The ADHD Homestead

Create the life you want with the mind you have.

Taming distractions: my smartphone-free week

Smartphones are a double-edged sword for adults with ADHD. I have a love-hate relationship with mine.

On one hand, it’s a Swiss Army knife of a device. It reminds me to take my meds. It puts my calendar in front of my face every time I unlock its screen. It condenses many tools — day planner, phone, camera, grocery list, file folders, and more — into one GPS-enabled device. I once misplaced it, and it told me where it was with a little blue dot on a map.

It’s also a huge distraction. Last month, I decided to take a break. I bought a dumb phone on eBay, and I deactivated my smartphone. Then, I asked myself: is life better this way?

The pros

I gained a lot from my week off. I took more pictures with my SLR. I read magazines instead of checking notifications. I went to brunch with friends, and didn’t even consider checking my phone in the car or during a lull at the table. I listened to a CD instead of Pandora while driving.

Speaking of driving, when I first learned to drive, I knew how to get everywhere. I’m not a visual thinker, and I didn’t have a map in my head, but I knew which roads intersected where. Now, I snap my phone into its dashboard mount and turn to my navigation app instead of using my eyes and brain. Like memorizing phone numbers, driving without a smartphone has become a lost art. It felt good to stretch those mental muscles again. I watched for road signs and landmarks on familiar routes, and I looked at a map ahead of time for new destinations.

Perhaps best of all, my phone was just a phone. I could make a call without being derailed by apps and notifications. When I first opened my dumb phone, I felt liberated. In a way, I was.

The cons

However, I quickly realized how much a smartphone can help someone like me.

For people with ADHD, convenience means more than comfort. Sure, it’s convenient to sync my Google Contacts across all my devices. It also protects me against lost business cards, or even a lost phone. It’s convenient to check my calendar while I’m at the dentist. It can also make the difference between cleanings every six months vs. every three years. Threaded text messages, where I can scroll through an entire conversation on one screen, are convenient, but something I already struggle to manage. Without that feature, I felt totally out of touch with my social group.

My phone tells me more important stuff, too. It tells me when (and whether) I took my meds this morning. It reminds me of birthdays, anniversaries, and deaths among those close to me.

In other words, my phone helps me manage my productivity, personal health, and social relationships. These are all areas of tremendous struggle for adults with ADHD. Features that provide convenience for most people can make or break relationships (or dental health) for us.

Where to go from here

Because I still used my smartphone on wifi at home, I saw the biggest difference while running errands or spending time with friends. I’ve now reactivated it, and I intend to keep it. I also want it to spend more time in my bag, or in the cell phone bin at home. I’ve been considering a bluetooth cordless phone for my office/home, to imitate the experience of an old school landline. My smartphone-free week has convinced me this is a good idea.

Which reminds me: Once upon a time, no one expected us to respond immediately to everything around the clock. Growing up, people my age didn’t have cell phones at all. We had landlines and answering machines. We sat down at a computer and waited for our modem to dial into our internet service provider.

I remember going to college and experiencing an always-on internet connection for the first time. I marveled at how easy it was to sit down for 30 seconds to check my email on the way out the door. I left AOL Instant Messenger open all the time. The internet wove its way into the fabric of my consciousness, no longer relegated to a time slot on a shared landline. Smartphone culture had, in a way, already begun.

In the end, my smartphone break wasn’t about the device, it was about mindfulness. Used intentionally, smartphones provide huge benefits. When minutes or hours pass by in front of the screen and we don’t even know what happened, we have a problem. We can counteract this by putting the phone in a designated place in the house, keeping it in our bag while we’re out, and/or disabling notifications. We can be judicious about which apps we install. My phone now rings audibly, but only vibrates for notifications. I’ll know if my kid’s school calls, but I can be more intentional about checking the other stuff.

Because my phone is only a tool if I use it wisely.

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Through the valley of the shadow of emotional hyperfocus

Let’s talk about feelings. ADHD feelings.

Most people don’t realize, ADHD is way more than forgetfulness and distractability and poor impulse control. ADHD can make our emotions big and scary and maybe even dangerous. Feelings that come and go quickly for others can suck us in, kind of like an emotional eddy.

Growing up alongside a big, gorgeous river, I learned about eddies. They kill a lot of people. They’re powerful and disorienting, and no human can overcome the force of that much water.

But you can get out. You do it by swimming straight down to the bottom, then downstream a ways, and then you try to reach the surface.

It works for feelings, too.

Sometimes, it’s not a big deal (to you).

My ADHD symptoms got worse during our kitchen renovation. All the mess and disruption did a number on my mental health. That I observed and identified this situation — you know, as one of those life circumstances that’ll give a neurotypical person ADHD-like symptoms — was perhaps my only saving grace.

One evening, just before bed, I annoyed my husband somehow. I forget how, and it doesn’t matter, because it wasn’t a big deal. It didn’t need to be a Whole Big Thing. It was a Normal Marriage Thing. A blip on the radar.

Here’s the problem for many adults with ADHD: we tend to latch onto things, and we have a lot of trouble letting go. Poorly managed ADHD blows Normal Marriage Things into Whole Big Things on the regular. It’s exhausting.

Fortunately, I recognized this. I decided — for once! — not to force my husband through a conversation about why he was or wasn’t annoyed with me, and how we could fix it. He wasn’t worried about it, and he wanted to go to sleep. Have you ever kept your spouse up for hours with a bizarre, melodramatic Whole Big Thing whose significance you couldn’t even explain the next day? I have. Let’s just say I wanted to jump on the opportunity to avoid it this time. I got out of bed and removed myself to another room to settle down.

“Forget it” and “drop it” don’t really work with ADHD.

That’s all great, except I don’t know how to let things go. This is why I insist on talking through everything immediately, and why I never, ever want to go to bed angry. I knew I had to drop it, and I knew bothering my husband with drama while he was trying to sleep would make things worse. That didn’t prevent me from suffering.

People with ADHD can get stuck on an emotion. The feeling magnifies itself until it’s overwhelming, even frightening. We can become a person we don’t know. Just like time disappears with task hyperfocus, the spectrum of our emotions disappears with emotional hyperfocus.

It’s easy to sink into a spiral of self-loathing, anger, hopelessness, worthlessness. Once you’re in the spiral, it’s like an eddy: it sucks you down. It won’t let you out the way you came. If you let it overwhelm you, you’ll drown.

There I was, on the couch, gasping for air as those toxic emotions pulled me under.

Swimming to the bottom of the emotional eddy.

I found my way out, albeit by accident.

Don’t ask me how I thought of this in my state of hysteria, but imagined my future self. I pictured myself standing in our yet-to-be-constructed new kitchen. I was at the island, preparing food, surrounded by friends and family. Happy.

I felt the negative emotions dissipate, like a fog lifting.

Turning off a light, touching someone on the arm, or forcing them to get up and get a drink of water can help break the spell of hyperfocus. I suppose I forced my brain to do this in a more figurative sense. I offered a distraction. I walked my brain over to a different corner, forced my mental eyes to refocus, and suddenly I could see the real world again.

Dropping it with my husband took me to the bottom of the emotional abyss. To my surprise, I resurfaced on my own this time.

When we’re out of it, we’re out of it.

I don’t intend this as a how-to, even though I’d love to imagine my words helping someone. Think of this as an ask, of those of you who love someone with ADHD. I want to help you understand how hard this is. How hysterical we get over stuff that’s not a big deal. How, in the moment, it is a big deal. We can lose all sense of self-worth. We attack. We may literally not be able to comprehend the fact that you still love us.

So don’t try to reason with us. Don’t even try to recognize us. Wait for us to come back first, or better yet, try to help find us.

ADHD clues: My embarrassing 2nd grade papers

“At least you didn’t do worse than chance.”

I had to laugh. My dad had unloaded a huge, unwanted box of old school papers on me. While most went into the recycling, I found a few gems. Among them, a pattern-recognition exercise where I scored an overall 25% on a four-part multiple choice.

As my husband pointed out, at least I didn’t get below 25%, or I would’ve done worse than blind chance.

What does this have to do with ADHD?

Well, I have a hunch: I can figure out which image doesn’t belong. I think I could’ve done it in second grade, too. But it takes me a while. I’m not a natural visual thinker. The oddball image doesn’t jump out at me. In other words, I have to keep my eyes (and brain) on the pictures long enough to figure it out.

And look at this page of math problems. My accuracy rate was okay, but I left huge chunks blank at the end.

Looking back at my elementary school papers and report cards, I see a trail of ADHD clues.

I see a smart kid who made a lot of silly mistakes on assignments. Who forgot to do homework. Whose attention span was too short to figure out simple pattern recognition exercises. Who got distracted and ran out of time before finishing an assignment. This, on top of the report cards detailing my lack of impulse control or (related, for sure) social skills.And yet, because I was smart — my IQ and advanced reading skills landed me in the gifted program — and a girl, no one suspected ADHD. This was, and remains, common. If ADHD runs in your family and you have introverted, sensitive, academically gifted children, it’s something to watch for.

Grown-ups with late-diagnosis ADHD: do you ever look back at all the clues and wonder how no one knew?

Protecting teen drivers with ADHD

“My teen son has ADHD, and I know this makes him more likely to die in a car accident.”

This was how this week’s guest blogger, Mark Connor, opened his introductory email to me. It hit home. 16 years ago this month, I took my driver’s license test. I’ve officially been driving for half my life, and I’m still alive. Several of my high school classmates weren’t so lucky.

My dad is a professional driver, and he made sure I took driving seriously. He — and my mom, aunt, and uncle, who teamed up to give me lots of driving practice — also taught me on a stick shift, which helped keep me in the parking lot for long enough to get comfortable behind the wheel before I hit the road.

Kids like me are very fortunate. So, I’m sure, is Mark’s son. Mark created a website called Drive Safely to help spread the word about vehicle safety. Here, he shares a few pieces of wisdom from his journey parenting a teen driver with ADHD.

Driving is already the most dangerous thing teenagers do, with thousands of teens dying in automobile accidents every year. The risk is even greater for teen drivers with ADHD. According to one study, young drivers with ADHD received significantly more moving and non-moving violations than drivers without ADHD.

However, just because the risk is greater doesn’t mean that teens with ADHD can’t become safe, successful drivers. Here’s what you need to know about ADHD and teen drivers.

Facts to Know

In 2015, over 2,000 teens aged 16 to 19 died in motor vehicle accidents, and more than 200,000 were injured. While this is the lowest number of teen driving deaths ever recorded in one year, it’s nevertheless a devastating statistic.

Evidence shows that new drivers with an attention deficit are prone to riskier behavior behind the wheel. Teen drivers with ADHD are:

  • Four times more likely to speed.
  • Five times more likely to receive a parking ticket.
  • Three times more likely to lose their license within the first five to eight years of driving.
  • Two to three times more likely to be in a car accident.

In addition to these worrying numbers, teens with ADHD more frequently pass other vehicles improperly, tailgate, fail to obey traffic signs and signals, and even drive while under the influence of alcohol.

What You Can Do

Parents of children with ADHD won’t be surprised by the increased risk for their teen drivers. They’re familiar with the minds that struggle to stay on task and the impulsive behavior. What they may be unsure of, however, is how to help their teen succeed behind the wheel.

Involved parenting is instrumental in teaching attention-deficit teens safe driving habits. Parents should first ensure their child is taking any medication prescribed by their doctor. Step two? Consider whether a teen is prepared to start driving at all. Teens with ADHD who are still learning to manage their behavior may be best served by a delayed start to driving. While no teen wants to be late getting their driver’s license, staying safe is the most important thing.

Parents should spend plenty of time practicing driving before taking their teen to the license bureau. Learning under parental supervision will empower a teen to make the best possible choices behind the wheel, and parents will be able to identify and address the specific challenges faced by their teen. On top of covering good driving habits, discuss common roadside concerns like jumping a battery and staying safe in a roadside emergency.

Extra practice isn’t the only adjustment to make for teens with ADHD. Promote good behavior behind the wheel by instituting the following rules:

  • No cell phone usage while driving.
  • No more than one passenger at a time.
  • No passengers during after-school hours or on weekend evenings, the most dangerous times for teen drivers.
  • No adjusting music while driving. Consider equipping vehicles with voice-activated technology to remove the temptation.

A written safe driving contract can create accountability between teen drivers and their parents. A safe driving contract should include mutually agreed upon rules to observe behind the wheel, and appropriate consequences if those rules are broken. That may mean restricting driving privileges if a teen is caught driving with too many passengers, or making teens pay fines incurred from driving infractions. No matter the rules you settle on, promote compliance by consistently applying consequences.

Just because a teen has ADHD doesn’t mean he or she can’t become a safe driver. Give teens the tools to drive responsibly by addressing the unique challenges of ADHD head-on.

Caught up in the excitement

There are people who think ADHD is a gift. I’m not one of them.

Just today, I read this sentence in a comment thread: “I have reached the conclusion that ADHD persons are are blessing to the world and that having ADHD is a gift rather than a curse.” Not to be judge-y, but I bet this person doesn’t have ADHD. If he does, he’s in a near-delusional state of denial.

That said, I’ve had some time to reflect on my gifts this week. I’ll admit, ADHD isn’t 100% doom and gloom. Lots of us grow up to be emergency room doctors, firefighters, or professional snowboarders. Our lust for high-stress environments leads us to careers our laid-back counterparts would rather avoid.

We have dopamine to thank for this. The neurotransmitter of pleasure, reward, and motivation. I reject the “ADHD is a gift” narrative because dopamine has no conscience. It doesn’t nudge us toward becoming an emergency room doctor rather than a drug addict. It doesn’t care whether we balance our brain chemistry by running marathons or picking cruel fights with our spouse. I imagine it costs society at least as much as it provides in so-called gifts.

But for today, I can appreciate it a little more. Because I’m existing in a time of great inconvenience.

Roughing it with ADHD

Our kitchen renovation is officially underway. Last night, our downstairs looked like this:

Living with me on a normal day isn’t always a treat, but right now, I’m cool.

I prepared for this renovation like crazy, thanks to my flair for crises, over-planning, and roughing it. I’m the person who breaks out in goosebumps before hurricanes and snowstorms. I stockpile canned goods, put the kitchen matches near the stove, charge up the camp lanterns, and try to hide my disappointment when the electricity stays on.

Of course, every ADHD “gift” has a dark side. Mild over-preparation easily tips into hoarding and obsession for some.

But taken in moderation, we folks with ADHD can turn inconvenience into fun. We thrive on novelty. Many of us spent our youths getting into trouble for weird behavior and clowning around. Most people I’ve talked to assume we’ll be surviving on takeout this month. Not so. I happily carried my camp stove to the front porch and ignored the funny looks from neighbors as I cooked dinner. I threw myself into advance food preparation with an enthusiasm I rarely possess for normal dinners. We’re existing in a weird, different, and somewhat extreme situation. It’s not just any old night when I have to make dinner in a normal kitchen. I’m in my element.

A rare note of gratitude

I rarely talk about the upsides of ADHD on this blog. There are enough yahoos doing that on the internet already. I’m not grateful for my ADHD, just like most well-adjusted people wouldn’t be grateful for bipolar disorder. But every once in a while, I encounter a situation that forces me to admit, “hey, I’m actually an asset to this project. My unique combination of traits, some of which are rooted in my ADHD, really bring something to the table.”

People with significant ADHD-related impairments know, I don’t have the opportunity to say this every day. To be able to acknowledge a gift — that’s a gift unto itself. I’m going to try to appreciate it, if only for the duration of my self-induced, kitchen-less hardship.

Applying the ADHD brakes during a huge project

Life at the ADHD Homestead is about to get crazy: we’re renovating our kitchen.

This is our biggest, baddest project since we did in vitro fertilization almost five years ago. Like IVF, the payoffs will be fantastic — we got a kid last time, and this time we’ll get a kitchen larger than a closet — but getting there might be rough.

A major renovation, like purchasing an expensive science baby, requires us to keep a lot of balls in the air. We need to pay attention to multiple angles at once, meet a bunch of deadlines (big and small), and play a massive game of Don’t Mess It Up.

To pull it off, I have to allow some moderate hyperfocus and forget most of my regular projects.

brake pedal image

An uneasy truce with hyperfocus.

I complain about hyperfocus a lot, both because I find it annoying and because my ADHD falls at the other end of the spectrum. However, now’s the time to channel my inner hyperfocuser and say no to everything else.

My ADHD makes it hard to prioritize. When it’s not driving someone crazy, this can be an asset. My many responsibilities to our home and family require comfort with a lot of irons in the fire. I’m the point person for planning an annual reunion of our college friends, I care for our lawn and garden, and I help my dad’s side of the family maintain a house at the beach. I pay our bills and clean our house and RSVP for our social events.

Now, it’s time to shut all that out. It’s going to be hard. The other night, I sat down and told myself, “there are two important things: finishing my novel by August, and renovating this kitchen.” That’s it. There will be no planning of friend reunions, no playgroup outings to the zoo, no impromptu dinner parties. No reconfiguration of our retirement accounts, weekends at the beach, or sewing myself a new dress. No progress on other projects. Just fiction and a kitchen, that’s all.

Saying goodbye to all the things.

Less than two hours after making this decision, it already felt uncomfortable. Every time I notice something that can be done, I want to do it. I want to make sure we’re not overpaying on our car insurance. I want to plan a writing retreat,  research stand up paddleboards, and have lunch with a friend. I want to do all the things.

Of course, if I do all the things, I’ll enter June feeling despondent about my lack of progress on my novel manuscript.

“It’s okay,” friends will tell me. “You were renovating your kitchen!”

Well, sure. A huge project always feels like a fair excuse for stalling on other things. But it’s not a fair excuse for failing to prioritize.

It doesn’t come naturally, but I’m going to try. I just have to remember: Writing and kitchen, writing and kitchen, writing and kitchen.

And when a new project or task crosses my path, I need to force my first reaction to be, “no.”

Has a big project ever redefined your priorities? How did you deal?

My ADHD Home: A Visitors’ Guide

My attempts at effective homemaking with ADHD could fill a memoir. I long for a tidy, peaceful home where guests always feel comfortable and welcome. My grandmother would tell you I make this look easy.

We should all have someone like my grandmother in our lives. For everyone else, I give you this visitors’ guide. I do like you, and please don’t let me drive you crazy.

 

Never be afraid to ask.

Before I say anything funny, allow me to say: I want to be a good host. I try to provide the essentials: towels, toothbrush/toothpaste, a bed, and fresh coffee in the morning. I’ll even pick the coffee mug I think suits you best today.

I’m also forgetful. I miss social cues. Some aspects of my lifestyle are a little weird. If you want it, and I haven’t offered it, I guarantee I a.) have no idea and b.) want to make it happen. A polite request for something to make your stay more comfortable is always welcome.

You’d be surprised by what throws me off my game.

Once, my mom brought her own pillowcase to my house. I had a newborn, and she wanted to save me some laundry. I spent the next four years searching for one of the pillowcases to that sheet set. Apparently, I cannot handle washing part of the set without losing the rest.

I recently found it. I wish I could tell you where, but this happened a couple weeks ago, and I forget. I know I found it somewhere in my house.

Also, now I have anxiety every time someone suggests using a partial sheet set. Guests have said, “oh, it’s just me, you didn’t need to use two pillowcases.” Or, even more terrifying, “I don’t really need the top sheet.” I always wonder: should I admit that I’m afraid of losing the unused piece of the set?

Don’t worry, I love going out. I just hate getting ready.

I love showing you around town. I love thinking about my guests, and what they might enjoy, and designing a weekend to suit them.

That said, I hate getting out the door. I fuss over departure times, even when they don’t matter. I overthink how many and which cars we should drive, or whether we should walk or take public transit. I get cranky with my family for taking too long to pack up. Generally speaking, I don’t go with the flow.

I apologize. I’ll try not to be unpleasant, but I have a terrible track record. If (when) it happens, it’s not about you, or my desire to do the thing. It’s about getting out the door, which is not my favorite.

Keep me up late at your own risk.

I have a bedtime, just like my kid has a bedtime. It’s around 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. If I stay up too late, I’ll be a hot mess the next day — especially if we need to get out the door for anything. Lack of sleep intensifies pretty much every ADHD symptom, and sometimes I feel like it increases my meds’ drowsiness side effect.

However, most social nuance is lost on me. I have no idea how to extricate myself gracefully from a conversation. If you’re up, and you’re talking to me, chances are I’ll stay up until you say it’s time for bed. If you want to be super helpful, try to wrap up our friendly chat around the aforementioned time window. Say something like, “alright, well, I’ll let you get to bed.” Everyone will thank you in the morning.

I love offering you a private space…for both of us.

I feel rude even typing this, but I get a little batty about clutter. I find it visually overstimulating, and it makes my brain go haywire. I spend a lot of my life battling clutter, if only to clear my own head.

For our first several years in our house, we didn’t have a dedicated guest room. By necessity, guests tended to spread their belongings throughout the house: a keyring here, a newspaper there, a colony of duffle bags in the corner. I hated myself for how cranky this made me.

Now, I offer guests a semi-finished basement room with their own futon, side table, and bathroom. A handful of guests have told me, “oh, you don’t need to set all that up for me. I can just sleep on the couch.”

Trust me: I love making you a little nest, and it makes me feel like a nice friend. It also gives you a place to put your stuff without cluttering my living space. I’m not a terrible person, but my neurochemistry places certain demands on my environment.

Before Coffee vs. After Coffee.

There are two kinds of time in my day: the time before coffee, and the time after coffee. Before coffee, I like to hang out in the kitchen, cook breakfast for everyone, listen to NPR (or music, or nothing), and put a kettle on the stove. Then I eat my egg and toast and take the remainder of my coffee to the couch to read a magazine.

During this time in the kitchen, I feel happy and pleasant — unless someone harshes my mellow. This isn’t the time to start an important conversation. My brain isn’t warmed up yet. While I’m measuring out the coffee or pouring water into the French press — this is an especially bad time to throw me off-kilter with idle chit-chat. If I pour too much water and have to start my coffee-making routine over, I can’t promise I’m going to be able to deal.

Decompression is a good thing.

After all the drama of pre-coffee chit-chat, lost pillowcases, cluttered side tables, and expeditions out my front door, I need a breather. Seinfeld put it best: it’s not you, it’s me.

I’m an introvert with ADHD. This means I’m easily overwhelmed and worn out by all the hurly-burly. My kid no longer takes a nap in the middle of the day, but I still appreciate a slice  of quiet time. If I sneak off to my office to read a book on the loveseat, or to a backyard hammock for a 30-minute rest in the sun, I probably don’t want you to come keep me company — though I do want you to find me if you need anything! Likewise, if there’s something you want to do — take a walk, read a book, spend some time checking your email — feel free to set aside some time for it. I won’t be offended if you want a little down time that doesn’t involve me.

I like you, please come back.

Bottom line: I love having guests. It’s way more relaxing than getting my entire family out the door (see above) for a weekend away. I love sharing my home and my city. I don’t always have my act together, and sometimes that makes me feel disappointed and angry with myself. It’s not because I don’t want you there, it’s because I have this internal struggle happening: I want to cling to my routines and my familiar environment (ADHD’ers don’t always deal well with change, and someone leaning back in a reclining chair can feel like too much change for me). I also want to be the world’s best host, and I don’t want my ADHD to make me look like a failure as a friend or a grownup.

So welcome to my home. I hope you’re 100% comfortable and happy and well-fed, but if you’re not, I hope you’ll ask for whatever you want. I also hope you’ll be sensitive to the fact that I might act weird sometimes, or seem overly rigid about the little stuff, or get cranky and overwhelmed while we’re getting out the door. I don’t mean to be off-putting. I appreciate you, and I hope you’ll come back.

I have ADHD, and sometimes I can’t spell my own name

I’ve never had real a nickname, but my dad sometimes called me “Jacly” when I was a kid. The joke started when I forgot the last letter of my name at the top of a school paper.

Fourth-grade Jaclyn knew how to spell her own name — obviously — but my attention span wasn’t always long enough to write all six letters.

It still isn’t. I still catch myself writing “Jacly” on official documents. I also forget words in sentences, or I write words with the letters out of order. Occasionally, I find post-it notes with sentence fragments or unlabeled telephone numbers. I got distracted before I finished writing, and now I can’t figure out what they mean.

In the moment, I don’t realize these attention lapses are happening. There’s no way I can tell myself, “hey, focus!” and prevent them. I call myself detail-oriented. I’m proud of my ability to fill out forms correctly and completely. Still, I make weird mistakes all the time — especially when I’m writing by hand.

I don’t remember whether I liked my dad calling me “Jacly.” I can see myself appreciating that someone gave me a nickname. Just as likely, I might’ve gotten my hackles up. All the anguish I remember from my childhood stemmed from my ADHD, though I had no idea at the time. ADHD’s quirks and foibles — like misspelling one’s own name, or throwing a third-grade classmate on the floor after he cuts in line — can come to define us. And that hurts. Maybe it’s who we are, but it’s not who we feel we are.

That dissonance haunted me all through my young life. I wrote in my journal about a desire to leave home and start over. I hated going to school knowing everyone had an opinion about who I was. I didn’t feel like I fit others’ definitions of me.

I still struggle with this, but I try to keep a sense of humor. I try to look for opportunities. Every time I write “Jacly,” I smile and hear my dad’s voice as I go back to add the ‘n.’ I try to view mistakes as opportunities to show my real self: someone who’s neither selfish, nor irresponsible, nor slapdash. I do that by admitting my mistakes, apologizing when necessary, and acknowledging how my actions affect others. I’m upfront about my memory and attention issues. I hope this openness helps people realize it’s not about them, or my feelings toward them. I talk about my post-it notes and my organizational systems because I want others to see I’m trying. I try to laugh at the silly stuff, and keep working on the important stuff.

Because I’ll always misspell my name on occasion. Every once in a while, my post-its — or another system — will fail me. It’ll probably be my fault. But I can practice resilience. I can forgive myself and maintain a decent attitude. I can resist the impulse toward defensiveness, blame-shifting, or turning all that anger inward. I can own Jacly, but reject negative, self-destructive labels. Then, I can brush myself off and keep trying, assuming it’s not too late to add the ‘n.’

ADHD & money: Our experience with a financial planner

A lot of adults with ADHD experience financial stress. Fiscal responsibility requires impulse control, tolerance for boring paperwork, and an ability to plan ahead and defer pleasure spending. We have to stay on top of our bills (and their due dates). And that’s assuming we have a steady job that covers expenses with room for savings.

I’ve always considered myself good with money — ADHD and all — but I want to tell you about my recent experience with a financial planner. I balked at the idea when my husband first suggested it. After all, I (and most of my family) take pride in my ability to handle money responsibly, without asking for help. However, hiring a financial planner was one of my best decisions in recent memory.

Regardless of where you are with money, I highly recommend a financial planner to make sure you’re on the right track. Here’s what the process looked like for us.

Financial planners aren’t just for rich people

While many wealth management consultants only see people with over $1 million in assets, there’s a whole network of planners who take on smaller clients. At first, I thought hiring a financial planner made a statement about how much money you had: enough that you couldn’t figure out what to do with it. But we all need to save for the future, even if we’re not making a ton of cash.

Our financial planner reviewed the full inventory of our assets — from our bank accounts, to our employer-sponsored retirement accounts, to an IRA my grandmother insisted I open as a teenager — and gave us a list of tweaks. His suggestions had little impact on our current lifestyle, but those investments will be worth a lot more down the road. I’d been on the right track, funneling money into long-term savings to “hide” it from our temptation to make impulse purchases. Our financial planner helped us make sure we were saving the right amount, and that the money we saved was being invested wisely.

If you don’t have much, it’s even more important to run a tight financial ship. Our financial planner recommended using automatic transfers. We love them. Money disappears into accounts we’re keeping for retirement, a new kitchen, and our son’s college education. I realized we need to prepare for R’s preschool tuition bill. It isn’t due for several months, but it could hurt our emergency buffer if we don’t set money aside. I also started brainstorming ways we could save on our monthly expenses. I used to think relatively little about money and hope for the best. When there was money left over, I transferred it to savings. Otherwise, our paychecks covered everything we needed. Now I’m more conscious of big-ticket expenses coming up — and how much we need to save — thanks to automatic transfers that keep me on a schedule.

How we found our financial planner

We started our search through the Garrett Planning Network. Most of Garrett’s planners work with smaller clients, and they don’t receive any commissions for their work. In other words, they charge a fee for the hours they spend crafting your plan, and that’s the only way they get paid. They have an obligation to work in your best interest.

After we made a list of planners in our region, we narrowed it to one who looked like the best fit. Then we arranged a get-to-know-you meeting. I used this guide from the Wall Street Journal to brush up on the basics of the business. Before our meeting, our planner asked for a basic inventory of our finances. We met and discussed expectations, made sure we understood his services and fees, and ultimately decided to proceed.

My husband was skeptical at first. I’d done all the initial research, and he had only the planner’s website as an introduction. After our initial meeting, he was completely sold. This was critical: we were trusting someone else with part of our financial future. I wasn’t willing to pull the trigger unless we both felt confident.

Deadlines, deadlines

Not only did our financial planner give us advice we wouldn’t have thought of on our own, he gave us a to-do list. We’ll probably check in with him again in a year or two. I’ve been more motivated to carry out his suggestions than I would’ve if I’d been on my own. If nothing else, I don’t want to show up to our check-in empty-handed.

For adults with ADHD, this readymade to-do list — not to mention having someone else do the mountain of research on financial minutiae — seems like a fantastic idea. A future check-in establishes external accountability, something notably absent in my previous DIY financial management strategy. As hesitant as I was to enlist help with my financial future, I feel like it’s already paid for itself.

What do you think? Have you worked with a financial planner? Do you struggle with money? 

5 random, mundane things ADHD messes up for me

ADHD and everyday life: it’s almost all I write about here. I try to touch on the important issues, the ones that can cripple our relationships, productivity, and self-actualization. On the ground, though, the little stuff adds up. It makes us laugh. It grinds us down. It affects how others judge us.

Here are five random ways ADHD affects my day-to-day.

  1. Maintaining curb appeal. I live in a sweet little neighborhood where most people take pretty good care of their yards. I love taking care of my yard. It’s rewarding, and it gives me quality outdoor time. The problem is, taking care of the yard(s) requires consistent effort. I’m really great at burst effort. I mow the lawn on the regular, but I’ve also been guilty of the following: dismantling a children’s play structure and letting the pieces blow around the front yard for months. Leaving a length of baseboard from a demolition project leaning on my back fence for five years (and counting). Doing a great job mulching in April, then letting weeds take over the flower garden in July. Repairing the structure of our decorative porch column, then leaving it a bare wooden post all winter (and counting). The list goes on. I can’t imagine what would happen if I didn’t even enjoy this stuff.
  2. Keeping gas in the car. I think I put gas in my car every month or so. I used to drive more, and fueling up at a quarter tank was part of my routine. Now, it’s so long between fill-ups that I forget the gas station, and even the gas gauge, exist. I often don’t look at the gas gauge until the orange light comes on. Then, the ADHD dissociation of actions from consequences kicks in. Intellectually, I know my car will eventually run out of gas. On a deeper level, I can’t feel it. It doesn’t seem real. The feeling most people get when the fuel light comes on doesn’t always happen for me. This is why people with ADHD do such dumb stuff sometimes. Yes, part of our brain knows what will happen, but the part that directs our actions misses the memo. It’s almost unbelievable, even to someone who experiences it.
  3. Using wart remover. You know the stuff I’m talking about, right? The directions say to apply it every day for a couple weeks. For four years, I’ve failed to remember this for enough days in a row to permanently remove a wart.
  4. Parenting with consistency. I often say, “well, next time…” and “okay, but from now on…” The problem is, unless I write that down, I probably won’t remember. My highest priority is to  provide a consistent, predictable system of consequences in my child’s life. I feel awful every time ADHD sabotages this, either because my heat-of-the-moment “next time” was impulsive and unreasonable, or because I forgot the promised consequence.
  5. Helping the homeless. I feel distinctly not-okay every time I shake my head “no” or ignore a homeless person. At the same time, I would rather give them a bus pass, a snack, or something similarly useful than straight-up cash. My goal in life is to keep a stock of granola bars within arm’s reach in my car. That way, I can hand a healthy snack out the window when someone is holding a sign at a red light. However, achieving this is a legit project. I need to select a temperature-tolerant, individually packaged snack, remember to buy it at the store, remember to put it in my car, and remember it’s there when I want it. I feel guilty about the fact that I haven’t succeeded yet.

Alright, your turn. What’s an unexpected roadblock ADHD throws up in your life? Share it in the comments, we won’t judge 😉

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