, and figure out what adjustments will fix it. Sort of like a car: what’s going to keep it safe, running smoothly, and doing what I need it to do? I once had a car that sputtered out right after starting unless I gave it a very specific amount of gas. Once it settled into a good idle, it was fine. The next owner couldn’t figure this out and thought the car wouldn’t run at all. I probably could’ve gotten several more years out of it.

Now I apply this approach to my entire life. It’s how I knew my medication changed effectiveness after having a child, and I wasn’t just suffering from so-called “mommy brain.”

When I spot one of those canaries, the early warnings that tip me off before my entire life derails, I don’t make excuses. I recognize them as canaries, not black swans. The earlier I recognize a problem, the better my chance of minimizing the damage and getting back on track.

What are your canaries in the coal mine? Have you discovered any early warning signs of poorly-managed ADHD? What do you do when you spot one?

Guest Post: Women with ADHD — a letter to my younger self

About the author:

S.B.  Castañeda writes about the struggles of #ADHDwomen on her blog, Adulting With ADHD.

Dear Younger Self,

You aren’t feeling very good about life right now. In fact, if I recall correctly, between performance issues at work and losing those music festival tickets, you feel the very, very opposite of good.

Here’s the thing. And I’m not telling you this to let you off the hook (because girl, we need to do something about some of those mistakes you’ve been making), but…you’re not dumb and you’re not losing your mind. You’re living with undiagnosed ADHD.

dear younger self guest post

It slipped under the radar.

You know all that fun anxiety and depression you’re dealing with right now? You’re still going to have it, but once it reaches a manageable level, your doctor will get a clearer picture of what’s really going on. Then you’ll get even more help. And this will be huge.

Remember all those problems in grade school? Nope, you weren’t the loudmouth or class clown. You were a daydreamer, remember? And you had some weird emotional stuff going on.

So here’s the thing: because you were all shy and awkward and would rather die than have attention paid your way, the diagnosis slipped past everybody.

Enter middle and high school. You’ve always been really book-smart and high-functioning. You stayed out of everyone’s way and kept your nose to the ground. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with your learning abilities! Then, away you went — congrats on that college acceptance! At this point, you were aware of ADD and Ritalin, but to you (and nearly everybody else) it was a little boy’s issue. Nothing to concern yourself with.

You were right — something was wrong.

But you know that sneaking feeling you’d get once in a while? It would happen in your quietest moments. It was the feeling that you weren’t meeting your full potential. You managed to graduate college with an average GPA and have an average first career, but you always knew you were above-average. Yet your life was anything but.

And some of the mistakes you’re making are supremely mind-boggling. Remember the moment when all that joking about being senile or having Alzheimer’s stopped being funny? Remember when you actually started wondering what the hell was wrong with you with an unprecedented sense of urgency?

It gets SO much better.

None of this makes sense right now. Even if it did, you wouldn’t believe it. But you’re going to get better. And you’re going to excel in ways you can’t wrap your mind around right now. Just hang in there and keep working on your issues. You’re going to make it to the other side of this, and the view is marvelous.

Hang in there,
Sarah

Unfortunately, every parenting win springs from impulse control.

Parents with AdultADHDAn interaction I had with my three-year-old a couple months ago blew me away. I should’ve been delighted. Instead, I felt deeply sad. And I knew I couldn’t say a thing.

We’d talked about his books before. He had too many to fit on his shelves. One day, he looked at me and said, “Mommy, I want to give Little Critter Snowball Soup away.”

I was flabbergasted. This was one of his favorite stories, one we’d read over and over and over again. He hadn’t asked for it lately, but I was still shocked he’d get rid of it. We talked more. He understood what he was saying: he didn’t enjoy the book anymore and wanted someone else to love it as much as he’d loved it. It needed to become someone else’s favorite.

Then he started pulling more books from the shelf, saying “I only wanted to read this one five times,” and “I don’t enjoy this one anymore.”

Our children mirror us.

As anyone who knows me will attest, my son did only what I taught him to do. I’m an aspiring minimalist, and I believe minimalism has special benefits for people with ADHD. I also believe self-efficacy is the most important gift I can give my child.

My son is generous, thoughtful, and capable of making his own choices. He’s learning to part with material things — even old favorites — that he no longer enjoys.

He needs a mom with impulse control. A mom who knows how to keep her mouth shut and let him do his thing. I haven’t always been that person, but I’m working at it every day.

We don’t start out choosing our reactions.

My core values as a parent, homemaker, and person demand a pretty high level of impulse control. This is something I totally lacked at the beginning of my ADHD journey. Before I started learning about and medicating my ADHD, I didn’t choose my reactions to people and events in life. I didn’t know a choice existed. I thought what happened inside also happened outside — for everyone.

During my first week on stimulant medication, I described in my journal this gap that had opened up between stimulus and response. I felt like I’d discovered a time warp. I gained a few critical seconds (maybe even milliseconds) to notice what I was feeling and attempt to control how I expressed it.

Kids need parents who stay out of the way

Getting out of the way: tough for any parent, tougher for ADHD parents.

Plenty of parenting books warn against emotional reactions when we’re angry. What about when we’re bittersweet, or when we doubt our child’s choices? It broke my heart to part with some of those books. I desperately wanted to intervene, even though intervening would question his judgement (you’re getting rid of that one?) and undermine his generosity (what if I just hold onto these on my bookshelf?).

I didn’t intervene. He wanted to wish the books well on their journey to someone else. I was as proud of myself as I was of him. My ability to keep my mouth shut empowered him to make his own choice and stand behind it. He felt capable of solving a problem on his own, and I got out of his way. I trusted him. He gained confidence in himself.

This would be hard for anyone, but for someone with a clinically diagnosable deficiency in shutting up? Let’s just say, I never thought I’d see the day. I gave myself time to mourn the books, but after my son was asleep. Burdening him with my complicated emotions — at least in this context — wouldn’t benefit him at all.

Be quiet and leave space for others.

Sometimes, keeping quiet and leaving space for others in our relationships is the most supportive, loving thing we can do.

For adults — and especially parents — with ADHD, it’s also the hardest thing. Our emotions overwhelm us, our reptile brains take over, and we often stop to think long after we’ve already spoken.

But the rewards make it worth it to keep trying, and to take good care of myself and my brain. Because I owe it to my kid, who’s already a better person than I am.

ADHD awareness helped me heal — and gave me my brother back

About the author:

Michelle Diaz-Nanasca wrote theater and movie reviews for local newspapers while in high school. She majored in Literatures of the World at the University of California, San Diego. Since college, she has worked as an academic tutor and as a church secretary. Michelle is currently working on a children’s novel. Besides writing, she loves singing in her church’s choir, playing guitar, and playing board games with her husband of seven years, Ariel. The two of them run a YouTube channel called The Board Game Tutors, which features instructional videos on hobby board games.

It’s hard to believe, but a year ago, I knew almost nothing about ADHD. Discovering its presence in my life has led to an incredible amount of positive change.

ADHD-awareness-healing-brotherI’d suffered from anxiety off and on throughout my twenty-seven years. It was often social anxiety: worrying about how people perceived me, whether I seemed kind enough, whether I was a good enough friend. I also worried about stressful events that might happen in the future, and how I would handle them. Halfway  through 2015, I noticed my anxiety becoming more debilitating.

Then something amazing happened. I decided to text my brother. I’d heard that he’d struggled with anxiety, and made progress in coping with it. He’s only three years old than I, but it’d been years since I’d tried to have a close relationship with him. We grew up in a chaotic environment where it was difficult to develop a healthy relationship with anyone.

I didn’t feel like things had changed much between us. I was rather hesitant to share my emotional state with him, but I was running out of ideas.

Anxiety & ADHD: it runs in the family

My brother responded to my text right away with some quick, temporary advice. It was late in the evening, and we agreed to talk on the phone the next day.

The following afternoon, I told him about how tense I’d being feeling. I talked about my emotional sensitivity: if anyone corrected me, even in the most minor way, I would feel ultra-self-conscious. I’d be plagued by insecure thoughts for the remainder of the day, or even week.

He sympathized with me, and then he asked me questions. Whether I had many thoughts at once, and whether I had difficulty transitioning from one task or environment to the next. I said yes, absolutely. I had recently been thinking about the fact that I would have less anxiety if only I didn’t think so much.

Upon careful study, I’d observed that I was usually thinking about at least four things simultaneously: what I was doing now, some event that had happened earlier, something I thought might happen later, and whatever song was currently running through my head. It did seem rather odd that I could think about so many things at once, but how was I to know this wasn’t how everyone thought?

As for transitions, it was excruciating for me to give up an activity I was enjoying and move on to something else. I experienced this every Sunday when it was time to go home from church, knowing I would not return until the following weekend, which always felt like an eternity on Sunday afternoon.

My brother started telling me about ADHD, and how it can manifest much differently in girls. He said my mental hyperactivity was a strong indicator for ADHD, and that girls who did well in school, as I always had, often went undiagnosed because of subtle symptoms. He’d learned that his anxiety was closely linked to his previously-undiagnosed ADHD. He was thinking that I might have anxiety stemming from ADHD, too.

What he was explaining made sense, and perhaps even more convincing was his manner. He seemed so calm and mature—so changed. I could easily recognize how his journey into ADHD awareness had led to healing for him. He told me about exercising, eating healthily, meditating (especially), and looking into medication for ADHD. He also recommended a book for anxiety: When Panic Attacks, by cognitive-behavioral therapy pioneer David Burns.

Education & diagnosis bring hope

Greatly encouraged by discovering an explanation that drew my many struggles together, I began my own study of ADHD and how it affects my life. At the same time, with the help of When Panic Attacks, I began to get my anxiety under control. The book was an incredibly eye-opening read full of simple solutions and common sense. I would recommend its cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques to anyone who has struggled with anxiety or any emotional challenge.

It took several months to get approval for a psychiatric appointment, but, in late 2015, I was officially diagnosed with ADHD.

I’m so thankful to have learned about ADHD for two major reasons: First, because knowing the source of my challenges allows me to learn healthy ways to cope with them. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I am so thankful that ADHD awareness led to a relationship with my brother. He has become one of my best friends, something I never would have expected, and it came about because of our shared experience of learning to manage ADHD.

What about you? How has learning more about ADHD changed your life? Please share in the comments!

Chores, gender norms, & ADHD

ADHD sabotages marriage relationships on (at least) two fronts: the emotional and the practical. One can precede or exacerbate the other. Sharing domestic responsibilities is far from mundane. When we feel unsupported — or worse, cut off at the knees — by a partner, our relationship can drift toward a parent-child dynamic. Not good news for emotional intimacy.

Partners of people with ADHD often complain about division of labor in the home, but it needn’t remain a sticking point. It’s easy to restrict ourselves to two options: continue to nag and get angry, or do it all on our own. Our ADHD household has taken the road less traveled. The house stays relatively clean, most urgent maintenance is addressed in a timely manner, and the bills get paid. Sometimes friends look at me funny, and one fellow at-home parent even told me, “I’d never put up with that [behavior].” But it’s not about “putting up” with anything. We’ve figured out what works for us, and we’re doing it.

If you’re struggling to maintain domestic peace and basic sanitation, you’re not doomed. You just need to figure out what works for your family. This often requires us to reject gender norms and other meaningless expectations. We need to experiment, be realistic, and find our ADHD superpowers.

Chores, gender norms,and #AdultADHD

What’s your ADHD superpower?

ADHD superpowers aren’t gifts. ADHD doesn’t make us special or superior. In his book, I Always Want to Be Where I’m Not, Dr. Wes Crenshaw describes superpowers as places we depart from the diagnostic criteria. For example, ADHD’ers are stereotypically terrible with money. I’m not. I could write a series of posts about finances, and maybe I will someday, but for now, know this: no matter how small my paychecks, I’ve never been broke. ADHD has crippled me in other areas, but not my bank account. ADHD superpowers are more like dodged bullets than gifts.

At home, this means my husband and I — both ADHD’ers, but very different people — break down responsibilities by strengths, not tradition. His perfectionism and hyperfocus — sometimes a terrible Achilles heel — makes him a great fit for jobs that require a fine touch. My ADHD makes me the bull in the china shop. That same hyperfocus makes my husband completely time-blind. If something needs to happen at a specific time, it’s my job: taking out the trash, verifying bills are paid on time, mowing the lawn. I rarely force myself to do nit-picky jobs, but if I get him started, my husband can’t put them down until they’re done. He won’t vacuum without moving all the furniture, and he’ll spend an entire day tracking down an error in our accounting ledger.

You may have noticed, I end up with many of the “man” jobs. I need physical activity to function, and my body type makes me the muscle of our small operation. My husband is the engineer. He’s the person reminding me to slow down and make sure the job is done right. Dividing tasks along gender lines feels arbitrary at best, intensely frustrating and counterproductive at worst. Why set each other up for failure? Why not let everyone have the job they want? Both failure and success have inertia, dragging us toward learned helplessness or self-efficacy. We choose the latter, even if people look askance at a woman mowing the lawn.

Experimentation is key.

Our household may be up and running now, but we learned most things the hard way. For example, we began with my husband managing our online bill-pay accounts. He insisted mailing payments was antiquated and silly, but since it worked for me, I told him, “you want a new system, you set it up.” He did. We stopped getting bills in the mail because he got them via email. Would you guess that someone with ADHD can both forget to log into his bank’s bill-pay system and get behind on his email inbox?

These snags are best dealt with calmly, without finger-pointing. If your ADHD partner lets the grass grow knee-high or forgets to pay the electric bill, he knows it’s a problem (even if he won’t admit it). She feels bad about it (even if she won’t admit it, or even blames you). When we hit a snag, I try to remember it’s a clue to a puzzle we need to solve. Yelling at your spouse, expressing disappointment and shame, or telling her she needs to act like a responsible adult only damages the relationship.

May all expectations be realistic…

Above all, an ADHD household needs realistic expectations. This doesn’t mean resigning ourselves to a lower standard of living. It means being realistic about which responsibilities our partners can take on and how they’ll get the job done. Forcing a square peg through a round hole is a recipe for argument, resentment, and less stuff getting done. What works for me rarely works for my husband, and vice versa. Rather than dwell on the downsides, we use our strengths to fill in for each other’s weaknesses. My husband may never take the trash or recycling out on the correct day, but it’s all good. When I encounter a problem in the house and think, “I can’t even imagine dealing with that,” he’s my man.

Do you or your partner have ADHD? How do you manage household chores? Do you feel like you’ve hit your stride, or are you still looking for a solution?

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